A Classful of Gods and Goddesses

Ruth Higbie age 58 volunteered to teach in the Peace Corps. After joining a group of volunteers training for Nepal, she was selected to teach science at Ajad High School in the Newar village of Banepa, which is about 15 miles east of Kathmandu. She taught at Ajad for two years, 1969-71 and later wrote a wonderful book describing her experiences, A Classful of Gods & Goddesses in Nepal. The title was chosen because many of her students were named after Hindu gods and goddesses. I read this book many years ago and it made a deep impression and I reread it this year in preparation for my recent trip to Nepal and Tibet.

The two best students in the science classes were Yegya Bahadur Thapa and Janak Bahadur Thapa, who are first cousins. They are Chetri, the warrior caste, and lived in the mountain village of Wopi, several miles up a dirt road from Banepa. In one chapter in the book, Ruth describes going to Wopi for dinner at Yegya’s home.

Kalpana, Yegra and his wife
Kalpana, Yegra and his wife

Being in Kathmandu, I decided to go to the village of Wopi and see if I could meet Yegya and Janak or at least find out what had happened to them in the almost 45 years since Ruth taught them science. With a driver and guide, we headed out of Kathmandu to Banepa and my guide, Kumar inquired as to which road leads to Wopi. Nearing the ridge line, we reached Wopi and it took only one stop to learn that Yegra and Janak now live in Banepa. We were told that it would not be difficult to find Yegra’s home. All we had to do was ask for the home of the colonel, as he was retired from the Nepalese military.

Yegra and Granddaughter
Yegra and Granddaughter

Back down the hill to Banepa, we found Yegra’s family home, a five-story vertical home. Once my guide explained who we were, we were invited in and taken up to the fifth floor. On the way up, we stopped on the third floor to meet Yegra’s wife, daughter (Kalpana), and new granddaughter. Yegra asked his daughter to have some food prepared for us and called Janak to come over. Kalpana joined us for part of our visit. The next two hours were a love feast.

Yegra and Janak said that if it were not for “Ruth Madame” they would still be in Wopi. They also told me that Ruth sent them $60 a month while they were studying in college in Kathmandu, which helped make it all possible. Yegra, now age 60, had a career in the Nepal Army and Janak, now age 61, had a career as an accountant in the Agricultural Development Bank of Nepal. Yegra and family moved to Banepa about 15 years ago. His family home in Wopi was destroyed in the April 2015 earthquake. Janak has a son with a green card who is studying management in Boston.


Emil Sunley

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