If I ever have to survive in the wild Himalayan foothills, I want to bring one of these kids with me. They’re tough and they know stuff. Even at their young age, they are equipped with all kinds of practical knowledge that is lost from the same generation of kids in my own country.
Going on walks with them is hilarious. Kind of like walking with a pack of foraging goats. Even just along the road they are constantly darting into the bushes and brush, bursting out seconds later with various edibles: mrep (berries) and chomcha (plant with a sour stem) and ahm (“natural chewing gum”), etc.
Last weekend I had the chance to hike into the jungle with a bunch of the older students (mostly boys, 1 girl — my kinda girl!) and some of the staff to forage for kyongta (also called kukling, depending on where your village is). Young ferns! But not just any old kind. We passed a couple of varieties that we weren’t after before we’d finally hiked into the jungle far enough to find the ones we were. The best ones had fat stems and were still curled in their iconic fiddlehead.
The kids were, of course, the best at spotting them, and the fastest at gathering them. In the time I could collect a small handful, they would have a huge armload. So I opted to free up their speedy hands by gathering their bunches from them and being a carrier instead.
By the time we caught up with the boys and were ready to head home, we had my backpack stuffed full, a big tote bag, a couple of sweaters that had been called into action to tie up big bundles, and 4 or 5 giant potato sacks. The day was warm, so we took our time hiking back up to the community, where we dropped our bounty off with the waiting kitchen staff, along with a bunch of nettle that someone had also collected.
The kitchen staff worked their usual magic, and we had greens from the jungle as our subjee (veggie dish) with our rice and daal for the next lunch. Delicious!