Chelamo: From Child Servant to Lotus Sky Dreamer!
Posted on November 06 2016
When Lotus Sky beadworker, Chelamo Tikepa, says that her favorite thing about Nepal is “sinks in the home,” you might wonder where she came from, if not Nepal.
In fact, Chelamo has been within the political borders of “Nepal” her whole life and yet, like many of the Lotus Sky women born in the Himalaya region- in that uncertain, but beautiful, boundary between a contested Tibet and one of the most culturally rich, but infrastructurally undeveloped, countries, Nepal- being “from Nepal” is not so obvious.
If you don't have citizenship papers are you “from Nepal”? If you were not born in a hospital with a citizen father to attest your parentage are you “from Nepal”? If you were born in the Himalayas, on the Nepali side of the border, are you “from Nepal”? In most cases, the paper trail will say, “No.”
So when Chelamo says that her favorite thing about Nepal is “sinks in the home,” what she really means is that in the village, Tsong-Ving, where she was born, where she was married, and where she had her first child, getting water is at least a 40 minute journey with a pail. And this isn't to say that the “sinks in the home” enjoyed by many Nepalis living in the capital of Kathmandu are reliable or that the water that flows from them can be drunk. Or that there is any such thing as “hot water” flowing from these sinks. What it means is that usually you can fill up a bucket on a morning- winter or summer- and enjoy a cold sponge bath. It means that you don't have to go to a communal fountain far from your home to wash your dishes.
Chelamo is incredibly joyous. She makes all the Lotus Sky women laugh. Amazingly, she joined Lotus Sky after the April 2015 earthquake with no experience in beadwork and, through hard work, determination, and a positive attitude, has become one of our best crocheters and has joined our elite team for our Etsy shop.
Probably the most incredible part of all of this is that Chelamo has lived- by most standards- a very, very difficult life.
When she was only six, her parents brought her into Kathmandu where they dropped her at a residence, with unfamiliar people, where she was made to work as a domestic servant. For six years she endured long days, no family life, and regular beatings by her male employer. When a relative from the village passed through town, twelve-year-old Chelamo took it as an opportunity to escape. Her father was irate that she had returned and cost the family the wages she would have been earning; her mother was secretly happy.
Not long after her return, however, while collecting water for the family, Chelamo was dragged into the house of a village man. This euphemism, “dragged,” essentially means that she was pulled into this man's home and assaulted in such a way that the necessary outcome, by village standards, was for Chelamo to become this man's wife.
For months after her marriage, Chelamo would run away, back to the home of her parents, desperate to escape the forced marriage. However, after the birth of her daughter (now thirteen), Chelamo made the decision to love her husband and persist with married life.
When her husband decided to move to Kathmandu in order to become a trekking guide, Chelamo returned to the same city to which she had been brought as a tiny girl of six. She and her husband settled in a community of Lhomi people living north of the UNESCO World Heritage site, Boudhanath, and south of the famous Kopan Monastery. It is an area of winding roads, sauntering cows, terraced farmland tilled by hand.
Chelamo, now thirty-four, has two children- her daughter and a son, aged nine. She loves working with Lotus Sky and by doing so intends to make her greatest dream come true: To give the education that she never had to both of her children- her daughter and her son.
This must be why she laughs so much, why her joy is palpable. Chelamo knows that she now has the power to make her dream come true.