11 September 2016

Gurung Uncle

Yikes, what a summer! Kathmandu has a new water park and guerilla-general-turned-prime-minister-turned-political-outcast Prachanda is prime minister again. I've been abroad for some time due to visa difficulties (grumble), and between gallivanting and working, little time has been left to me for the upkeep of this site. Hopefully my glorious return to Nepal will come in 2017, and meanwhile I'll try to keep things moving in the old Fate's Clay newsroom. This one was dredged from the murky nether region of my journals, written about six months ago:

I wish I could rock a hat like that
I don't know this man's real name, but we all affectionately refer to him as Gurung Uncle, Gurung being his caste / ethnicity. He is a groundskeeper and guard at Surya Boarding School in Khandbari, where he has worked for more than twenty years. Every morning he dresses up in his uniform and plays with the kids as they enter the school. He's a really sweet old guy and I've loved him since I arrived here.

Gurung Uncle is now about sixty, by my reckoning and has a son studying in college. They lived together in a one-room thatched-roof hut in the countryside about ten minutes' walk from the school. Gurung Uncle's lifelong dream has been to buy the terraced fields surrounding his house so that he can retire and live off of the land. The cost of the land is $1,500, and he had managed to save about $1,000 so far in his many years of work.

Last month his house burned down in an electrical fire. Since it was entirely wooden and very small, it was quickly engulfed in flames and impossible to save. We saw the smoke from a distance, but we didn't know what caused it until the house was already destroyed. He lost everything he had, including his life savings, his food, and all of his clothes except what he was wearing. We raised money for him through the local branch of the Red Cross, and some friends have given him sacks of rice and other supplies, but it's not nearly enough to cover his losses. Now he's staying at our school, and on his own he'll probably be unable to rebuild his house, and will certainly never achieve his goal of purchasing that land.

That's where we come in. The owner and benefactor of our school has, in gratitude for Gurung's many years of service, funded the replacement of an old shack in the school's fields with a three-room house, which will belong to Gurung until his death. He will also get complete health insurance coverage, which is unheard of in Nepal. A while ago, a bunch of us teachers tore down the shack and leveled the land, all in less that three hours. That's the power of teamwork! The next day, much to my amusement, I caught Gurung working there, expanding the area of the leveled plot. A group of Japanese tourists later came to Khandbari to volunteer as construction workers on the project and made somewhat notable progress. For the time being we'll have to file this one under It'll Get Finished Eventually, but Gurung Uncle is down there every day building it on his own.

Since then, the school forced Gurung to retire with a pension, but he comes up to the school in his uniform and salutes all the kids every day anyway.

That's all. It's nice to get a success story like this once in a while amid so much difficulty.

Water pours
Without words
Showing me the Way

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