On Monday we finally were able to start the cleaning and painting project at Lotus Children’s Home. Since we only had 3 days and limited hours due to working only while the children were in school we decided to focus on just the kitchen and main kids’ bedroom.
The home had last been painted in 2007 by a group of Australian volunteers so it was long due for a fresh coat to brighten up the interior space. Years of cooking and tiny hands had worn down the sheen and left plenty for us to scrub and revamp. Nevermind the unlocking of dust and debris that came unhinged during the constant earth rumbles of the last year.
Each morning we’d walk the 30 minutes or so from Thamel to the home, arriving after the kids depart for school at 8:45am. They’d return around 3:45pm so our day would consist of a morning’s work followed by a massive (and outrageously delicious) dal bhat home-cooked by Laxmi then more work and tea in the afternoon before the mice returned from school.
On Tuesday we had an unexpected short day. Due to electricity outages the paint shop could not mix our paint so we finished cleaning and did some priming. You really just have to go with the flow in cases like this. It opened up some time for us to do more city touring before returning for more activities with the kids, where they called us Uncle Joseph and Aunt Alyse, etc. We played games like Go Fish, Old Maid, Crazy 8’s and UNO (thanks to Jeremy for donating them for me to take!) and the kids sang to us every word of Justin Bieber and One Direction songs. While during a heated game of Go ‘Feesh’ Saru quietly mumbled something to me. It took me maybe 5 tries to understand what I was hearing, but finally it arrived plain as day: “you’re princess alice in wonderland”. You may not know I have a special kinship to Louis Carroll’s classic and actually just reread it a few months ago. “Down the rabbit hole” which I use to describe most of my chaotic days is a favorite phrase and I’ve considered the white rabbit, who is always late, to be my spirit animal. Just that day even I had come across a small metal charm resemblant of the white rabbit that has become a favorite souvenir from my time there. And just to continue the irony, on our last night together my travel companions and I visited a haunt for some live music and imagine my surprise when there in the darkness grinning at me mischievously was the head of the Cheshire Cat. Upon further squinting I came to realize two whole walls were covered in scenes from the book. Maybe we just see what we want to see!
After I learned of my status as not only a princess, but one of the most beloved characters in all of literature, Saru brought out books and their ‘princess’ dolls to match them from Snow White to Princess Jasmine, who was curiously missing a shoe. We soon gathered a small crowd as I fumbled through playing with these disproportional, miniature humans, which is a talent I never quite allowed to develop when young. In a twist of children’s novels, I had one of the girls get on one knee and place the missing shoe on Princess Jasmine. After that, Princess J was finally able to stretch and get back to playing sports, running across my legs and the room at top speed, much to the kids’ (and my travel mates’) amusement.
Our group mate Dr. Lisa did another round of dental checkups on all the kids, exposing that our little Anuska has a vicious case of the sweet tooths (I can relate, tiny one).
A former Prime Minister of Nepal, Sushil Koirala, who was leader of the Nepali Congress, considered the founding party of democracy in Nepal, suddenly passed away on Tuesday so Wednesday was considered a holy day meaning the kids had no school that day. A scary concept for us considering we had a lot of painting left on our final work day! We had to contend with curious kittens wanting to check our progress or creep into their room for something. It was a precarious day to say the least with nearly 20 people and 8 paint brushes in the small space! And to boot Laxmi had her hands full having to cook lunch for everyone. Luckily several of the kids helped her with the food prep outside which was heart-warming to see.
On Wednesday night we took the family out to dinner at a Newari restaurant, extremely popular with locals. We left Laxmi to do the ordering so an endless parade of small dishes appeared before us as we tried new taste after new taste, although my beloved mo-mo’s were inexplicably absent from the party. In spite of telling the children they had already eaten all of the potatoes in Kathmandu, they continued to order endless rounds of French fries, washed down by colas. Knowing it was a special treat for them was joyous. A favorite of mine was small triangles of bread made from green grams and of course the ‘Nepali pizza’ called chatamari.
Some of my travel companions asked the children to write in their journals so they wrote heartfelt notes and drew pictures. I was caught off-guard when Karan, one of the painfully shy boys I hadn’t had much interaction with, sat across from me and told me to not move. I guess kindred spirits find each other in the end. He proceeded to draw a marvelous portrait of me that I now cherish. Rounds of hugs, photos and tears ended a beautiful evening as we said goodbye and added what I hope is only a comma onto our collective story together.
The next day was time to say goodbye to my travel companions as well as we all departed throughout the day. With my flight being last of the day at 9pm I had extra time to walk the corridors of Kathmandu and say so long for now. I was lucky to have Laxmin offer to take me to the airport, but I wasn’t prepared when I saw little Anuska jump from around the corner with a giant smile on her face! I nearly welled up as he told me she begged to be able to come with to take me on my final ride out of the city. As I bent down to hug and kiss her at the airport she looked at me with her life-sized brown eyes and said “i’ll mees you.”
I’ll mees you all too.