Winding our way through the mountains on the motorbike up to Baglung, the 2 hour trip is always welcomed as it is an opportunity to go out in to the real Nepal, into the countryside. The view always ignites my creativity and above all my love for nature and life.
I am always mindful of my intrusion as a foreigner and despite my efforts to blend in and even wearing clothes that don’t clash with the culture, my presence still invites stares all round… (Don’t think I will ever get used to that.) However I understand that of course to see a foreigner in these parts is not a daily occurence.
It is of course Shrawan for this month, so upon our arrival we head to Shiva’s temple and Govinda shows me the Hindu traditions and we share and talk about this. I find that, for me, the idea of praying in this way is very public and within me arises the feeling, that prayer, devotion and meditation is a private thing between your soul and the deity in which you are connecting… The idea of connecting feminine and masculine together, unifying consciousness is a beautiful thing, no matter the tradition you choose to action this. I still feel we can connect directly without the need for temples, however I am open to the experience. ( the synchronicity of the way they touch their forehead and heart in acknowledging their gods is representative of this union, connecting head and heart, masculine and feminine, for which I can understand) I am enjoying exploring through the Hindu traditions at the moment, as the gods and goddesses seem to be so powerful and present in everyday life here. It is easy to see why people here have a different concept and expression of love. Love and devotion is at the core of everything they do. The way they look after their families, their friends and the respect that is present in so much of their actions. It is difficult to comprehend this I feel unless you immerse yourself in it. Of course there are always exceptions in every culture… You will always have the fanatics or extremes..
For me the important thing I am learning, is that without the experience of a culture, how can we possibly interpret or understand how it works in a practical sense. I am not saying that I embrace everything about this culture, however there are some beautiful ways of “being”, here that resonates with my soul and almost feels as though this is what has been missing from my life… Although it is difficult sometimes to let go of western ideals..
As a daughter of migrant parents from different corners of the globe, until recently, I never pondered the reason why I have often felt like a visitor in Australia, ( My fathers ancestors from Netherlands, Germany, Indonesia and China and my mothers from the UK) although it is the only home I have known. I love the countryside and its diversity and the freedoms of being in Australia are very much appreciated. However I have always been aware of the assault that the early migrants have had on the precious eco system and indigenous culture. Even as a child I could feel the ancestors of the indigenous people restless and disturbed by the way people disrespected the land. I remember visiting places with my parents and feeling the immense sadness and despair, not really understanding at the time why, although, now it makes sense to me. As an empath, I feel.
For me energetically, I have never felt settled and at home… I wonder if this was why???
Five years ago I visited outback Australia and I remember having the distinct feeling that I needed to ask permission to be there. I remember feeling like I was being guided and spoken to. In special sacred Indigenous locations I could feel the presence of the ancestors and they were showing me and allowing me to feel them. To think of it now seems strange, however I will never forget meditating at a gorge one day and feeling the energy of Namatjira watching over me and speaking to me gently about indigenous spirituality and the importance of not losing this wisdom. Whether or not this was my imagination or not is really not relevant, the message is the same. We need to pay attention and respect our ancestors and what their lives can teach us about living. As humans, I feel somewhere we have gotten a little off track and lost our connection with our planet and the reason why is because we don’t share our stories and wisdom anymore.. We’ve forgotten how to connect with the amazing universe. We have become too much in our heads and forgotten our hearts.. Respect is gone. Especially for our elders.
My mothers parents from England and my fathers parents from Netherlands and Indonesia. I was always fascinated with my roots and this has become even more apparent for me now as I spend time in Baglung with Govinda’s family, born and raised in a culture that is thousands of years old, steeped in tradition. The roots here are so deep that it would be difficult for them to ever imagine another place as home. This became so clear to me as I spent the day stomping in the muddy rice paddies. The stories and respect for their ancestors is so woven into life that for people here there is no question. The conflict arises as modern society starts to make its way in to the younger generation, filling their heads up with capitalist ideas, which seem appealing at first, however for many people here it will create great conflict. The fact of the matter is that the very idea of capitalism is not sustainable, it relies heavily on the individual journey, not a communities… so the family connection is becoming more challenged as young Nepalis conflicted within themselves between supporting and respecting family and chasing money to make life better… I guess the point I’m making is that somehow we need to protect the culture and way of life here, before it is lost completely. There is so much to value in the traditions that make Nepal strong, resilient, and connected to universal wisdom.
Many visitors that come here, look at Nepal through westerner eyes and with this view, you will see many things that will conflict with what you think, is ‘right’… The key to learning about any culture is to come as a blank slate, just be in it, no judgement, observe, communicate, learn…. eg: I remember a recent foreigner saying she wanted to do a project that helped women get off the floor and cook in upright stoves, she felt she was doing a great thing for women. So I asked my Nepali friend to explain to me why many Nepali women still prefer to cook in outside kitchens on the floor. His reply was this: ‘Women here have a choice, but they prefer to sit and cook. They grow up sitting on the floor squatting, they are used to and enjoy sitting by the fire on the floor cooking.’ I also observed many of the family often gather in this space too, to assist or just to talk. Nepali people love to talk. ‘She cooks this way’, he said ‘because she finds standing up to cook hard work and she gets pain in her legs and back.’ So who are we to judge or decide that its time for change? Nepali people will adapt and change in their own way in their own time… Change needs to be organic. Something we have learned in Australia about forcing change amongst the Aboriginal people. It created such a loss of identity that many indigenous Australians are so disconnected from their roots that they are struggling to live in modern Australia.
After visiting Shiva’s temple, we had a traditional Nepali dinner, Dal Bhat and prepared for the next day of rice planting.
We woke early and wound our way up the mountain to the terraced hill of rice paddies.. The beauty of this location was amazing. Just being up there was so healing. The whole family gathered in the farm today to do their part. They tell me its a fun day and they look forward to it every year in Monsoon. We started work at 7am, clearing the rice field and making it ready for the Buffalo to come down and move the soil, well mud. The water was flowing down the mountainside and flowed in to the rice field quickly making it muddy and wet. The best most amazing part was going barefoot in the mud..
There was something so cleansing and earthy about getting my feet in the muddy water. After a few hours it was time for the women to gather in the lower fields and pick the previous rice, bundle it up and then in a few hours it would be replanted and spread in the larger fields… So I sat with the women and did my part. They are so used to sitting on the ground or squatting that for the ladies this is the easiest most relaxed part of the day, for me, Im lucky that I’m reasonably flexible, however my back did start to complain after 2-3 hours.
After the rice picking we all gathered together for food. It was a beautiful sight, the women had all cooked earlier that day and everything, including pots and pans, plates and all was brought up to the fields on their backs in baskets. It was a feast. Nobody went hungry anyone nearby was welcomed.
After the lunch gathering it was time for the real hard work! The men were busy with the buffalo working hard in the mud, digging, harrowing and removing rocks.. WOW, by this time they were covered from head to foot in mud. to walk in the paddies the mud comes up to your mid calves in some spots, hard yakka indeed. Whilst the women got busy planting. Before long I was in sync with these ladies and we were focused, all the while having fun and laughing. My kurta (traditionsl Nepali women clothes) which was clean when I started, soon became a grotty wet mess as I placed each rice plant deep into the mud. After several hours of songs, chiya (tea) and chappati we finally finished exhausted and satisfied with our achievements at 7pm.
It was getting dark as we drove down the mountain back to Baglung, I think the family were surprised at how much I got involved and helped, personally I felt a deep sense of connection with their way of life, myself and the planet. One of the most natural and organic experiences of my life.