I squat down to sit with Mama by her small flame of a fire. Not much sunlight lands in her makeshift bedroom in the school, so the room’s temp stays on the cool side. The fire is built for warmth. A circular concave pan sits in front of us with a few twigs burning. The fire is just big enough to see the glow of the flames in her eyes. She rearranges the twigs frequently for optimal flame height.
Above on the third level, a quiet low humming sound comes from the 10th class students, who are attending special evening sessions to prep and pass the Secondary Leaving Certificate Exam. This very important exam determines whether one can further their education beyond secondary. The principal insists they all study diligently to pass. They repeat their lesson a loud in unison, like Tibetan monks that sit for hours repeating mantras in their ancient monasteries.
A family relative rides up on a bicycle through the darkened school yard. He is heading to a new job in Korea and wants to pay his respects before departing. He states he paid 7 Lakh (700,000 Rupees or $7000 USD) for the opportunity. He signed a two year contract and won’t return until the end. His two children attend the school. They have more western name, which are more pronounceable, and more easily remembered: Monica and Mona Lisa. Monica may stem from the Clinton-Lewinsky ordeal. I met another Monica in Nepal with that same namesake and for that very reason. He admits going is a hardship, but feels his choices here give him little or no chances in life.
Although Mama and I don’t exchange many words, we are able to communicate. Does she ever wonder why I have not advanced beyond my monosyllabic sentences? I have to see the written word to speak it. Here in Nepal, folks seem to be able to pick up a language easily by ear. My vocabulary is about 50 words or “short” sentences, as I prefer to think.
I say tato ( hot) and warm my hands by the fire. Mama laughs. We understand each other.