DONOR STORY SERIES
I was never convinced I had her name right. Her English was as polished as my Nepali, which is to say, nonexistent, but she smiled when I said Moira, so I figured ‘Moira’ was close enough. She lived in Mahja Badahare, a remote village in the middle hills of Nepal. Moira and her people are Gurungs, one of more than forty tribes located throughout the tiny country that’s home to the tallest mountains in the world.
Moira and I met in 2010, the year I traveled to Mahja Badahare with a group of folks from Denver. We were there to work on the installation of a MUS – a Multiple Use System that brings water from a natural spring to a village via PVC pipe. The water is collected in a cistern and routed to tap stands for household use. It’s also used to irrigate plots of tomatoes, cauliflower and other vegetables, making it possible to grow crops year-round, and to sell those crops for income. On the most basic level, a MUS eliminates the need to haul water up and down the hills every day, a task relegated to women and girls.
Every morning after breakfast, we Americans would put on our sturdy work boots, grab our hats and gloves, and head to the ridge above the campsite to scoop dirt and deepen the trench. We worked alongside men and women from the village. Someone commented that the women put in longer days, and no wonder. Ever balance a water jug on your head for two hours while walking barefooted on a steep slope? No question, these women were motivated.
We worked in groups of five or six, passing the few scoops we had back and forth among us. After ten minutes of scooping, a village woman would tap me on the shoulder, extend her hand, and take the tool. She’d sit on her haunches over the trench, her body perfectly balanced, her weight evenly distributed, her hands and feet bare or in flip flops, and dig without breaking a sweat.
Moira loved to ask questions while we worked—did I have kids, how many, was I married. Like her name, I wasn’t quite sure what she was asking, but answered anyway. We did a lot of smiling, and nodding our heads. Mostly I remember how intently she’d study my face, the movements of my mouth, all the while scrunching her forehead, trying to make sense out of what had to sound like gibberish.
On the last day of the work trip, the villagers gathered around a tap stand and watched as one of their leaders turned the knob. Cheers went up at the sight of water flowing from the metal spigot. A goat was slaughtered and roasted, local officials gave speeches, a dedication plaque was mounted on the side of the cistern. The entire village, young and old, feasted that day in celebration of the arrival of the element we in the States take for granted every time we wash our hands, rinse a dish or take a shower. They had water.
A friend and I returned to Nepal two years after the MUS was installed, and spent an afternoon at Mahja Badahare. We were visiting other MUS projects in the area and had photo books from 2010 to deliver, along with a duffel filled with Colorado Rockies baseballs, mitts and caps. I spotted Moira from the road as we got out of the Jeep. She was sitting on a stone wall at the edge of a terrace high above us, watching as we climbed the hill.
She was smiling when we reached her, although not the big smile I had remembered. She was obviously uncomfortable. Her foot was wrapped in several layers of thick cloth. A walking stick fashioned from a bamboo limb rested at her side, her toes were dusty and swollen. I sat down next to her and slowly picked up that she had broken her ankle a few days before. I put my arm around her shoulders and looked into those brown eyes, still filled with curiosity. We didn’t understand one another’s language any better than we had the first time we met, but it almost didn’t matter. We understood something more important than words: I had come back, she was still there, and the world, at that moment, could not have been smaller.
About the Story Collector: Rebecca Lee aspires to write heartfelt, honest, inspiring stories. “Strip away the nonessentials,” she says, “and story is what’s left. It’s the thing that connects us to one another.” From her base in Denver, Colorado, Rebecca writes professionally for businesses and nonprofit clients. She loves outdoor adventure, and travels whenever she can. In 2010, she and a group of volunteers partnered with iDE to bring water to the village of Mahja Badahare in Nepal. She fell in love with the people and the geography, and has returned three times to volunteer and to trek, one of her passions. Rebecca publishes her stories on rebeccalou.com, and posts at rebeccaloulee on Instagram.