Errantry: Living without Language

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They say it’s hard to appreciate something until you don’t have it, and I have to agree. Here at Asha Nepal, a home for women who have been sexually exploited or abused and children who have been orphaned or abandoned, not much English is spoken.

Asha Nepal, meaning hope, is my current location in Kathmandu, having moved here from the children’s home I was at about a week ago. I have found it to be a lot more of a cultural emersion, as, unlike the last place I was living, almost no one speaks English.

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A few of the kids speak English, but during the day, they are at school. The women, who I spend most of my day with, speak only a few words of English, or none at all. It is a humbling experience not being able to communicate with language.

They speak to me in Nepali, and I pretend to understand. I speak to them in English, and they nod their heads and laugh. Yet, somehow we understand each other. I understand a smile. I understand their gestures. I understand their laughter, and I laugh too, though I miss the jokes entirely.

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We play this game with rocks called ‘ghoti’, which is similar to jacks. We cook together. We sing together. We laugh together. And it is enough.

Once, I was cooking with one of the women, and started singing this old Nepali hymn I knew from back in 2015. She joined in, our voices ringing in the small kitchen. It was a simple, beautiful moment.

One of the women often calls me up to the roof to play ghoti and drink tea. Another lady is always dancing. And they all try to teach me bits of Nepali here and there.

Many of the women have developed mental disorders from their hard pasts, and some women have skin diseases or even cancer. But beneath it all, each woman wears a beautiful smile and has such kind eyes, evidence of the transforming love of God.

There is an older woman who sits in the garden all day, just staring off into some other world. She just sits there, never talking, never smiling, and I wonder what could have happened to make her this way. Life has been hard on her. But here at Asha, there is hope, and there is space for her to just sit if that is what she needs. She need not worry about her food. She need not worry about her basic needs. She need only sit and rest. And someday, when she is ready, she will speak. She will smile.

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Just the other day, some of us walked out to nearby waterfalls. I had no intention of getting in and swimming, but ended up standing under the waterfall in my dress with some of the more adventurous kids. Everyone cheered for me as I gave up trying to keep my dress dry and dunked in the water. It was already dark on the way back, and we sang English and Nepali hymns all the way home through our chattering teeth.

God’s love does not always need words to be communicated. God’s love is so much more transcendent than language. It is enough.


“Errantry” is a series of blog posts related to my gap year. If you want to know more about this year and my reasons for it, check out my first post about Errantry.

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Errantry: Hands

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Do you see these hands of mine? These paint stained, nail bitten hands? These cracked and dry hands?

Well, dear reader, let me tell you a story…

I sucked my thumb until age five, when my loving mother implemented house rules to get me to stop. “You will have a crooked thumb,” she would tell me, “if you don’t stop.” But sucking that worn thumb of mine was always a comfort.

So at age five I quit and moved on to the next best thing–biting my nails. That was just as bad as thumb sucking, and soon drastic measures were taken to stop the habit. But when I stopped biting my nails, I started picking the skin on my fingers. And when I stopped picking the skin on my fingers, then I started biting my nails again.

When I was 14, I remember being bored out of my mind in a conference. That’s when I discovered a new habit (one I always feared to admit)–plucking the small hairs on my fingers. It made the time pass, but is a habit that proves hard to shake.

In High School, under the pressure of exams and dozens of papers to write, I began biting my cuticles, even to the point of bleeding. This was a habit I shared with many of my school friends, so I didn’t feel the social pressure to stop, and still haven’t been able to stop.

My hands are tough. They are dry and rough. They are unlotioned, unpolished, unrefined, but they are mine.

And yet, I can’t say I love them, or ever really have.

I remember when I was young and maleable, the kids would play a game. “Look at your nails,” they would say. And if you looked at your nails with your palm side up, they would call you a tom-boy. If you looked at your nails with the back of your hand up, you were a girly girl. Well, I never liked either of these labels, but being called a tom-boy stung. “I’m just a girl,” I would think. “I don’t want to be labeled. Why should the way I look at my nails make any difference?”

I remember the first time someone told my self-conscious High School self that I had man hands. I brushed it off with a laugh, but the words stuck with me.

Or the time a boy told me my hands felt rough, like I used a lot of tools.

I always wished I could have soft, dainty hands, a product of our society I suppose. I always wanted to have elegant hands that a boy would want to hold. But I could never remember to put enough lotion. I could never stop the habits.

And even if I did succeed in these things, I would still fail, for my hands were made for hard work. They are capable hands. They are strong. They are built for digging in the dirt, for exploring, for adventure. They are scarred from cooking over open fires. They are dry and chapped from the wind. They are callused from playing the ukulele on the road. The nails are chipped and the cuticles are ragged, but they are mine. Yes, they are mine. And it’s time I started loving them.


