Tag Archives: Ilam

Message in a Bottle

14997180_10153924733611625_773040510_n
Signor Rana, when he was one of my students in Nepal

Just a few days before the stunning U.S. election, I received a message out of the blue that confirmed something Peace Corps told us during our training: You never know whose life you may touch, no matter what happens in the wider world.

The message came from Signor Rana, one of my students when I taught English at a school near Kathmandu as a Peace Corps volunteer four decades ago, long before I began serving again in Moldova.

It came to me on Facebook: “Hi, are you the same David Jarmul who was peace corp volunteer back in late 70 in Nepal? Remember Lab times in lab school? I was one of your student? I was looking for you since 1988.”

14937051_10153924733201625_1765370125_n
Signor and his classmates at the Lab School near Kathmandu, where I taught as a Peace Corps volunteer. He is second from the left in the second row.

Of course I remembered the Lab Times, the wall newspaper I started at the school, but I didn’t remember Signor — one of several hundred students I had there and in Champa’s village, Ilam. Still, I wrote him back, and he responded quickly.

“Wow, I was looking for you since I came to US as a student back in 1989,” he replied, describing how he is now married, living in Maryland and working as a software engineer for the federal government.

“You used to tell a story of America and show us moon landing documentary and made me participate in play Snow White. That made me dream of America and came here. You do plant a seed on a boy who was 10 years old. Thanks for helping me. Please let me know when you visiting back to US.”

Coincidentally, I’d responded just a few days earlier to another unexpected message, this one from Australia. It was from the son of a friend of mine from Ilam.

Perhaps there were others, too. I don’t really know. Neither do most other Peace Corps volunteers who completed their service years ago.

15007801_10153924753216625_1540116291_o
Signor and his family today

Signor’s timing could hardly have been more auspicious. His was like a message in a bottle, washing ashore just when I needed to discover it.

It reminded me that no matter what happens in politics, we all have the power to make a difference in some lives, even if our impact is not revealed until years later, if ever. That remains true today for the nearly 7,000 other Peace Corps volunteers and trainees serving around the world, in more than 60 countries. As it has for more than 50 years, the Peace Corps touches lives every day, with strong bipartisan support from Republicans and Democrats alike.

That’s a fact worth treasuring at a moment when our country is struggling to heal after a bitter presidential campaign. Indeed, perhaps some of the lives that need touching right now are Americans who feel uncertain about the future.

I don’t mean the election’s results don’t matter. They do, profoundly, and I will be watching what happens along with everyone else. But as someone who is old enough to have lived through presidents from both parties who did both good and bad things, I choose to take the counsel of our current leader: The sun will still rise tomorrow. We can still find meaning in our own lives. We can still make the world a better place.

No matter whether we are abroad or back home, in the Peace Corps or among our neighbors, regardless of politics, we can all try to touch lives or, as Signor put it, to plant seeds.

Sometimes they will bloom. You never know.

Nepal Trip Video

In the fall of 2015, as chronicled earlier in this blog, Champa and I took an extended trip to Nepal. We visited her home town of Ilam and a small village, Samalbung, and spent time in the Kathmandu Valley. During the second half of the trip we welcomed eight members of our American family for an unforgettable tour, highlighted by the two families coming together. This video has the highlights.

The Animal Market

FullSizeRender 739Being a goat in Nepal during the Dashain holiday season is like being a turkey in America just before Thanksgiving: Your odds of surviving aren’t great.

So it was for these goats being sold in Ilam’s market this past Thursday. Farmers brought them there by the hundreds from throughout the surrounding area. Shoppers came to buy a goat or two for their family feasts, and wholesalers bought truckloads to sell in Jhapa, about three hours to the south.

FullSizeRender 752Dashain (pronounced: dah-sy) is Nepal’s biggest holiday, taking place during a week each October. (This year, Nepal’s government extended the holiday by a few days to ease scarce petrol supplies.) Schools and offices close and people travel across the country to their family homes. Almost every day during the festival, they perform designated forms of puja, or worship.

Ilam’s animal market takes place every Thursday, part of a larger market centered in the main bazaar. As Dashain approaches, business booms, as we saw for ourselves from the window of Champa’s house, just up the road. For hours on end, goats bleated their way past our gate.

Families typically hire a butcher to slaughter the goat and prepare it for consumption. Likewise for pigs and buffalo, if they eat these. They usually slaughter chickens themselves.

FullSizeRender 750

For a Western visitor, all of this can be grim to watch. However, if you’re someone who eats meat, it’s also more honest than going to a local supermarket and tossing a package of steak or chicken wings into your cart without giving any thought to its origin. Here in Nepal, there’s no avoiding the question. In Ilam and many other towns across the country, the answer can be found in the weekly animal market.