Gwah

I think I ate a piece of wood last week.

I’m not even lying to you.

You see, last weekend (or rather, through out last week) I moved into an apartment complex where my roommate and I are the only single girls, the only women who work and…the only white people. We are something of a novelty. It’s lovely. I have people who stare at me every time I walk into the courtyard. Some of them just stare, some look a bit peeved by my existence, and the old women point when a boy and I carry in equal stuff. We’ve made friends with a ton of children, most of them are refugees from Nepal (the ones who have befriended us).

Their names are:

Pooja
Anjana
Ankita
Purmila
Ta
Yiyi
Kumwe
Loksmee

The other day, two of the girls came by and decided to teach me a hand-game we call “five” or “rocks.” I’m pretty terrible at it, which they find both amusing and frustrating. I’m getting better. Sometimes I even manage to finish the first level!

On Saturday, while playing rocks, the girls handed me something that at first glance looked like a nut. Maybe a walnut or oversized almond. “What is it?” I asked. Pooja grinned, “I don’t know in English. We call it gwah. You chew it.” She showed me one between her own teeth and then handed another to Anjana who also began to munch on the bizarre nut looking thing. So I thought to myself, why not? I poppped that thing in my mouth and it was not a nut.

The Gwah

It tasted sort of like cardboard. I put it back on the right side and kept chewing as Pooja decided she would play rocks for me…I think they were a little worked up over how many times I kept dropping those stupid things. And somewhere around the level where we push the rocks through our fingers (which are on the floor, while tossing another rock into the air and always catching it in between flicking a rock between our splayed knuckles) I actually began to like the gwah. It had a curious feeling on my back teeth and it was sort of helping that oral fixation I have.

And I thought, afterwards, that my teeth felt cleaner. Is this like the ancient Egyptians who used to rub their teeth with sand to clean them? A little piece of wood to clean my teeth and make my mind think I was eating, getting nourishment, even though I was doing nothing of the sort? Is this how people manage in refugee camps that burn to the ground? When they hike through jungles where food is scarce? When they can hardly make ends meet in the land of dreams?

or is it really just a piece of wood and the girls were playing an elaborate trick on me? I don’t think so, because Komala asked me the other day how I could have lost my gwah…I didn’t have the heart to tell her I threw it out; she already seemed pretty disappointed in my lack of stewardship skills…

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