Lok and Rasmita
It’s only 7:00 in the morning, but the sun is already high and the small village of Dhobi is already immersed in its daily activities. The family that we will visit this morning lives not far from the village, a few kilometres higher up the road that climbs the mountains. The rain has not yet come this week and the dirt road is in good condition. We park on the roadside and walk down a small dirt path. Behind the curve, two houses built a few metres from each other appear. One is new, colourful. The other visibly damaged. Outside, a little girl who must be more or less 10 years old sits outside on the porch, while her mother hangs clothes a few metres away. As soon as they notice our presence, they abandon their activities to welcome us. For Nepalese, hospitality is sacred. The woman enters the house and comes out with four wooden stools and motions for us to sit down. Meanwhile, the young girl comes out with four steaming cups of tea. With the help of our interpreter, a conversation begins timidly but grows with intensity and meaning as the minutes pass.
The mother, Lok Kumari, is a strong woman. Life has put her to the test over and over again. “I lost my husband seven years ago. A year later I also lost my child, who had suffered from a serious birth defect,” she tells us. Since then Lok has been left alone with her six daughters. “Being a mother of six daughters is extremely difficult here,” she tells me, smiling tenderly at Rasmita, her daughter, while gently ruffling her hair. She explains to me that in Nepal, when a girl gets married, the family has to pay a dowry to her husband’s family. But the dowry is not the only problem that this incredible family has had to face over the last few years. The home where they had always lived was severely damaged by the violent earthquake of 25 April 2015.
The house is still standing, but marked by visible cracks inside and outside. “For more than two years we lived in the stable we now use for animals,” Lok tells me, showing me a small shelter without walls, covered only by a few braided branches. I can’t even imagine what it can mean to live for more than two years in those conditions. But Lok did not give up: with the help of Medair and a local partner organisation, she was able to obtain the funding made available by the government for reconstruction. But even after the funds were obtained, the road to reconstruction was complicated: “We needed help to transport the material from the road to here. And we had to make sure that the reconstruction work proceeded according to the criteria established by the government,” says Lok.
In fact, after the earthquake that struck the country in 2015, the Nepalese government made available the equivalent of USD 3,000 per family to build a new home, on the condition that it be built following the government’s guidelines for earthquake-resilient construction. The engineers of Medair and the partner organisation CDS have accompanied Lok during the entire reconstruction process: “Medair followed the work of the masons to make sure that the house was built according to the rules. And they helped me with the administrative process of the government which for me, who can’t read or write, represented an enormous obstacle.”
When I ask Rasmita, age 9, if she is happy with her new home, with a big smile she answers, “Of course, because it’s Rambro,” a word that in Nepalese indicates something beautiful, colourful, “right”.
“Sometimes I still use my old house to cook,” Lok tells me, “but Rasmita scolds me: ‘don’t stay in the old house, it is dangerous, it’s not safe.’”
Almost two hours have passed since we arrived. We have another appointment in Dhobi and I decide to reluctantly take my leave of the family. But in the following days, I realise that the story of Lok and her daughters has remained in my heart. When I decide to visit again, I come with a little apprehension. Will they be willing to give me more time? But these thoughts immediately disappear as soon as the small path leading to the house disappears. Rasmita welcomes us with a huge smile, joins her hands for the usual ‘Namaste’ and shouts happily to her mother “Mother, they are back, prepare tea!”
And there, in front of another cup of milk tea, the conversation starts again, this time even more intense and deep. “My greatest wish is to raise my daughters as good human beings. I would very much like them to do what you do, visit and help the weakest. But in the end, what I want most is to give them the freedom to choose what they want to do in life,” Lok tells me. “I wish they were autonomous. I am happy they can attend school. I have not had this luck and I hate myself when I have to sign the government documents with a fingerprint because I have never learned to write. I don’t want this to happen to my daughters. Like all mothers in the world I am happy if they are happy.”
At 9:00, two daughters return carrying on their shoulders two jars full of grass for the animals. I stand aside and observe this wonderful scene of everyday life: the three little girls wash themselves with a bucket of water, enter the kitchen and eat their breakfast, between one bite and the next they slip into their uniform to go to school. A morning like any other, gestures that have the sweetness of childhood and that have the power to make this family that lives at 4,000 metres of altitude in the mountains of Nepal feel extremely close to my family and my childhood memories. The girls are ready to go to school. They give their mother a kiss and are on their way. When I tell Lok how much I admire her and ask her how she has managed to overcome all the adversities that she has faced in life, she replies serenely, “I believe in God; I believe in his strength and goodness that allowed me to overcome so many obstacles. I am committed to the present and trust in the future. Everything will be fine.” We bid farewell, knowing that I probably won’t have the chance to see her again. However, her words and her gestures will remain with me forever.