Before Pow!Science! there was Nepal and the Peace Corp... In Remembrance of Eric Bulmer is from the December 2018 Issue of Friends of Nepal - a newsletter covering the Peace Corp.
It didn’t hurt that he was cute and funny and very intelligent, but what Hema first noticed about Eric was his bandana.
“He had it tied around the end of his boot, to bind his sole to the upper part of his shoe,” Hema recalled. “I just kept wondering about this American guy who has shoes with big hole.”
The state of his shoes comes as no surprise to anyone who knew him. Eric — who had extended his Peace Corps assignment into a third year (1994-1997) — was innovative, stingy and had every intention of hiking in those boots until they turned to dust. Hema, who was working as a researcher for a Fulbright scholar in a village called Jhin near Beni, Magdi at the time, quickly saw past the boots.
After spending two years teaching science and later training other science teachers in the Pokhara area, Eric had integrated into Nepali society more thoroughly than most PCVs ever do. His Nepali language skills—speaking, reading and writing—were exceptional and he was adored by the Peace Corps staff, his fellow volunteers and all his Nepali counterparts/ trainees. Truly, Nepal was his home. So much so that he was perfectly comfortable courting a beautiful Nepali woman he met during his travels.
From time to time Eric would ‘happen’ to pass through Hema’s village and they’d share a meal, or spend an afternoon together hanging out. On one such chance visit Eric told her he was soon heading to Mustang to see a friend, prompting Hema to advise him to try one of the delicious varieties of apples known to grow there.
“A couple weeks later he shows up in my village with a sack of apples,” Hema said. “Mind you, stopping by my village while traveling from Mustang to Beni (already an eight- or nine-hour hike) added an extra four hours to his trip! That’s when I knew for sure that he liked me, and I decided that I should share my feelings with him as well.”
About a year later, after having exhausted all his options to extend his visa and remain in Nepal, Eric married Hema and they headed back to Eric’s home state of Rhode Island. It was there, if not before, that Eric’s true colors shined through to Hema. He was always there for her—as her teacher, protector, cultural guide, best friend, and family. Think culture shock is hard as an American coming back to the States after your PC service? It was probably 10 times worse for Hema.
“It was all so amazing, and so shocking,” Hema said. “Oddly, it was the little things that I was most nervous about—like eating. I had heard that Americans don’t eat bhaat in the morning. ‘What will I eat?!’ I thought. At every turn, there was something mind-blowing to see. One day in Stop-and-Shop I felt Eric lightly touch my shoulder and whisper ‘hernu hudaina’—you should not stare—interrupting my trance. Apparently I was gawking at a really large woman! He had assumed that I was looking at the two gallons of ice cream in her cart, silently judging her. But that was not it—I just had never seen such a big person before. Not once, in all the time that I have known Eric and especially in those early years, did he let me down. He was so supportive and encouraged me to use my intellect, and to venture outside of my comfort zone.”
After a few years in Rhode Island teaching high school biology, Eric parlayed his education and experience into a business. Through Pow! Science! Eric shared his love of science to thousands of Rhode Island children at birthday parties, libraries, community centers and schools. His fun-loving reputation and engaging experiments grew so fast, and so broadly, that Eric and Hema opened a science themed toy store…and then another. And ten they outgrew their space…and then begin selling their unique products online. Today, their toys are shipped nationwide.
Pow! Science! will persist. In fact just today the mail carrier walked into the store and made a good-natured joke to Hema about only having one duffel bag of toys to ship—in the next few weeks this single bag will turn into four or five. Hema continues this American-Nepali-Rhode-Island legacy, which she and Eric began together, keeping Eric’s memory and spirit alive. And Khatima, their sage 14-year old daughter who so impressed Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo that she was selected to be Rhode Island’s “Governor for a Day,” continues to carry her father’s mischievous and aspirational twinkle in her eyes.
As an RPCV, a friend, and a resident of the Rhode Island community where the Bulmers live and work, I know firsthand how much Eric is missed and feel the void he has left here. He was taken from us too soon; there was so much more he wanted to accomplish, and give. But, he made good use of his time on Earth; the impact he had on those around him was tremendous.
Looking down upon Hema and Khatima every day is Eric’s likeness on the ceiling of their Pow! Science! store in Wakefield, Rhode Island, adorned in his Captain America suit, providing a constant reminder of a life well-lived and a love that will never end.
By Aaron Rome, N-172