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Life and death in Nepal and India

The Hands of Hope founders travelled through India and Nepal
Rosemarie Briggs waits for shoe repairs in Pahar Ganj, Delhi, India. (Submitted)

Liesel Briggs

Special to the News

Are both her feet on the bottom step? Craning my neck I saw my daughter, Rosemarie Briggs, just barely wedged inside the bus, teetering on the bottom step.

I was jammed in on the top step clutching my shoulder bag. Mere seconds before, the bus, spewing fumes, geared down, disgorged some passengers, and allowed us into the already bloated bus. We were crammed on and headed away from Tribuvan International Airport. The 4.5-km ride to Kathmandu, Nepal dropped us in the heart of the city.

During the latter part of September and most of October 2019, Rosemarie and I wove our way through Nepal and India as part of our Hands of Hope work. We delivered money to Nepalese students and Tibetan refugees in India, applauded success, provided moral support and shared sadness and loss.

It’s always exhilarating to be in the midst of the bustle of a city like Kathmandu or Delhi. Fumes and pollution surround you, but also aromas of spice or street foods like fresh pakoras and samosas.

There’s a mass of humanity seeking to survive: people begging at Boudhanath, Kathmandu, chai wallahs who sell tea near India Gate in Delhi, a cross legged man with a bathroom scale waiting for customers, shoe shiners, oracles, street performers and inevitable rickshaw drivers.

We were here to work, but we welcomed the aura of unexpectedness. First we met up with some of the boys we are sponsoring.

Busha who is ensconced in filmmaking and editing and as a writer for Kantipur News in Kathmandu, announced at the Big Belly restaurant that he is studying law. Meanwhile, Rohit, a business neophyte, also presents “struggle” talks, inspiring old and young people to never give up. With hugs and tears we left our two oldest boys to bus 12 hours, 294 kilometres south to the Terai region and Lumbini, Nepal.

The highlight of Lumbini was a giggly sleepover with all our female students. Can you imagine five girls plus us asleep on the floor in a little room just like puppies? Rice and dahl came first, then tea spiced with black pepper, singing and charades. Laughter and hugs amid discussions of dreams, dilemmas, budgets and reality, reinforced relationships.

These girls are studying so hard. Mina, the oldest, completed her three-year basic course in nursing, and worked for two years. Now she’s aiming to become a nurse and nursing instructor upon completion of her final year of a Bachelor in Nursing degree.

Smirti, a former nun from a depressed rural area in southern Nepal, has outflanked many young women. With her pharmacy course completed she can now open a rural clinic to diagnose and prescribe medicines. But she aims higher: to work in a city like Bhairahwa, Nepal. She is laying the groundwork for a three-year Bachelor in Pharmacy, then she’ll open a city clinic.

Janaki ,who escaped a child marriage, is in year one of a four-year study Bachelor in Business Studies. Sushila, is in her first year Bachelor in Hotel Management.

Nikhil, our last young man, will graduate with a Bachelor in Business Administration in March 2020. He’s done an internship and now looks to work in Pokhara as a sales representative, with MBA plans later in marketing.

After our whirlwind through Nepal seeing the students and renewing friendships, we crossed into India at Belahiya, Nepal and entered Sanauli, India. The customs posts are small and dilapidated along the pock marked, dusty, truck-plugged border. We bused on to Gorakpur, India and on through the night, arriving 16 hours later, in Delhi, just in time for breakfast.

Leaving Delhi at dusk, we journeyed through the night with only brief stops.

Our bus swung around hairpin bends ever more wildly until suddenly, with screeching brakes and a blaring horn, we reached the bus station.

Once in McLeod Ganj, we headed for Common Ground Café and tea. Tibetans predominate in this town and we were here to visit some of them. We have Canadian sponsors for 19 Tibetan refugees in the state of Himachal Pradesh.

Many of them are aging. They all escaped from Tibet arriving in this town looking for a new home. Gonpotso, an octogenarian we’ve supported since 2006, swung her left arm up and down, demonstrating that her cyst operation had gone well.

In December 2018, we’d stayed with her through the biopsy and operation. Scared of blood, elevators and needles, it was a true task to keep this 85 year-old calm.

At one point she did break down sobbing. In October 2019, she was all smiles, telling us she could now wash her face and make butter lamp offerings, too. Another Tibetan we saw confirmed his business is going well. Sangpo’s dream was to make and sell noodles. He just didn’t have enough start up cash. Our small business loan, now repaid, helped establish Snowland Noodles.

Next, headmistress Meenakshi Sharma welcomed us at Gamru School. It’s always inspiring to see her school. This time we carried the last batch of hand knitted dolls from Doreen Sorrenti of Surrey, B.C.

We told Meenakshi Sorrenti was dying. Amid tears of thanks and sadness we gave 80 dolls to the primary students who squealed with joy.

In the village of Bir we connected with more refugees. Visiting Choekyi and Bhoker we found Choekyi in bed. She was dying. We held her hand. She repeated “Ama” (mother.)

An hour later, Choekyi had died and we held Bhoker’s hand and passed her tissues.

The next day we helped make tsampa (barley flour) offerings, which signify to the deceased that they are loved in death as they were in life. Choekyi’s body was wrapped in a white cloth and placed in a glass fronted refrigerated box.

A monk chanted prayers for the dead. Neighbours came and went.

Now Bhoker is alone remembering what she and her sister had experienced escaping Tibet. She repeated “manis”(prayers), lighted butter lamps and consoled herself with memories.

The transitory nature of life is called to mind with these events. However, we shouldn’t forget that life and death are intermingled.

Our orphans vie for a life in their careers, knowing full well that had they not received support to study they would be on the streets of Kathmandu, or possibly married with children since age fourteen.

Sorrenti shed tears of gratitude, when she learned her 500 dolls created joy. Our students tear up knowing they may study, and the refugees are ever grateful to be living in one room and not under a tarp or in a cardboard box hovel. We feel honoured and grateful to have been a component in these lives. Thank you for supporting our work since 2006.

Donations go towards our various projects. We pay all our own expenses.

To contact Hands of Hope and Rosemarie or Liesel Briggs:

Phone: 867-668-7082, 867-333-6789