Last week, I was in Nepal and I met a girl – she looked about 13, but I think she was much older. From what I could piece together, this is her story:
Aruna* was born in a village near Kathmandu. When she was four or five, tragically both her parents died. She was an only child – and now an orphan. Her relatives were supposed to take care of her, but they didn’t. They thought that if Aruna was gone, all of her parents’ meagre possessions were theirs. So they neglected her. They left her to fend for herself. I was told that these relatives mentally ‘tortured her’. A child, barely old enough to go to school.
Eventually an uncle ‘rescued’ her from the abuse by leaving her at an orphanage in Kathmandu. By that time, Aruna had developed a mental illness that has stayed with her ever since.
Now she’s in a safe place, living with Christians. And when I meet her she is smiling. We speak different languages, but she strokes my arm and stands close by me as I take some photographs looking over Kathmandu. She seems happy, but as I smile at her I keep picturing that little girl, who must have wondered why she was loved and then suddenly wasn’t. That child who must have felt so lost and alone as she watched her family and her home just disappear.
Her story is like something you would read in a Dickens’ novel – so much hardship and sadness and eventually hope, but a hope that, to an onlooker at least, is shadowed by the past. And I find it hard to understand why such a story would be allowed to happen. Not on paper, but lived and breathed and felt.
During my ten days in Nepal I heard a lot of stories that I can’t understand or explain away. Ones that I’ve thought about over and over again, and still struggle to see where God was or what his plan was in those darkest moments. And I’ve found lots of happy endings that aren’t the happy endings I would have written. Endings that, to me, don’t really seem that happy at all.
I want to write something upbeat, something joyful, something that reflects the beauty, hospitality and amazing grace I encountered in Nepal. But I also want to write something true. And the truth is, I think there must be stories as tragic as Aruna’s in every village and town in Nepal – and in the world. And most of them are never heard.
There is hope. I can see it in the face of Aruna, as she smiles and laughs with the people who really love her.
But I can’t fully understand how she can look so free, or comprehend how anyone could be so cruel, or ever know why it happened to her at all.