In 1974, Broughton Coburn hiked up to a Gurung village on a ridge at the eastern edge of Syangja District, and introduced himself to the headman. He had been assigned by the Peace Corps to teach at a high school. The headman found lodgings for Coburn with a 70-year-old widow who lived alone with a cat, some chicken, and a water buffalo. ’Aama’ was even more surprised by the sudden appearance of such an unusual lodger, and Coburn eased the transition by helping Aama with her daily chores.
Aama did not have children, and Coburn’s own mother had died three years earlier. A mother-son bond grew between them, and culminated in two books: a photo-portrait of Aama’s life, Nepali Aama: Life Lessons of a Himalayan Woman, and Aama in America: A Pilgrimage of the Heart, the tale of their odyssey in search of the soul of the United States.
Coburn recently revisited Aama’s village of Kolma after 31 years. Aama died in 1991, at age 87. When her only daughter, Sun Maya also died two years ago, he vowed to return to the village and visit descendants four generations on. If Aama were still alive, she would have a new great-great-grandson.