Sandesh lost his mother when he was three to an unspecified illness. His father remarried, but died soon after, again from an unknown illness. At the age of four, he and his full brother went to live with their step-mother, her new husband and their son. It seems he and his brother were always playing second fiddle to the blood son.
Now Sandesh is married to Sarkini and has a three year old daughter, Premela. They both grew up and still live in Gatlang, a village rich in culture and tradition, much of it specific to Gatlang.
There is much intermarriage here in this settlement of 1100 people. (Our trekking agent Christophe said that there is a remarkably high rate of birth defects as a result, but we saw little evidence of this.) Working in Gatlang means milling; farming the land; gathering, dying, spinning and weaving wool; breeding oxen, chickens, yaks, goats.
His step family left the three boys some land. Whether by design or otherwise, the blood son received the better land and the family home. He is 'rich' according to Sandesh. Sandesh received land but it is apparently poor.
Two years ago Sandesh built a home (in background of picture above) for his family on his wife's grandfather's land. Her grandfather is still alive and lives metres away in a traditional home. Sandesh' home is not traditional - made of timber with a galvanised roof, it stands out in the village. Whether this is frowned on is unknown.
His blood brother married a girl from Chillime and lives on her family's land there. He went to work in Malaysia for three years and has returned sufficiently wealthy to not need to work. His children go to the government school in Syabrubesi.
Sandesh wanted to come back to Kathmandu with us, to find some seasonal work. After a conversation with his family, he was to remain in Gatlang to plant potatoes. Apparently he is a porter 3 or 4 times per season; whether this means per year, or for each of the two annual trekking seasons, was unclear.
He recently purchased an ox and a cow, who has a calf. Apparently a cow costs 10,000 rupees (approx $120), a yak three times that amount (they give wool and milk and can carry heavy loads in addition to working in the fields, and (we think) live longer. They keep the livestock under the grandfather's house, but there is no place for chickens (1000 rupees each).
We assume the tip from a trekking party can make all the difference to someone like Sandesh. He earns $10 a day for being a porter, the tip is at a trekkers discretion. We were able to leave some of our belongings with him in addition to a tip. We hope this all helps a very special person who we miss very much.
Just as we were confronted to see how he lives, no doubt he is confronted by how we live. The changes we observed included: the demonstration of love to our children; the assessment of risk generally, but especially regarding our children; personal hygiene including laundering of clothes (we would handwash our undies and socks as required and, once or twice, our travel shirts - Sandesh remained in the same clothes for sixteen days, indeed continued to wear the same clothing even after returning to his home. After a while, we noticed he began to wash his socks occasionally, but never with soap, so to no benefit). Despite language barriers, he managed to communicate that he thought our demonstration of love for our children was a good thing, and that a monogamous marriage was also "better" (apparently a Nepali woman often takes a lover in addition to a husband - he implied this was the case for him, and he was not happy about that).
Sandesh was made welcome in our family from the very beginning, we made an effort to learn his language (he speaks Nepali and Tamang) and he fitted in wonderfully. We missed him greatly, think of him often, and would seek him out again for further treks.
Shane, Helen, Rosie and Tom