Do you really know the impact that your daily routine has on you? Do you commute hours to work each day, leaving home early, arriving home late? Do you know some of the people in your street or apartment block? Do you know any of their names? Do you feel part of your community or can home feel a lonely place?
One thing that never ceases to amaze me is the deep sense of community in all of the developing countries I have lived and worked in. A respectful, compassionate interdependence. It doesn’t need to be taught. Its just there.
In the village of Devpur, where we are currently working post the two big Nepal earthquakes of 2015, it’s just the same. I spotted an elderly man, blind, hunched over, his spine crumbled, carefully edging himself down a steep mountain path, the constant tapping of his white stick guiding him safely over the pot holes and around the boulders. The sight of him made me anxious.
‘How does he manage?’ I asked, ‘and how can we help?’ One of our local leaders Rupak answered quickly, ‘No need to worry Linda, we all take care of him, he has breakfast with Raja, lunch with Humica and supper with Manu. Week by week we swap around and others invite him for food. He has his own tiny dwelling to sleep in but he knows that he is always welcome in anyone’s home. We are all family’.
‘Nice’ I thought as I watched him crouch down to take a rest. There was nothing we needed to do for him. The community had it all under control.
In fact, I thought, any interference from us could negatively impact the effective group support system the villagers had in place. Best left well alone.
We have a set process of selecting the most vulnerable families to prioritize with a ’hand up’ and as we do this, group empathy and compassion is always evident. However bad their own situation is the people are eager to introduce others that they feel are even more in need.
This was how we got to meet Bawanath Sanker Godasaini, fondly known by the locals as the ‘The Happy Bachelor’.
‘Please visit him Linda’ I was asked by an elderly lady, ‘he has no family, he lost his home and his livelihood. He is living in a goat shed – with the goats!’
Bawanath, a slight, bony man, who stands no more than 4’11” wore a traditional wrap around skirt (tied like an oversized cotton nappy) the white cloth had seen better days, now grey and threadbare with raggedy edges. He leant on his crooked walking stick, his head tilted to one side, unable to hide his curiosity. A traditional peaked Newari cap he had placed on his head at a jaunty angle. Our eyes met momentarily and he gave me a broad smile revealing perfect brilliant white teeth.
In the Nepali culture it’s unusual for a man not to marry so I had to ask why. ‘What happened?’ I said teasingly,’ Why did you never marry, there are lots of beautiful women in the mountains?’
‘No wife, no headache,’ he replied his broad grin getting broader. ‘I was born and raised in these mountains. My Mum died when I was two years old. Its just my sister and me, I get to see her every month. I have a good simple life here with good friends’.
‘So what happened to you the day of the earthquake?’ I asked. Post traumatic stress is very much present in the village, across all generations, most severely with the children and the elderly. With constant reminders of how fragile their lives are, aftershocks as big as 5.2 on the Richter scale are still happening.
‘I was nearly buried alive,’ he said his smile disappearing, ‘I was cooking inside my house when there was a loud rumbling noise, then lots of screaming. Bricks were falling down all around me. I tried to run outside but I was hit by a sharp heavy stone right in the middle of my back. The pain was excruciating. I must have passed out because the next thing I knew my neighbours were shouting and clawing at the rubble to get me out.’
‘We were stunned, petrified, the aftershocks kept coming every few minutes for the first 24 hours. We huddled together outside our destroyed homes. I was badly injured, but had no means or money to go to hospital. We did what we could for food. So many animals crushed to death including mine. We didn’t see a soul for four days. No one came’.
Bawanath tells his story to Be The Change Ambassadors
‘What job did you do before the earthquake?’ I asked seeing very little evidence of food in his dwelling. It was as his friends told me he lived in a goat shed. With his own home gone he had moved into a friend’s goat shed to sleep and earn a little money by caring for the goats.
‘Before the earthquake I had five goats and that plus occasional daily laboring for 400 rupees, enabled me to eat and live with no problem – but during the huge landslides that were triggered by the earthquake, all were badly injured but one. I had to sell them for meat. I just have one left.’ he replied.
‘What was your daily life like before the earthquake?’ I was curious to understand the rhythm of his life.
‘Very simple, I get up at 5.30am, make a fire, clean the house and make tea. I walk into the jungle to get food for the goats. At 10am I cook chapati and dahl baht and spend time talking to my friends. The afternoon is spent tending my vegetable patch, helping others or doing maintenance on the goat shed. I have never owned a TV or a radio, I just sit and chat with my friends. I love to cook and whatever we have we share. By 10pm I am asleep. A simple, happy life’, he said as he gazed at the majestic Langtang Himalayan range across the valley.
‘How can we help you to regain this peace and happiness and for you to be again self sufficient?’ I asked.
‘Three goats’ he said, his signature twinkle radiating all over his face. ‘They have multiple births, easy to feed, I can sell for meat at festival times when the price of goat meat is high and they are actually great company’.
‘Just three goats’ I said
‘Yes, one pregnant and two kid goats would be a perfect mix’.
Through the kindness and compassion of two great ladies Belinda and Vicki, Be The Change Ambassadors, who came with me to the frontline in February, this is just what we did. Through a three day process of getting to know Bawanath, understanding his way of life, taking into consideration his physical capabilities, ensuring that replacing his goats was a viable sustainable income generating business for him and that we were honouring his dream, this is what we did.
The smiles on the photos say it all.
Be the Change Ambassadors delivering the goats to Bawanath
Rupak, a fellow villager and member of our Be The Change Community volunteered and was delighted to pay it forward and help Bawanath build his own goat shed.
Community at it’s best.
Bawanath’s smile will stay with me forever as he sits in front of his home gazing at the Himalayas, a cup of chai in his hand and a friend by his side.
Every individual, family, community I work with on the frontline teaches me and reminds me of what is really important.
In nearly all of the developing countries in which I have lived and worked, one thing that never ceases to amaze me is the deep rooted sense of community. A respectful interdependence. It’s not taught or encouraged. It’s just there. Part of the DNA.
How does your daily routine impact on your quality of life?
Do you feel part of your community or can home feel a lonely place?
I urge you to shake your routine up, challenge yourself, get off the hamster wheel. Help to build a strong community. Hold a coffee morning and invite people from your street. Look out for the single parent or elderly widow and make a point of reaching out to them. Our lives seem to become increasingly complicated each year – carve out time for the simple pleasures – the best things in life are free.
And as my nursing matron always used to say to me as a junior nurse, ‘ It’s not about you.’ Contribution is the greatest human need. The more we give the more we receive.
Thank you so much for tuning in.