Shabbat ‘Alone’ in Sundrawoti

Back in May, Mordechai gave me a version of a post he’d written while spending several months in Nepal, and he told me to use it sometime when I had a free week on the blog. I knew it would come in handy. Apparently, Shabbat Shuvah, the week in between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur is a little busy. So instead of a “this is what happened this week” post, we have a “this is what happened some other Shabbat” post, but nonetheless, it’s a great commentary on alone-ness versus communal-ness that totally thematically fits with this almost-Yom-Kippur weekend. Plus, it includes a new chickpea recipe for me to try.

Mordechai graduated from Penn in 2010 before spending four months in Nepal, where he maintained a blog, Eye of the Treiger.

Nepal is 80.6 percent Hindu, 10.7 percent Buddhist, 4.4 percent Muslim, 3.6 percent Kirat, and a few fractions of a percent ‘other’. Sure, thousands of Israelis stop by after the army to trek the Annapurna circuit or up to Everest Basecamp, but your average Nepali is likely to have never met – much less heard of – a Jew.

So my three-month stint in the remote village of Sundrawoti – I volunteered there with an Israeli organization called Tevel B’Tzedek  (TBT) – was an eye-opening experience for everyone. I lived in a house with five other volunteers, three Nepali staff who helped facilitate TBT activities, and our host family of four.

All week long, the volunteers worked on various projects in the village – at the Community Center, Women’s Groups, Youth Groups, Father’s Group, schools, and so on – and ate at a local establishment (the ‘passal’), but for Shabbat, we cooked for ourselves and celebrated in our private common space at home.

One weekend, the other volunteers made plans to be away: Dafna was in Kathmandu for Youth Seminar, Tal climbed Kalinchowk, and Timna, Avigayil, and Alisa visited the even more remote village of Simigaun. Someone suggested that unless I made plans, I would have to spend Shabbat alone.

This prediction turned out not to be true: I made no plans, but would hardly say my Shabbat was spent ‘alone’. Instead, I spent it with Rajkumari and Balaram and Dan Bahadur dai and Laxmi didi and Tekraj and Monisa. And I’m glad I did.

On a typical Shabbat – as typical as a Shabbat could be in Sundrawoti – I would recite the Kabbalat Shabbat quietly to myself in the courtyard of our house. This week, I was joined by Monisa, our host’s six year-old daughter. I sang while she ate plums. We danced to Lecha dodi while she still ate plums. She offered me one, and I stuck it in my pocket. She offered me another plum, and I tucked it in, too. A neighbor stopped by and emptied his own pocketsful of plums into a cloth Monisa had claimed from its rightful place atop her mother’s head. I beckoned Monisa over and slipped two more into the cloth.

On a typical Shabbat, the volunteers would collaborate on an elaborate meal while the Nepali staff went to the passal like any other night. When it was my turn to produce the main course, I fashioned my award-winning Pindi Chana (recipe below). On this week, Balaram and Rajkumari – two of our three Nepali staff (Upama was also in the Kathmandu for Youth Seminar) – made vegetable curry and rice for three. Delicious.

On a typical Shabbat, we would collect a few rolls in Charikot – the nearest city, about an hour and a half away by bus – to use for hamotzi. I couldn’t make it to Charikot, but I did stop in Soti – the village a 45-minute walk down the road – where fried rolls were available. I also picked up a bag full of plums: 5 Nepali Rupees (~70 Rs = 1 USD) bought me 20, and the lady threw in four for good measure. I tried to give away as many as I could, and was making progress until Dan Bahadur dai – our host, and Monisa’s father – showed up Shabbat morning laden with another few dozen.

On a typical Shabbat, we would stay up late on Friday night playing games like Hijack! and poker and Jungle Speed, while the Nepali staff went to bed early. This week, Rajkumari remarked it was kind of boring to be just three out of the usual nine, so I taught her to play Jungle Speed (Balaram already knew how). I don’t think I’d ever heard Rajku swear before – and I don’t think I’ve ever heard someone say ‘Shit!’ as often as she did that Friday night. Rajku loved Jungle Speed so much that after we agreed to finish for the night, she invited in Dan Bahadur dai, taught him to play, and kept us at it for another few rounds. DBD was surprisingly slow to pick up on the game; Balaram, unsurprisingly slow to pick up on it.

As Shabbat wound down and Balaram and Rajku cooked tarkaari bhat for the second straight night, Monisa joined me once again. I showed her where to tap your bones to make them sound hollow, I swung her in every direction except into the ground, we traded shoes, and danced to the most popular song in Sundrawoti: Waka Waka.

Just like you see in every movie, our moves attracted a crowd of seven boys around Monisa’s age. When it came time to count stars for the conclusion of Shabbat, I made it to two before they caught on: three, four, five, six, seven, they helpfully added. OK, OK, I get it, that’s enough, I told them, eight, nine, ten, they replied, and I ducked inside for Havdalah, laughing.

As promised, my award-winning recipe for Pindi Chana:

Pindi chana

1 cup chickpeas
3/4th inch of ginger, chopped
2-3 tbsp oil
2 onions chopped
2 tsp garlic, crushed
2 green chilies, sliced
3 medium tomatoes, chopped
2 tsp ground coriander
1 1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
1/2 – 1tsp red chili powder or as per taste
Salt To Taste
1/2 tsp garam masala (optional – but only because I don’t expect you to have it)


  • Soak chickpeas overnight or for about 6 hr (or use from can)
  • Cook the chickpeas with salt and enough water until fully done. Drain
  • Heat oil and sauté onions till golden, then add garlic and chopped ginger and green chilies. Sauté for 5 minutes.
  • Add tomatoes, cumin, turmeric and chili powder and sauté over low heat until the oil separates.
  • Add chickpeas, one cup of water, and salt. Simmer, uncovered until the liquid has been absorbed.
  • Add a pinch of garam masala (optional) and serve

1 Comment

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One response to “Shabbat ‘Alone’ in Sundrawoti

  1. Pingback: Musings on My Childhood Shabbat Dinners | 25×52

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