Springtime in California smells like orange blossoms; in Kagati springtime smells like citrus blossoms and human shit. This is my new normal.
In February and March I spent 7 weeks working and living in Kagati Gau (aptly named Lemon Village) just outside, yet a world away from, Kathmandu. Almost all the homes in the village, that spans 3 valleys, were damaged during last springs earthquakes and on top of that Kagati doesn’t have toilets. Kagati is the only open defecation zone I’ve experienced, anywhere. Besides the 2 toilets on our base, at the village health post, I can count on one hand the number of working toilets I encountered across a village of close to 5000. The wheat fields were a better bet anyway.
We were in Kagati to demolish (go Demo Team!), rubble, and build transitional shelters for 15 families. Yes, a year after the earthquake we are still building transitional shelters, long story. I went to Kagati as the rubble team leader and stayed on through the construction phase. Tee came back to project in early March and was happy we had entered the construction phase before he arrived. He quickly resumed his role as master chef and procurer of protein improving all of our diets.
Kagati really felt like home for me. We lived on a small base and we had a chance to get to know the community, especially our beneficiary families, much better because we stayed on longer than the usual week or two. I went to Kathmandu one weekend soon after we’d arrived and when I returned and was walking back up the hill to our base I passed a house where we often ate lunch. In the doorway sat a little boy, who I kindly referred to alien babu (alien baby) because he wore a knit hat that made him look like an Martian from a 1950’s alien movie, and as recognition flickered across his face his hands flapped back and forth for a moment before he collected them together in front of his face. As I called out “Namaste” to him his cousins came running from inside, piling up behind him one at a time creating a Namaste traffic jam in the doorway. I am home.
One of the valleys that is part of this village looked like it was pulled straight out of a fairy tale. A narrow valley, filled with terraced wheat fields and stone houses set along a small creek. Suspension bridges and footpaths crisscrossed the valley. After a few chose your own adventure attempts to get back to base we found that all the roads lead home, eventually.
Other aspects of my new normal
* Living at an active health post- a woman almost gave birth there one night, that would have been an unique night had she not been transferred to KTM
* Intermittent electricity- We seemed to have a good pattern of 2 days on, 1 day off, or vice versa, it just gave me an excuse to go to bed even earlier
* Bucket showers- I have become quite the pro at these, I think not having hair helps
* No bathroom privacy- like never being able to unhear the sound of 20 people getting food poisoning on the same night
* Not breathing too deeply- you know how you half hold your breath in a nasty gas station bathroom…well kinda like that all around the village
* Spitting- anytime, anywhere, no problem.
* Walking, walking, walking everywhere- 5 of our site were a loooong way from our base, best commute a girl could wish for
* Hitchhiking-sometime out to our work sites, once in an empty garbage truck
* Being covered in flies- goats were slaughtered at the shrine above our base weekly and we all were grossed out by the number of flies that called base home
* Having a goat slaughtered on base- our beneficiaries bought a goat, blessed it, and slaughtered it on base for our end of construction celebration
* Having children put their hands together in “Namaste” every time they see you- even while they are pooping on the side of the footpath
*Face tattoos- snowflakes and flowers for the Balami women
*Seeing 100’s of eagles everyday- our village hosted a huge eagles roost and at dawn and dusk each day we had a “hawknado” of birds coming into the village
* Intense Snickers addiction- In real life I don’t even like Snickers, on project they could be used as a black market currency and I eat them like they are going extinct
Now that we are finished in Kagati we are back in Nuwakot for our last week.