Waiting on a dusty road outside a hospital in Katmandu, little Bishnu listened to her mother.She leaves today for three months in Nepal to reconnect with family.
"I'm going to the bathroom," the woman reassured her. "I'll be right back."
After she walked away and around a corner, the 4-year-old waited. And waited.
"She never came back," the adult Bishnu now says. "That's the last time I saw her."
* * *
With no sign of her parents, authorities allowed her to be adopted by two American missionary doctors, a married couple in their 50s teaching at a college. They decided she would be best educated at boarding school, especially to instruct her in English. First, she attended the same school in Katmandu as the daughters of the king and queen.
But in time, her adoptive parents decided to relocate to medical missions elsewhere. So for three years, Bishnu attended a boarding school in India, a time she recalls as dreadful, confusing and crowded.
From there, her adoptive parents took her to their home in Pennsylvania. There, though, she would attend other boarding schools, which she recalls only for their strictness. She readily recalls few heartfelt moments with her adoptive parents, who took care of her needs but offered little warmth.
Still, they eagerly took her on a trip in 1967, when she was about 13. They had been summoned to Washington, D.C., by King Mahendra and Queen Ratna, for whom the missionary doctors had provided medical care in Katmandu. The royal couple would be visiting President Lyndon Johnson and Lady Bird Johnson, and they wanted to see Bishnu.
"I felt so special," Bishnu remembered. "I was the only child there.
* * *
Safe to say, that was the high point of her teen years - in part because the rest seemed so low. She realizes boarding school affords privileged education. But for her, it meant great loneliness - and, as with almost her entire life, no attachment to family.
Still, she endured prep school, then went to a music college. She focused on her voice - the same voice that delighted the Katmandu hospital when she was wee - but couldn't seem to stick with the regimen. More and more, she felt a pull to wander, on a search she didn't quite understand.
* * *
Bishnu has been working as a day-care assistant and living in Peoria with a friend. Still, though settled down, she retains an unsettled feeling from her earliest days.
From that, a couple of years ago she began to search the Internet for information about her family and hometown. The effort long languished, as much of Nepalese peasant country remains unplugged.
But a breakthrough happened after she discovered Nepal Orphans Home, not-for-profit based in North Carolina that aids impoverished children in and around Katmandu. Despite meager income, Bishnu began to send donations to the group.
"I just became so energized," she said. "I admire the work."
She began trading emails with the group's director, Michael Hess. He and others there offered to help find information about Bishnu's past.
The first bit of info came as a delight. Though her mother's name remains unknown, she learned her father's name - Amar Bahadur Chetri - and thus discovered her surname.
"I found out my last name!" she says, grinning. "I didn't even know my name.
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