It was almost dark and the lights flickered in Bairahwa, Nepal. Men and women were rushing. In half an hour — 7 p.m. — the last bus would leave Bairahwa for Rupandehi. If we hurried, that is if the bicycle rickshaw carrying, me, Hira Prasad Seti
(known to his friends as Busha) and building material got through the crush, we might just make the bus. Then we’d have to push, shove, slide through and get our stuff on top of the bus and somehow get room inside. Sitting would not be possible. Hanging on the outside of the bus or jam packed inside would be what we’d get for our 15 rupees.
Have you known people who could smell intrigue? Who could see where they could be useful, or be in a pivotal place? Busha is like that. Since the day I met his serious, 11-year-old eyes in an orphanage in southern Nepal over 10 years ago, there has been that aspect to him. Busha would watch, would study and would keep his ears open. He knew what was happening, both inside and outside the orphanage. He knew when there would be a road strike (meaning no motorized transport). He also knew how to endear himself by helping, by working hard, by thinking ahead and by knowing what to do.
When we were short on building materials, he was there. We crammed ourselves into an early afternoon bus for Bhairahwa. I even got a sliver of a place to sit. The rickety bus would lurch forward, gearing up and down, horn blaring while dodging goats and oxen, bikes and tractors and other buses.
Finally we spilled out in Bairahwa, wiping brows, stretching limbs and looking for chai. Busha and I headed off to shop. We found the building materials quickly enough. Then it was a matter of flagging down a bicycle rickshaw. He shook his head no, but my silver-tongued helper convinced him. A few rupees helped too.
We sat on the bench seat behind the rickshaw driver and stood the sheets up on the floor, close to our feet grimly hanging onto them while he pedalled us to the bus stop. Weaving through the crowds we were at the bus with minutes left to spare. The harried conductor, with some help, heaved everything onto the top of the bus.
Inside it was packed with sweaty people, but I managed to squish myself in. Busha hung on, half out the door, grinning because we’d done it. More men hung on the outside. Others perched on the top. Even a goat had found a place on top. And so after an hour of exhaust fumes and blaring horns, we came to a screeching halt on the road outside the orphanage. It was around 8 p.m. We heaved the items off the bus, then I hopped back on for the 15-minute ride to my own lodging.
That was my introduction to Busha and his tenaciousness, his determination and his willingness to make something work. He hasn’t changed in all these 10 plus years we’ve known him.
Sometimes he’d scour the neighbourhood for additional food for the 20 kids or more in the orphanage. Other times he’d find ways to make a little money. He always went to school. He always studied. And he dreamed. One day while helping my daughter Rosemarie and me carry books to begin a library next door he said, “Maybe, if I am good, someone will want me.” He has always felt the lack of a real family, of someone to go to. How could he not? He was out on the street at a young age. His father had been a casualty of a decade-long civil war.
His mother, unable to cope, had run away from her children. Hence, as the oldest, he went to nearby Butwal, where he found work in a hotel, helping out to make a few rupees. Then he put up signs in town asking for help for himself and his siblings, as they were homeless and had nothing. A local doctor saw the signs and took the children to the orphanage.
The orphanage was a survival story. It had food. It had clothes. The kids attended school. All was marginal. Both Rosemarie and I decided to help out. There were rats in the rooms, thin covers on the beds, no window glass, minimal food, shivering children and a four-room school with no books which convinced us there was work to do. Busha was always part of the equation. He happened to be part of this group of needy kids. Thanks to support we have received over the past 10 years, many of the kids are now attending college, university and starting careers. And Busha?
Busha now lives and works in Kathmandhu. First he studied science and math, but after failing some math classes realized math was not his strength. He did not graduate.
Because he didn’t graduate he felt he’d failed twice: school once and us once. We’d supported him, but he felt he hadn’t lived up to expectations. We knew he’d gained knowledge and the ability to study and to know what he was good at: politics and current events.
He also had a gut feeling of fear of the future. Failing at college only proved it to him. Life had always had so many uncertainties. He knew, despite our encouragement, he would need to stand on his own. Busha looked back at his restlessness and his uncertainty and felt it was all due to no parents guiding him. He had had to guide himself and his siblings. Their successes were his. He’s worried, bullied, cajoled and encouraged them. He had no mother or father to look to his needs, to hug or cuddle him, read to him, play football or just sit together in the evening. Rosemarie and I were there in short spurts and provided a goal, provided basic necessities, but then we left a huge hole when we got on that plane in Kathmandu.
Busha and all the others knew we cared for them, but if something happened (and things happened), they had to email us. It’s not the same as coming home after school and saying, “I had a bad day,” and having someone listen to you. But his tough inner core prevailed. His tenaciousness made him realize the future was in his hands, so he began looking for something that filled his passion.
The result: A full three-year scholarship for a Bachelor of Film Studies at the Oscar International College an affiliate of Tribhuvan university in Kathmandu. Now at the age of 23 he will be graduating in film within the next year. Work-wise he has been employed by the media and seems to be everywhere. He still needs support, mostly moral, but he’s getting there. And he’s in the midst of an exciting chapter in Nepal history.
Liesel Briggs helps run Hands of Hope, a Yukon-based organization that helps poor children and adults in India and Nepal develop independence and self-reliance. For more information please go to: www.hands-of-hope.ca or www.facebook.com/ booksandbasics. You are also welcome to phone (867) 668-7082.