For breakfast a pot of ginger tea and hot porridge with apples is placed in front of me. I am ecstatic – my favorite breakfast. I ask Min if I’ll be able to get this everywhere on the trek. He laughs and assures me yes.
It’s sunny and clear, not a cloud in sight. We begin to walk.
After about four hours of steadily uphill, Min announces we are here. At the town where essentially Room to Read was born. We walk through the town, past seamstresses sewing on machines powered by foot, past men chopping sticks with machetes, preparing them for fences. At the end of the narrow path is a school. Three men sit outside on a bench. Min says something to them. One stands up. “Namaste,” I say, with my hands placed together as if in prayer. “Namaste,” he replies. “Where are you from?” “I’m Lori, from Room to Read. In San Francisco.” A look of recognition flickers across his face. He smiles. “Room to Read? You are the official they have sent?”
He gives me a tour of the school, the headmaster’s office, everything kept under padlock; the English classes, where students stand and say, “Good morning, Miss,” when I enter; and the library, where books line shelves.
Before leaving he instructs Min and I to sit, to wait in his office. He returns with a newspaper wadded up and full of the red powder used for giving tikka, the blessing, and two silk scarves. He presses his thumb into the bright red powder then presses it first to my forehead, next to Min’s. He ties the silk scarf around each of our necks and wishes us a well journey and sends us on our way in peace.
I notice red powder dusted across my nose. Is it bad luck to wipe it off? I don’t want to take any chances. As we walk, the day grows hotter, I sweat profusely. I wipe my hand across my face. I look down and my hand is smeared with red. I’ve inadvertently smeared my good luck.
I’m staring at the path continuously, trying to keep my balance. At this rate, all I’ll see for the next 17 days are rocks and donkey manure.
Each time we cross a stream, Min goes first. I watch which rocks he steps on. I follow suit. I step carefully. I gingerly place my foot on a rock and splash! it flips over. If I’m lucky, only a foot (or two) lands in the water. More often than not, I fall. Min and Durga look at each other, concerned. They seem a bit nervous about how often I’ve fallen, especially given this is the second day of the trek.