We left off just after dusk in Dhampus and, currently, our group is assembled around a bonfire with our Nepali hosts. Jason and Tony are enjoying a few Everest beers; “hey look guys, I’m about to summit Everest again!” I sip my masala tea and shake my head. Boys.
We Drop The Beat
Our hosts bring out their instruments and begin to play their favorite traditional Nepali tunes. Krishna explains the meaning and importance of each song, but I find myself distracted by the dancing flames before me and the blanket of stars above me. A few moments later, our hosts coax us out of our seats and we begin to dance, albeit somewhat awkwardly. Our male group members are initially a bit hesitant to dance with the Nepali men but, heck, if you can’t give in to an impromptu do-si-do on a mountainside with another man once in a while, than you probably take yourself a bit too seriously.
Side note: Heterosexual Nepali men show physical affection for one another in a way that is markedly different from our Western standards. It is not uncommon to see two male or female friends holding hands as they walk down the street, while PDA between a man and a woman is considered taboo.
A bit breathless, we take our seats and begin chatting. Krishna suggests that perhaps we sing a traditional American song. You can actually hear crickets. We glance around at one another in desperation. The national anthem would be the obvious choice but it has too many high notes. American Pie? No one knows all of the words. The Nepalis, always polite, cannot help but look a bit perplexed by our ambivalence. Finally, Tony stands up. Whether motivated by a sense of American pride or his spiked masala tea, he begins to sing The Eagles’ “Hotel California.” We look on admiringly (hey, we didn’t have the guts to sing anything) and the Nepalis continue to look confused, though encouraging. After a verse or two, Tony forgets some of the words and we fall back into an awkward silence.
I’m still not sure who started it but somehow, out of the darkness, came a song we all knew: “I like big BUTTS and I cannot liiieeeee!!” Immediately, we all begin to join in. We start wiggling in our seats as we plead, “you can do side bends or sit-ups, but please don’t lose that butt!” The Nepalis, noticing our enthusiasm, begin to smile and bob their heads. Someone bangs a drum awkwardly now and again in an attempt to catch the beat. Cultural exchange abounds and Sir Mix-a-Lot saves the day!
The next morning we eat breakfast outside overlooking the mountains. Krishna assures us that, after yesterday’s steep incline, today’s trek would be more forgiving. Excited for a downhill stroll, our group sets out for home. We pass through forests, occasionally spotting some local villagers as we go. A young boy is swimming in a brook and waves at us before jumping in. We pass a man carrying an entire tree trunk on his back and I make a point to swallow the complaint on the tip of my tongue. But seriously, Krishna did say it was mostly flat terrain we would be covering today.
Our group stops for a snack and Maureen asks Krishna if the path ahead will “ease up” at all. Then he does something most discouraging: the Nepali head bob.
The Nepali head bob is a side-to-side movement that, in my experience, is an indication of bad news to come. After only a week in this country, it seems to me that the Nepali people are either prone to optimism or harbor a fear of reprisals when delivering less than desirable news. Krishna’s reassurance, accompanied by the head bob, all but confirms more arduous trekking ahead. For the remainder of the trek, Tony and I point to the mountains and declare: “Look! A Nepali Flat!”
Even so, the scenery cannot be beat. I feel small but not insignificant – just incredibly blessed to be a tiny part of such a big, beautiful world.