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Every year, a group of travellers visit the ladies of Samunnat as part of the Colourful Journey. In this trip which is led by Bishnu Rai of Himalayan Sunrise and our own Wendy didi, the ladies travelled on the road less travelled to places on eastern Nepal where many tourists don’t go! It is a wonderful time of sharing and often a highlight of the trip for people. They have a polymer clay lesson from the Samunnat ladies and we all have a picnic together. Kopila asked the Samunnat ladies to talk about the visit from their eyes! All the ladies had plenty to say so this post will be in several parts. Kopila has translated the Nepali originals.
Manisha: First we were a little nervous because we were going to welcome our guests in English. We have practise some lines many times. I was thinking to talk in English in our polymer clay class too. As with all the Colourful Journeys, our guests were very friendly. When we were in the polymer teaching class, we sat next to one participant. I was a little nervous with my mixed up Nepali English but I felt very relief to have Wendy didi close to me. Each of our guests were very friendly and lovely. We exchange our laughter and our pain. We laughed and enjoyed their 4 days stay and we each other cried when they went. But their love and affection is in my heart!
Pramila: We were all ladies getting ready to welcome them with flowers and khadha (ceremonial scarves). My task was to write a welcoming banner. I did it with so much excitement. I was looking forward to see who will be my colleague and I did try myself speaking English in front of Kopila didi many times. Every morning we greeted each other in English before the visitors arrived. It was really exciting to be together for the few days with our guests. We have this beautiful tradition of worshipping our guests as a god. Each of us did try to speak but our guests were so easy and loving they seemed very close and helpful. We have to thank them for enjoying their stay in spite of the difficulties they had here. We hope we will stay in touch for our Samunnat journey.
Samjhana: We had done our work division and my work was to make flower bouquets with Rita, Anu and Ambika. On the day the visitors arrived, I was really nervous for my English. I am not good at English at all and I have no long schooling because of my heart operation. Hardly I could tell my name in english but it was very good to have English lessons with Sarah didi. Our visitors were very friendly and lovely. They easily learned the lesson of new spice petal bracelet and mala. We were very empowered when we have spent lots of time with them. They encouraged us and we also realised that we can be helpful with each other.
Sometimes we can’t use pictures and real names with our posts and this is one of those times. PL came to us recently because she was in serious trouble. Her family had made her get married when she was 13. This is against our law but still happens many times. We are telling girls whenever we can about here rights and that it is illegal for their parents to make them marry at this age. PL got pregnant with a baby very fast and her baby was delivered by Caesarian Section when she was still a little girl of 14. Her husband tortured her and after some time she came to us for protection and safety. Now she is 17 and her baby is 3 years old. PL was scared and wanted to go back to her parents and continue her schooling.
We welcomed her so much and she is staying for a week while we contact her family to see what we can arrange. Now her parents are sad for what happened and want her to come home. Her father talked to me to say thank you for us taking PL in. She wants to go back to school and Wendy didi and I talked about this. In our system there is nothing for young mothers to return to school. PL would have to go back to an ordinary school in her village with younger kids. This would be very hard and take courage. We talked about if maybe one day we could set up some adult learning classes. We would have to start small and slowly, maybe just looking at literacy for older ladies where they could learn basic literacy skills with each other and not have to be in classrooms with young kids. Our dream would be to find or create a place where these ladies could maybe even study to class 10. We have no equivalent of TAFE or vocational training and we need this so much.
We do not know if PL will go back to school. We hope so but it is a hard journey ahead of her in the village and she is still a young girl. We will help her as much as we can. She is so happy here now and knows that we are here to help her. We hope in her village, she can be an inspiration to other young girls too.
Our readers know that we make polymer clay beads and use them to make beautiful necklaces. But we do not make the clasps for the necklaces or the silver hooks for our earrings. We buy these from the lovely people at Fozia Creative Centre. Our friends there are so helpful and patient with us and for a long time we had only spoken to them on the phone because we would make the order then Wendy didi would pick them up when she came through Kathmandu.
Abdul bhai came from Tibet and he and his family own the shop. I had met him and I wanted some of our ladies and especially our Sharmila to meet him and see the beautiful shop. They have beautiful necklaces and stones and it is a lovely shop. We were all so happy to crowd into the small shop and say hello and meet Abdul bhai. Any lady visiting to Kathmandu would love to see this shop and all the beautiful mala. They are using Tibetan stones like turquoise, lapis lazuli, amber and coral. We loved to see how they were displayed and so organised. We can learn from all this.
When the ladies from this year’s Colourful Journey came to visit us, we gave them a polymer clay lesson and sold them some jewellery. We will write more about their visit later. One of the things that made us so happy was that we raised enough money from selling our jewellery to buy a spice grinding machine. We told the travellers that we were so happy because we had nearly made enough. They all asked how much more we needed and decided they would do MORE shopping to make sure we had enough.
Ganga runs our small shop which is called Kirana Pasal. There are many, many Kirana Pasal and they all sell the same things. It means that not many people come to our shop and it is hard to make a living. We knew that we had to offer something different so had an idea to sell ground spices. We were taking our spices to a man in Birtamod and he charged us money and told us that women could not use the grinding machine. When Wendy Didi and I were in Kathmandu last month, we visited her favourite Spice Shop in Tahity Tol and the lady there was too helpful and showed me her machine and told us how to use it and said we could come and visit and learn. I was so excited and wanted to come back with Ganga as soon as I could.
We were all so excited to see the machine and how easy it is to use. We can buy it in Kathmandu and have got costings. We will even have enough rupees left over to make a sign and labels for our bags of spices. One of the travellers on the trip had the good idea to make some sweets and we think we can call our shop Sweet and Spicy! It means our shop has something different to offer and we hope that this will bring more business.
Kathmandu is a long way east of Birtamod. Some of the ladies have never been. To get to Kathmandu we have to catch a bus for 20 hours. We start in the afternoon and arrive the next day. The bus is crowded and some of us get travel sick. But we like to go and to learn about our capital city and we had many things planned for this trip.
We decided who it would benefit most to go. Some of us were going as part of preparing for our trip to America. Three of us need to get visas to the United States of America and needed to see a consultant. Others wanted to learn about grinding spices and we wanted to meet people. Maya was going for an update of her Montessori training. We were a big group! We were very excited because we were going to meet Geoff and Sarah. Sarah came to stay with us and taught us English and we were so excited to see her again and keen to meet her husband! She was going to help us with more English about our visa interview. She wanted to see one of our ladies Neha who has nearly finished her course in counselling. Project Didi, which Sarah is part of, has supported Neha in her studies and Sarah wanted to ask Neha how the course was going and about her plans when she finished. We will do a whole blog post on our wonderful Neha.
We met Sarah and Geoff and it was so good to talk again and practice our English. Sarah was excited about our new designs and had ordered many items to sell. Geoff, who is tall as you can see in the photo, had been to USA and gave us good ideas about what the interview was like for him. It was really valuable and we have a date for our interview. It is hard to get a visa but we are so hopeful that we can learn many things in the USA and then come back to teach the ladies here. We hope the Embassy understands that this is our heart desire.Tomorrow we will write about some other places we visited in Kathmandu!