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Sometimes, Watching Things Burn Unveils Life’s Deeper Meaning

Updated: Nov 1, 2023

The rain came pouring down from a grim jet-blank sky while my motorbike began skidding back and forth on a rugged, deserted road. I was riding between Nepal’s endlessly lush hills and rice paddies when my once waterproof riding gear was about to give in.

Suddenly, I spotted a little run-down hut on poles. I pulled over and, as fast as possible, dashed for shelter through knee-high weed.

There was not a single soul around.

Sometimes, invitations don’t require many words

It was dead silent except for the clucking of a few bony chickens and the hammering sound of the rain on the tinned roof over my head. I paused. The place felt abandoned, yet I sensed that someone was around.

Suddenly, I discovered her through a tiny gap in the weaved bamboo barrier surrounding the raised house’s basement.

An Asian woman sitting in the dark smoking a big bong
Image by szefi on Getty Images

I called out to the woman, but she did not turn her head. Yet, she sent two encouraging words my way.

Basnus, bahini — stay, younger sister.

It was her way of inviting me to wait for the rain to stop.

Sometimes, smoking is more than a nasty addiction

She was a grey-haired, rail-thin woman squatting on the barren floor by a small open fireplace in the middle of the basement. Occasionally stirring the contents of a black pot, sitting on top of it with a long wooden spoon.

In the other hand, the woman held a giant bong. She smoked quickly but not frantically. And the clouds she exhaled drifted through the shelter in great billows. She was alone, savoring the moment while her food was simmering.

The presence of another woman, a foreigner outside on her veranda, did not bother her the least.

“Good on ya,” I thought, wishing her smoldering affair would last for the rest of her calloused life.

That she deserved this moment, that it was hers all alone. An instant of boundless serenity, which she did not intend to share with anyone. Apart from three polished water jugs leaning against the fragile wall, mute witnesses to a calm setting that nurtured the scene.

Sometimes, you admire people for no apparent reason

While I continued watching this mundane woman through the crack in the bamboo wall doing what not many women dare in Nepal, an unexpected curiosity overcame me.

What was she pondering while watching her bong slowly turn to ashes?

Maybe the gloomy future that would look like the life that led her to this point? Her existence in this shabby house that offered protection from rain but perhaps not much more? Or the cackling chickens being her only companions these days?

I admired her courage to simply be. Not to be distracted by what the rain had washed up on her doorstep. Not to surrender to a conversation with a stranger that wasn’t hers. Not to hurry before the ashes settled.

Sometimes, silence speaks the loudest

The woman eventually placed the spoon on the bare ground and got up quickly. Despite her apparent age, she was agile. She opened the door and stepped outside without even glancing at me. She made her way across the muddy yard and climbed a narrow staircase to the upper floor.

Meanwhile, the rain had eased. I grabbed my wet jacket from the rusty nail and sailed a ‘thank you’ her way. Without lifting her gaze, she wished me a safe journey.

Raamro sangaa jaanus, bahini — travel well, younger sister!

How I would have loved to stay back, silently listening to her muted thoughts. Dwelling in the details of an evidently calloused life I knew nothing about. Holding this woman’s hands in mine.

Sometimes, you recognize the value of a moment before it becomes a memory

I felt humbled by the invitation to pause and share a bong length with a woman whose attitude deeply touched my heart. Our time together was not filled with laughter, for there was nothing to laugh about. Nor was it polluted with unnecessary chatter, which she had likely heard enough of in her life.

As I left this solitary woman, I was reminded again of why I travel. Not just to cover distance but to capture moments that move me. These are often encounters by the roadside and involve the reunion of two souls, leading to mutual understanding, empathy, and a sense of being without judgment.

Raamro sangaa basnus, didi — stay well, older sister!

Sometimes, all you can do is watch things burn. And then wait for the ashes to settle to unveil life’s deeper meaning.


Thank you for taking the time to read a Roadside Story from Nepal. These are stories of everyday people I meet while touring the country on my motorbike. After decades of experience in Nepal, I speak Nepali, a benefit that helps me gain valuable insights most people will not.

Much love from Nepal — Kerstin

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