“Errantry” is a series of blog posts related to my gap year. If you want to know more about this year and my reasons for it, check out my first post about Errantry.

Stone Tap

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The sky is darkening as we head out
down the uneven trail
shrouded by bushes and trees.
We carry buckets of laundry and bars of soap.

“Stone tap,” the kids tell me,
and I follow.
It’s a small, underground water source
we dip our buckets into,
bringing up the cool, clean water,
like you imagine they did in the olden days,
only these are no olden days.

We crowd together on the stone surface,
squatting and scrubbing our laundry.
Mosquitos look for any opportunity to bite.
Some of the kids go round the bend to shower,
the cold water washing away the dirt of a day’s work.
I scrub my pineapple socks and jeans that grown thin from use,
soaking in this moment of bliss,
as the children jabber in Nepali and the crickets come out
under the setting sun.


**Note: The above photo is not mine. It was the closest image I could find of a stone tap similar to where I went.

Errantry: Not the Tourist Way-Nepal

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Nepal is a country that you cannot only be a tourist in to experience the real deal. I suppose this is the case with most countries, but in Nepal, though there is plenty a tourist can do, the best experiences come from living everyday life and doing everyday things with the Nepali people.

I have been blessed to be staying in a children’s home here in Kathmandu, and though I don’t go to the sight seeing places in the city very often, I have gotten to simply live life side by side with these incredible people, and it has been so worthwhile.

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I came to the the children’s home where I am staying, Mendie’s Haven, in 2015 after the earthquakes that devastated Nepal, and as I wrote in one of my recent posts, I have wanted to return here since then.

It is a Christian home for kids who were abandoned, abused, or orphaned, and was established 50 years ago to love and care for these kids. Hundreds of children have grown up here, and unlike an orphanage, these children spend their whole childhoods being nurtured and cared for here, before entering the world on their own as adults. Currently there are about 25 kids here between the ages of 7 and 22.

It’s really amazing to see how transformative the love of God is in this place. I often forget the hard backgrounds they have come from because of the joy they live out and express day to day. These kids are not defined by their hard pasts. They are defined by the love of God, which is really inspiring.

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I don’t see myself as someone who has come to help in some really special and needed way. The truth is, in many ways, I’m not really needed. But if anything, my purpose here is to simply be a friend and hopefully a role-model to them, and encourage them in their faith and life, and most of all to love each person with the love of God.

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The craziest game of UNO I have ever played…
In the mornings I help teach one of the staff family’s kids, who are homeschooled. I listen the 6-year-old who is learning to read, as she slowly sounds out the words of beginner story books, and I help out with anything else they might need.

The highlight of my day is getting to teach private voice lessons to the homeschooled family. I haven’t written about my passion for music and singing on this blog yet (I will soon), but for me, this opportunity to teach voice lessons for the first time has been a dream come true. It has been a challenging experience, especially because the kids are young. My biggest challenge is teaching the 13-year-old boy whose voice is changing. But more than challenging, it has been rewarding, as I get to see improvement in their singing every day.

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Group music practice for the upcoming anniversary…
The rest of the day I spend helping out with various projects (mostly painting) as we prepare for the 50th anniversary, which is now only a week away. The college kids are home by then, so we all work together.

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We called ourselves the terminators, as we dug up a huge mound of rocks and old bricks.
At 4:00pm the kids get home from school and we have tea time. This is also a highlight in my day. After that they do duties and then have chill time until 6:00pm prayer time and 6:30pm dinner.

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Dinner time!
At 7:30pm study time starts. I sometimes stay and help out with any questions they may have in their various subjects. And at 10:00pm, they all climb up the stairs, headed for bed. I have been reading some of the girls The Magician’s Nephew from The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis before we all go to sleep.

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We’re really serious when it comes to cooking…
In daily life I have learned so much about their culture and customs, and even bits of their language, Nepali. I have not only gotten to eat the incredible food, I have been learning to make it. And I get to go to the market with them to buy the ingredients. I wash my laundry with them at the nearby underground water reservoir, and I take cold bucket baths. On some days I will go out into town, taking the local bus, and exploring the city. And it is in these moments of daily life that I really begin to understand this place. Sure, I may not be out hiking in the mountains or touring old temples, but that’s not what most Nepali people are doing. For me, this is the real deal.


“Errantry” is a series of blog posts related to my gap year. If you want to know more about this year and my reasons for it, check out my first post about Errantry.

