Didis and Bahinis

Didi (older sister) and Bahini (younger sister) are two of the first words we learned after we arrived in Nepal.  People tend to refer to each other here by their relationship rather than by name.  Some of the older people we have met aren’t even sure what their name is!

We use the terms didi and bahini mostly in relation to the ladies who work in our homes and gardens.  For me, now, most of the ladies are bahinis – making me feel a bit old!

When we first came to Tansen, we were introduced to a lady who had been working in the homes of other missionaries, and who was now to work for us.  I (Debbie) especially felt very uncomfortable about this – the only people I had known who had a maid were very wealthy and higher class and I wasn’t sure I wanted someone in our home doing the work I thought I should be doing!  I soon learned, however, that life in Nepal was more time consuming than life in the U.S.  Bread couldn’t be bought – it had to be baked.  Flour didn’t come in nice packages – it came in bulk, and had to be cleaned.  Rice was the same.  Laundry didn’t get thrown into the washing machine – it was scrubbed in buckets and rinsed and wrung out by hand, then hung on a line to dry.  Floors weren’t vacuumed (what was a vacuum cleaner, anyway?) they were swept and mopped.  Dishes weren’t put into the dishwasher – they were washed by hand – after boiling the water needed to rinse them.  You get the idea!

Because we relied on our didis and bahinis to not only clean our houses and do our laundry the way we wanted, but also to boil and filter our water, soak our veggies and fruit in iodine solution and to prepare food in a safe manner, we had classes and sessions with the ladies in order to teach them ways we liked things done.  We also sometimes just had fun times with all these ladies who worked so hard for us, and we had some classes where we shared the gospel message.

During the last years here of our previous terms, I was “in charge” of the didis and bahinis.  If someone new came, I would suggest a didi for them.  If someone left, I helped the didi to find new work, if possible, and if not, tried to help encourage them in other ways.  When we left in 2002, they had a lovely farewell party for me with great food and even dancing!

When we returned to Tansen a year and a half ago, there were 3 missionary ladies organizing the didis and bahinis.  They have all left Tansen now to return to their home countries, and so I am once again in charge of these ladies!  Currently we have only 13 ladies who are employed by missionaries to help in homes and gardens.  There are 10 ladies who have been retired who are still living in and around Tansen.  Just for fun, I had a gathering of all the ladies the other day here in our attic.

After 21 ladies gathered here (2 couldn’t come) we had a time with some questions just to get started.  The oldest lady who came thinks she is about 80.  The youngest is 33.  Laxmi is the one with the most children – she had 7.  Ganesh has the most grandchildren with 14.  Our bahini (Sarda) was born the farthest from here – in Assam, India.  Only one lady has worked longer for one family than Sarda (who has been with us for 13.5 years now).  These ladies have seen hundreds of missionaries come through Tansen – and have tried to please all of us!  Considering that we have come from about 20 different countries, that is no small feat!

After chatting some, we played some silly games together for fun.  One game was musical clothes.  I had put a bunch of our clothing items into a bag, and they passed it as the music played.  When the music stopped, they had to remove an article of clothing and put it on.

After playing Musical Clothes!

It is always a challenge to find games that don’t need reading or writing (as not all the ladies can do that) and don’t take much space, and don’t require a detailed explanation in Nepali!  Finally, we all had tea and snacks, and just had more time to visit.  It was a wonderful afternoon.

Out of these 23 ladies, only 7 or 8 are Christian.  Those who are pray together regularly to encourage each other.

We couldn’t do what we do here without these ladies.  I am thankful for them and ask that you would pray that our lives would make them want to learn more about Jesus.  (Sometimes I wonder about this – we don’t have any secrets from these ladies who work in our homes and clean up after us!  They know all our “secrets”)  Thanks for reading – and for your love and support for us here in Tansen!


Four of the retired didis.  The one on the far right is the oldest

Four of the reitred didis. The one on the far right is oldest.



Sarda (our bahini) is on the right

Sarda (our bahini) is on the right.


Laxmi (most children) is on the right

Laxmi (most children) is on the right.


Jibu, the youngest, is on the right

Jibu (the youngest) is on the right.


The whole group together

The whole group together!



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4 responses to “Didis and Bahinis

  1. Margaret Fain

    What a nice story Debbie ! You all are a blessing to each other. I love the game you played, musical clothes. Kids would love that at a Halloween pary. I am glad you are well and everything for the moment seems calm. I pray that it remains so. Love, Aunt Maggie

  2. barbbalsmeyer@cinci.rr.com

    Thanks for sharing about the women you know in Tansen. Women in the US certainly have it a lot easier–cleaning the flour? Oh, my. Their clothes are beautiful. I’m assuming they are “fine” clothes for your party and not what they wear when they do housework.

    Yesterday Dave had a revision to his right hip from the replacement he had in 2000. The liner for the socket needed to be replaced as it was wearing and his body was building up “scar” tissue due to the inflammation of the microscopic pieces. He’s doing great–was up walking yesterday afternoon and after PT today to learn how to do stairs he will be going home. I spent the night here (Christ Hosp, Cinci) and I’m ready to go home, too. We did not get too much sleep d/t care interruptions all night long.

    Thanks for the updates.

    Love and prayers, Barb

  3. Sarah Acland

    Debbie – Has Heather Hough returned to Tansen? I sent her an envelope to bring to Nepal, but I have heard nothing from her and by now I suppose she must be back. I wonder if the envelope ever reached her and if not, what happened to it? I fear it may be lost.

    Sarah Acland 2220 Talbott Avenue Louisville, KY,USA, 40205-2226 1-502 452 1124 Cell: 502 322 5339

  4. Margaret Gould

    Thank you for this news. So good to hear as ever. I think I saw our former Bahini, Phul Kumari, in one of the photos. I have fond memories of so many of those who helped us in our homes in Tansen and I am pleased you had this special get together for them. I remember them well with much affection. Margaret Gould

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