Tuesday, May 05, 2015

CHHETEN TAMANG


The Rev. Dana Prom Smith, S.T.D., Ph.D. (5/9/2015)




          Chheten Tamang was raised and lived as a young adult in a village of five or six rock houses in the Langtang Valley at about 12,500 feet in the Himalayan Mountains of Nepal.  Her ancestors were Tibetans who had crossed the mountains and settled in Nepal.  They had no written language.  When she came to America, she couldn’t read or write.  She didn’t know our Arabic numeral system, making it impossible for her to add and subtract, much less multiply and divide.

 

In Nepal she was a farmer, growing potatoes, barley, buckwheat, and vegetables, such as cabbage.  She was also a sometime porter for Himalayan expeditions, carrying one hundred pound packs for fifty cents a day, shod only in flip-flops (called Chinese sandals in Nepal) over ice-covered rivers.  Her father herded yaks in the meadows high above her village.  Her uncle wove woolen rugs, using the yak’s wool.  Her life was hard, simple, and rewarding.



 



With her son, Nirmal, she came to the United States as the wife of Wayne Gramzinski to visit his family and decided to stay, living in Flagstaff.  She is a remarkable woman, strong, intelligent, and affectionate.  Through The Literacy Center, Lori Crowe and I worked together with her for almost six years, teaching her American customs, reading and writing the English language, and mathematics.  Indeed, she has written several articles for this column.  For Lori and me, it has been immensely rewarding, chiefly because she’s such a wonderful woman.  Also, we have been beguiled by her Nepalese culture and family.  It has been almost as though we were cultural midwives giving birth to an American while keeping her roots high in the Himalayan Mountains.

 

          She can now read and write English, sometimes with unusual grammar, and with Lori’s tutoring she is beginning to master the basic elements of mathematics.  She has obtained a driver’s license and is working toward her citizenship.  She is the kind of person who will make an outstanding citizen, hardworking, intelligent, and ambitious.  It was almost as though she were on the cusp of finding her way to success, working and saving to send money back to help her family in Nepal.  With the help of friends, she funded the construction of the first bathroom in her village with running water, shower, and flush toilet for the villagers and passing trekkers.  Her brother was the builder.  She even dreamt of taking and passing the GED so that she could get better jobs.

 

          Then the earthquake struck Nepal, wiping out her village in the stroke of a landslide and killing most of her family and friends.  One of her sisters and her sister’s husband were killed in that landslide, leaving their children orphaned.  Chheten and Wayne hope to adopt those orphaned children and bring them to America, but there many more orphaned children in her extended family that need care.  These children were in boarding schools in Kathmandu when the earthquake struck, and now they have no homes and no parents to whom they can return.  It is almost as though they were lost in space.

 

          Chheten’s sorrow is so deep that it seems without bottom, unfathomable, too deep for words.  A once vital woman is now bent with sorrow.  She’s not merely grateful to be alive.  As a means of assuaging her grief, she wants to help what remains of her family and the survivors from her village.  The village will be no more.  Her father’s herd of yaks was wiped out, annihilated.   Thomas Wolf wrote, You Can’t Go Home Again.

 

          What remains is Chheten’s will.  She and Wayne own a house in Kathmandu which survived the earthquake because it was built with concrete and steel re-enforcing rods.  They want to add to it to make it into a hostel for those lost children with house mothers and fathers from the surviving adults of her family.

 

          One of the great cultural values Lori and I have learned from Chheten is the family, the sense of familial solidarity.  She and Wayne need our help so that she can care for her family.  She can be reached at (928) 266-0180.   

Copyright © Dana Prom Smith 2015

 

Dana Prom Smith and Freddi Steele edit Gardening Etcetera for the Arizona Daily Sun.  Smith emails at stpauls@npgcable.com and blogs at http://highcountrygardener.blogspot.com.

 

 





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