'She never got over us parting... she'd wait by the road hoping I'd come along'
Exclusive: Day 2 in our amazing story of a Bangor man who tracked down long lost mum to a shack in Nepal
Local musician John Hodge has been overwhelmed by the response from the Northern Ireland public to his moving story in yesterday's Belfast Telegraph about his search for his long-lost mum in Nepal.
John's emotional reunion with his mother after 30 years in a remote village in the earthquake-hit country last month led to dozens of our readers yesterday backing an appeal fund launched by the Bangor man to raise money to build his mum a new home.
John found her living in terrible poverty in Nepal, where she had returned when he was just six years old after her marriage to his dad broke down in Northern Ireland.
He had never seen or heard from her since and didn't know if she was alive or where she might be when he travelled to Nepal last month to find her.
John was devastated to discover that she had missed him so much over the years that it had affected her mental health, and she often stood on the roadside waiting for her son to come to her.
She was living in a shack with no walls and no home comforts on a river bank.
Belfast Telegraph readers took mother and son to their hearts and donated £1,000-plus within hours of John's story appearing in yesterday's paper.
Stunned by the response, John said: "I'm absolutely overwhelmed. I didn't expect it. The phone has gone crazy and people I don't even know have gone onto the website to donate money to help build mum a house.
"I'm sure she would be very happy to know so many people care for her and it has really encouraged us as we plan events to raise money for her new home."
It was when he became a father a couple of years ago and realised how much his two young children meant to him that John felt compelled to begin the search for his long-lost mum.
He lost contact with her 29 years ago, aged just six, and as he grew up he never stopping thinking about her.
It was only last month that John and his wife Emma decided to fly to Nepal to try to find her.
They left on April 17 with little more than the name of the village she had grown up in and unsure of whether they had any hope of finding her or even if she was still alive.
Not only were mother and son reunited, but John returned home to launch his fundraising campaign after being shocked to find her living in dire poverty.
John (35) and his wife Emma (34) live in Bangor with their two children Regine (3) and Danny (23 months).
He recalls what he remembers of his childhood and how over the years his mum - Maile Limbuni, now 57 - never left his mind: "Dad was working in Nepal when he met mum and they married and had me and settled in Carrickfergus.
"Mum left when I was six and went back to Nepal because the relationship had broken down.
"I have bits and pieces of memories here and there. I remember her walking me to school and I remember one day she burnt her skirt on an electric fire.
"After she left I would have daydreamed about her, especially at school. When people talked about their mums it hit home because I had no real point of reference.
"I always thought about her and wondered where she was. When I had my own kids it really triggered it in me, and it was Emma who encouraged me and supported me in trying to find my mum."
The couple booked their trip last year and left on April 17 with no idea how they were going to find John's mother.
Fortunately, thanks to a bizarre coincidence, they didn't even have to start looking as unknown to them, their search had already been carried out for them.
An ex-Gurkha, Kul Limbu, who ran the hotel they had booked had been in contact with the couple through email after they asked if he could arrange for an interpreter while they were in Nepal.
John explained in his email that he was looking for his mum and gave Kul her name and the name of the village he believed she may have returned to.
It was while inquiring in the local school if someone would be happy to serve as an interpreter to the couple that, incredibly, Kul found himself talking to a relative of John's mum.
The headmaster was married to John's aunt and was able to not only to tell them exactly where his mum was living, but before her son arrived had told her he was coming to visit after almost 30 years.
John found his mum living with poor mental health, believed to have been brought on by the strain of missing her only child.
His family in Nepal told him she spent many days standing on the roadside waiting for him to come to her.
She was also living in a makeshift home on a riverbank which had no walls, no running water, no electricity and no home comforts.
John immediately took his mum to his hotel where she stayed with him and her daughter-in-law for a week.
Those precious days together have rekindled the bond which never left mother and son right through the decades.
