Field Note #159: To My Unexpected "Didi"
I’ve been meaning to write this for a while, as it’s been months since we left the Dahakhani village in Nepal on our way back to America. That said, my experience there is one that I won’t soon forget.
When we arrived in Nepal, I had no idea what expect. I was simply taking it all in. Day by day, as we worked in the village, things started to change.
The hustle and bustle of my everyday life back home and all the little things that I would let stress me out seemed so far away. Here, we worked each day with purpose.
We dug alongside villagers who would push their shovels into the mud with their bare feet, lifting it up and throwing it aside in one quick, swift motion all for one reason: to bring clean water to their family or to their neighbors’ families.
When we needed rest, the villagers would welcome us in and give us a dry place to sit and eat.
One day, as we dug a trench up on the hill, a few young girls came up to visit and asked each of us our names, before responding excitedly: Namaste Tiffany didi! Namaste Kayla didi! Namaste Snow didi!
“Didi” means older sister and hearing them say that completely warmed my heart.
Shortly after, a group of us came down from the hill to fill in a trench line in the middle of town, but we realized that we should have brought down one more shovel with us. We took turns with the tools we had, but being the super patient person that I am, I started pushing dirt in with my hands.
A woman nearby, Santi, came over to introduce herself and talk with us through a translator. She then rushed home and came back with a tool for me to use.
It was a tool that she used every day in the fields. It was part of her livelihood, and she handed it to me.
I was honored and yet, I felt like a fool. I started to use it and quickly realized that I had no idea how. I failed to move much dirt, and when I looked up at her, she smiled.
In that moment, it was almost as if she let go of any reservations she had about me. She fetched another tool of the same kind and began working right next to me, kindly showing me how it was done.
I’ll never forget that moment. More villagers joined in to help us fill in the trench. We all laughed and joked around while working together, and before we knew it, the trench was full.
Every day after that, I would see Santi, whether it was for a short "hello" or to show me how to make rice wine.
Even though we had come to help bring clean water to their village, the warmth and openness of the villagers (including Santi) inspired me. It was so refreshing compared to my home, where people far too often keep their distance from one another and are not always as welcoming to newcomers.
And so, the biggest lesson I learned from this trip had little to do with my own actions and more to do with theirs.
Sometimes love is recognizing a need and reaching out to help fill it, regardless of your own inhibitions. Sometimes it’s letting go of your fears and completely opening yourself up to strangers from the other side of the world.
-Tiffany Zerby, Dahakhani volunteer (Philadephia chapter)