The family we are staying with here in Kathmandu lives in a large space with many empty rooms.
From the outside, you would think it was an apartment building with two separate spaces due to its size. And upon entrance, it almost seems like a small school building in setup: four rooms, a bathroom, and a kitchen on the bottom floor; two or three bedrooms and a bathroom on the second floor, another couple rooms on the third, and then the rooftop area.
But just one family lives in this home: a mother, a father, and contrary to my assumption of at least five-or-so kids, just two boys.
Two teenage boys. The older of the two is Dipesh.
He is 20 years old, good-looking and knows it. In fact, he is rather cocky about it. He is shorter than I am, and skinny, but with lean, defined muscle. It is quite obvious he takes great pride in this, as he can often be found standing before the mirror—before me, or Jordan, or whoever else will entertain his ego—with his shirt off, flexing. The other day, he was flexing his arms, one at a time, admiring the rise and fall of his biceps in his shadow on the ground.
He has a nice face structure, his young skin smooth and flawless. High cheek bones, defined jawline. Dark, thick hair. Substantial brows that almost come together set above warm, dark brown eyes. Because he never smiles for pictures, he often looks unhappy, uninterested, or way too serious in them. Too cool for school, but boys will be boys, I suppose.
But in reality, he is such a happy person, always. Goofy, even. Dramatic in his facial expressions and mannerisms. Even when his mom is scolding him about not picking up his clothes off the floor, or when his aunts rattles off at him in Nepalese, or when Jordan and I yell at him for breaking all the rules in our game of Rummy. He just laughs, a flicker of mischief in his eyes. He sticks out his tongue playfully, and flashes that charming little smile.
He’s got that Ferris Buehler-rebellion and mischief (he is definitely the cool guy amongst his friends, and popular with the girls), but with a bit of that Steve Urkell-lack of common sense, unintentionally and innocently reckless.
He is a hard worker. He works at a shoe factory from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. He sleeps about 4 hours a day. Because of this, his tired eyes often gleam with a hint of pink. He doesn’t make nearly what he should for those grueling hours.
He is studying Tourism and Management, and is looking to be a certified tour guide. He will be great at it. He already wants to take us to all the tourist sights and places.
When I asked him at what age the boys usually get married, he said it’s a few years off for him. He said he wants to make sure that when he does get married, he knows he can take care of his wife. “Right now, I can’t take care of myself and be on my own feet, so how can I expect to marry and take care of someone else?” He’s got a good head on his shoulders.
He doesn’t always listen. In fact, he usually doesn’t. He just says yes, no matter what you say. Sometimes it’s out of miscommunication, but usually out of just losing interest in listening further to the conversation.
When we were at his father’s village up in the mountains, hours away from Kathmandu city by (nauseating, twisting and turning) bus, we visited his aunt. There we sat, next to the straw huts and homes with sheets of tin for a roof, chewing on sugar cane and hanging out with the goats and buffalo.
When I asked if I could pet the buffalo, he responded with the typical head wag, the same one I’d noticed that all the Nepali and Indian people do. It seems like an, “ehhh, I guess, if you must,” in my context of culture and upbringing, but for them, it is a gesture of agreement; either an “ok” or a“yes.”
“And I can pet the baby, too? The mom won’t be mad?”
Again, the head wag, along with a verbal, “Yes.”
I didn’t believe him, so I just continued rubbing the side of the mama’s ears in a circular motion, tenderly massaging. When I pointed to the baby for one reason or another a few minutes later, his uncle rushed over and spoke quickly in Nepali.
“Oh, don’t pet the baby,” Dipesh said, translating casually. “The mom will get mad.”
Oh, Dipesh. Just another example of him saying yes to a question of mine that he wasn’t really even listening to to begin with. And I almost got my ass kicked by 1,100 pounds worth of female buffalo.
He talks a lot. I don’t think he stopped even once during the entire bus ride to the village.
He lies often, and mostly about time. We definitely don’t trust him when he says something is “just 15 minutes away.” That usually means at least an hour. I don’t follow time, time follows me, he later told me.
But at the same time, he is blunt, open. He never hesitates to express how he feels, whether it’s telling me that my little sister looks much skinnier than me in the photo, or that I must not model because of my pimples, or that I “am looking so beautiful today, Didi.”
He calls me Didi, older sister. I call him Bhaai, little brother. He always offers me tea or food. He always offers me the better seat, offers to hold my bag. Always courteous and considerate. Definitely an influence of culture and upbringing.
The other day as he walked me down the street to drop off my laundry, I confided in him. I told him that as winter was coming, along with the cold and the gloom, I felt the homesickness that accompanied. Loneliness. I missed home, my parents, my sisters, others.
“You always have me, Didi. Whenever you get sad or bored or scared, you can call me, OK?” And I absolutely believe him. This is the way that I see that his heart is pure, that he is true. This is why I trust him. And I have no doubt that I just gained a lifetime bhaai.