Strawberries in the Desert

Story telling from Australia

The heart of any home

Most tourists in their right minds would never choose to visit the dusty town of Birtamod, a polluted sprawl that dribbles across the main East West Highway in southern Nepal. I went there last year with Wendy Moore and it was the highlight of our trip, and before you jump to any conclusions I loved every minute of that trip. Birtamod reminded me of Broken Hill, not because of the choking dust but because of something more elusive.

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We spent the day in Birtamod learning how to make polymer clay jewellery. Our teachers were Wendy and several women from Samunnat, a refuge run by the smiling Kopila who must be one of the very few (if not the only) qualified female lawyers in that part of Nepal. Money raised by sales of jewellery made at Samunnat gives the women a measure of independence and helps them escape the domestic violence and abuse they have all been subjected to.

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Any language barriers were overcome by laughter and the day was translucent with joy and goodwill but it was the follow-up that humbled me.

Somewhere along the line it was decided that we should be invited back the next day for lunch, not to the cramped building the women worked in, but to Kumari’s house. Plans were made, heads nodded in agreement and the following day we drove to Kumari’s house, a tiny two-room hut without electricity or running water in the middle of a beetle nut forest.

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Kumari prepared the meal, as she prepares all her meals, in a fire pit dug in the earthen floor. She cooked for at least thirty people as relatives and locals emerged from the forest to stare at the rare sight of eight middle-aged Western women in that remote spot. All were offered food and drink, served with quiet grace by women who owned little more than the striking saris they stood up in, each saturated with colour. After lunch we sat on blankets spread on the forest floor and our hands and feet were decorated with henna, as a way of thanking us for the visit.

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As someone who spent four years working at House & Garden magazine writing about beautiful houses and exquisite gardens  (and rejecting those that weren’t beautiful or exquisite enough) it struck me forcibly that beauty has nothing to do with owning an original Eames chair, an Alessi tin opener or a Royal Doulton dinner service. The heart of a home is just that: heart. Kumari’s two room hut in a bettle nut forest was as welcoming as any waterfront mansion in Sydney and I thank the beautiful women of Birtamod, who had so little by way of material possessions, for welcoming us with such open generosity.

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And the link with Broken Hill? Having lived in at least thirty different places I wasn’t expecting much from a mining town in the middle of the desert, but I felt welcomed to Broken Hill in a way I never expected. That sense of belonging to a community is something I will treasure, even when I’m far away.

Wendy is in Nepal right now. Follow the link to find out more about Samunnat and her colourful journey tours.

11 comments on “The heart of any home

  1. Nancy Tubre
    October 24, 2013

    I would love love LOVE being decorated with henna! I have a couple of tattoos, but as with other women my age, they are in a place hidden from the light of day. I’d have more of them if I thought I could get away with it. But henna! That would be supreme! The designs are so supreme and graceful, even elegant.
    And I would enjoy learning to use polymer clay as well. Man, I have so much to learn!
    Thanks Deb. blessings to you.

    Like

  2. redhairedgal
    October 25, 2013

    Thank you for sharing this beautiful post, it was just what I needed today. Several years ago, I had the pleasure of meeting a wonderful woman in Turkey who was teaching local women to make keychains using traditional Turkish beads and crocheted bits and pieces. The finished products were being quietly sold at our little B&B with the suggestion that they would make excellent souvenirs (so very true!) and the proceeds were helping the women get out of abusive homes and relationships. Meeting them was a highlight of our trip too. Thank you again for reminding me what really matters in life.

    Like

    • debhuntinbrokenhill
      October 25, 2013

      Sounds like a very similar set up, small things that make a big difference to all our lives. Thank you for your comments

      Like

  3. Wendy Moore
    October 25, 2013

    Ah beautiful Deb. Kumari treasures her memories of that day. And Sundari DOES mean beautiful so you were kind of right! This post bought tears to my eyes. Spending months with these amazing women is a huge joy. Much love my dear friend.

    Like

    • debhuntinbrokenhill
      October 25, 2013

      Kumari! Of course, thank you Wendy, much love to you all at Samunnat, and especially to Kumari x

      Like

  4. debhuntinbrokenhill
    October 25, 2013

    Brave you for having ANY tattoos Nancy, I’m too scared to do anything permanent! Blessings to you too

    Like

  5. Wendy Moore
    October 25, 2013

    PS Love the necklace in your profile photo hon!

    Like

  6. Kopila Basnet
    October 25, 2013

    Dear Deb. Namaskar .I read your blog we are very touched and happy. You have very open ,loving heart .You can also see the beauty in us. Thankyou for your love. Kopila.

    Like

    • debhuntinbrokenhill
      October 25, 2013

      Namaste Kopila to you and all the beautiful ladies at Samunnat and my very best wishes for the new building! I hope it helps your endeavours to flourish. Love to you all

      Like

  7. Django Zazou
    October 25, 2013

    I loathe that whole community of self-regarding people who like to show off their possessions in classy magazines, forgetting that to just be welcome in someone’s home can often count for a lot more than a carefully placed 14th Century Ottoman tosspot! Another succinctly argued case for a better world, Deb. (Your case, that is, not mine about tosspots!)

    Like

  8. debhuntinbrokenhill
    October 26, 2013

    Django yours is one of the most welcoming homes I’ve ever visited (and the most eclectic by a country mile). Long may you live there and I hope to visit again soon x

    Like

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This entry was posted on October 24, 2013 by and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , .

I'm a writer based in Australia with a passion for gardening, remote places and people with a story to tell.

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