“How far are we going?” I asked Maya.
“To the top.”
“Why on earth do people choose to live up there?”
“They are mountain people. They love the mountain!”
How could I be so ignorant!?
Maya and I took a one-hour motorbike ride and then a two-hour walk up to the top most point of the mountain where she lives. This is the site of Panch Pokhari primary school in Gobre, and thanks to your generous donations, the re-building of a 5 classroom school can now commence there.
This was one of the most memorable days of my life. First, I had to get used to the fact I was riding tandem on the back of a motorbike owned by a 22 year old, Suresh. At the start of the journey I was afraid of him. At the end of the day, I decided he was going to be my sister’s husband.
The landscape was breathtaking, but EVERY HOUSE we passed was broken. EVERY place – single homes, clusters of homes, huts, multi story homes, had been demolished to the ground. The locals were outside rebuilding, or cooking, or working on the fields. Everyone we passed waved at us. And there were so many kids with nowhere to be. I could see now why Maya’s greatest aim is to put all of these kids back in school. They want to connect. They are yearning to absorb. They have a desire to communicate, to observe and be seen.
After about an hour on the bikes, one of them broke down… and we had to walk the rest of the way. That walk was majestic. We came across fresh water – we filled our water bottles. They took breaks to eat dark chocolate. I wet my face and got burnt.
When we got to the village, there had been a wedding. We sat with the locals for a while. The boys took the opportunity to eat the leftover food. Then a monk showed us the ruined school and took us to the water source. It was a long walk to both.
“About ten minutes he said, to the water source, “ Maya tells me.
20 minutes later we were still walking through thick forest.
We finally got to the water-source…
“Be careful, this is dangerous to climb here – stay down there,” Maya warns me.
“You have to be fucking kidding me,” I say. “I didn’t just walk through the bush for 45 minutes to be told I can’t see the fucking thing. I’m climbing that tree and seeing it, even if I die.”
“It’s nothing exciting.” She says.
She was right but I climbed on the trunk anyway. Things are about the journey, not the destination, right? On the way back down we walked another way. A narrow path through the forest. “Be careful of snakes, and slowly slowly,” Maya instructs me. The boys run down. I tried to keep the pace. I fell about three times on the way.
“My focus is off,” I say. “I’m too keen.”
“You want coffee? You like coffee Bojana?”
“I can’t really drink it.”
“I am crazy enough without it.”
“Yes! You are crazy! You are here! That is crazy!”
“Maya,” I say, “to be honest – I think the rest of the world is crazy not to be here.”
At a certain point, we tell the boys, Suresh and Aarind, they have to leave us and we bathe in the mountain water. On our way back to meet them, Maya and I talk about life and love and children and men.
Maya is 36, I am 33. We both want kids. But we don’t really want husbands. Men are fun, we agreed. But you can’t really take them seriously when you know them so well. And if you devote yourself to tasks that require so much of your own attention, how can you give a man the attention he always wants? Maybe we should open an orphanage, I suggested. Maya lit up at the idea. I liked it too.
“Why,” she asks me, “have you not had a serious relationship?”
I answer as honestly as I can… “I think that every man who wanted to be with me in that way – I wasn’t in love with after a time. And the very few men – maybe 3 in my life – who I imagined having a family with (“imagination” being the major concept when it comes to my choice in men) they all ended the relationships before we had a chance to really get started. Which, I think, is probably why I thought I loved them…”
“Aha. I understand.” Maya tells me.
Although her experience is entirely different. She ran away from home on the eve of her wedding, at the age of fourteen. When she was found by police and returned to her village, her father had already performed the death rituals on her, and in that way, disowned her. From then on she fought contemptible conventional gender perceptions in the village and eventually found her calling in trekking and mountain climbing. Her mother was always on her back about getting married.
“After I climb Everest,” she would say.
She climbed Everest…
“After I finish the Seven Summits”
She finished the Seven Summits.
And then she actually wanted a husband. Everyone was on the lookout for a husband for Maya. But then the Earthquake came. And now her mind is elsewhere. Men try to get her attention. But she is too busy with rebuilding lives. And her mother thinks very differently of marriage now. Maya has opened up peoples’ eyes.
We ride back down with the boys. I later learn that the two guys who drove us are best friends. uresh and Arrind eat out of the same plate, they share the same towels – they are like twins. I have never seen anything like it. Their physical contact is even more affectionate than between my sister and me. Observing it is like being privy to a secret. I wanted to capture it with my camera, but every time I tired to take a photo, my camera wouldn’t focus. I couldn’t take the picture. It wasn’t mine to have. Tomorrow school starts.