Last week was Halloween. I had procrastinated my preparations for the holiday, perhaps not realizing how decadently it was celebrated by the kids, so the day itself was a rush of costume making and room decorating. It was also the day the Red Sox won the World Series (!!!!!!), so I was a rolling ball of enthusiasm.
I was responsible for creating costumes for the Blue room, which includes Pankha, Padam, and big Madan, Sagar (and Naveen, who is still in Kalikot). Pankha’s costume was simple, and only required skeletal, day-of-the-dead face paint to go with a black cape. To be honest, I didn’t do anything for Pankha. Nena did his face paint, and I’m not sure where he got the black cape.
Padam chose to be a pirate. For him, we got a $2 tailor made black vest to bundle with an eye-patch made from one of my sunglass lenses and a black string that I had Padam tediously color black with a marker. I also made him a hook and a pirate sword (cutlass, I believe) from the curve leftover in my 5/8″ plywood from my rammed earth mold. I had to put the hiltguard (or whatever the name may be) on the wrong side of the cutlass. The final touch was a classy curly mustache that any true pirate (non-Somalian) would be jealous of.
Madan’s costume was a werewolf. I drew out small triangles in a sheet of cardboard for him to cut out and color with red and black marker. We curled and taped these around each of his fingers as claws. The last step was to create his fangs and jaw. We did this again out of cardboard that I then bent to give some semblance of volume. After he painted the whole thing a nice mess of black fur and red blood, I tied it around his head. I spiked his hair and painted some bloody gashes on his stomach.
Sagar’s costume was by far the most fun. I had decided early on to be the bad guy (Odlaw) from Waldo, and I needed both a Waldo and a Wizard to accompany me. Sagar needed a costume. The leap was logical. I bought him some red fabric and brought it to a tailor, who made a $2 wizard’s robe. We took an old “Happy Birthday” conical hat and sewed blue fabric around it. For his staff, I cut up a dried stick of bamboo and marked out where he should paint it blue and red. We then took 100 feet of string and cut fifty 2-foot lengths that I had Sagar tie onto a string that hung around his ears on his chin. Instant beard.
I bought the only black shirt I could find in town that would fit me, turned it inside out to hide its logo, and painted yellow stripes on it. I did the same thing with a black hat. Then I popped out my second sunglass lens (the first having gone to Padam’s eyepatch), shaved my beard except my mustache, threw on black pants, and viola! Waldo’s arch-nemesis: Odlaw.
Caroline, Nena, and John prepared a scavenger hunt throughout the hostel grounds. The teams were split by gender, so competition was fierce and the kids were frantically running from clue to clue for a good hour or so.
But Luke.. “Where’s Waldo??” you may ask. The kids asked this multiple times during the night. Well. Let me show you what happened to Waldo:
The “torso” in the bed is Nate’s pillow wearing Nena’s jeans and my belt. I used red paint to make Waldo’s stripes and his bloody arm socket. The trail of blood on the floor that leads from the dismembered corpse is from an acrylic red paint (water based and washable, don’t worry), and leads to three separate trails. The first two lead to Waldo’s disembodied arm and leg, which I made by wrapping cloth scraps from the Women’s Center with my clothing around a couple pieces of “shattered bone” bamboo. The leg was my favorite. The third trail leads under my desk, up my wall, to a hanging pamelo from our worksite. Waldo’s face is painted on a cloth wrapped around the pamelo, which I’ve been holding onto while it ripens (I had to climb the tree to get it down).
The Hindu festival of lights, Tihar, lasts five days and just concluded yesterday. It was my favorite holiday yet- christmas-style lights began popping up all over the city, and the view from our new floor is a beautiful, blinking panorama of colored lights. Most houses brought out candles to their front yards during the five days, so peering down the road outside the house was a silent and peaceful treat of flickering yellow lights.
The food was also fantastic during this period, though nearly everything was fried. My favorites were Siale Roti and Pakora. The roti was an oddly shaped fried dough that had a slight layer of sugary rice on the outside. The pakora was a mish mash of vegetable deep fried and made crispy. On the last day of the festival, the Uncles and kids piled more and more food onto my plate, until I asked and found out that the objective is to fill someone’s plate until they vomit. This may be an exaggeration, but I ended up eating pounds of fried food for breakfast.
Also on the last day of Tihar, brothers receive a tike painting/blessing from their older sister (their didi), who then get a small amount of token money in return. Since neither Hesse nor Cass are here, Amrika filled in as my didi, and from now on she is my spiritual older sister (or something like that).
