Sepi, being a small village has much more to it than being the gateway to the Sandakphu trail. With tiny houses painted so variedly, you feel you have opened a graphic novel; wildflowers blooming just fine without the constant touch and brushing of human hands; even the dogs are so furry that you may confuse them with wolves. Of course, it is mesmerizing in terms of mountains surrounding it on all sides and the huge waterfalls, Sirikhola, just adds to its immense beauty. A picture you can imagine right out of a typical countryside.
The serene Sepi
But what I grasped from staying in that place for over four months is tough to put in absolute words. The true charm of Sepi lies in its people, the culture, the behaviour and the unconditional love they give to passersby, tourist or otherwise. My everyday communication got me in touch with many locals around the village but the “Lippocha family” is what defines Sepi through my eyes.
Anjala Rai, we call her Nana (elder sister in Nepali) is the heart of the family. Despite having done her Masters in Arts from Sikkim and thereafter venturing her options in MNCs, her heart was always back home. It was not an easy call to give up the amenities of city life and turn over her entire lifestyle but never have I heard her complain about it. Relentlessly this lady contributes not just to the homestay but also as a social worker. Our first evening chat was about the environment and health hazards of using a sanitary pad. Awestricken she asked me, “What can I use instead?”
Her eagerness eradicated my slightest doubt of introducing menstrual cups to her. The very next moment she placed an order for one. Like a happy child, she came running to me after using it for the first time and she was hell bound to spread its benefits all around her village. Only a conscious person would leave her daily chores and accompany me to the schools and women around just to give them a better way of living. I know that the women in Sepi do not need my workshops on sustainable menstruation any longer because Anjala is the voice advocating for it. She went to the extent of ordering menstrual cups in bulk at her own cost and dispersing it to the women she knows. Not just this, she never misses clean-ups and bottle-brick making in Sepi either.
So from where does, Anjala get her consciousness? The credit goes to the two people who nurtured her in the best way possible. Palman uncle, her father, is the most respected man in the village for his incessant delivery of humanity in the smallest way possible. He was a footballer in his days of youth but financial pressure forced him to become a farmer. With a smile as broad as a rainbow, he gets up every morning to cut grass for his cattle. He never missed to pass me a glass of hot tea over which he talked about nature, animals, religion, politics and anything under the sun. “Kachra saaf karo, ya maro”, (Translated: Either clean the waste now, or you will die soon) is what he keeps saying. This man has literally given land to so many families around Sepi so that they could have shelter above their heads and earn their living. These families are widely considered to be his kinsmen but in reality, the only relation he holds with them is that of humanity. Any big occasion, be it a birthday or a football tournament, this handsome man sits with pride to honour the ambience.
Palban Uncle with his loving wife
Then there is Pabitra aunty, “Kokku” I call her, who organized all the local women at Sepi and formed Self Help Group(s) to help them grow and evolve. She managed to induce a sense of purpose in these women to come together as a community and generate income. She taught them how to make handicrafts and sanitary items, brew tea, and much more. How many nights have I personally seen her burning the midnight lamp to do the documentation for all of these groups so that there is no hindrance in their battle of sketching their identity? I once asked her what she gets out of this, an additional burden. Politely she forwards her duties as a fellow-woman, not a burden, but a willful obligation.
A mother to all- Pabitra aunty
Ganga Nini, humming some distant tune of her childhood days, is most of the time cooped up in the kitchen, cooking – cooking for more than 100 guests/tourists during the season time, which, is by the way around 8 months a year. Singlehandedly, she manages to satiate the stomach desires of super hungry trekkers. There are times when around 10 PM someone drops down with a full course meal order for a dozen of lads. Leave aside rejecting it, with a soothing smile she says, “Huncho” (Translated: OK!). Nini is not obligated to take such untimely work mandates but she thinks that’s her contribution to the family. In merry-making times while the whole village gathers to enjoy, she is still alarmed with her ladle and wok to feed the happy faces
Ganga nini as usual chopping her veggies
Nima, as interesting as Sepi, kept pestering me with thousands of queries for the first week of my stay regarding what kind of work I hope to do. Unexpected, one day, after he got hang of my activities, he called me to his car for a surprise. What did I see? A small blue bag hanging at the side of this driver’s seat. “Momo di, sabko bolo gari mei thaili rakhne ko”, (Translated: Momo, ask every driver to have a waste bag in the car) that was his solution to the waste being generated by passengers as they travel up and down the uncanny roads of Sepi. I wonder how on Earth this chap could manage to come up with such a simple solution for roadside waste. This small step led to the whole idea of “Trash in bag” for every vehicle in the area of Sepi and the result is drastic.
Nima and his tiny blue trash bag
Every member of a community is what makes the essence of that society. Sepi was such a place I have been to. It was not as much as waking up to the mountains that kept me glued to the place than the morning tea served with a big curve on the face of every second human I connected with. The fact that this village is fighting a lost battle of managing waste is sole because it has living examples of what local power and will power can do.
As Margaret Mead rightly said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it is the only thing that ever has”.