Bhim is my brother. He is my Nepalese brother. I met him three years ago on the streets of Thamel in Kathmandu. We clicked immediately and we communicate constantly. I was entranced by his encyclopedic knowledge of his country and I marveled at his tales of when Nepal was a mighty kingdom. We still traipse around the back streets of Kathmandu together whenever I visit - all the time laughing.
I ask Bhim question after question. What is this? What is that? Which dynasty built this palace? Bhim's patience with me is endearing and the pride that he has in his country is wonderful.
Kathmandu is an ancient and crumbling city. It has endured earthquakes and wars for more than 2000 years yet it's beauty remains intact. The artisans and architecture are spectacular.
Bhim assures me that we are brothers. He tells me repeatedly and with absolute confidence and conviction that we were once family. In a previous life.
I have no reason to doubt this.
None at all.
I am going to Nepal in the morning. The purpose of my visit is to attend the graduation from high school of Aishworya. Aishworya is Bhim's eldest daughter. She is sixteen years old and she wants to be a nurse. She will be. Aish is like a daughter to me. She has a heart of pure gold.
Like many Nepalese, Bhim and his family live in a single room in a dilapidated apartment block. He lives with his wife Amolika, his wife's sister Apala, and his three children Aishworya, Jasmine and Bhim Junior. Amolika means 'priceless' and Apala translates to 'most beautiful'.
I go to Bhim's house often. Whenever I am in Kathmandu. They insist. I feel comfortable there because they are my Nepalese family and I love them all. There is a single light globe in Bhim's house and only two power points. There is no running water and electricity is generally only on for 2 or 3 hours a day in Kathmandu. Load shedding is constant. There is a power crisis in the country and there will be for a while. Maybe forever. Aishworya and Jasmine often do their school work by candle light. When Aish proudly shows me her essays they are often dotted with candle wax. Reading the stories that she writes sometimes makes me laugh out loud and they occasionally make me cry.
I have stained her precious pages with my tears.
Bhim rises each morning at 5.00am and lines up patiently at a communal water pump. He gathers enough water for the family to wash and for Amolika and Apala to cook with. Cooking is done on a gas burner. The family are Hindi so they are vegetarians. The most delicious food I have ever eaten has been at Bhim's house. The food is simple but is cooked with great love. Amolika and Apala giggle with delight and blush when I tell them how delicious their food is.
They love it.
They really do.
Aishworya's graduation is a very proud moment for the whole family and for me too. My heart is bursting with pride. Bhim finished his education at the age of ten. This is very common in Nepal. Like many of the Nepalese people Bhim comes from a mountain village – high in the Himalaya. There are very few schools in the villages and children are needed to work on the farms. To put food on the table.
It is a very hard life.
Bhim makes his living now as a trekking guide. He tramps the streets of Nepal seeking tourists to take into the mountains. He carries their packs and he shows them the beautiful temples of Kathmandu. All for a few dollars a day. To feed his family.
Bhim now has to compete with the Internet and the international trekking companies. It is very tough and yet despite this hard life Bhim is one of the happiest people I know.
He is content with his lot.
He is at peace with himself.
It is easy to be dazzled by the beauty of Nepal. The mountains still take my breath away. Every time I go back. Yet beneath this spectacular beauty is one of the most impoverished nations in the world. There is even more beauty in the people. The Nepalese people are tough. They endure hardship on a daily basis and at a level that few of us can even imagine. Yet they endure and they prosper. Their humility and friendliness and kindness are endearing. They are wonderful, delightful and amazing people.
Their contentment and happiness blows me away.
I often feel ashamed at my pettiness when I go to Nepal. I cringe inside at how I so easily take so many things for granted. Going to Nepal I get a much needed slap in my face and I achieve a realization at how lucky I am really. How most of us are actually. Happiness is not acquired through possessions and it is not achieved through success. Happiness is not measured by the amount of money one has accumulated. It can't be bought or rented. Happiness is decency. It is friends and family and kindness and love.
Happiness is Nepal too.
Bhim is my brother.
I am going home to him tomorrow.