February 6, 2014

Salutogenesis Factor #2f: My Pokhara Family

Here's my Pokhara family: Laxmi, Ramesh, their son Rahel, and me:

Pokhara: Paradise on Earth
I enjoyed the capital Kathmandu during that first trip in February, 2001, but I fell in love with Pokhara -- a short flight from Kathmandu, or a long, adventurous five-hour-drive. 

When most people think of Nepal, they envision snow-covered mountains and trekkers scaling Mt. Everest. But Kathmandu and Pokhara are in a temperate valley, wedged between the mountain wall of the Himalayas on Nepal's northern border with Tibet, and the jungles of the Terai on Nepal's southern border with India.

Pokhara, though exotic, seemed familiar to me: I grew up in Ithaca, New York, on Cayuga Lake, surrounded by hills -- one of our country's prettiest spots. Pokhara abuts Phewa Tal (lake). A gateway to the world-famous Annapurna trek, it's surrounded by snow-covered mountains.

The tourist section of Pokhara is called Lakeside, on the calm waters of the stunning Phewa Tal. On my first visit, I spent a lot of time on the dining terrace of Mike's Restaurant's at the water's edge . . .  with my British friends Terry and Patrick. I spent hours there during later visits, usually in long conversations with its Minnesota-born owner, Mike Frame, who became a good friend. See Remembering Mike Frame.

The Second Visit Seals The Deal
I returned to Nepal by myself in the fall of 2001. That visit coincided with Dasain, Nepal's biggest festival -- a combination of our Thanksgiving and Christmas. It's a celebration of family and community values.

Nothing reveals the cultural richness of Nepal more than its festivals. Ramesh, a waiter at Mike's Restaurant, said he was going back to his mountain village -- Warchok -- for the festival and invited me to join him. He warned me: the trip involved a three-hour bus ride to the end of the line, then a long climb up the mountain.

I'm glad I said "yes." The climb was difficult (for me; Ramesh's elderly parents still manage the Pokhara-Warchok climb). I might not have made it even a year later. We arrived in Warchok late in the afternoon. That evening, I was welcomed by Ramesh's extended family and other villagers outside his parents' house with singing and dancing. Though I'm not a dancer -- wish I were -- one of Ramesh's sisters did her best to get me to join the fun. 

The next morning, we walked around the village. I particularly enjoyed meeting two senior citizens:

My First Tika
The next day brought the main event of the 15-day Dashain festival -- when the family's elder gives the tika blessing to other family members. So I received tika, my first of many over the next decade.

Tika is a paste made of vermilion-colored powder, rice, and yogurt --applied in a smudge to the forehead. Getting a tika is a blessing and expression of love . . . a centerpiece of most of the festivals that enrich Nepali culture.

My Nepal Decade 
I fell in love with Nepal, but also wanted to explore other parts of Southeast Asia. Between 2001 and 2009, I journeyed to Nepal almost every spring and fall. I'd spend time in Kathmandu, and especially in Pokhara. On most trips, I'd visit another country, including:


Sri Lanka
Terry with guide who spotted an elephant


And My Favorite - Bhutan

The Extended Family
Ramesh has an older brother and sister, two younger sisters, and a younger brother. Ramesh and his younger siblings -- like so many young villagers throughout Nepal -- left their home after finishing school and headed for the nearest big city -- in their case, Pokhara.

Residents of Ramesh's Pokhara house, when I stayed there, included his wife Laxmi, son Rahel, younger brother Suman, the son of Ramesh's older brother, and the daughter of his older sister. The older brother remained in Warchok and the older sister lived in eastern Nepal.

Here's a 2005 photo taken inside the house:

But it was the rooftop where the family usually gathered to celebrate Dashain, Tihar, and other festivals. And also whenever someone would say the clouds have lifted and we can see "Fishtail," the signature mountain overlooking Pokhara,.

Here are a few rooftop photos I've take through the years

Not from the roof, actually, but the small balcony off "John's room"

Sunrise or sunset? I think sunset.

"On a clear day, you can see forever"

The family gathers on the roof.

Tika Time for Me
Just two of the many photos of me receiving and its accouterments.

Laxmi's Family
Laxmi's parents had a house in Lakeside along the road down to Mike's Restaurant, so I saw them often. Laxmi's two brothers now study and work abroad on student visas: one in Toyko, the other in London. 

Thousands of Nepali families tell similar stories of children leaving home to work abroad. When I first came to Nepal, Ramesh played on a local soccer team. Within a year or two, the team didn't exist, because most of the young men had left the country for jobs (usually in one of the Arab countries), or had managed to obtain student visas to study (and work) outside Nepal.  One fourth of Nepal's GDP comes from money sent home by its expatriates.

I'm sitting here with Laxmi's father, who died after a long struggle with kidney disease.

Laxmi's family followed a Nepali tradition that was hard for me to get used to: the men eat first, and the women eat later. After my own supper, I took this photo of Laxmi, her sister Saraswati, and their mother eating on the "second shift."

Farewell to Fewa
I'll end where I began: on Fewa Tal.

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My Pokhara Family Moves to Washington
Late in 2008, Ramesh finally obtained his green card. Then in January 2009, he arrived in Washington where he quickly found Nepali friends Here he is with Nimesh on the drum and Madhav cheering him on in the background. Madhav and Ramesh had been best childhood friends back in Warchok and now were reunted in my living room.:

In March, 2012, I flew home from Nepal with Laxmi and Rahel, so they could finally join Ramesh in America. Here's the happy trio: 

A few weeks later, there was also happy news for Nimesh, the drummer above: his new bride Bhawana arrived in Washington. Their story -- the last "family" in this ongoing series about salutogenesis, my personal "origin of health" -- is coming up next week.

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