An excerpt from Atta’s recently published book, Whispers From Eternity, Chapter 3.
When we arrived back in Nepal, as husband and wife, we found a basic Nepali house with cow dung floors and did our best to make it homey. It was cold and dark, but the whole rustic adventure of it made it fun and exciting. Later, just out of high school, my sister Maggie joined us.
For three years I wore the dress, the chuba with apron, and spoke the language, and laughed with those wonderful Tibetan funk boats [an endearing term used for Tibetan people]. We ate lots of momos and wiped lots of snotty noses. Tibetans are amazing people with a strong spiritual devotion and a wild sense of humor. Most of their jokes are about ‘leekpas’ and ‘tooks’, (penises and vaginas), with no embarrassment. Most of the ones we met were refugees, having managed to escape Tibet after the Chinese invaded in 1958, when the Dalai Lama escaped. Their main income came from carpet making. That’s where I worked for the Tom Dooley Foundation, at the day care center in Jawalakhel. I brought them all the songs in my ditty bag, and cleaned and painted their nursery. I had a Tibetan Lama come and paint lovely tanka-style murals on the nursery walls. I was the last of the stewardess volunteers after 14 years, so I used my Tibetan language to tell the ayahs that they were now capable to do it all on their own.
After the day care center ‘poo tso kan’ (children’s house) in Jawalakhel, we sought after and got funds to build a day care center in Boudhanath, at another carpet factory. This was an exciting project. I now had the know-how and after a short spell of me flying, we returned to Nepal. I used to get the pilots and stews to put those little bars of soap from the hotels in a fishbowl I put out. Along with those, I had collected second hand clothes from America and was able to give each child two complete outfits! They were about forty children. We handed them out after we completed the building, and set them up with two ayahs to look after them. What a beautiful day that was! We even got an invitation for a private audience with the Dalai Lama for our efforts. What an honor, even if we didn’t manage to take him up on it.
One time Milan and I took three days off to ‘holiday’ in Pokhara, by the lake there. When we returned to Boudha, the couple we chose as ayahs were making puja, the ceremony for the death of their oldest daughter, who was healthy before we left. How she could have gotten sick and died in so short a time was shocking! Even more shocking was the condition of their second daughter, who looked like a little skeleton. Milan and I scooped her up, and took her immediately to the hospital. We saved her, and learned how fragile life can be in Nepal, the single most unhealthy valley in the world, Milan used to say.
Milan and best friend Addison Smith formed a trekking Company called ‘Hump a Yeti Treks and Tours’, so they were off collecting Tibetan artefacts in the mountains while I was teaching the kids to write and sing in English. I did get to do some trekking during those times, the longest of which was 28 days. That was a lot of walking to some really remote villages. Often, I felt like we were somewhere back in the 12th century. We had porters, but I carried my forty pound back pack myself. We had one porter alone, for the huge canvas tent we needed for the one night at the foot of the 17,000 foot pass. We pitched it in the snow, and I have never spent such a miserable night in my life. I had such an altitude headache, that the only way I could try to sleep was sitting up. When I had to pee, I swear, it froze as it left my body. Unbelievable cold! Next day we painted black under our eyes, squinted to prevent snow blindness, and got up over the pass. A train of loaded yaks passed us, silent except for their tinkling bells, but that was all we saw all day, besides snow. Tibetans living that high up, only bathe twice a year, when the snows melt, and they heat huge vats of water. Germs cannot live in such cold, so they are funky, but healthy. When they come down to the Kathmandu Valley, they often get sick from the germs. That was the number one problem at the day care centers when Tibetans first arrived.
Decades later when I returned as a tourist to Pokhara, a young Tibetan man asked me if I was “Ama Bonnie La.” He said “I remember you from the ‘poo tso kan’. We beat the pig.” He was referring to the pink pig piñata I had made for them.
I must bring in an important character now, Dem. I first met Dem in San Francisco. Solid, stocky Jewish boy with long hair, he came to the door with his bamboo flute slung over his shoulder, and his booming voice, demanding to see Milan. “I met him in Morocco…” My first impression of Dem was that he was aggressive, to say the least. He turned out to be a beloved partner and our family. When Milan came home later that day, we had dinner and made a pledge to do whatever it took to get a boat, to sail around the world the rest of our lives…. We had a group hug and jumped up and down chanting, “BOAT BOAT BOAT.” That’s how it started.
Dem joined us in Nepal a few times, but the beauty of a partner, when you are trading internationally, is that one can be here buying/sending, and one can be there receiving/selling. We had bought a lot of Tibetan turquoise and coral, and I remember so many marathon caffeinated ‘Red Bull’ nights of us stringing up beautiful turquoise and coral necklaces, that we then sold in America. Milan’s Hollywood connections got us a trunk show at the home of actress Samantha Eggars where we sold lots of Tibetan antiques too. Another time we put on an epic Tibetan night at a former church in Marin County with other pals in the Tibetan business, like photographers, etc. Oh it was splendid, and looked like an amazing monastery. I am so grateful to have lived amongst these amazing Tibetan people. Knowing their language made it so easy to know them and be in on their many jokes, often blatantly about genitals.
When we started to make rings with the King’s Jeweler in Kathmandu, Dem said to us “Hey, if we’re going to make jewelry, we might as well go to Bali. They make the best jewelry in the world!” Hmmm, now I had seen a very alluring black and white photo of Addison wearing an exotic wrap on his head, taken in Bali. Even without seeing the lush green, I was taken by this tropical island. Seeing as Nepal is a landlocked country, it made sense to move closer to water. So, after three years, we bid a tearful farewell to our Tibetan family and headed out.
Whispers from Eternity
Memoirs of an Adventurous Life
by Prem Atta (Atta Melvin)
Independently published, 2020
Available as Paperback and Kindle
amazon.com – amazon.co.uk – amazon.de – amazon.in – Kindle
- Whispers of Eternity by Shantam Bansi