Making, smelling, and drinking this tea brings back a flood of memories for me as I think back to a trip to Nepal in 2008 to visit a close friend and brother in Christ, Shashi Bhandari. Shashi is an indigenous missionary to his home country and founder of the Barnabas Mission of Nepal. He and his staff work full time ministering in the villages of the 13th poorest country in the world. Their focus is on health and sanitation education and spreading the gospel of Christ to the "untouchable" cast. I recently received a care package from my friend, which included two bags of black tea. Among the few words in English, the package reads "export quality."
Traveling the broken roads and walking the steep (leech infested) trails of the rural mountain and lowland villages of Nepal, I was far from the comforts of life and familiarity back in the USA. It was as though I had stepped into another world. Although I had previously visited the slums in Mexico and thought that experience would help prepare me for the sites and experiences which awaited on the far side of the world. Each new day began with a stark contrast of realities and a strong cup of black Nepali tea steeped in buffalo milk over open flame on a stove made of clay. Most of the time, the tea was served without any spice - only a few spoons of raw sugar and a piece of flat bread, called roti.
I saw leprosy for the first time on the city streets of Nepal. I saw the body of a young woman floating lifelessly down the flooded Rapti river after a mudslide destroyed a village during the night. I witnessed political confusion as the passing of a monarchy made way for the hammer and sickle of a Moaist regime. I saw a bus burned in an act of vigilante justice in the middle of a street because the driver accidentally struck a pedestrian. I saw people worshipping idols in the very literal sense, even performing ritualistic worship of a car. Orphaned cows roamed the streets like pigeons in search of an easy meal and monkey's crossed the street as we passed through the Nepali jungle preserve. The electricity was touch and go most of the time and the bathrooms...well, let's just say they did have one in some of the villages. Running water was not common.
But I took note of the amazing riches in beauty found in the wild and majestic landscape of Nepal. The Himalaya's were so tall and grand they hardly seemed real. The faces of the many precious children, many of whom were neglected, touched me. They called me "uncle" and stared through the windows to look at this strange barefoot American. I have never been greeted with such honor and hospitality in all of my life. It humbled me to tears. I witnessed the paradox of extreme poverty and contentment walking hand in hand. I met people whose lives had been transformed - their sense of self worth restored because they learned that God made them in His image and was willing to die for them on a cross. They are not untouchable but of great worth. In the churches, they sat on dusty floors singing many familiar tunes of praise in a capella and reading from the Bible with attentiveness. I was honored to be among such committed brothers and sisters.
It is for these reasons, I still see a story behind every cup of Nepali tea.