By the Roadside

On the way back from Pokhara, Greg and I stop to visit his friend. Maila Praja is his name. He is Chepang.

Until very recently the Chepang lived in the forests, very primitively. Now Maila and his children and grandchildren live on the hillside next to the highway. Not quite as primitively, but not far off. They can now offer us a Coke, and they do, and Rakshi as well. Pulling out all the stops.

They are free to live like this, following their old ways, but now next to the highway. I think about what a great thing that is, not forced to embrace the crush of modernity. Though electrical lines pass by, they have no electricity. No need, I wonder?

As the time passes I learn that they have tried to open a store and a hotel, to make a living off the passers-by. Their old ways are tough. This seemed better. It didn't quite work out. Now they have a building and a store, but no one stops. They are very far in debt. Maila's newest grandchild has the yellow hair that comes with malnutrition.

What is freedom?

The first photo is some of the women in Maila's extended family. On the left is his wife. Most of them look as if they live there. The woman on the right is dressed in modern clothes, probably visiting from Kathmandu for the holidays. The second photo is one of the houses, with family sitting watching us. In the third photo, Maila's wife sits and smokes a cigarette by her door.


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