by Kym Putnam
We called them the goat girls. Three young Tamang girls, we guessed around 10 years old, living in the heart of the hill country of Nepal. We first saw them from a distance as we bathed and washed our dusty clothes in the river. Every time we glanced up, the squatting little threesome were closer, watching us intently from the big flat rocks along the rivers edge. It was the goats that actually brought them closer. The girls were in charge of a small herd of goats that were grazing on the steep hillside above the river and the tallest girl would fling a rock at the herd when she wanted them to move along. And I thought girls couldnt throw! (at least I cant) This one could nail a goat dead on from 50 meters every time. We were impressed to say the least.
The hill country, where we were travelling this day, is a rugged region in central Nepal containing deep valleys and steep terraced ridges. The name is misleading. These hills would be ranked as mountains anywhere else in the world. The daily life of the women who live in the high villages includes a climb down 1000 vertical meters to fetch water only to haul it back up again. Our group of 10 women and 6 men had already travelled 3 days by foot from the end of a dirt track where our bus had brought our party of porters, cooks, guides and us to this remote and beautiful region known as the Mahabharat. On this day we had descended that 1000 meters to a quiet campsite along the river. Michael Rojik, co-ordinator of the Nepal School Projects was escorting us to a village still 5 days away. We had the privilege of hand delivering money needed for a primary school requested by a remote and poor village. Besides schools, this Canadian non-governmental organization provides assistance in the building of water systems, health posts, and provides expertise in apprenticeship training. On this hot and cloudless day the lush green terraced hills towered above us on all sides and our camp by the river was in shadow by early afternoon.
I was draped over a warm rock, reading a novel and recovering from stomach troubles, Sheila was combing the tangles out of her long freshly washed hair, Callie was watching Monica, and Monica was, of course, quilting. Monica didnt take photos but wished to record everything in beautiful appliqued quilt pieces. She had secured a large flat rock in the middle of the river and her colourful squares of cloth, rickrack, embroidery thread, needles and scissors were spread about her. A square, depicting her porter carrying her big black duffel bag by a tumpline across his forehead, was almost finished. It was this particular activity that attracted the goat girls and in short order they were perched beside Monica. Without a word Monica handed the girls their own pieces of fabric and threaded their needles. They caught on quickly and began to cut out pieces of cloth and stitch orange and yellow flower-like pictures on the black cloth. Every once in a while one of the girls would leap up, jump great distances from boulder to boulder across the river and hit a goat with a rock so they would move a few meters. We were delighted with this diversion and marveled at the distances she could leap in her bare feet, her blue skirt parachuting her down. The smiling girls, on the other hand, were just as delighted with the diversion Monica has created in their day.
Michael told us later that the Tamang people of this area do not sew at all and you would be hard pressed to find a needle and thread in any village around these parts. The stitching ability of the girls made this fact hard to believe, but we were starting to realize that the Nepalese can pretty well do anything quicker and better than we could.
I was observing from a distance and the whole afternoon was magical. As I gazed up at a neat little village on the ridge, at the crops which were ready to harvest, at the crystal clear river that irrigated the crops and powered the lovely stone mills, at the beauty of this hidden valley, I realized that every goat girl knew her place in society, her responsibilities, and her value to others. There were no self-esteem problems or whining about the amount of work that had to be done. I wondered what on earth we were doing here. I think we had expected to help people in some way but I couldnt find a thing wrong with their life on this day. That night, under brilliant stars and in the unbelievable silence, I knew I had come here to learn how to live.
About the Nepal Schools Project