The best part of Tihar, though, was Baili.
Baili is the Nepali version of trick or treating, except it extends for three days in a row, and except for displaying costumes, the kids display their dance moves.
Here’s how it happens:
A group of children, likely with a drum, approach your front steps and begin to walk in a circle. In the center is planted a girl who chants, almost rapping, some improvised Nepali verses while keeping the beat by slamming a staff or stick onto the ground. At the end of every verse, the rotating satellites shout “BAILI.” This continues on and on, until the middle conductor decides it is time to dance, and sets of waves of cheering among the satellites. The children then sing, play the drum, and take turns dancing on your front steps. Depending on how much you appreciated their performance, you bring out some money to them on a tray with a candle.
This ritual became more of a rumpus at night, when the groups went from ages 10-12 to 16-24, and speaker systems were occasionally brought instead of drums. Alternating frenetic and graceful dance parties, sometimes with over 30 teenagers, happened on our front steps from 6 until 10. These kids BROKE IT DOWN. They were incredible, whether the dances were choreographed or not. Unwilling dancers were often dragged into the center of the circle, and with a foreign face you were an especially delectable target. I am not always an enthusiastic dancer, but with a cheering, clapping, and ecstatic group around, it is difficult not to be enthusiastic. The rest of the volunteers and I were dragged, separately, into the fray at least 10 times by these groups.
Kopila was especially boisterous because of our reliable solar PV system, and the city’s power is typically subject to load-shedding until 9 pm. A few times, we had to turn off our solar power to force a group to leave and the other mobile-parties waiting outside the gate could have their turn.
The final day of Tihar featured something I had, as of yet, never seen: an animal sacrifice. This may not actually be the correct term, since there was actually quite little ceremony and we ate the sheep afterwards, but it seems more tasteful than “beheading” or “slaughter.”
The sheep came all the way from Kalikot via bus. It was bigger than all of the goats I’ve seen in town, and spent its last few hours pleasantly munching away on grass outside under the darkening sky.
I watched the “ceremony” not out of any bloodlust or to serve any practical purpose, but simply because every time I’ve ever eaten meat (this has happened many times), it has necessitated an animal’s death. Knowing and believing this is one thing, but actually witnessing it, and watching the blood flow from the animal’s severed neck, is another thing entirely.
I could go on and say how sad it is that most Americans (and most people in general) take it for granted that they can buy animal flesh at the grocery store and cast a blind eye to the obvious implications about where the meat came from, but that would be cliché and is something that most people have heard. Rather, I’ll say this: I spent a few minutes with the sheep about 30 minutes before its headless body collapsed to the ground, and I enjoyed his company. He was unintelligent- orders of magnitude below even my mental capacity- but he was simply content in what he had. And what he had was a big pile of leaves and grass placed before him. These were his last moments, and even his very last moment was not so bad: spent kneeling, unaware of the downward flashing blade.
Sorry if these offend you, but this is where our meat comes from:
All in all, the entire situation was rather anticlimactic in the moment, likely because I was concentrating on the motions before me instead of the implications they held. And yet, there was no moment of fear from the sheep, not even a moment of pain. He went from an abundant meal to the great beyond, without any stressful transition. Isn’t that a rather good way to go? My dad told me this summer that he accidentally ran over a snake with the lawnmower but left it to see if it could survive. On his next loop around the lawn, the snake was still writhing on the ground so my Dad mercifully went right over it. And yet- what were the snake’s last moments like? Even in his dying moments, was he able to reflect upon the birth of his children or even that morning’s delicious mouse?
I’m obviously anthropomorphizing the snake, or at least applying a human level of cognitive ability, but the analogy still stands. It may be that we can say “oh, he lived such a happy life” about the man you read in the obituary section, but does it make any difference to him if his last moments were spent in pain next to I-93? I’m not trying to be dark or a pessimist or make my Dad (hi) feel bad about the snake incident- I just think its a valid consideration, and pet owners who put their cats to sleep obviously reflect on the same principles.
Back to the sheep: he actually did have a great life, roaming the mountains of Kalikot with no fences or crowded cage, and even his last moments were relatively stressless. Can we say the same about the animals whose flesh we buy at the supermarket? Some, maybe, but certainly not most. And as to anyone who would protest the the sheep’s killing in the first place, I say: were it not for humans, the sheep would never have been born in the first place, or would have wound up in some tiger’s excrement.
I don’t particularly want to end on that note. So here are some more lighthearted photos of the kids and some goat-walkers.