The Woman at the Guesthouse

by Zoe Bluffstone (United States of America)

Making a local connection Nepal


We had seen the same donkeys at least two times already that day, I was sure of it. The bells on their necks tinkled familiarly as they steadily lumbered up the mountain path, laden with rice, lentils, coca cola, or eggs for yak cheese omelettes. The heavier the item, the higher the price up here; it was backbreaking work for those donkeys. A man encouraged them up the path single file, stick in hand. He hustled past us, hurrying the animals forward on their journey through the himals. We are slower than a bunch of tired donkeys, I realized. I found the oxygen to laugh a bit despite the altitude -- an echo against the rock wall beside me. It was our second day trekking in the Langtang region of Nepal. After one turn in the trail the mountains really came out, Ama Dublan extended her cradling arms across most of the sky. I had to lift my neck to glimpse the peak, my pack threatening to pull me down the hill I had just climbed. Ahead a rock slide was in the distance, a tumble of grey and silver almost pretending to be a river for a hot, tired hiker. I turned my attention toward the town ahead of me -- tonight’s destination and a sight for sore feet. The air was sweet and smoky at the guesthouse. Our packs were finally off our backs, and menus were before us, distracting us from the unforgettable beauty of the day. We are the only visitors there that night, and our hosts were as warm as the wood stove -- tinging everyone’s face pink as it bubbled water for chai. My parents speak Nepali, a remnant from their time in the Peace Corps, and the conversation largely flowed between them to me. Questions and smiles led to a proud displaying of family photos and poses with the Dalai Llama. The woman -- I never caught her name -- clutched tight to a napping baby, drooling on her shoulder. We were just two families, sharing tea and dinner. The carpeted seats were floral and worn. It was the woman who ultimately brought up the earthquake. A year and a half ago, she and her husband had gone to Kathmandu for a few days, a 7 hour bouncing bus ride, when the earth came alive. While the international news broadcasted images of crumbling of ancient temples and stuppas and a sterile reporting of the number dead, her family was trying to find their way home, back to their village in the mountains. Eventually they made it back, but there wasn’t anything to come back to. They saw that all that remained of their home, and of Langtang village, was that same, shining rockslide I had glimpsed from the trail. Their guesthouse, their home, and so many friends, family, and neighbors were gone under that river of rock. I felt ashamed for thinking it was beautiful. I clinked a spoon back into my tea, hoping my sorrow would permeate the language barrier. Our host clutched her baby a little tighter as we finished eating. We were all quieter now. I fell asleep that night wondering what I would do if everything I knew came crashing down. I dreamed of ghosts dancing in the rubble. The next day, we crossed the rockslide with only the scuttle of small rocks below our feet to break the silence. I held my breath despite the altitude, trying to respect the centuries of dreams, history and community somewhere below me. Somewhere. We came to a shrine where prayer flags fluttered in the wind. Red, blue and yellow, not yet breezeworn. I let my fingers drag across the prayer wheels -- always to your right -- spinning ancient words into the rocks, into the sky. I looked back at the woman’s new home, simple and shining in the light. Sometimes just existing is testament to hope after the world collapses. Around me, the mountains I came here to see rose tall and proud, dangerous and gorgeous. Below, the woman bounced her baby in a rebuilt guesthouse, and the prayer flags fluttered on, and on, and on.