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Cultural and Culinary Lessons

Day 13

Our first stop of the morning was Boudhanath, the largest Buddhist stupa in Nepal. We walked around its base, admiring the pretty square and dodging the prayer flags and the ridiculous amount of pigeons. The stupa is particularly important to Tibetan Buddhists and the surrounding area is home to many Tibetan refugees and their families.

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There is a slum in the shadows of Boudhanath. The houses are wooden frames covered with material and plastic tarp and the streets are muddy and decorated with washing lines, but the people there have an amazing sense of community. The group was invited into the slum and into some of its homes by Rina, a friend of tour leader Steph. Rina, like many of the people who live in this particular slum, is an Indian immigrant. She left her abusive husband to live in Nepal and now shares her small home with ten family members. She cannot afford a shoe cleaning license so she begs on the street. However, she is smiling as she tells us her story- her English is nearly perfect- and as she leads us through the slum we find out why.

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As we walk along the muddy streets more and more smiling people greet us. Everyone in the slum was delighted to see us, and Rina explained that they love having visitors and enjoy showing off their homes. Their idea of happiness is not linked to material wealth- it is linked to the enjoyment they find in spending time with their families and helping out in their close-knit community. Everyone has plastic tarps on their roofs because Rina used a donation she was given to buy the tarps for everyone. They also have outside help; an American man sells quilts made by women in the community, and the sale of each quilt pays for one year of school for one of the children in the slum. We were discouraged from giving the community money because it could undermine this arrangement, which has been highly beneficial to the people in the slum.

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We reached the main street and met the younger children in the slum, many of whom were very amused by my unusual camera. There was also a snake handler. While a couple of tour participants were happy to handle the toothless python, we all shrank back very quickly when he pulled a small cobra out of a box. Toothless or not, we were not going to touch a cobra.

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We also visited the local school. They were in the middle of a spelling bee, but as soon as we arrived we were rushed by young kids delighted by the distraction. We tried to stay for the rest of the spelling bee, but the kids wouldn’t calm down so we had to leave.

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Then it was time to return to the Seven Women Centre for a cooking lesson. We all crammed into the upstairs kitchen and started chopping up vegetables under the watchful eyes of Rhadika, the house manager, and Jaya and Paddy, our group leaders. All three had very impressive cooking skills and put all of us to shame. The curry was lovely. We also did a spot of modelling for the new lines of Seven Women clothes created since the beginning of our trip, so keep your eyes out for those.

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I really enjoyed today. I’ve learned a lot of new things about the world during this trip, and today contained many new lessons.

-Erin

This post was modified from the original entry on my personal blog, Erin’s Written World.

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