The Restaurant At The End Of The Universe

Dal Bhat

She squats down; her feet flat on the ground. She pours a bit of water from the little jar into the ashes left from the fire she made for morning tea. The mud she creates this way she uses to cover the outside of the pressure cooker. She blows through the iron pipe to get a proper fire going again. She prepares the morning dal bhat (lentil soup and rice) on a single fire. Rice is made in a pressure cooker; lentil soup in a wok with one handle. Today, she opts for a spicy tarkari (curry – usually made from coriander and potatoes), picking the peppers from the nearby garden.

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Her family – husband, mother-in-law and niece – gather around; we are called. She serves them their plates after she has served us. Her husband’s plate is overflowing with bhat with a side of tarkari. The dal is served in a little bowl. Her mother-in-law sits as close to the fire as she possibly can, trying to remove the cold from her old bones. The fog hasn’t lifted: you can barely see the entire garden. Her niece is served a modest plate; she is not a big eater. They chat in an indecipherable language, and laughter. We sit cross-legged on mats. Our bodies cannot do what theirs can. We are being eyed closely. When our plates are almost empty: Raju, Seeta, do you want more bhat? Suddenly in English. Four pairs of eyes on us. Yes please. The cook puts food on our plates. Is she hoping we don’t eat more so she can have a proper meal, too?

When she sits there watching all five of us eat, she has a little round mat she sits back on, still in the same squatting position, but slightly more comfortable. There is also a wooden bench – or is it a table? – about two centimeters high. It can be used to make sitting squatting down more comfortable, or as a table when cutting vegetables for the meal.

The fire is dying. The wood is rearranged. She uses the iron pipe to blow life back into it. It flames up for a few minutes. Aama warms her hands. We can now see all the way across the garden, passed the haystack to the beginning of the rice field at the back of it. The goat in the open shed jumps down for more hay. The pregnant buffalo moans. We’ve finally all finished under Didi‘s watchful eye to make sure we eat as much as we need to. Now it is her turn – the cook eats last. She washes the plate she used to keep the dal warm using the jar of water still standing next to her. She washes her right hand, too. She fills her plate with bhat and tarkari. The dal is poured straight from the pot onto her plate. She eats with joy, mixing the bhat with dal and little bits of tarkari, creating sticky balls she lifts into her mouth, all the time using one hand only.

Following Nani‘s example, we wash our plates at the water pump behind the kitchen and dining area, subsequently placing them on the pile of dishes next to it. It is nine o’clock in the morning now. The fog is getting thinner, but it will take until the sun appears for the land to warm up. We wear sweaters and socks, and flip-flops. Aama is wrapped in layers of fabric made into a dress and a big scarf that covers both head and her upper body. Didi is wearing wide, colorful pants, so typical of Nepal, and a long top – also very colorful – with its side open up to her hips, a hat on her head and a thick, wide scarf around her shoulders. Nani and Babu dress in quite a Western way: jeans, a t-shirt, and in his case often a leather jacket.

Babu is now leaving; he needs to get to town for his cooking course. His dream is to open a restaurant in Rampur – European style – serving brandy and rum. Nani has already hopped on her bike for the one hour journey to the town where she works, trying to get money together to go to university. Aama is still squatted down near the dying fire, as she is still cold. Didi gathers the dishes on the dirt next to the water pump. She uses a bucket to throw water over them. Than she squats down with a plate full of ashes mixed with water and a sponge in reach.

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She starts washing the burnt ashes from the outside of the pressure cooker. Within mere moments, it looks good as new. She washes the inside, too, and places it on the mud. She goes about washing the rest of the dishes with the same care: plates, cups, our spoons, pans. All are thoroughly cleaned, and subsequently placed on the mud created by the water pump. She feels my eyes on her and looks up at me, smiling shyly. I am give or take seven years her senior, and she is a married housewife with no other responsibilities than taking care of house and family. And sooner or later providing her strong-willed husband with offspring. She never leaves the house except for to go to the market. He does a cooking course, goes to the gym and often to the market by himself. She talks on the phone and watches tv.

It is around 10am. We gather our water bottles and sunglasses and head off to the nursery for work. It is still a little foggy, but as soon as the sun hits we will be burning up while we weed and plant, maintaining the orphanage’s garden and thus feeding Rampur’s curious orphans: Hello! Hello sister. Hey brother, where are you from? How are you? Do you have chocolate?

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5 thoughts on “Dal Bhat

  1. Pingback: Socks | oui depuis

  2. Pingback: Walking From Nepal To India | oui depuis

  3. Jana,

    wat een erg informatief verhasal. Datr hadden we al een keer ontvangen?
    Toch leuk om dit weer te lezen hoe met eenvoudige dingen goede rrsultaten worden geboekt.
    Je valt toch niet te veel af ??

    m vr reisgroeten

    Luc vader achtervblijcer Erica niet te vergeten etc enzv

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