A young guy about my age came by last week. He was polite and witty with friendly eyes, wearing jeans and a worn gray t-shirt. As I started to talk to him, I realized how much he reminded me of my friends from home. He said he came from Doilec, a mountain district about two days from here. He’s the son of a farming family and finished twelfth grade last year. He planned to come to Surkhet to study when his older brother died in a tragic accident. Shortly after, his brother’s wife passed away too, leaving three small children; two boys ages three and seven and a little baby girl just 5 months old.
I asked him if he understood English and he shyly shook his head no.
“Where are the children now?” I ask.
“The baby is back in our village with my parents and the two boys are with me. I thought that if I got a job, I could continue to study and keep them here with me.”
“How is that going?” I ask.
“I don’t think I can do it,” he said. “I can’t find a job and I don’t have enough money to take care of them. The other day the older one ran out into the road and almost got hit by a tractor. I was just coming back from class. The driver was like, ‘Whose kid is this?’ I said he was mine and he yelled at me. Since then, I’ve been locking them in the room while I go to class– or just not going”
I thought about an 18-year-old boy I met last year whose mother and father had just passed away. They had a little mud house and some land to look after. He was trying to stay in school and study and work. I remember I went to the village and sat with him on a huge flat rock in the sun. He had a 6-year-old younger brother and a twelve-year-old sister. He pleaded with me to keep the younger brother. His eyes looked tired and sad. He had done everything he could to try and save his mother in the last few months. I so deeply wished that I could just give him a break and take his brother to live with me. I didn’t. Instead I told him that I’d think about it and keep in contact. He still calls me every few months and asks if there’s a spot for his little brother.
I looked at this 20-year-old guy sitting on the front porch across from me and told him the same thing. I advised him to collect whatever information he had on his brother and sister-in-law, the childrens’ birth certificates, and recommendation letters from the government and to bring them back another month. I looked in his eyes and could see his despair, how he was just a kid from a poor farming family that needed a break; how he could just as easily be one of my friends from back home, how this time saying no was a little bit harder than usual.
To my surprise today when I came home from dropping the kids off from school and shopping, he was here again, sitting on the front porch. He helped me unload the groceries and then pulled out a stack of papers. We read through each one– birth certificates, marriage certificates, death certificates, citizenship cards, letters of recommendation and requests from the government.
“I thought it would take you a month,” I told him. “Go and make photo copies, I’ll keep them in a file in the office and I’ll keep in touch.”
“You won’t have to keep touch,” he said. “I will. I’m going to keep coming here and asking you and checking in. You’ll see how many times I come.” I smiled a little. It reminded me of the advice guidance counselors used to give in high school; when you got deferred or waitlisted from a college, how you’re supposed to write letters and call admissions, and keep sending your grades in to show how interested you are. I wondered if someone had given him that advice in his lifetime as well.
“I’m already more full than I should be,” I say, “I just took in two four year olds a few weeks ago unexpectedly. We’re still settling in. I have my hands full and I always like to keep room for emergency cases.”
“This is an emergency,” he said.
I thought about how most people would agree, how back at home, I would too. But here, my perspective of desperate and needy has somehow changed in these past few years. I’m skeptical. I investigate, and I don’t accept anything to be true until there’s proof and I see it with my own eyes.
“There’s no way I can really know what the real case is,” I tell myself. “I’ve never been to his village, or met his parents. I don’t know what the real circumstances are. He’s of a low caste but he finished 12th grade and enrolled himself into college, which is a lot more than many other boys his age have gotten the opportunity to do in this area.”
I think he could tell that I was thinking things over. He started to tell more of his story and his life, and how hard he had worked to get himself through school, he asked me to go to his village, to his campus, to ask around and find out what the real situation was.
“These are my brother’s kids and he’s gone now. I just want to give them a good life.”
The more he talked the more I sympathized with him, the more I thought to myself, “why not just one? Just keep one.”
Then I remembered the disabled father who came with 5 kids last week whose wife had just passed away. The three girls whose mother had passed away and whose father was in jail. The blind man that little Krishna guided through the front gate on Tuesday, who was starving and ate about 10 helpings of rice and begged me to keep his grandson. I thought about Shanti’s two sisters, and small Nisha’s little brother and all the other kids on the “we’ll wait and see what happens list.” Faces of children flashed before my eyes. I thought about how hard days like this are, how I’m only 22, and really who am I to be making these kinds of decisions anyway? If I called up my parents to ask them what I should do they’d say something like “trust your instincts,” or “it’s up to you,” but knowing what the right thing to do all the time can be hard… really really hard.
“I’ll think about it some more,” I said, and sent him on his way.