Asha is 28, university educated and unmarried. For a Nepali girl she’s deviated far from the accepted path. Asha finished university with a degree in sociology and speaks fluent English. In discord with her parents, she refuses marriage proposals on a regular basis.
Asha works 12-14 hour days in the family business. Her brothers refuse to pay her. When they’re not looking, she takes her wages from the cash drawer. Every month she deposits the accumulated income in a secret savings account. It’s taken her 4 years to save US$1000.
I sit in a wicker chair, wrapped in a blanket with a cup of masala tea. Asha sits in the chair next to me. It’s late and most Nepalis are in for the night. Two boys play with sticks in the street, but Pokhara is quiet. One of the boys trips and tumbles into a bush. I laugh but I realize I’m the only one. I turn to Asha who looks overwhelmed with worry.
“Hey, ash, are you okay?”
She sighs deeply. “I don’t want this life,” she says.
“What do you mean?”
Latent panic enters her voice, “I don’t want my life to turn out like the rest of the girls here.”
I reassure her, “Don’t worry. It won’t.”
“Have I told you about my sister?”
“You have a sister?” I’ve been in Pokhara for a month. I’ve met all her family members and no one had mentioned a sister.
“Yeah, she died.” Her eyes swell with tears. “Svara. She was 3 years younger than me.”
There’s nothing I love more than finding a successful women’s organization with a vibrant, local female running the show.
Three years ago Devika Gurung founded the Nepali Yoga Women Project with Emma Despres, a woman from the UK. Devika grew up in Nepal and is fully aware of the harsh realities women face in the country. At the age of 15 she dropped out of school to help her family earn money. Her first job involved lugging heavy rocks around an airport construction site. Later jobs included working in an orchard, making carpets, and cleaning houses.
When you meet Devika it’s hard to imagine her childhood consisting of manual labor (even though it’s common for Nepali girls). Devika is beautifully poised and radiates positive energy. Her adult life hasn’t been free of challenges either, but along the way she learned English and began practicing yoga. Eventually, she opened her own yoga studio in Pokhara.
At this studio she connected with Emma. The two women decided to start a project to develop the unsuspected, inner skills of Nepali women and allow them to reassert themselves in society. They wanted to create a positive environment where Nepali women could learn how to heal and support themselves. Continue reading
Nepali boy sleeping in Durbar Square in Kathmandu.
During the last month my posts have slowed and I’ve gotten many questions about where I am and what I’m doing. So, for those
of you wondering, I’ve been living in Pokhara, Nepal.
Nepal represents an eclectic mixture of ethnic, religious, and political tendencies. It’s landlocked by Tibet and India, both of which heavily influence Nepali culture. The country’s spiritual basis blends Hindu, Buddhist, animist and shamanic practices. And although Nepali people are renowned for their peaceful nature, a decade-long Maoist insurgency just ended in 2006. Even today, political disputes and confusion plague the nation but most locals in Pokhara ignore it.
Nepali people are so genuine and outgoing that it’s hard to walk down the street without making a new friend. I’m constantly surprised by their hospitality considering how difficult life is for them. Nepal is the poorest country in South Asia with a GDP per capita of US$470. In 2008 the UN ranked Nepal 145th out of 153 countries on its Human Development Index. Government power cuts can last up to 10 hours a day which severely hinders growth. And the gender disparities are the worst I’ve seen – for example, the literacy rate is only 26% for females but 62% for males. Continue reading