The Village


With astonishing speed my library had become real.  In the mid 1980’s nowhere else in rural Nepal did locals have free access to so many books written in their own language.

Jomson was the only other village I knew with a library and its collection was mostly English, German, French, Japanese,  stuff left behind by trekkers which just the richest best educated could read.

There was good reason to feel proud.

But figuring it all out on the fly was nerve wracking.  I didn’t have enough Nepali, the rupees were flying through my fingers, there was way too much I didn’t know.

Each trip to Koshi Dekha, official business done, it was always a relief to point my feet towards the village.

The narrow dirt path wound down the ridge,
widening where it cut through tiny hamlets,
zig zagging across steep grassy slopes,
an hour later there it was below me.

That’s Ama’s house mostly hidden by two neighbors.
Behind to the left, the big river,
sandy far shore below hills too steep for building.
Across the paddies, raised foot paths.
Snaking through its wash, the kola.


At the kola
a woman pauses
before filling her water jug,
soon others would follow.

But never did I see it crowded.

Good for drinking, washing, scrubbing pots.
A place to laugh, chat, share comfortable silence
with people known from childhood.

During heavy rains
it was death
to cross.

Seen close many houses massive,
animals below,
dry second floors for people,
attics for cooking.

More humble one story homes
built with the same thick dirt walls.

sheds, garden beds,
paths marked off by stones.

Ram never looked comfortable in his mom’s house.
In Kathmandu he had a telephone,
a big desk, swivel chair, electric light.
Her floors were dirt.

Staying with her sweeter
once I started walking down alone.

Ama saw me fall in love with her village,
learned to like me,
forgave me
for introducing Christa to her son.

On the left,
staying far away from Ram,
his uncle who ran a general store downstairs.

Bidis, matches, candles, wicks, incense, oil, kerosene,
salt, sugar, rice, wheat, spices, tea,
glass bracelets, necklaces, henna,
he sold them all.

Past his place and a tiny chai shop
the trail narrowed,
wound through boulders,
crossed the kola
on its way to India.

Widowed early,
Ama did it well.

Under her the family fields prospered,
yard tall baskets in her kitchen
overflowed with grain.

Only slowly did it sink in,
this tiny gracious woman,
grew all the food she fed me,
while cooking,
holding her home together.

Dawn first thing
she prayed,
offered incense to the Gods.

Mornings she milked her buff.


With her husband dead,
both sons in the city,
he carried, cut, dug,
did the heavy work.

Ama fed him well,
bought his clothes,
treated him like family.

Always smiling.

Lucky fellow,
mornings in the yard
he worked with


Less servant
than daughter Ama never had.

The two often together,
cooking upstairs,
out on the balcony,
down by the kola.

Elegant, strong, hot,
already wise.


Rich, important,
his village, the little local temple,
bore his family name.

Schooled in the city,
he’d turned his back on electricity,
glass windows, bicycles,
gone home to where he was a king.

One village over
at a wedding,
I watched him
be the most honored guest.

Laughing, smiling,
comfortable, open,
with his lovely
slightly tipsy wife.

Each morning first thing
he set his farm in motion,
tended to his people, his animals,
his fields.

Then up he went,
a thousand steep hard feet,
to run his school.

He didn’t need the salary,
was just doing
what he thought was right.

Still sometimes he must have wondered.

At the Library dedication,
he was a little mad,
big cars lined up outside his school,
fat soft important city people,
all from the world
he’d chosen not to join.

Principal Julinath was impeccable,
that day unshaven
hair wild,
looking dangerous
like a Maoist rebel.

Shanti fascinated,
couldn’t tear her eyes away.

One evening
at Julinath’s
I finally explained
I would have to leave.

He was shocked.
“You should have told me,
please let me take care of it.”

I think he planned
to find the right local woman
for my wife,
then make that visa happen.

But it was too late,
I was burnt,
ready for a new life.

Still I know
I missed out on something very good.

Ama’s balcony,
the ladies
getting ready for a feast.

In the best light
her mother,
skillful hands busy,
cracking up
when Maya blew
a leaf plate.

Maya laughing just as hard.

sitting easy
in the
lush soft warmth.


Nepali Village Libraries