Phaplu Fly In

We finally flew out of KTM (Kathmandu) after a two-hour delay and 45 hot minutes on a runway in a 17 passenger Twin Otter dual prop airplane. After our talk yesterday, DJ Tenzing has coordinated with AC and agreed to go to Tapting as well. It’s his home village and he went to Solnasa school, too. Since the flight was full, AC gave his seat to DJ and AC will meet us two days later by helicopter in Tapting along with a couple surprises. We’ll walk while he coordinates a string of logistics for his latest hatched plan. I am giddy that DJ decided to go with us. He is such a bubbly, fun personality. He has not been to the village in six years. I can’t wait to see him visit his home after so long. In addition, he will lead us on this leg of the trek, since he swapped with AC. So the most famous DJ in Nepal will be our Sherpa guide, ha!

 
The flight approach to the Himalayas is never easy, but this specific flight is one that even the Nepalis are still talking about two days later. The morning was fogged in and we were allowed to take off just as our destination airport cleared. Low clouds and wind made the 40 minute flight interesting. I looked intently out the dirty plastic window and finally spotted the beauties in the distance.
 
My first view of the Himalayas, two years ago brought tears to my eyes. This was no less moving, but the flight logistics distracted me from too many photographs. Choppy winds buffeted the plane. We weaved back and forth eight times while the pilots looked for the runway. Everything is visual at these tiny airports and the pilots were a bit off their mark. Or maybe they were dodging the wind. At any rate, we were an hour over due for lunch and the twisting, diving plane didn’t help anyone’s stomach. DJ sat across the aisle behind me and looked green.  We did two go-arounds of the airport – too high the first time and too near the second – before successfully landing on it.
On the plane
The target runway – too high this time.
 
The half-hour walk to Salleri was a trip down memory lane. Last time I walked this hill, Gambu was telling me his life story, the one where he used to live near by, and has since played Madison Square Garden with the Dalai Lama. I recounted bits of the story to Mary Beth. DJ and Dilli kept close. We watched donkey trains and roaming chickens of all sizes, kids running through the streets and locals watching us pass and greeting us with “Namaste.”
Hen keeping chicks warm

 

The plane we flew in on

 

Boys playing a game

 

Gorgeous children galore

 Karma, DJ and I sat on the patio, smiling silently and remembering the last time we were all three here. “It was good times.” DJ offers. “Is Little Mingma still here?” I ask, wondering if the same child servants are still working for Karma’s house and helping his parents. His parents are in their late 80’s at this point. DJ looks at me, “You remember the little girl’s name?”  “Yes, I wrote a chapter about her in my book.”

We settled into Karma’s house and greeted AC and Karma’s parents.  They speak no English and just at the moment Mary Beth and I wanted to deliver gifts, Karma disappeared. Mary Beth and I issue our gifts to the parents anyway. Papa loves seeds and planting, and appreciates new things to try. Mary Beth has brought him an assortment of seed packets and he wants to know what each of them is. He and I struggled through Nepali together for several minutes. “It’s like a pumpkin but you can eat the skin. It’s like a carrot but dark red, it’s like kale.” He was so deeply interested in the seeds that he used the few English words he knew. He was also incredibly patient with me as I tripped through my rough Nepali. Mary Beth was perhaps more effective with fewer words. She is an amazing communicator.

 
Mary Beth and I took a walk through Salleri so she could get her teeth into the high country a bit. It is so fun to re-see all this stuff again through her eyes. We passed stone cutters hand chiseling granite for a house. Goats are tied to posts to graze, chickens are kept safe from eagles under bamboo baskets, children in navy and maroon uniforms flood the street on their way home from school. Each of them puts their hands together and greets us as we pass, “Namaste”. 

 

We had a long discussion on the way back about child servants since there are two in the house where we stayed. Mary Beth’s reaction is exactly like mine was two years ago: Devastated, hurt and lost between the culture and understanding. Later along the trail she’ll talk in depth to Dilli about changing people’s minds to help the community as a whole. “Dilli, remember what we talked about with asking people to change? We need to talk to Karma about the children working in his home.” Dilli concurs that it is a bad situation but is at a loss for how to change things directly. “Karma is not like AC, you know…” I find that an accurate summary.

Once we returned to Karma’s house I read a chapter of my book to Mary Beth, It’s called ‘Precious Little’ and it describes the servant children in Karma’s house the way I saw them two years ago. Now Mingma is 14, though she looks and acts 8, maybe 9. Mingma does not attend school. Her parents have decided that the money they earn by dedicating her to working full time is more important than her education. She speaks no English and is very shy.

Mary Beth wasted no time befriending her. We caught her out on the patio taking a short break from her work. Mary Beth offered her a pencil and small note pad, then began an interaction using very little language. They played tic-tac-toe. Mingma learned the game and understood it after a few tries. Mary Beth was thrilled to have hands on a thirsty child so early. Mingma cuddled closer and closer to Mary Beth as they took turns making marks on the paper.