Kunti Bandali. Trodden path.

Written by Alba Maria Campos, Spanish volunteer nurse, specialised in family and community health
Translate to english by Tere Salinero corrections by Alba Miquel
Photo done for Kamal Bhattarai with X-pro1 © Clara Go

I have learnt to think like I was taught to and I even got to believe that it is me who thinks. I find it difficult to understand that all I do is just start a thinking mechanism with patterns and embedded circuits. That is why it is hard for us to accept what goes against what we have previously learnt. All I have absorbed only makes me inflexible and places me, tyrannically, at the service of the cultural group that has trained me”.

We left Basti in the direction of Kunti Bandali on Saturday the 11th of March. We passed by the house of the kid whose head had been injured the prior day. He was still bleeding a bit. The woman had gone to the hospital with her husband and we could not see her. Alba and I went ahead, silent for a good while, digesting all we had seen in Basti during the past few days. At the start, the uphill incline seemed impossibly hard… In the end, it was not that bad. We stopped to eat some hard boiled eggs, a tuna can coming from Lumbini, and a bag of raw noodles. After a three-hour walk, we stopped for a chia… We only had bagged noodles for food… I am absolutely not keen on packaged meals… I would have rather had a DalBat and Tarkari (although I had had enough of it already for a lifetime). Damned progress… Reaching even farther than the roads!!!!

As we were finishing eating, a tractor appeared, full of drums and… Alba and I saw the light: this would be our transportation to Kunti Bandali!!! We asked Kamal to enquire if it would be possible for us to climb in the wagon to get to the place. Alba, Samita and myself shared the wagon with some of the girls from the school. To be honest, it was good fun!!! Thankfully, we didn’t have go by foot. It would have meant a few more hours walking.

We reached the village. The houses and shops were made of tin, which didn’t make for a nice sight. We barely saw any women on the street. There was a very nice boy with a naughty face, very dirty and thin, who was forever working on something: cleaning, minding the goats… or helping the drunks get home… Below the house there was always a group of men wobbling around a big garbage bin full of bottles of Roxi. The place was horrible. Drunken men ambling around the whole day, the kid attending his chores and working for them, always looking happy, and the women carrying tons of stuff over their heads, whilst the girls walked past holding rocks in their hands “just in case”… They knew very well what they were doing by that.

This small boy, like many others, did not attend school. So we were not reaching all the population, just the “civilised” part (this word is not to be always taken as a positive one). But there was another part of the population who would never have the “privilege” of education. We saw it in Basti more than in here, many young girls who were barely 7 or 9 would cart their young siblings around in their arms and lingered in the school playground whilst other children their age were in class.

The teachers seemed to be more involved here than in Basti, they interacted more with us. We also encountered a couple of classrooms who were not very receptive. On the first day, we discovered that, that same year, UNICEF had been around with a project against Chhaupadi that, we gathered, had caused quite a lot of damageThe women, organised here as “health volunteers”, were distinguishable by their blue saris. They asked Clara if they would be given money for posing for the pictures and attending the lectures, like UNICEF had done. When one of them told us, we were flabbergasted. Money, really??? We also met one in a classroom, the one for the youngest girls, who was the only one who did not give any importance to how they lived the menstruation, and did not say anything either about what they may like less about their usual practices during their period… So we continued talking, sharing information on periods, sexuality and menstrual cycle, just touching very lightly on Chhaupadi… if they did not want to change things, not much to do then!!! In any case, we had the impression that they came very well trained from home.

The women, throughout the pictures, showed different traditions when practising the Chhaupadi. Here, they could not touch any fountain or take a shower. A woman took a photograph of the moment when a baby who had slept with his mother – who was on her period – in the chaughot, was purified in the morning with a bath, and once purified, another woman took him and cared for him during the day. Another photograph showed that the cutlery they used for their meals during those days could only be used by them, not by other members of the family, and they were left outside the chaughot, never inside.

When we left KB, I discussed with Alba Clara’s reply when we sent her the program: she said that it was too “daring”. Whereas she and Pepa laughed at the “pussies” in the signs were were going to put up in the classes, Alba and I were convinced that everything would go fine and were very happy about how we had prepared things. And thus it was, neither in Basti nor in KB we changed a single iota of the contents and on the spot we added some dynamic depending on the participation of the classroom… I must also say that Nepalese boys and girls are real stars when it comes to behaving  themselves. We have so enjoyed working with them!!! It would have been great to establish a deeper bond and share more things, which are so far from their school programs as from ours… 

Sharing other perspectives about menstruation, sexuality or masturbation with other nurses and knowing the superstitions that they themselves also practice was also very gratifying. In the end, they will surely be generators of changes wherever they may educate. I was surprised when Susmila told me that, contrary to my belief, it was more convenient that it was us who came do the workshops than they themselves doing them, because they do have similar superstitions and traditions as well. From the youngsters point of view, apparently, us being “white”, must obviously mean we are right in what we say, and we are more convincing. At that moment I saw myself as the “symbol of the progress” that I so much rejected, and I didn’t like it a bit. We continued talking about the future, marriage and motherhood, and she extended my replies to all the women in the peninsula. I asked her not to create in her mind an image of the West just by looking at us, as it would be an erroneous one, given that we are not at all a representative part of it.

I am very proud to have been a part of all this process. Not because of the paradox that representing the “selfishness in helping others to feel better and so my entourage acknowledges my inner goodness” thing… but because it is one of the deepest learnings life can offer you: from how to communicate with somebody who does not speak your language (not even near likely), to how you can be happy without delving into the extreme consumerism of the Western world; that happiness has nothing to do with the consumerism-driven happiness we are being sold; learn simple things like having a shower in the school fountain, do the laundry by hand, wipe your butt with your hand or throw your snot into the air as toilet paper has not yet reached these boundaries; learn to respect the values and traditions of a culture that is very much different from our own and that, really, we are nobody to impose any changes, unless they really want to do it. And I decided to soak it in as much as possible without judging it from a Western perspective.

Learning to work in a multicultural team with the Nepalese-English-Spanish language barrier has also been a real challenge. To learn that, when you are part of a team, assuming “power roles” because it is the easiest way to manage does not lead to anything good. Because in a team, all voices must be heard, also those who remain silent because of fear, lack of confidence, shyness or the “cultural baggage” to say yes to everything and not complain. Also learning to detect barriers and try to break them down instead of making them bigger, to create new opportunities. To learn to sleep properly, to go to bed at a time I would have never imagined and then rise up early with no trouble, something that in Spain was unthinkable of; to learn to disconnect from the world, to live perfectly well without internet, to dispense with so many external stimulations and influences that are thousands of kilometres away, and see that you are much better that way than with the over-connection we are used to.

Learning to be at peace, to take the plunge and do things that I had always wanted to do, like percussion instruments, macramé, writing and developing my introspective skills, to evolve and know myself better, or simply enjoy an Indian biri whilst I admire the views… Something for which I did not have time in Barcelona. Or to learn to trust in myself and, above all, learn to adapt to any, and I insist, any, event.

I think that we are developing a really huge adaptive capacity… from plan changes concerning Nepal that forced us to reshape everything at the last minute, to difficult temperatures, food and odd smells.

“To withstand uncertainty”… I will never forget this sentence…

Thus, this capacity of adaptation and acceptance of given circumstances is something we should accept from this culture. There are times when this “conformist” or “passive” attitude is seen as something “negative”… So what, is the nonconformity and self-demanding level of us Westerners better? To want more and more from everything every passing day? To compete constantly to fulfil the needs they create in us? There is still a lot of room for reflection…  And we haven’t got any right to judge. 

Kunti Bandali. Trodden path.

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