It takes a village
To do what, exactly?
To raise a child.
Yes? What do you mean, to “raise a child”?
Well, to feed it, to shape it in line with your values and worldview, to give the parents a break, to help them feel safe in this world to them be able to venture forth; to raise it, I suppose, into the version of human-ity that you desire. .
And which version is that?
You know . . .
I don’t. Please explain.
Well, the version that supports the village.
Hmm, I’m afraid I don’t understand. This seems a bit circular.
You know, the version that cares about her parents, her siblings, her grandparents, her great-grandparents, and even her ancestors and is willing to participate in family, and in the cycles of life, which includes milking the water buffalo in the morning, and again at night – cleaning his plates – planting corn – paying attention to the seasons – learning how to harvest bamboo – not leaving for the cities, or if they do, always coming back – the one that chooses to continue to attend the weddings – and the funerals. Caring for the land. Taking puja in the morning, and again in the evening – respecting the wisdom of the elders – understanding the generosity of the earth.
These are traditions that you are speaking of?
Yeah, I suppose, traditions. But I am not traditional.
Well, no. I claim to be very progressive. At least I loath taboos, power structures and dogma. I want these “village” mechanisms because I want to choose them, not because I have to, but because I’ve explored all other possibilities and find this one the only one that seems satisfactory. And wholesome. And worth living. I just don’t know how to create them in a modern paradigm.
But what about the other traditions? Do you feel that you can just pick and choose which traditions you like and discard those that you dislike? What about the gains of the liberal movement? How are women respected in this village? How are freedom and liberty manifest?
I see what you’re getting at. You mean the privilege of being able to duck into a village for a few days and romanticize all of the qualities that align with my worldview and just turn a blind eye to the ones that disagree? The caste system, or the backbreaking labor, or the periodic disease, the infant mortality, or the lack of financial freedom. Like asking me, “Have you ever actually lived in a traditional village?” Yeah, I’m not sure. And, no I haven’t, not for any longer than a couple of weeks at a time. But I just feel lonely and disconnected from this modern world and I feel like humans deserve a bit more imagination. Not the imagination that travels to Mars, but the kind that, once and for all, can finally live in harmony on this planet. And I think that some of it comes down to the Andean idea of sumac qamaña, or living well. When did we ever get so fixated on living better? I tried to help the village build cucumber trellises in their communal fields yesterday. The villagers carried their one tool, the traditional asi, a kind of scythe used to harvest grains, cut bamboo and do just about anything that you need in these terraced fields. They each had a simple string with a wooden sheath behind their backs to hold the scythe. It is classy. It is the right tool for the right job in the right place. It’s not that the village has eschewed technology. They haven’t. The technology here is advanced. Terraces, oxen, asi scythes, gobar bio-gas, beekeeping, bamboo building construction, diverse agriculture. But it is not technology as an end in and of itself. It is a means. A means to live well. Not better, but well. There is an important idea in mountaineering culture of excellence. Of striving to do things just as well as they should be done. Not more, and definitely not less. Perfectly. When the snow storm comes, don’t just put on your snow layer, but zip it up, make sure spin-drift doesn’t come in and soak your base layers. When you build a climbing anchor, spend an extra 5 seconds checking to make sure it is SOLID. Don’t overdo it, because that can be almost as bad as under-doing it. This translates to technology as well. There is an excellence in technology that is lacking when it just become gratuitous; an ugly and distracting end in and of itself.
Do you not attempt to improve your lot in life? To live better?
Ah, touché! Got me. You bet. Look at me. I’m in Nepal with my family, seeking self-fulfilling experiences. I want my kids to go to good schools, to do well in life. To have opportunity. You’re right. It’s sticky. And I don’t have the best discipline. I fly. I drive. I buy bananas from Panama, even when it’s winter in Colorado. I don’t live up to my proposed values as well as I’d like. If 7 billion people lived with even my carbon footprint, the earth would likely be spiraling even faster towards un-livability. I can do more. Much more.
Again, I’m not sure. I think we need to travel less, that’s for sure. And if we can’t travel less, we need to travel slower. And we need to re-build villages. We need to share more and buy less. We need to talk more, type less. We need to walk more. Bike more. We need to care about children. Like really care about them, not just smile when they’re cute and quiet and “well-behaved”. We most definitely need to care for the earth more, starting with the soil. We can regain respect for the sky, for our embodied and shared responsibility. We need to begin seeing ourselves as an integrated part of the ecosystem, rather than humans here, nature there. Terraces go to the highest valleys of the Himalayas. Humans have found a healthy balance at times while actually participating in the earth’s cycles rather than attempting to transcend them. We can do it again.
Our dear friend Amrit Ale and his Ama, Baba and Madu Bahini hosted us at their home in Ale Gaun for the past 5 days. From Pokhara, you head southwest along the old highway to the Terai to the town of Waling. Transportation ends there at a suspension bridge and a short 20 minute walk to the village. Amrit and his family are Magar, and surrounding villages are Chhetris, Maji fishermen, and others. Our days were spent with the goats, chickens and water buffalo, walking to the upper ridge for views of Machupuchare and Annapurna, walking down to the river for a swim, journeying to the terraced fields to watch the tilling, and lounging on the porch and talking with Ama, Baba and Madu bahini. Celia and Mason made quick friends with their young daughter Anumaya and most hours of the day the kids disappeared from us – to the animals, nearby homes and fields, or other unknown adventures.