Peace Corps Writers
Review
 

www.TheLearning Project.com

Mountains Diminish Underfoot:
Journal Entries from Peace Corps Nepal 1982 to 1985
by Maggie Finefrock (Nepal 1982–85)
The Learning Project Press
2002
106 Pages
$ 14.95

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Mountains Diminish Underfoot
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Reviewed by Deborah M. Ball (Niger 1992–94)
 

Read Deborah's review of Maggie Finefrock's Pilgrimage of the Heart also in this issue

“THE TWENTIETH CENTURY SEEMS not yet upon us . . . the paths I walk upon are ancientPrinter friendly version . . . knowledge of farming and survival in this awesome country has been passed down [through the generations] along with stories, dances, ritual and folk beliefs.” Maggie Finefrock invites the reader into Nepali village life through journal entries written during her Peace Corps Volunteer service.
     She conveys the simple ways villagers navigate forces of nature to eke out a living on the mountain cliffs. The reader watches her be continually humbled by the wisdom of children who know the practicalities of this life; how to put on a sari, plant rice, fix a lantern wick, and, prepare a meal over a wood fire.
     Maggie gains perspective comparing Western culture with her new Nepali community. She notes a refreshing cultural difference, “the concept of letting someone else create your entertainment has not yet caught on.” The children amuse her with their antics and creative use of “local technology.” One of her friends, a fourteen year-old “professor of recycling” surprises her by fixing her broken flip-flops through skillfully melting the rubber pieces back together.
     Maggie adventures through Nepal’s remote and undeveloped regions to get to the bank, find out plane schedules and participate in teacher trainings. These provide a window into the characters, trials and surprising joys of life in the mountains. As the author cracks open Nepali culture she also reveals her own interior landscape as she learns to explore and contribute to this community. She describes discovering deeper ways to communicate that do not involve words or knowledge, “I am learning to reach out to people with the person I am rather than with what I know.”
     Through her eyes we look deeper than the villagers’ material poverty and struggle to witness their rich heart and spirit. The reader accompanies Maggie on paths where “the only traffic is an occasional obstinate water buffalo.” We discover how hospitality and community provide a survival net in this rugged terrain. Unknown mountain farmers, “guardian angles,” call out directions as she navigates step passes. During one journey she meets a teacher, Ram Chandra, who leaves a strong impression. Due to disabled legs, he travels through the mountains on the palms of his hands. Indeed, Ram Chandra’s “unique gait, fluid motion and courage” over the mountain trails inspired this reader.
     For Returned Peace Corps Volunteers or Himalayan trekkers, this read evokes nostalgic memories. Moreover, the author assumes a familiarity with village life. As the work stands, she shares snapshots of experiences and insight. The reader is left to extract the overall flow and meaning. Maggie acknowledges these journal excerpts are unedited, but still would have done well to summarize overarching themes of experience and gained wisdom in a prologue or postlude.
     Yet, the reader can not help but admire Maggie’s thoughtful, gentle manner and keen insights as she witnesses wealth “in the abundance of this land, and the smiles . . . of its people.” This work closes with essays by two Nepali students expressing their gratitude to their former teacher. They describe Maggie’s imprint upon their own journeys and hearts stating, “the love she showered on us removed all fear.”
 
Deborah M. Ball, Resident Chaplain at Queens Medical Center in Honolulu, received her Master of Divinity at Union Theological Seminary in New York City, and, Master of Cultural Anthropology at University of Hawai’i. She traveled in Nepal twice, once to trek in the Himalayas and once to practice at a Buddhist Monastery.
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