Through the Curtain
There is no sun. I can barely make out my surroundings, but I am not disappointed. I can barely make sense of the details of the broken oscillating fan. I tried to patch the head yesterday, directing air to my face, but it didn't mend. Alas, another sweaty night.
A baby rat sleeps on the floor next to my cot. Since it is dark still, I can barely see him, but I know he is there. Experience over the previous few days assures me he is there. Prim, the cook's husband, happily and calmly removed him earlier in the last night after seeing me scream and run out of the room, jumping onto the table, upon my first sight of the rodent. He and the children tried to hide their giggles as they threw their hands over their mouths so I wouldn't feel bad or foolish, an unsuccessful act of kindness. I felt ridiculous and ridiculed as I stood on top of the picnic table against the wall, one leg hiked up as if I planned to climb the wall like a superhero (a frightened superhero).These ordeals are just few of many galvanizing moments to be undergone here.
No shimmer. Just a pre-dawn murk granting what will be the only coolness of the day. Oh how I wish it were paired with the subtle Caribbean breeze that greeted me last month on vacation. I wish it were paired with a slight headache and dry mouth just severe enough to appreciate a purple Gatorade, then a cup of coffee, as I recall the moments between the last night's vodka/ tonics responsible for the condition. I wish it was paired with caked mascara, bonding my eyelashes together, warning me to stay in bed just a little longer. I would accept a honking alarm clock, warning me that it wouldn't be a good idea. I would gladly receive phone calls from my sister, my mother, a telemarketer. I would welcome tight, sore muscles from a long jog the day before. I would take anything familiar on the side of this morning.
Instead, I get different accompaniments slowly revealed through the light behind the covered window. One by one, still blurred due to the hour, the discomfort comes into focus. Neither my mind nor my eyes are open and ready.
The Nepalese dawn and the level of my brain function at that hour can just make sense of a tattered sheet. A narrow hole lets in soft light, providing clear sight of my fan and my furry new roommate who sleeps down below my cot. The hole invites the unfamiliar morning into my chambers whether I want it to or not. I roll over, eyelids glazed over and half risen, and can vaguely hear tiny sandals being tossed with haphazard against the wooden door of the next room. Someone can't find their school shoes. My first solid thought of the day is that this is a definite problem. Twenty-six muddy shoes that all look similar for 13 pairs of tiny, busy feet dumped along a concrete wall...a needle in a rice paddy.
I don't hear a lot of anything. The house members are not "Namaste"-ing one another this early. No children's laughter just yet, only scurrying across the hole in the sheet. Navy blue school uniforms dance across the gap as I finally hear the first giggle of the morning. I raise my head up to peer deeper through this slash in the cloth covering my view. I push my head out of my mosquito net and gaze through. Now, a little clearer-headed, I can see that the laughter came from those receiving their dry cereal breakfast, poured into the front pocket of their school shirt. For them, it will serve as a fine aliment for the long journey by foot to the school house.
I consider, perhaps they are content, because everything about this morning is familiar to them. They are aware of all their surroundings as they have always remained the same, every day, every week, every month, every year. They are aware that they will once again gallantly trek through an hour of rice fields toward education. I can already sense that the older kids recognize it is a tool with the ability to liberate them from this orphanage. It is every day they kneel to pray to the many Hindu gods, appreciative of the shelter, food, and an occasional volunteer. It is every day they scamper across the window hunting toothbrushes, book bags, and freedom.
My attention is drawn to the left of the aperture by a subdued squeak. The house mother and cook pump water from the ground to bathe our two babies. Sitizana, 18 months, and Ashish, one and a half years, cry to obviously be changed, cleansed, and fed. I pray the bar soap I purchased yesterday at the market comes in handy. I lean over the bed peering through the peep hole, still hidden, secretly hoping they use it this morning to scrub their clothes as well. With a little bit of luck and a lot of abrasion, most of last night's Dal Bhat dinner could possibly be removed.
Through this tiny tear, I can now just see the silhouette of the cook boiling water on the open fire, the rising sun from the outer flooded fields creating a glow around her. She looks almost angelic. Perhaps she is making tea. The last couple of mornings, she has awakened me with a fresh cup. "Calou tia?" she asks, remembering "black tea" was the first translation I learned on my first day. I will join her. I will pull open the curtain to start a new day, now seeing what to expect when I pull my sheet across the wooden bar. I know well now what is on both sides of the partition.
The cloth hides the lessons, the hard work, routine, appreciation. Through it, I can witness the surprising joy of a forgotten child. I can witness and receive hospitality and gratitude. It is my passport to these young lives and mine. This makeshift drape is my welcome to thought. It is my outlet to this Hindu wilderness. It guards me from snooping children as I construct my loving happy face before I open the door to help. It creates a retreat to reflect on life back home—expectations put on hold while I seize opportunity after opportunity...and miss opportunity after opportunity. It shields me from wine night after wine night with girlfriends. It is a break from Excedrin shielding me from memories of the previous evening. It is a break from cell phones' rings, achy muscles, and left-over make-up. I am left in a pensive state and new visions. I see all things new and different through this curtain.