It had been nearly nine hours since we left the Hidden Monastery. No food left. Hadn’t seen water in four hours. The sun was going down and we were at least ninety minutes from our final destination. As we continued our four-hour descent along the sheer face of the mountain, the warm afternoon sun dipped behind the ridge and gave way to the chilling shade of twilight. A feverish turn that took only seconds.
My team of volunteers was starting to lag behind as we entered the next remote village. It had been a year since I had visited this town. I returned with printed photos of the ethnically Tibetan villagers I had met the previous year. I wound through the narrow lanes, trying hard to make out any familiar faces in the failing light of day.
First there was C*, the baby whose mother had committed suicide after losing a child to the outbreak more than a year before. He was visiting an aunty and looking relatively healthy, though not much larger. I heard his father had remarried.
Next there was P. Her family had also lost a child in the outbreak. A new stone and metal outhouse stood in her front patio area. After the outbreak, more and more villagers began making the connection between hygiene and health. Outhouses like this were becoming more prevalent in the valley.
The villager’s homes were spread sparsely across the narrow plateau of yellow grass and rhododendron trees. “Are we there yet?” slipped from one of the volunteers. We had been in the same village for fifteen minutes, but when the houses are separate by ancestral farmlands it can sometimes take a while to walk to a neighbor’s house.
We hustled on to T’s house. She’s probably only in her early teens. She was taking care of the house and farm alone. Her father had passed away years ago leaving the seven daughters to take care of their mother. The previous week I had actually eaten lunch with T’s mother in Kathmandu. She had travelled five days for a doctor to investigate an ache in her body. After a week of tests, it seems the doctor’s results were still inconclusive and he had required her to stay, leaving T alone even longer. In the coming years, MountainChild, in partnership with village leadership, plans to break ground on a Health Post just 20 minutes from T’s house. Bringing this kind of basic health care to the mountains will alleviate the stress of absent parents and make the decision to go to the doctor an easier one.
One last house. We rounded the corner and announced our presence with a Tibetan greeting, “Tashi Delek!” The clanging of dishes proved we had startled my friend. After a cheerful, but brief volley of small talk, we dismissed ourselves to continue down the mountain to our final destination where a guesthouse for foreigners awaited.
“Where are you going?” she asked. When we told her our intentions she replied with an emphatic, “No! Stay with me!” Her neighbor, who was also a friend, rounded the corner and the two began bickering over who would have the privilege of hosting our team.
Ten minutes later it was pitch black outside. The temperature had plummeted, and we were lounging around the indoor fire sipping tea and swapping stories with our hostesses as they prepared our dinner. Our boots had been joyfully retired at the door and our beds awaited us in the next room. On nights like that one, I was very thankful to have friends in high places.
Many such visits have been made and will continue to be made as MountainChild strengthens its friendship with the people of the Himalayas.
*Names have been changed