Saturday, April 3, 2010

Peace Corps Nepal

Baglung Pani Miss
Recently, I've begun to write personal narratives. It is a nice break from writing fiction. Here's one about my experiences as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Nepal from 1990-1993.

The Baglung Pani Miss

A word of advice: avoid moving to a village where a volunteer preceded you.

When I moved to Baglung Pani, Andy Walker was my own personal Freddy Krueger, popping into every conversation, and shredding my every deed. At each “good morning,” people would point to the hostel next to the school and tell me, “Andy Walker built that. What are you going to build?” At noon, the woman who gave me tea would drill me with questions in rapid Nepalese and then announce, “You don’t speak as well as Andy Walker. He spoke Gurung too. When are you going to learn Gurung?” At dinner, I listened to my host family tell stories of Andy Walker’s humor and wit. I gritted my teeth through the nightmare of comparisons until the remarks grew less frequent and trickled to the occasional. I made friends with those who never knew Andy Walker and soon with those who did.

About a year into my stay, I was taking a bus back home from a training in Kathmandu when an older Nepali man offered his seat and asked me where I was going.

“Baglung Pani,” I answered. The man’s eyes lit up with a look I now recognized as the Andy Walker look and I sighed. “Yes, I know” I said flatly. “You met the volunteer there.”

“She is wonderful! Do you know the Baglung Pani Miss?” he asked, and before I could answer the man was off telling me about her perfect Nepalese, her sweet Gurung, her friendly nature, her wonderful singing voice, her skill with the children.

I sat up in my seat and beamed in anticipation of his delirious bubbling at discovering me. This was my moment of vindication! When the man slowed enough for me to get in a word, I exclaimed, “I’m the Baglung Pani Miss!”

The man’s smile faded. “Oh, no, you can’t be the Baglung Pani Miss,” he argued. “Your Nepali isn’t good! You can’t even speak Gurung.”

“No,” I said, at once indignant. “I am the Baglung Pani Miss!”

“That is not possible,” the man replied, equally adamant. “She is just like a Nepali, but look at you. You are not!”

I took a deep breath, ready for battle when Andy Walker came to mind. I sank back down and nodded. “You’re right.” The man huffed in agreement and turned away. I stared out the window so that the man could not see how giddy I looked.

Who was I to trifle with the myth of the Baglung Pani Miss?

To read other articles about my Peace Corps experience, click here.