An English teacher ’n her ‘wee hippy’

Sally Bierman & Balazs Szasz


You can walk past your destiny only a given number of times. Jackie, an English teacher living in Swayambhu passed a small child beneath a blanket at the gates of the stupa three times, her consciousness looking back as she walked on. — I knew if I stopped, it would change my life — she remembers. — The fourth time, I lifted the blanket. Underneath was a semblance of a young boy, lying in his own vomit, pants halfway down his emaciated limbs; he lay unconscious, stripped of his humanity. Jackie whisked him off to a hospital, where he lay in coma, between life and death for two weeks. Since he required 24 hour care, Jackie rummaged her mind for a source of assistance. Remembering the monthly visits of local orphanages pledging, she found in her purse a crumpled receipt with the name of a local orphanage in Dallu. She called them for help and together they nurtured and guided the boy back to Life, where he had a name: Rajesh. With the waking of Rajesh, his story emerged. Cornered between starvation and violence in their native Solu Khumbu, Rajesh and his mother had to leave their home soil. They came to the capital and begged in Swayambhu for some time sleeping on the streets, till one morning Rajesh woke to find his mother gone. Dazed, he walked the city for days, weeks, months…

— We think he spent around two years on the streets, but we simply have no idea how long he was alone — says Jackie. — Time has a different quality on the street, it is measured by days and the meals of that day only. The struggle starts afresh with each day, where the longest hours are the hungry hours. After the hospital, Rajesh moved from the harsh street life to the testing comforts of a huge family with countless brothers and sisters: Dallu Orphanage. In the initial weeks, Rajesh faced huge difficulties in coming back to life: settling in, giving up the freedom — though trenched in uncertainty — and replacing it with a level of consistency, a structure. — You don’t ‘forget’ your bad memories here, you replace them one by one, thought by thought with good ones — explains Jackie, who learnt this through Rajesh. In Rajesh’s adjustment period, she came home one afternoon to him lounging in her living room. — There he was — she remembers with a laugh — as happy as Larry, drinking a bloody Frooti and munching biscuits. I didn’t even take my shoes off. — ‘Come on’ — I shouted, ‘Let’s go!’ ‘I am not going back again to that place!’ — said Rajesh reclining in the sofa. It quickly turned out that there had been a fight in the orphanage and he fled to me. ‘Out!’ I shouted and we left. Reaching the orphanage, the fight (over some petty thing) was settled in minutes, as Rajesh looked on bewildered. — That’s the rule of the street — puts in Jackie — when you have a fight, you just pick up and move on. He simply never had the chance to learn that issues can be resolved. His fractured life up until this moment was also left totally unresolved.

Feisty little Rajesh returned to Jackie’s for refuge two more times, banking on a Frooti and munchies, but by then the bahini knew: only water for him. For the three times she walked past him at the gates of Swayambhu, he came knocking. With time Rajesh settled in Dallu, found friends and became the strong and shining child he is now. His piercing bright eyes radiate hope that resurrection is reality. The children here nurture each other with life force, loving and support one another… learning that one is the other. — Yes, this is a better place than the streets… but it’s only the bare minimum that’s provided - slams Jackie. — It is still safer in an orphanage even if the minimum is not provided… generally speaking. The magnitude of desperation and devastation leaves children vulnerable to all offers of help both altruistic and selfish… even sinister. Some of these “refuges” are just businesses, some are places rife with abuse. Still, the kids often have no choice — just like the people wanting to help them. Credit must be given to the sound hearts that can work with and through corruption to help the children. No good deed goes unpunished — adds Jackie. Jackie has naturally become a member of Dallu family through Rajesh and the godmother of all the kids. Her first trip to the orphanage devastated her as she carried the weight of the “stony silence” with her for a long time. The kids sat motionless, enfeebled as they did not have enough to eat. With a bit of guidance and financial aid, a nutritious diet was secured, the silence replaced by deafening racket. Enriching their diet was a war of numbers: the jump in daily calories resulted in huge leaps in the class rankings: from 10th to first, from 23rd to 11th… For the security of knowing that there will be food, the consistency and an extra nine-rupee tiffin box a day, the kids became more balanced, stronger and healthier. Changing the consciousness, the fear of hunger to faith in knowing that dinner will be provided takes time, a year at least.

— The situation of these orphanages is simply dire — says Jackie. Compromise is the keyword here, not the exception, and shifting that compromise to the clever places is what it is all about. Over the last ten years the number of orphanages has increased from 15 to over 200. When Dallu, with innocent hope, went on the radio, they pledged for anything: clothes, shoes, money, beds, blankets. All that came were sixteen more children. They had to move, of course, and found an old courtyard with a crumbling temple in it. They are fine here, for now, in the safe lap of the valley. Yet looking up at the ring of mountains around from the courtyard, you see angels running from fire.

— The UN says the children need to stay with their families, where the local culture can nurture their identity — sighs Jackie. — Yet, how can a man take his dead brother’s kids if he is already looking after his deceased sister’s ones next to his own? The family structure is being torn apart…

Even with the pressing weight of pain, the children remain children here. They are resilient, four kids sleeping in one dirty sweaty bed there is obviously suffering yet they are able to live with it all. The love one is greeted with, the wash of hands stroking one’s face is a testament to their strength. The simplicity is exquisite: the need to love is equal to the need to be loved. As we are leaving, a shining Rajesh claims between two leaps : ‘Love is life!’ “Oh, yeah… — smiles Jackie. — He is a wee hippy.