Splatters (A poetry experiment)

In the following poem, every other word was written by me, and the words in between were written by my friend, Heather Chiles. We could not communicate about what we meant by the words we chose, and we could not indicate where we hoped the poem would go. This is a poetry writing exercise that I learned from another friend of mine (whose blog you can find here), that challenges the writer’s flexibility and versatility in writing. Here is the outcome:

Splatters spray sunshine lazily, like a reservoir bathing Bathsheba,
her breath lingering.
Splatters cling unforgivable wounds,
like scabbing deceit swelling on Lady Liberty.
Wash those bloodied splatters.
Cry out, feverish liar–
Guilt ravishes tender minds, but
Mine harbours hatred for the darkness.
You fester, bending under shadows.
Rise by the chains binding you,
into the light.
Freedom, truth, justice–renew America.
Wait no longer.

Key:
Heather’s words
Sarah’s words

Errantry: Here’s to Bollywood movies, chai, and the Himalayas

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Greetings from Kathmandu! I arrived in this bustling city in the heart of Nepal almost three weeks ago, and have since then been relishing the unique experiences of life here.

The smells of exhaust and the crazy traffic that floods the streets have brought back fond memories of Nairobi, as have the street vendors and the small shops that line the narrow roads. The potholes and occasional livestock crossings make me smile. Like Nairobi, the city seems to have grown at such a rate that there was no time for city planning. The buildings have an air up incompleteness, yet this is what makes the city so beautiful. And as I walk through the crowded streets, navigating through people and watching for cars and motorbikes, all the while trying not to trip on the uneven ground, I feel quite at home.

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There are many striking similarities between Nairobi and Kathmandu, but at the same time, it is also unlike any place I have ever been.

For example…I had a real scare when I went to the bathroom once, and didn’t know which one to go into, because instead of having the male and female signs, it was only written in Nepali, a language and script I clearly do not know. That’s when it hit me that I’d never really lived in a place where I can’t even read the signs, no less understand them.

I’ve been learning to except not having control over other things too, such as my taste buds. The spicy food here slowly burns in my mouth, and after a meal, my stomach burns faintly with the memory of the food I ate. That being said, I will never tire of the daal bhat, the chapati, the momos, and the curries. And oh, God forbid that I should ever stop loving the tea, rich with spices, that I drink at least twice a day.

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Something else that’s new for me is guava. I don’t know how I have managed to live my whole life without ever having a guava, but since coming here, I have not been able to stop eating the almost creamy fruit picked straight from the tree.

My days are filled with the sounds of Hindi music, mostly from Bollywood. And recently, I watched my first Bollywood film. It’s a new one called Judwaa 2, and though it didn’t have English subtitles, I laughed so hard I was crying.

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In the mornings I hear the nearby sound of bells ringing from the neighbors’s courtyards. They ring the bells to wake up their gods. And as I walk along the streets, I pass dozens of shrines, and see prayer flags strung between buildings. All these are reminders to me of how little I know of this religion, Hinduism, and I am inspired to come to a better understanding of what these people believe.

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And have I even mentioned how beautiful this place is? If the sky if clear, you can see Himalayan Mountains standing like guardians over the city. I am staying at a Children’s Home on a hill that looks down on the city, and at night, you can see all of the city lights, spread out like the Milky Way.

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I’ve been learning so much here, like how to take public transportation, how to make momos, how to say different phrases in Nepali, Hindi dance moves, and oh, so much more.

This is a country that beats its own drum, dancing to its own rhythm. It is place rich with culture and brimming with adventure, and I simply love it here. More on what specifically I’m doing here in a later post!


“Errantry” is a series of blog posts related to my gap year. If you want to know more about this year and my reasons for it, check out my first post about Errantry.

The Call to Prayer

In all my days, I have seen few things more beautiful than this–
the desert sun burning at the edge of the world,
the edge of dawn,
like the fiery breath of hell,
yet lit up a hundred, ney, a thousand times more,
by the brilliance of God.

The blackness of the desert floor
in an instant meets
the gradient of light
that dives back into darkness of night
singing worthy, worthy is the Lord God Almighty.

It burns like the end of a cigarette,
smouldering in its divine moment:
For we will only tilt toward the sun like this once.

The dark horizon melts away with each breath of day, and look–
Jehovah is in his holy temple,
let all the earth be silent before him.

Do you hear it? Ringing in the dawn?
This is your call to prayer–
It’s more than a voice from a loudspeaker.
It’s more than a tune from a hymnal.
It’s more than the clanging of bells.
It’s more than good deeds.
It’s more than phrases repeated over and over.
It’s more than offerings brought with such care to the shrine.

Behold! Behold! See the desert fire that harvests the morning.
Take in the golden rays with each breath you can reckon.
Let the light refine you as you journey.
Open your eyes and believe, you devout one.
Yahweh is standing at the door.