Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Welcome to Dang Valley

I cannot easily describe the extraordinary reception I received upon my arrival in Gorahi, Dang, Nepal. I was there to bestow an honor upon someone else – Aasmani Chaudhary, the inspiring leader of the Rural Women’s Development Center – but the occasion of a visit from an American to this remote part of Nepal (itself a somewhat remote nation, being landlocked and having one side dominated by the Himalayas and the other by wide malarial plains) was sufficient excuse for the local women to organize an impressive social event.

As our UN vehicle pulled into the street where RWDC is located (after a five-hour drive from the nearest airstrip), we found ourselves staring at somewhere between 200 and 400 local Tharu men and women (mostly women), dressed in their traditional event attire (red and white for women, blue for men), who had been waiting in the drizzle for us to arrive. The women had bouquets and laurel necklaces (think Hawaii), and dishes of a red dust used as a dye – and it was all to properly bedeck their guest (namely, little old me). I walked through a block-long gauntlet of affection, flowers, and dust, only to make it to the doorstep of Aasmani’s organization where the banner welcoming Americans for UNFPA was hanging above a dais and a stage.

Aasmani herself had been the chief organizer of this gathering – a testament to her respect and influence in her community that she could bring so many together in a choreographed manner. And speaking of choreography, what followed for our entertainment and celebration was two hours of traditional dances interspersed with speeches from Aasmani and the UNFPA staff reminding the many who stayed to watch just why we were having this gathering in the first place: because the work Aasmani does is so necessary for the development of a stronger, healthier Dang Valley.

That, after all, was why I was there too, and why we are brining Aasmani to New York in October for our Gala celebrating her work (and the work of two similarly inspiring women from Madagascar and Mexico). I can only hope (but honestly I have my doubts) that we provide her with a reception as awe-inspiring as the one she gave me!

I’ll spare you all the details of the banquet…

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