The more memorable experiences of life are rarely those we plan for.
On a cold overcast day in October 1980, I and five other New Yorkers were trekking along a narrow wrinkle of stone which comprised the trail on the side of the mountain above Kavre, north of Pokhara. It was mid afternoon. We were anxious to get beyond this exposed elevation as an electrical storm might appear and endanger us. A cold, light rain began to fall. We stopped for a few minutes in the tight shelter of a projecting rock ledge. The rain began to soak us and we soon heard thunder. We decided to continue to descend as rapidly as the trail would allow, hoping to find refuge at the next village some miles ahead.
The first building we saw was just a few hundred yards ahead of us. It was quite small and had been built partially across a now full rushing stream. Ducking our heads as we passed through the low doorway, we entered a room dimly lit by a few holes left in the wall. There was a narrow wooden deck on the four sides and in the centre was a heavy millstone which we took care not to wet as we crowded into the space. An hour passed while we relaxed and hoped for an easing of the storm outside. Through the floor we heard the low roar of the swollen stream as it rushed down the incline on which this little grain mill was situated.
Suddenly, a young girl entered pushing the door flap with her head. On her back was a seemingly heavy sack covered by a piece of cloth. Her face was towards the floor and she did not see us until she let the load slip from her back to the floor. In the instant before she looked up, I feared that she might be frightened to find the mill filled by six relatively large foreigners. However, her immediate reaction was a broad amused smile. We greeted with “namaste.” She silently pressed her palms together while looking directly at us and continued to smile. Then she was busy. In a quick move, she was outside and under the building. The millstone began to turn and she reappeared, smiled again, then began to grind her grain.
As she was almost finished with this task another child, a young boy, put his head in and touched her on the arm. His “namaste” to us was uttered with a glance that was filled with questioning and surprise. He made numerous hand gestures to her while speaking softly. She answered in sign language. It was then obvious that she was deaf and mute,
In the years which have passed, we all remember that girl and her spontaneous warmth and trust. We have thought about the qualities of family and community which could nurture a child born with such a handicap so that her immediate reaction in that situation would have been a calmness. Pervasive love and acceptance can be presumed to have been her general experience. She remains in my mind a positive comment on her culture.
Howard B. Goldstein is physician practicing pathology in Nyack, New York.