If I talked to you about “terre battue” in French – literally “beaten earth”, the name given to the clay surface of tennis courts – you’d think I was talking about the French Open, taking place at the moment just outside Paris. Not at all. This brick-coloured ground actually makes me think of the tea fields, those of Malawi for example. The path is like a scar cutting through the fresh green expanse of the tea plants. It’s a million miles from the courts of Roland-Garros. And without the crowds. There, silence reigns.
This woman is 95. She lives on an isolated farm, with her husband. They live alone, on the mountainside, far from any other houses, with just a few chickens and a little land to cultivate. A tiny path leads to their house. It is so narrow you must place one foot in front of the other. I visited them last week, while walking in the mountains in eastern Nepal. I was with Andrew, the planter from Guranse who shares my love of long walks. She made us tea while we talked with her husband. She brought us the tea in a metal goblet and threw a handful of cereal into a small, separate bowl. We poured the milky tea, which was quite peppery, over the cereal, and ate. We drank the remaining tea. We talked for a long time with her and her husband, on their doorstep, beneath a beehive. They talked non-stop. She understood my mediocre Hindi but spoke only in Nepali. Andrew translated for me. When I managed to get a word in, I asked her questions. What was her secret for a long life? Eating healthy food; fresh, home-grown produce. And was not love also the secret of their longevity? She laughed and exchanged a tender, incredibly touching, look with her husband. They married when she was 11. He was 15. They love each other. They have been together more than 80 years. When it was time for us to leave, they took our hands, and they blessed us by placing their hands on our foreheads. And they asked us if, later, when they are no longer there, we could once, just once, think of them.
I never visit a tea plantation without taking a walk around the surrounding villages. It’s a chance to observe how people live, to meet the locals, perhaps to sit on someone’s doorstep and chat. And to be an object of curiosity for groups of children, who are often laughing!
I often travel in the Himalayan region, I’m very fond of those mountains and the people who live there. I have great affection for the Nepalese. I have many friends in Nepal and Darjeeling. I feel at home in these regions. I could live there, have my home there, my friends, my life. Happily, my friends who work in the tea fields are safe, but they are very worried, they are waiting for news of their loved-ones who live in the centre of the country. They fear the worst.
And then there are all those victims who have perished, thousands of people, and the immense pain and sadness of their families. I hope these flags flying in the wind will look after their souls, transport them, embraced and supported by our prayers, that our prayers will give them some warmth… I hope these flags will express our love for those departed souls, flying in the wind.