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A Genuine Heart

Posted in Excerpts

After finishing the first session, I went to the teacher’s lounge. I noticed a lot of children out in the courtyard, more than usual. Perhaps because it was Friday? I wasn’t sure. There was a break before the afternoon classes, so I opened my book and thought about how to prepare that afternoon’s session.

After a few minutes, Raju walked in.

“We’re done,” he said. “I forgot, but today is a holiday,” he said. “You should go see it.”

My last day, over, after just a single class. That was why there were so many kids outside. Teaching, once a great hurdle, over so soon. Like every hurdle I’d jumped thus far this trip, it was far smaller in reality than from a distance.

I gathered my stuff and walked out into the hallway. Bine was there, waiting, along with another student from his class, Preeti, the smartest girl, who had a more Asian look, with a round face, narrow eyes, but nearly flawless dark skin. She had already changed out of her school uniform and was wearing a sari.

“Let’s go see the festival,” Bine said. Together with Raju, we walked outside. There I bid farewell to Raju. He’d been nothing but helpful during my time in Nepal, and I’d come to appreciate our mid-afternoon chai breaks in the backroom cafe beside the school. Yet, at the same time, there was only one Raju, and he wasn’t going to be able to teach the entire Dhulikhel valley region English on his own. I was glad to be a small, and hopefully positive, help.

“Please, keep in touch,” I said, giving him my email address, “Thank you so much. I had an incredible time teaching.”

“Thank you, and take care, have fun,” he said.

I never heard from Raju again.

“Come,” said Bine. A crowd was heading into the city center.

Dhulikhel was transformed. The formally dusty street in front of the school was now lined with colorful flowers, red and green banners hanging from the buildings, young girls everywhere. Bine explained what was going on.

“It is a festival, only for girls who are young,” he said. The girls were all on the streets, sitting side-by-side along the main drag, dressed in colorful, though often dirty or ill-fitting, saris and other Nepali dresses, with baskets or over-sized gold bowls, as the adults in the city went by, giving each of them money.

“First, they get money,” Bine told me. I saw the tiny gold coins, in denominations I didn’t know existed—twenty-five and fifty paisa pieces, worth less than a penny.

“Then they get gifts. Food, sweets, and more, into their baskets. Only girls can do this, not for older women.”

The adults lined up with large baskets full of change, rice, flowers, and little packaged sweets, and went by, putting them one by one in the baskets. The girls looked confused and impatient, the little ones just perplexed. The older ones smiled and accepted their gifts, gaps showing in their teeth as they received their meager gifts. I was amazed how well behaved the girls were, sitting there, none trying to escape or crying for their parents.

“This is just like Halloween, but for girls!” I said, in awe at what was going on around me.

“Sure,” said Bine. I wondered if anyone in the class had actually understood Halloween.

“Is there anything like this for boys?” I asked.

Bine paused. “No. Come,” he said, motioning me to continue. Preeti and another boy were with us, and from the way way they spoke to each other, I could tell that these were his best friends. Bine was so gentle around them, a loving older brother.

The three of them took me up to the water treatment plant at the top of another hill, but unfortunately, it was closed. So we walked down and watched the last vestiges of the festival as the streets slowly emptied of people. It was now afternoon, almost time for me to return.

“First, come to my home. I have something to give you,” said Bine.

I checked my clock. Though it was getting late, I could probably stop before going to the Thapas’s. And Bine had been one of the main reasons I’d enjoyed Dhulikhel so much.

“Let’s go.”

Last time, on the way back from Rama’s, I asked him why he was wearing white. I should have known. White, in Hinduism, is the color of mourning. He told me his mom had passed away only a few months ago. I could feel my gut wrench. Bine was one of the nicest, most genuine people I’d met on my trip. He obviously had a reputation as a good person among his peers. I saw it in the way Rama deferred to him, how he seemed like a caring brother to Preeti. The fact that he was also suffering during this time, it brought tears to my eyes.

Today, as we walked alongside the main road, we passed a destitute old lady, her clothes smeared with dirt, her skin coarse with age. It was the kind of person I passed many times around the world, feeling pity, but unsure of what I could do. Even here, most Nepalis ignored these people and I generally followed their lead.

Bine, though, stopped and talked to her. They conversed a bit, then said bye. After we’d walked a safe distance away, I turned to Bine.

“Who is she?” I asked.

“That lady, she is very sad. Her husband and children all killed in a car accident,” he said. “After that, she lost everything. So I try to help. I buy her a meal when I can. No one cares for her anymore.”

“Oh wow,” I said, touched. Bine was poor himself—in Rama’s home, he’d been in awe at his CD collection. Yet, he still gave when he could. “That’s really very kind of you.”

“Sure,” he said, un-phased by my compliment. He was helping her for reasons greater than mere recognition.

Bine’s family didn’t own the house they lived in. They rented the first floor of a larger home—him, his father, and his older brother. The two of them were also in mourning, and the death had hit them hard. Bine’s dad had stopped working, while his brother had shaved his head and become a home-ascetic, doing little with his free time. Only Bine left the house regularly. His brother, though, was friendly when I first came over, greeting me, making sure I was comfortable, and he even eagerly gave me his email address so that we could keep in touch.

“So, what do you want to do after school?”

His answer surprised me.

“The army,” he said.

“Really?” I couldn’t imagine someone so kind and caring in a uniform, with a gun.

“Sure,” he said.

“Why?” I asked.

“It will be a good opportunity,” he said. It made sense. With little money, college was out of question. His family had no land in the valley, nothing to farm, so staying here was another dead end. The army was the best option—there, he could get some education, travel, and gain some experience that would help him in the future. He could also provide for his father and brother. Another window into reality here, about life in Dhulikhel, where people didn’t have the opportunities that I did. Just like my taxi driver in Abu Dhabi who took that job for his family, Bine would do what he saw was best for his.

We walked up the hill on the other side of the main road that led to Kathmandu from the Thapas’s place. He opened the door, it seemed quiet inside, and led me to his small quarters. Here was where Bine kept his belongings, on a small shelf—a shrine to Shiva, a few CDs, an old CD player, and various cards and clippings. I saw the postcard of Kansas City in there, of the downtown skyline, which I’d given to a few selected students, such as Bine and Rama, on promises of secrecy. I didn’t want to cause any jealousy but wanted to thank those who’d made Dhulikhel such an experience for me.

He reached into one of the drawers and pulled out a black-beaded necklace.

“My mother gave me fifty of these before she died. They are blessed,” he said, pointing to the two round, globe-shaped rocks next to each other on the necklace. I recognized them immediately—they were brown, hard as rock, with intricate curves like little valleys around them. The symbol of Shiva, the destroyer, who wore this on his neck.

“I want to give this to you,” he said.

For a few seconds I was speechless. I’d never received such a personal gift from anyone in the world. My eyes teared up again.

“It’s beautiful. Thank you so much,” I said.

“This helps your heart,” he told me, “so you have to have a good heart. When you wear this, don’t eat meat, don’t tell lies, and be a good person. Then you will feel its power.”

Holding it in my hand, I could already feel its energy flowing through my hands into my body, connecting me to my family, to Amama, to love.

“I’ll keep this safe, and I promise to be good when I wear it.”

Bine smiled. It was time to go.