The World’s multimedia producer Sonia Narang is wrapping up a three-week trip to Nepal where she’s been reporting on the difficult lives of women who still abide by centuries-old traditions.
Narang takes a particular look at Nepalese pregnant women who are required to work long hours in the fields, and oversee the household chores. Plus, in order to see the doctor or go to the hospital, they have to walk for hours up and down steep hazardous cliffs. “It’s actually considered healthy,” said Narang. “For centuries, the Nepalese believe that the harder a woman works while pregnant, the easier the delivery will be.”
Januka, 28, due in October, spent the day working in the fields, taking care of her daughter, cooking for the family, and a worked on a side business making benches.
Narang has been posting her photos on Instagram. One of the goals of her trip was to follow up on the country’s Kumari–a girl chosen as Living Goddesses. These girls are revered and are not allowed to interact with the public other than offer blessings.
Fortunately for Narang, her frequent visits to the Kumari paid off. She was given the rare opportunity of being invited into the home of an 11 year old Living Goddess whom she met almost two years ago. “I was able to watch a Living Goddess behind the closed doors of her room, doing her homework, learning math, learning English, and today, I started showing her pictures on my iPhone.”
“I asked her to play the sarod, that’s a stringed instrument. And she sat down… and started playing for me. I was the first outsider to really get a look at this life behind the closed doors of her room.”
Narang will continue to post photos of the women she met on her Instagram account.
Editor’s note: Sonia Narang is reporting in Nepal with support from the International Center for Journalists.
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Marco Werman: The World’s Sonia Narang has been talking with women in Nepal – India’s neighbor to the north. She’s there talking to Nepalese women who still live by centuries old traditions. And, Sonia, you’ve been reporting on the lives of Nepalese pregnant women. Tell us what life is like for them.
Sonia Narang: Well, Marco, it’s a very challenging life for women in general, but especially for pregnant women. I spent some time in a village in a neighboring district called Dolakha where it’s a tradition for women to work. They have a lot of responsibilities and even as they approach their seventh, eighth, even ninth months of pregnancy they’re doing manual labor, they’re working in the fields, they’re walking up and down these steep very hazardous hills. And especially during monsoon season it gets wet and slippery and to get to the nearest clinic or hospital they have to walk for hours down these rocky cliffs. It’s actually considered healthy. It’s a tradition for women to work in the fields because for centuries, the Nepalese have believed that the harder a woman works while pregnant, the easier the delivery will be.
Werman: And those who follow you, Sonia, on Instagram have been seeing the lives of these women, these working women. I’m looking at one of your pictures right now, one of your many pictures – a woman working in the fields. She looks to be in her 20s.
Narang: Yeah, that’s Januka and she’s twenty-eight. She’s due in October and I actually spent an entire day filming her doing backbreaking work and when I asked her about this week she said that’s actually nothing compared to her first pregnancy. So I can’t even imagine what kind of work she did. She spent the entire day taking her goats out for grazing, planting millet, and then she has to do all the cooking for her family. The cooking involves squatting in a dark room on the floor and then she has a little daughter, so she has to get her ready for school. And she has a side-business. They make these little wooden benches that they sell in the nearby town for three hundred rupees. That’s like three dollars.
Werman: When women like Januka, who is seven months pregnant, she’s doing the backbreaking work in the fields, cooking for the family, taking the kids here and there, what are the husbands and fathers doing?
Narang: Well, a lot of the times the husbands aren’t even there. In Nepal, there’s a very low rate of employment, so a lot of the husbands have gone overseas to India, to the Middle East, looking for work. So a lot of women, pregnant women, are left on their own.
Werman: Sonia, this is your second trip to Nepal. One of your goals on this trip was to follow on a story you covered last year, the first time you went, on the “Living Goddesses”. These are young girls who are chosen and revered as goddesses who will bring people happiness and prosperity. They don’t interact with the outside world except to give their blessings, but I’m looking at this one picture you took. You’re up close and personal. You’re right there with these Living Goddesses. You had a rare look. Absolutely fascinating.
Narang: Yeah, I spent a few days just building this rapport with the Living Goddess’s mother and they let me into their house. She actually remembered me from my visit a year and a half ago and I think that helped a lot. And so I went into their house, I went in alone. I was able to watch a Living Goddess behind the closed doors of her room doing her homework, learning math, learning English. And today, I started showing her all my pictures on my iPhone. These are a lot of pictures from the west, pictures I’ve taken in Boston, in Washington, and she was really interested in just looking at my pictures. And then I asked her to play the sarod, and that’s a stringed instrument. She sat down and opened up her sarod case and started playing for me and she was completely at ease the entire time. And I was the first outsider to really get a look at this life behind her closed doors of her room
Werman: That must have been really amazing because you’re talking about her playing music, doing her homework. And I’m looking at this picture that you posted on Instagram. She’s eleven years old. She looks like a goddess.
Narang: Oh yeah, yeah. She’s so poised. She looks so much older than eleven. She pierced me like an adult.
Werman: Well, Sonia, we can’t wait for your story. I’m sure it’s going to be incredible.
Narang: Thank you, Marco. I’ll be back in the US next week and until then I’m planning to post more pictures on Instagram and I look forward to sharing some of these personal video portraits.
Werman: Sonia Narang in Nepal. Thanks so much.
Narang: Thanks. Bye.
Werman: You don’t have to wait until Sonia gets back to see some of her incredible Instagram photos. We’ve got a slideshow that includes a picture of Kumari, the Living Goddess. How can you say no to that? It’s all at theworld.org.