A memoir of childhood in south Nepal from Sunita Karki, the staff lawyer at ChoraChori-Nepal:
“Growing up in a big family (many siblings actually) is fun but full of struggle when you have limited resources to survive. The struggle is even higher for the youngest member. And that’s me. I remember fighting with my siblings for food, clothes and other basic things. Our parents would tell us not to waste anything, especially food. Wasting food is actually influenced by a popular myth from Nepal, and the fear influenced by this myth was so extreme that we used to finish the meal as if the plate got itself cleaned, left with nothing. Let me explain the food myth here; they said the god will keep a record of the food you throw each day, and you will have no food to eat when a ‘Mano’ (a traditional Nepalese rice grain measuring unit) is filled up with all the food you have wasted. So, there was a strong notion that starvation was led by your Karma. Hence, during my childhood I don’t remember wasting food at home.
However, the ‘leaving nothing on plate’ rule was difficult to follow at others’ houses due to their weird gazes and laughs they gave you. Eventually I started to act normal, which meant I followed others’ footsteps in eating. During my college days, I used to go out to eat frequently and I was surprised how normal it was for many people to leave the food. I could not say a word even if I was very upset.
After two months of joining Chora Chori Nepal (CCN), I went for a field visit to eastern Nepal-Panchthar. We reached one of CCN beneficiary’s homes at around 9:30 in the morning. There were three children aged: 10, 7, and 5. The mother was at the neighbour’s house to ask some rice in an exchange of work that she would be doing. This is a typical example of barter system in rural Nepal. As it was time for school, we asked the younger kid (boy) why wasn’t he ready for school? And his answer broke us; he smiled and said , “How could I go to study when I don’t have anything to eat?”. It was rather a question than an answer; a real life example where you see that “Children can’t learn in an empty stomach.” After completing the homework, they stayed home waiting for their mother to return with rice so that they could have something to satiate the hunger. At this very exact moment, I felt something in my stomach; it was a mixed feeling of shame, helplessness and many other emotions which I cannot even explain now.
While returning, I recollected thoughts on another recent story while contemplating about the situation I saw in these families. This story is about a young rich couple who went out on fancy dates in expensive restaurants. The boy would order 2-3 times extra food than they would have actually eaten, and leave the food untouched just to show off. And, just in case, the girl finished all the food, the boy would yell at her. Somehow, I was also ashamed of myself for trying to be a so-called cool person in this millennial world by wasting so much food and other basic things, and for forgetting the lesson my parents taught me ‘not to waste anything especially food.’ The incident reminded me of the struggle that I almost forgot and taught me to be thankful for what I have. Since then, I don’t waste food at all and try not to let others do so. Some people, especially my friends find it weird but that’s okay. I believe wasting anything ultimately deprives someone of that thing. And yes, I have no right to deprive someone of the basic things; something so simple yet deep that I learnt from the five year old boy.”