Nepal dispatches: The crushing weight of poverty
By Jayme Poisson
Journalists have the distinct privilege of being invited into the lives of others. To listen to their stories, whether they’re filled with joy or heartache.
We also have the humbling responsibility to convey these stories. To paint a picture that encompasses a thousand brush strokes to the best of our ability.
I would like to introduce you to Anita Sadaya and her three daughters.
I met Anita this week while traveling through Nepal’s steamy Terrai region while filming a documentary in the country.
Anita doesn’t know her age. “Maybe 20,” she told me in her native Mitali dialect.
She lives in a small cement hut in Amahi - an impoverished village near the border of India. Every morning she wakes up and combs the nearby forest for firewood that she sells at the market.
Anita makes less than a dollar a day doing back-breaking labour. Not an uncommon occurrence in a country with an average annual income of less that $200 per year.
Anita is one of thousands of child brides here in Nepal. She was married around the age of thirteen and doesn’t remember much about her wedding. “It seems so long ago”, she said.
The children are visibly malnourished, dressed only in a ragged pair of shorts. Prunita, the one-year-old infant, weighs only eight pounds.
“There is no one to look after them. They just sit and cry and wait for me to come home,” said Anita when I asked what her children do when she is off at the market.
When we arrived at the village, five year old Junita had filled the space for her mother, who had made the long walk to collect grain from the mill.
With the infant on her hip, the small child tended to its barely audible cries by using a rubber cup as a distraction. Passing it back-and-forth, the scene resembled a tea party hosted by any imaginative toddler. Only there was no food or water to be seen here.
Incredibly shy, Anita looks at the ground while speaking. You have to strain to hear her words. It’s a painful insecurity that surely comes from a lifetime of unimaginable hardships.
Anita is part of Nepal’s Dalit caste group, also known as “untouchables” in the country. Faced with discrimination and prejudice on a daily basis I asked her what it felt like. She told me she is used to being shunned by others.
“Some of the villagers will not share water with me,” she continued with a wisdom far beyond her years. “But I say to them, ‘we all have the same blood running through us, so why can we not share water?’”
Anita has no time to grieve for her lot in life. She picks up her infant and begins to breast feed. Once she is finished she must make dinner for her girls before bed.
She stays up most nights. There is no door on her home, and with her husband gone, she is worried someone might come in and attack her in the dark.
“I want my children to go to school. For there to be food. And maybe for me to learn a skill,” she said.
These are all her hopes and dreams.
After our visit she walks me to the car, gives me a hug and thanks me profusely for listening.
My eyes brimming with tears, I know she doesn’t realize that I’m the one who should be most thankful.
It is her words, not mine, that have painted a picture with a thousand brush strokes. I am just lucky enough to have been invited into her life.
We have the same blood running through us. So why can we not share water?
Note: Before leaving the village we made sure Anita had enough money to build a door for her home.
Jayme Poisson is a Master of Journalism student at Carleton University. She will be trekking through Nepal during April and May while making a documentary about delivering maternal health services to remote and conflict-affected areas. In mid-June she will join the Star's summer intern program. She will be blogging regularly from the field.