Jim Pesout is a retired Calaveras High School teacher and Mountain Ranch resident. He and his wife, Ann, journeyed last year to Nepal, where they had served in the Peace Corps 30 years ago. This is the second installment about their experiences there. The Enterprise welcomes submissions for Global Calaveras from other current and former Calaveras County residents.
By Jim Pesout
After Ann and I returned to Kathmandu from our three-week trek in the Everest region of Nepal, we scurried around the busy, unfriendly streets of the capital changing money, securing new trekking permits, and buying bus tickets for the eight-hour trip to Pokhara in central Nepal.
Thirty years ago when we were in the Peace Corps, tourists used to flock to Fewa Tal, a quiet lake there at the foot of the Annapurna Range; home to a dozen hotels and restaurants where road-weary world travelers could relax, enjoy a peaceful boat ride on the glassy waters of the lake, and refresh their minds, bodies, and even their souls. When we arrived, 21st century reality struck again. Now surrounded by more than 300 hotels and restaurants with more being built every day, lakeside seemed as crowded and noisy as Kathmandu, lost to development and commerce.
We had gone trekking for pleasure, but now we were on a quest: to find my old family. Many Peace Corps volunteers lived with Nepali families while working in remote villages as I had in the small village of Gilung, a two day’s walk from Pokhara. Armed only with my memory of how to get there, and a map of the hills, we set off for the closest road head expecting to walk there only to find out that there was now a bus that could cover the two-day walk in four hours. While we waited for the bus into the hills, two white faces in a sea of Nepalis, we gathered the curiosity of the locals making the same trip, including two women, Sanu and Nilima, who lived in present-day Gilung. Over tea in the bazaar, I showed them the pictures I had brought to share with my family there; pictures of old people who had long since passed on and school children now with families of their own. Their eyes got wide as they surveyed the photographs. It was as if a time machine had brought the past back into the present. They looked at me strangely, then at the pictures, and then back at me. Your family’s not there they told me. They are gone, dispersed about Nepal, Asia, and the world. But we can take you to someone who knows where they are.
The bus ride was hellish over rutted and washed out roads that now scar the land. Sanu had called ahead to announce that we were coming, to arrange food and housing, and to organize a reception upon our arrival. We arrived at dusk to a reception fit for royalty, not two Americans backpacking on a budget. They garlanded us with flowers and led us through the rice fields to the home of the wealthiest resident in the proud village where we were fed and then fed again, and again, until Ann had to ask me to please eat the rest of her food so they wouldn’t be insulted. Through all of this ceremony, all I could think of was “where is my family?”
While teaching there in the Peace Corps, I lived in a stone and straw house with a simple farming family: Mom who ran the household with an iron will, dad who tended to the fields and animals, my sister-in-law, Chou, whose husband was a Gurkha in the British military, my younger brother Kalo who mostly partied with the local girls, and Kashi, dear Kashi, my little sister, one of my sixth grade students. Although I liked my entire family, I loved Kashi who won my heart with her quick, crooked smile and a “Hello, Brother” waiting for me each day when I returned from the village school. The search for my family was actually a search for Kashi. As it turned out, my entire family was scattered about the world, beneficiaries – or victims – of global communication and mobility. She was reportedly somewhere in India where she lived with her husband and two daughters in some place called Dehradun, wherever that was. It didn’t matter to me where she was, that was where we were headed.
We stayed with Sanu, whose husband worked in Dubai and whose daughters were in a private school in Pokhara paid for with the money sent home by her husband. Every morning Sanu would get up at 4 a.m., feed the goats, brew tea, cook rice for our breakfast, and invite the entire village over to meet us. We toured the village, which looked as I remembered, except for the cell phones connecting everyone, a few solar panels and batteries providing dim lights in the evening, real toilets – well, real squat toilets – and a water system built by the Gurkhas that brought water to every house. In the old days, Kashi and her friends had to carry water in huge brass urns up to our house three or four times a day. Now it arrived by pipe. The villagers proudly took me on a tour of the new school, the new health post, the new Hindu and Buddhist temples, and my old home. The house I had lived in now held goats and water buffalo. We stayed for two days, left again with much ceremony and this time tears, and walked back to Pokhara.
We left without Kashi’s telephone number but with a promise that there was an older brother who could help us find it. Our journey, it seemed, had once again, just begun.
Follow the journey with the Pesouts in next Tuesday’s Calaveras Enterprise.