September 25, 2018
As we trudged into Phakding after our first day of hiking in the Himalayas all I wanted to do was flop on my bed and sleep (a recurring theme of the trek). The afternoon clouds had already swooped in and taken the beautiful views.
It was only around 3pm.
My bunkmate and I got unpacked and settled, then met the other half of our “breakfast club” in the dining room. Although Phakding wasn’t much to look at we decided to go out and explore the town, first we backtracked the way we came to a bridge we had spotted on the way in. Karma told us not to cross it.
Deciding to follow the rules we just waited on our side of the bridge, chatted and took some photos. Soon we spotted some red specks moving down the hill. Children on their way home from the school were walking, jumping and almost running full force towards the bridge. The first group of girls slowed down when they saw us and crossed cautiously.
Soon more and more children, cookie packaged in hand, funneled across the bridge towards us, boys and girls of all ages! Some as young as 4 and as old as 14 were crossing the bridge together. Some kids stopped to talk to us and practice English. They asked us our names and where we were from and soon other younger children followed suit and started to play! The boys found themselves in a pretty intense arm wrestle! High fives and fist bumps were flying all around as the shyness from moments ago disappeared. Everyone was giggling and enjoying the interaction with another culture.
The curious girls were asking us some more questions about our lives and what we were planning to do in Nepal. They were so friendly and despite being pre-teens their childhood curiosity was alive and kicking. My Early Childhood Educator instincts kicked in and I took every opportunity I could to interact with them.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a little boy, about 7 or 8 years old crossing the bridge with his friends and a full package of cookies. All the other kids had ripped into theirs already but not him. My first thought is that he was saving them. The curious girls left and the boy approached me, smiled and handed me the cookies.
I giggled and (in my mind) pretended accepted them.
I said “thank you so much, that’s very sweet of you” and tried to hand them back to him.
To my surprise he shook his head, I said: “ are you sure?” Do you want to share?”
He again shook his head as he slowly backed away from me.
I stood there in shock… not sure how I should socially react to this. In Canada, I would insist he took them back or at least shared them with us and all the kids, but was that ok in Nepal?
Is it ok to accept a gift and then offer to give it back or share them with everyone?
I had no clue.
I looked to my trek mates for help and it was obvious they were just as clueless as me.
I looked at the little boy again, this time more seriously and said “are you sure? I don’t mind sharing with you” as I gestured to open them. He said “no” and shook his head again. Conveniently his friends called him and he waved, then turned to catch up.
I was in total shock.
This little boy from a rural village in Nepal chose to give his cookies to me seemingly out of nowhere.
He could have hidden them, he could have eaten them, he could have simply not stopped and continued walking and I wouldn’t have batted an eye.
I could have easily paid for 30 packages of cookies for him and all his friends with the rupees I had in my pocket, and I couldn’t even gather the words/didn’t have the knowledge to thank him properly.
I wanted to cry.
My heart was overwhelmed by his act of kindness and compassion for someone he didn’t even know.
These are the moments you don’t expect that completely blow your mind wide open. This is what travelers are always talking about. The moments that push you out of your own social, emotional and cultural headspace, right over the edge of a cliff and make you contemplate your own privileged existence.
What are you really doing with your life?
What could you be doing to help people who need it?
How many “skin off your back” things could easily be done to help?
But with these questions comes the confusion on how to do so without damaging their culture and way of life. I wanted to give this child the world, but all I could give him was a thank you and a smile.
I know he could never understand the gravity of what this small action did for me but I hope he can take away a lesson on acts of kindness, and that his kindness continues to grow throughout his life and stay with him in adulthood.
I will never forget the child with a beautiful soul who chose to share his prized possession with a complete stranger.