An Almal Morning

5 a.m. was too early to be walking to the store. Though I enjoyed the view, the quiet, the cool air before the monsoon humidity got out of bed for the day, I wanted to be home, with my coffee and a quiet house before Charlie woke up.

We were told, through a pipeline of confusing, muddled information, that grocers, vegetable and fruit sellers would be open from 5 a.m. to 7 a.m. during this lockdown. Two hours to get what you need and get back to the confines of your home. So there I was, following the rules. But, ever covetous of quiet mornings, the next day I resolved to go at 6:30 after I’d gotten Charlie up and nursed. 

I headed out the next morning the sky was a little brighter than it was on my last grocery errand. Three police officers wielding batons to punish anyone breaking the stay at home orders (or at very least threaten them) stood guard at the temple just outside our lane. Aama (grandmother) walked next to me, carrying her vase to the temple, where she’d give her daily alms and make her daily requests of the gods she served. She spoke to no one in particular as she muttered muffled words behind her handkerchief. A face covering is a face covering, right? The police officers eyed her, technically public worship was prohibited, but who is going to stop such a sweet, devoted elderly woman? Such long, gray hair gives one a certain authority. They talked among themselves and decided against using their batons on the elderly lady just going about her day.

They looked at me, I looked at them. They said nothing. I guess my foreignness and shopping bag gave me a certain authority, too. But a young man walking the opposite direction with hands full of what was, obviously, groceries was halted for harsh questioning. He kept his head down, answered the rhetorical interrogating, and passed through.

Aama gave her daily alms and the boy got his daily dose of fear.

I kept walking, bouncing back and forth in my mind from the cultural narrative I’d just witnessed and the brilliance of the morning sky, the way the clouds lay in a perfect pattern against the bright blue sky. It was such a gloriously sunshiney day for a lockdown. We’d play in the lane just outside our house today, I thought, careful not to venture to the forbidden road. Maybe we’d see neighbors. Maybe we’d roam around on our porch looking at and naming all the plants.

With the first lockdown, buying groceries was wildly complicated. No one knew the rules. My stress levels reached new heights when I witness how country’s other than my host was handling their “lockdown” with immaculately systemized lists of what was deemed essential and unessential No one could pinpoint essential those first few days of lockdown number one. So this time, I was pleased to have heard early on what the shopping hours were. I could control this, I thought. Even if I can’t drive or see my friends or go to work, if I can get groceries, I’ll be okay.

Upon arriving at the pasal, I was reminded that one should hold expectations v e r y loosely in this part of the world. Actually, one should usually throw all expectations out the window. The veggie seller was sweeping up his area, produce all boxed up and covered. My cheeks got warm, my head started spinning wondering what on earth I was going to feed Charlie for breakfast if I couldn’t get her bananas.

 “Siddyo?” I asked.

Finished already?! 

“Siddeko chaina, Didi,” he replied “7 baje dekhi kolcha.”

Not finished, Sister. We’ll be open from 7 a.m.

He said it so plainly. As if it had always been the rules. I felt the anger bubbling beneath the confusion. Was my Nepali correct? Did I understand him? Yesterday they were open until seven and now they’re opening after seven? Frustrated, in need of bananas for my one-year-old’s oatmeal (he didn’t have them yesterday, hence my return), I made an about-face and headed home. I guess I’d come back after seven.

As I made my way back down the road, back past the temple and the baton-wielding authorities I noticed others holding bags of vegetables walking the opposite direction. Oh, the confusion. My neighbor made her way out of the gate before I turned onto our street, herself heading out before seven to get drinking water, khaane paani. I told her my little saga, and we discussed there, in front of her gate, in front of the blue-clad police, and asked passersby with hands full of veggies where they managed to find them.

The news of the revised opening hours hadn’t reached the end of the street’s shops yet. It was 6:45. “Aaunus,” my neighbor said. Come with me.

And in an instant, the frustration of the 15 minutes prior melted into something resembling charm. I mounted her scooter and, together, we went to the nearest shop for my bananas, and for her water. Charlie would have her oatmeal after all.

And in an instant, the frustration of the 15 minutes prior melted into something resembling charm. I mounted her scooter and, together, we went to the nearest shop for my bananas, and for her water. Charlie would have her oatmeal after all.

While we stood behind the rope that deemed us a safe distance from the shop, Sauji (shop keeper) picked bananas for me and I listened to the chatter of other scurrying neighbors who’d just rolled out of bed to get their milk before the shops closed at 7. The rules had definitely changed.

And they’ll change again.

I’ve been so caught up in control lately. And the simple fact that I cannot control when or how I get my groceries, can drive me really, truly insane. It’s my tipping point. But it’s been in these moments of menial inconvenience that God has been so sweet to remind me that He’s working in ways I can’t always see and just might miss if I don’t look close enough.

My neighbor in the same conundrum and confusion (but much more accustomed than me) helped me, drove me, cared for me.

People care for one another in such a unique, and special way in this country. It’s a fact I know in my heart, a thing I’ve experienced in many personal ways but needed a reminder of on this confusing (almal, in Nepali) morning. It’s easy, especially in a season where most of the world has felt stuck and stagnant, to only see and dwell on what frustrates us.

I was reminded by a friend this morning of the Bible’s exhortation to dwell on what is lovely, on what is pure and right and good.

“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” Philippians 4:8

Yes, this season is difficult. It’s confusing and ever-changing. But my dwelling on these things will not make them go away. And it is very much because of the confusion that I had the privilege to experience the joyful, easy-going spirit of my neighbor who did not question helping me for a moment.

I’m thankful that the Lord stole me out of my frustration. I walked home after the encounter feeling alive and in love with the place that I’m living in. And I pray that I have open eyes, in every circumstance, to see the beauty of the moment, to see the good good things that surround us amidst all of the confusion. I pray that sometimes I too can be someone’s reminder of good, of a God who is in control and desires what is best for his children.

That’s you, in case you didn’t know 😉

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