Occasionally, we ask those who have served on a team to Nepal to reflect on their experience. Here is a taste of what a Service Team is like.
Yesterday we freed a slave.
Yes, you read that correctly: an actual slave with an actual master and a price, was just freed in the year 2010. This is the story.
Slavery in Nepal was outlawed by the king ten years ago. But today, many Nepali men and their families have fallen back into slavery and cannot escape for fear of retaliation from their master. I do not understand how it all works, but that’s just the way it is here. So these people are bound to work for their master until whatever debt they have is paid off. It can takes anywhere from a few years to an entire lifetime.
Just a couple days ago, a local teacher who knows our host learned of a slave in the area (about an hour’s drive away.) Our teacher friend investigated the details and told us that the slave is a 42-year-old man named P. He has a wife and three children and has a debt of 20,000 Nepali rupees ($280). P told our teacher friend that he is tired of being a kamaiya (slave) and that he does not have the strength to keep working. You see, this man has been a slave all his life and he was making so little money that it would have been years before he was free.
Yesterday, we drove out to the teacher’s house which is very close to the slave owner’s house. My dad and I had to wait with the teacher because if the slave owner saw that white people were the buyers, he would have jacked the price way up. So we waited. Marian said he would call us when the transaction was finalized so that we could witness the actual event. (By then the price would already be agreed upon.) So we waited with the teacher while our Nepali and Indian team negotiated the final price to buy P his freedom.
After about an hour of waiting impatiently (I started a water balloon fight with the local kids), we finally got the call. Our driver was there in a moment and whisked us to the site of the transaction. A crowd had gathered to witness the transaction. My father and I walked past people sitting on their tractors and elbowed our way through the crowd. Everyone involved was sitting on a circle of benches under a roof that was supported by pillars of wood. There was myself, my father, Marian, our host, two local leaders, our driver, P the slave, P’s family, the slave owner, and the brother of the slave owner. The sun was blinding outside, giving those of us under the protection of the roof was something to appreciate. It also added an almost surreal atmosphere to the events taking place.
When we arrived, our host was just finishing handwriting the official bill of sale. Everyone gathered was staring at my father and I. P and his family were silent and humble, not even raising there eyes to my father, the man who was about to set them free.
Then our host rose, and in a loud imperious voice, read the bill of sale to all gathered in Nepali. Finding it to their satisfaction, the slave owner and his brother and the local leader all signed the document. (The brother and leader were the two official witnesses.) And finally, P, the man who had been a slave his entire life, signed the document that gave him his freedom. My father and Marian pulled out 20,000 Nepali rupees and handed them to P who then handed them to his former master. The deed was done. He was a free man.
We left the crowd shortly thereafter, slightly dazed from the events that took place. My dad now has the original bill of sale of one of the last slaves in Nepal.