Last week (scroll down if you missed it) I wrote about our minute’s silent reflection for those who lost their lives in the earthquake. Now to tell you a bit more about where I was.
Thulaswara is a small village, close to Chitepani (where Tika grew up). Their main school building collapsed in the earthquake and the Chitepani Trust (a small charity - more of that another time) had made a huge contribution towards the rebuilding. We (Tika and Ann - a friend who is also here at the moment, and me) went to the village to join the celebrations for the anniversary of the rebuilding. (Please bear with the brackets!)
We took a jeep up to the village. (I wasn’t sorry - I’ve walked up here many times, and it’s a long, hot, dusty climb.) The villagers were assembling as we arrived. Benches were set out in the school yard - children at the front, men behind them, and the women on separate benches at the side. I settled at the back.
But not for long. Tika was called to the front - rightly, for the administrative work he does for the Chitepani Trust that made the rebuilding possible. Ann was called to the front - rightly, for her tireless fundraising that made the rebuilding possible. Then I was called to the front - why? Because I have a white skin? I have done nothing but cheer them on. But up I went, to be given a garland of marigolds and white scarf and a tika of red powder on my forehead, and take my place at the top table.
Then all other visitors to the village were given a comparable welcome and seats at the front - so it felt a bit less uncomfortable. But I still think my precedence over local people whose ties to this village are much stronger than mine does not sit easily with me.
Nevertheless, there I was, as the speeches began. To be fair, there were occasional breaks for children to march by with flags, or dance, or come to the front to receive prizes (writing books), and for those of us at the top table to pay our respects the education goddess. But these interludes were breaks in the main performance - speeches. Children shuffled on their benches and pulled faces at each other. People got up and went to the loo and slipped back into their seats.
I looked around. The sky was a deep blue, the buildings low and functional, the benches resting in the dust. Small birds twittered; kites took to the thermals. Prayer flags fluttered in the breeze. (This is the view from a nearby hilltop).
Yes, this went on longer than any prizegiving I had to sit through as a child. But when I was a child we had plenty to celebrate - school sports, school plays, school fetes. Here in the mountains people have barely enough to see them through the seasons. Every achievement is precious - and deserves its moment in the limelight. And if that means I have to sit through hours of speeches, and have no idea what on earth is going on, that is fine. It was an honour to share it with them.