From our flight I mainly remember this little girl sitting by my side – tense from head to toe – almost terrified beyond the capacity to breath. Me trying to distract her – telling her some jokes, or some silly story. In this flight we met by chance another foreigner whom I had already met on my flight to Nepalgunj a few months earlier. We talked a little and I just remember Rita staring at him like he was the devil. Much later she told me that she had thought that he was my boyfriend, just like any other foreign men we encountered during the time we had left to spend together. Before I left to Germany Rita apparently was convinced that I had three different boyfriends and that that was somehow normal for a foreign woman like me.
Also on that flight was a female Nepali coworker of mine – who (if I remember correctly) was also visiting Kathmandu for the first time. So when Rita, the coworker and me arrived in Tribhuvan airport we ended up taking a cab and then I did something I truly regret: It was evening and all of us were tired and wanted to go home. Problem was my clueless coworker had agreed to a Taxi fare that I was not willing to pay, and so I got angry enough with the cab driver to make him stop somewhere on the ring road and let us off again. And I just have this vague embarassing memory of me and these two Nepali Ladies, standing there and waiting for a cab to pass by. Once we got out the cab, I thought: “Was this really necessary? Rita is terrified and her first impression of Kathmandu really doesnt have to be this waving for cabs in the dark at the ring road!”
I don’t remember exactly how, but apparently Rita and I arrived home to my apartment after dropping the coworker off.
Once we arrived home, the reality of the project before me hit me: I had 1 month time – was supposed to use all of that time to write a report for the project assessment that I had done (why I was in Far-West Nepal in the first place) and now I also had to find a place for Rita to stay!
Well things turned out even more problematic than I thought – the two or three contacts that I had, that I thought would certainly be able and willing to सहयोग गर्नु (sahayog garnu) me, were of no help at all. I even contemplated if from my small student budget (I was still studying for my Masters) I might be able to finance her a stay in a boarding school. I visited one boarding school, but when the principal asked me for 1000 Euro per month, I quickly gave up on that thought. The perception of Nepali that all foreigners are धनी (dhanii), certainly did not help Rita’s cause.
In my growing despair I ended up contacted the man, that I had met on the Flight back to Kathmandu: He was running the local office of an INGO, and had said that he has contacts to several local NGOs who might be willing to take Rita in. And – thanks to the Gods or just pure luck – he could actually help us: He put us into contact with an NGO who worked with women who had been disowned by there own families after having been forced to work as sex workers in India and running away back to Nepal. Rita was allowed to stay there temporarily, since I could not let her stay in my apartment all alone during the day, when I had to be at the office. There were 4 or 5 other children who had lost their parents due to the Civil War.
Rita was terrified and hated to be apart from me, but I actually believe that being among all these women was really good for her. It seemed like she had suddenly gained 20 new mothers, who were all happy to nurture that little girl.
But still this place was no permanent solution for her – and time was running out. I had to leave soon. Luckily though about 5 days before my departure, the first NGO got in contact with another NGO that was specialized on working with street children. And it turned out that they were willing to take her in. I remember that for the sake of Rita there had been at least 3 bigger meetings arranged to decide on her fate during that time. Only 2 days before I departed we shifted her to her new home, where she would be staying with other kids of her age. I had a brief look around in that children home and then it was already time to say Goodbye.
I felt horrible and sad. Leaving her behind like that, still not knowing if her fate was really going to get better from now on: What if she at some point decided to turn away? What if the people in the NGO did not treat the kids well? What if her dad came after her and tried to bring her back home? What if she hated me forever for taking her away from home and leaving her alone to fight life by herself? What if I had made the wrong choices?
But it was too late to change anything at that point, all I could do was “pray and hope” … my plane was leaving for Germany.
Read about how Rita and I reconnected in the last part!