Besides my regular writing for this column I also mentor new writers. Some months ago I met a young writer, an American student, heading into the hills on trek. She seemed observant and fascinated by Nepali culture, mountains and villagers, and was especially enamored by the children she saw. She had done some writing in school and when I mentioned ‘ECS Nepal’ magazine, she expressed interest in possibly writing something for us. I encouraged her, and that small bit of mentoring paid off. Here’s her first contribution, a short travel essay. Good work, Mariah. Send us more!
Morning Swing at the Base of Annapurna I
by Mariah Hill
I loomed two feet above the children, gawking with my Nikon swinging from my neck, and making my way down to the grassy plateau where their Ping was stationed. Hushed upon my approach, the trio gathered closer to one another, waiting. Their calloused, bare feet impressed footprints in the mud as they circled around the giant bamboo swing.
“Namaste Bahini. Namaste Bahini. Namaste Bai,” I greeted each child, bracing myself for the giggles that could always be expected whenever a tall, blonde girl wanted to try speaking Nepali. The giggles didn’t come however, and the sweet voices softly replied one by one, “Namaste Didi.”
Their innocent faces grew blank and they stared in awe. I could feel them cross-examining my entire appearance and comparing our dress: my American graphic T-shirt and morning sweatpants, to their colorful, woven ensembles. I made my way towards them, slipping in my moccasins, ankles rolling underneath me awkwardly on the cumbersome terrain. The view of Annapurna-I from this steppe on the valley wall was incredible; the morning sun illuminated her white, glowing face, each glacial break and divot pronounced in the contrast enhanced by the glorious lighting.
Raising my camera, I stumbled through a couple more broken sentences of Nepali to confirm that taking pictures of them would be okay. Smiling, they disregarded my questions and mounted their swing. Sometimes in a pair, sometimes solo, the two girls and the boy took turns soaring into the clear abyss. Their clothing rippled against their thin frames as they bent at the knees, pumping speed into each pendulum-like pass of the ropes. Creaks escaped from the bamboo: heavy, measured noises, as if the creation was sighing from the constant villagers’ play.
I was then snapping away on shutter speed, swing after swing safely stored away on my memory card. It was as if each of them had a personal style while swinging. The boy boldly worked up to the maximum swing radius in a matter of seconds, aggressively working into a rhythm, then relaxing all at once, and slowly letting the momentum die, hopping off when it was easy enough to safely land.
The girls tending to go simultaneously; they stood on the worn wooden bench at their full height of four feet, facing each other. At the apex of their swings, their bodies were parallel to the ground. Their faces were mischievously crinkling in laughter at the pure joy of being lifted into the air on an energetic swell. The novelty of the activity never waned.
Of course, after some time, the silent guest crouching in the mud was remembered. The girls cautiously approached me and held out their hands, a gesture of inclusion. The language barrier was broken down as I realized, through a mixture of signals and mispronounced terms, that it was my turn to try the Ping.
If you are an aspiring new writer and want to give it a try, send me your best essay. It must have a Nepali topic or linkage. I can’t promise publication, but will give it serious consideration.
Our contributing editor, mentor and columnist, Don Messerschmidt, can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org