Many of our favorite experiences so far have been getting to spend time with local families. And as much as we loved our trek in the Himalayas we didn’t feel like it gave us an authentic Nepali experience, so we went searching for one.
After asking a local person to recommend a village to visit, any village, we got a name: “Astam”. A google-maps search later, knowing nothing about this place, we were on a bus towards a small town called Hemja which is the connecting town to the Astam village.
“Astam please – Astam please – How do we get to Astam? – HOW DO WE GET TO ASTAM?”
In some places, local people seem to be intimidated by foreigners, and as soon as you say “Hello” to ask them a question, they often show you their palms and shake them from side to side saying “no no no” with a scared look on their face. Which usually means “please go away.” After a few attempts, finally one girl took out her phone, dialed, said something in Nepali to whoever was on the line, and handed us the phone.
“Hello hello, You stay with my family in village.”
Ok random guy on random girl’s phone; we will sleep at your house in a remote village in the middle of the mountain…
And so began the amazing 4 days at the all-inclusive Raju’s house for $7.50/person/day.
Side note as we are interested in your opinion: How do you know when people are being sincerely kind and not just seeing you as a $ sign?
When we hung up the girl’s phone, I handed it back to her but she kept her hand outstretched as if asking for something…she wanted us to pay her for making a call we didn’t even ask her to make! Although she was charging what felt like a ridiculous sum for a local phone call, in reality the amount she was asking for was small change for us. What really bothered us was that her intentions were insincere and even though we paid her, we let her know that it was a dirty move.
While traveling Asia, we’ve had many people randomly show us kindness. A taxi driver who charged us less than the agreed price because there was traffic, or people inviting us to dinner in their homes. But we’ve also had the opposite happen, like when we ask a local for directions, they walk us to the correct place and then unexpectedly ask for money.
The above describes a constant dilemma for us: Do you accept kindness from strangers without question? Or do you take the risk of offending the person and ask if their kindness has a price sticker? Is there a right or wrong way to handle it?
Please comment if you have any viewpoint on this, would love to know what you think!
Back to our Story: “Raju’s Home”
Raju and his son Chris
Remember, the village of Astam is up in the mountains, and to get there you have to go with a jeep. But the jeep was full… so we had to ride on the roof, holding on very tightly on the very bumpy road!
Raju’s living arrangement had the classic family structure in this part of Asia. 3 families: [Raju’s parents] + [Raju, wife, son] + [Raju’s brother, wife, son]. Everyone living in the same house, sharing meals, one toilet, and the buffalo. Raju’s sisters live in another village with their own in-laws, husbands and children; the way tradition dictates.
As we understand, marriages are always arranged between families from different villages to avoid inbreeding.
All the kids :), and grandpa milking the buffalo in the back.
One thing we found sad is that the buffalo is tied up 24/7 of its entire life, unable to move 😦
The kitchen in particular caught our attention. Located right next to the buffalo, it is a tiny space, no larger than a small bathroom where the floor is the outdoor ground, the fire is made by burning wood, and the cook (wife) has to squat in order to chop, stir, season, etc.
At night, the only light that the cook can use is that of the cooking fire! That got both of us thinking how much crap we own back home and declare as kitchen “necessities”! (Not that we plan on throwing out our precious Vitamix when we get back…)
The “shower” consisted of pouring buckets of cold water on yourself. It was outside with no way to conceal your nakedness.
The art of bucket showers
The women are seriously amazing. I can’t remember seeing them sit down and relax once in our 4 days there. They were either cooking, cleaning, carrying water from the well, gardening, and the list goes on.
The grandmother (Raju’s mother) mostly just sat down in the porch during the day, and seldom did anything other than issue orders to her daughter in-laws (Can you imagine?!) We assume she earned that right with years of service to her husband’s parents.
The grandfather was a very handy 80 yr old man who did a lot of chores like taking care of the buffalo, milking it every morning and night. Also, check out his perfect squat in the video!
Making a toy for the kids from natural materials picked by him!
Everyone doing their own thing
Our 4 days here were super relaxing; taking it all in, resting, playing with the kids, and helping out around the house and field.
The only people in the family that spoke English were Raju and his brother, so most of our communication with the rest of the family were basic hand signals and smiles.
Suz and Raju’s mom
Walking around the village with the boys
Dancing at the neighbor’s baby -naming party
The household seems to be pretty self sustainable, eating rice that they harvest in season and using onion, potato and greens from the garden to make the typical meal of Daal Bhat (rice with lentils) that we ate every single day for lunch and dinner.
Pulling food for lunch from the garden
An International Wedding
The cutie in the middle of this picture is Prynce. He is Raju’s 3 year old nephew and also the same age as our niece Ghili. Arranged marriages are still very common in Nepal and as a joke, we told the family that we had a fiance for Prynce in Colombia.
Well, what for us was a joke turned out to be a very serious and important manner for them. So much so, that throughout the rest of our stay we kept hearing the name “Ghili” being mentioned in their conversations! We even tried to have a facetime call with Ghili in Colombia. And they made sure to dress up Prynce in his best attire with his hair nicely combed, and no snot in his nose for the engagement call!
An Unforgettable Experience
Staying with Raju and his family was such a unique and authentic experience. Before saying goodbye, Raju asked me to consider him my big brother and said he will always be there for us whatever we need. From random guy on the phone to a new big Nepali brother…