I have not written to you for several months. These months have been difficult. I’ve thought about you, I’ve thought about the people and the experiences that I would like to share with you. I’ve thought about my transformation, who I was before I left, who I became, who I am now. Unsure of the words to use, I stopped trying. Unsure of how to approach a story, and so I didn’t approach it. I look back at what I have written to you, dear friends, and I wonder where that girl has gone. Again, I find myself in a state of self-examination.
It is this continual state of self-examination that leads me to question why I stopped writing. Writing has been my means of processing, comprehending my experience, understanding my internal self. But there have been these fragmented memories, pieces of stories, that I’ve stored inside myself. Stories that I intended to share. Stories that I never wrote—a subconscious protestation to fully comprehending these experiences. Yet these stories continue to appear in my consciousness, fragmented and rushed, always imprinting again on my internal self. I would like to present to you a representation of these fragmented stories as I understand them in my brain, stories out of context, stories that still bear the pain of the storyteller, even in pieces.
. . . I walked past him every day while living in the capital city of Nepal. His eyes, a glazed over blue. His lips tightly pressed together and his brow furrowed in anticipation of receiving some spare change from those who passed him. He methodically, and desperately, shook his arm at each passerby. His hand was no longer there, just an arm on which the handle of a bucket rested. Exchanging glances, I felt my thoughts grow darker, wondering what brought him into these circumstances, wondering how he lost his hand, wondering how one could survive like this . . .
. . .“We cannot go into the forest. We are women. There are low caste men also gathering firewood. We cannot go in.” . . .
. . . I listened to her stories. I felt the pain leak out of her as her body stiffened and her words slowed down. I listened to her tell me the story of her rape. The same story she had confided in her mother. The same story that forced her to marry her rapist. She pulled her son’s hood over his head as the sun began to meet the horizon in the distance. She said, “It’s a sad life. The life of a woman here is sad. But what can we do?” . . .
. . . “You must not leave the home past five o’clock in the evening, The men will drink and it will be dangerous for you.” . . .
. . . I had seen his mother so many times. She would follow me, targeting my fair skin, targeting my foreignness. She presented the same script to me each time until she started to recognize me. My foreignness sinking into her familiarity. She sent her son this time. I felt something tugging at my shirt. Tiny hands, caked in dirt. I looked down to see a smattering of dusty hair, an unclothed child looking back at me. What could I possibly do? . . .
. . . “I never want to marry. I know very well what boys want. When I marry, my life will be over.” . . .
. . . I met her on my way to the mountains. Her face was sullen, her eyes fixated on nothing in particular, just outside the window. She did not know where she was going. Her uncle told her to go and so she obeyed. Each day of hiking increased the distance she traveled from home—a path unfamiliar to her. Each day that we hiked further, we began to understand the fate that awaited her. Her uncle had offered her to provide household assistance in exchange for money. He had sold her . . .
. . .“What gives you the courage to travel alone so far away from home? You are a woman.” . . .
. . . “How do you feel? Now, seeing where we come from?” Roshan asked me as we slowly made our way between the bamboo huts of the Beldangi II refugee camp. I was quiet and he continued, “It’s sad, isn’t it? Life here is sad.” . . .
. . . We approached the spot where it happened—the avalanche that followed the earthquake. The entire village was destroyed, leaving behind pieces of the lives that were lost—bed frames, tea thermoses, baby clothes, metal cups. Didi was leading us. Her arms, crossed and tucked into her chest; I watched her small frame move through the pieces of lives once lived. She stopped, holding her arm out to point to where her sister had lived with her husband and children. I watched tears fall from her eyes, her breath shortening. I watched her, surrounded by the reminder of devastation. I watched her, trying to move on, paralyzed by her pain, uncertain of how to continue in that moment . . .
These are some of the stories, the people, that have clutched my heart. I encountered so many people who had no agency, no ability to change their reality. People who saw me and marveled at the choices I have in front of me, the independence I exercised; I represented answers, happiness, the ‘good life’. Gradually I became enveloped in sadness, enveloped in an uncertainty that turned into fear. Sadness over the lack of choice my new friends had; their lives had been laid out for them by way of caste, gender, age, region, etc. Fear that I would not do good with the many choices that are available to me in life. Fear that I would take my privilege for granted. Fear that I couldn’t possibly be the person that these people looking at me thought I was.
I have fought this fear; I’ve denied its existence; I’ve tried to ignore it. And finally, I am accepting it. In accepting this fear, I have become aware of how it has manifested itself in these past several months. How it is halted me from writing, from laughter, from sharing, from life. In this acceptance of my fear, I accept myself. In accepting myself, I am aware that my focus is shifting. I am now facing the challenge of exploring a new theme. The theme of balance. Informed by the stories and lessons of my past, I seek balance as I look to my future, as I find myself preparing to return to Nepal. Preparing to return, to pick up where I left off, to continue my work, and to continue to learn. It is with a renewed sense of self and others that I embark on this adventure.
I will share with you the plans for my new adventure soon, friends. Until next time.