And in another heart-warming coincidence, John discovered his visit coincided with Nepalese Mother's Day - the first he had ever got to spend with his mum that he can remember.
He said: "It was a wonderful week getting to know mum again. At first she was overwhelmed and a bit quiet, but as the week went on she really changed and came out of herself and was joking with us, and her English started to come back to her.
"Her mental health was not that good and her sister had been looking after her.
"They told me at the end of the week that they could see a big change in her for the better.
"While she was with us, I looked online to see if there were any festivals or anything on that we could do together and that's when I discovered it was Nepalese Mother's Day on our last day.
"I couldn't believe it. It was a massive coincidence and it would be the first time in 29 years I was with my mum on Mother's Day and the first for her on Nepalese Mother's Day to have her son.
"I asked Kul if he would help me and advise me on how to observe Mother's Day properly in Nepal.
"He was great and explained that I was meant to prepare her favourite meal and then literally feed her one bite as a gesture of gratitude for her feeding me as a child.
"Then I was to get on my hands and knees while she touched her forehead with her foot and then I was to go and buy a gift for her.
"After giving her the present I was then to get on my hands and knees again while she touched her forehead to her knees.
"I maybe cheated a bit in that I got the hotel to prepare her meal, but I did everything Kul told me. All the time I was doing it, I was thinking about the 29 Mother's Days that I had missed.
"She was very happy the whole time, it was very special."
The only cloud in a week that ended years of torment for John and his mum was discovering just how impoverished she was.
Still very much overjoyed by finding her again, John is now worried about her living conditions and is determined to do something to improve them.
As soon as he returned home on April 22 he launched an appeal fund to raise £7,500 which he estimates it will take to build her a new home.
With the help of his new friend Kul from the hotel, he is pricing land and building costs and looking at the best way to build her a home and hire a contractor.
He hopes his band The Big Kahuna will host a charity night in Belfast in August to raise most of the cash needed and family and friends have also rallied in support to come up with ideas for raising funds.
He said: "She is living on the riverbank, which puts her at real risk during monsoon season.
"In fact, for three months of the year she is cut off from the main road. I want to get a safer place for her to live. She has no clean water, no blankets, no power and no walls.
"There were bamboo sticks holding up a roof which was not very safe looking and made from corrugated metal. The floor was just mud.
"It was terrible and it has hit me very hard. Emma's family and my own have already started to think of ways to raise money and I hope to confirm a date for a charity concert in August - and we also hope to hold a raffle."
It is John's hope that the money will be raised before he goes back to see his mum in the quake-ravaged country in November, a trip he has already booked.
Growing up in a rural village in Nepal, his mum never went to school and is illiterate.
Her son's concern now is that she will live in fear that she won't see him again.
He has managed to find a relative who has a Facebook account and is able to convey messages to his mum through him.
He says: "Using broken English and broken Nepalese I have been communicating with relatives and getting them to explain to her what we are hoping to do and ask her opinion and what would be okay and what would make her happy.
"I also want her to know that I am coming back out again and that she will see me again.
"I got a message from my relative in Nepal saying that my mum misses me and I asked him again to remind her I am coming back and to stay strong for me."
John also faced the fear that just as he had found his mum that there was a chance she was in danger after the earthquake struck Nepal just three days after he returned to Northern Ireland.
He spent an anxious week waiting for word from the region unable to contact anyone and now that his Facebook relationship has been established, it was only on Monday of this week that he found out for sure that his mum and her family were safe.
"It has been a terrible week or more not knowing if they were affected by the earthquake or not," he said. "I was able to contact some people but nobody had been in direct contact with my mum and so they couldn't say for sure that she was okay. We couldn't believe it when we got home and saw the news. We are hoping that if our appeal raises more than we need, that we will be able to help the earthquake victims and donate any extra money to them."
For more information on John's fund-raising campaign to build a new home for his mum, you can check out his facebook page at m.facebook.com/ahouseformaile or donate at gofundme.com/tn5hh7q