Tuesday, May 3, 2011

April 8-13: Alone in Kathmandu

When I bought my amethyst ring in LP Ian teased me “Becoming Bonnie?!” Now that I’m here I really feel like Bonnie – checking up on everyone and where the money is going.

Ian meanwhile is diving in Thailand on a three night live-aboard cruise.  He will join me here in a week.  
On Sat a.m. I walked up to Arubari. Pleasant surprise – the road from Boudha is laid with flagstones, very nice. There’s only a small piece of rough road left. But it still takes about 30 minutes to get to CH.    
I met Sabina and Sujan on the road. They were on their way to his school to get his final marks for the term. Sujan is 11 now, seems tiny to me and is missing his front teeth. But he still has a radiant smile.
CH was almost empty. Most of the didi’s took a long day trip to visit a temple and many of the children were away at their families for school break.
I saw a few of the children – the ‘bad boys, 15 – 16 year olds  - Padam, Damodar, Raju.
Kabita with the dimples. I reminded her of when she played ‘sano hati’ in the Just Like I Am play. Her face lit up! Kalpana, still on guard and fearful. Rabita, Anju, Bimala, Sunita, Ritika.  
Binita walked me over to Krishna’a house. When they opened the door and saw me it was as though Lord Krishna himself was appearing to them. A very, very warm welcome.
Krishna is a star – first in his class for grades 6 and 7. He won a national poetry competition. I’m relieved to be able to tell Doug that he’s ‘backing a winner. I tried to focus on Kabita too. She’s 4th in her class.   
Arjun and I met with Sajan and Sabina to encourage him to pull up his socks. He’s leaning toward the ‘bad side’, hanging around with the tough kids on the street. We’re in a dilemma about whether or not to continue supporting him.     
One day walking back down the road to Boudha I saw a dog, one of many. This poor fellow was inching forward on his belly (probably a broken back). He’d put one front paw forward a couple of inches and then bring the other one forward. His hind legs dragged along the pavement behind him. He was a medium size dog, looked well fed and didn’t seem to be in pain. He kept his big handsome head up; was stoic and persevering. My heart was breaking. Of course, being where I was (monks and stupas as far as the eye could see) I couldn’t help but think of Karma. I’ll never forget the image of him crawling across the road one paw length at a time.    
Many of the same beggars are here. The chubby, legless, smiling man in the wheelchair; the contracted wry neck man who moves in a jerky squat; the blind leper wrapped in rags; the young monk who sits cross-legged rocking from side to side reciting prayers and chants.     
Marsang and I went to VFS together. The visa process seems straightforward. The VFS woman was helpful and told Marsang to use the computer in the office. The idea that we would sponsor her seemed ordinary and usual. I was relieved.    
I’ve bought a lot of stuff to sell at home – silk, fine wool, cashmere, felted wool stuff. I hope friends at home are in the mood to shop! 
I’m staying at a Tibetan hotel in a Tibetan neighbourhood in the stupa enclosure. I’m sitting on my bed, door open, prayer flags fluttering from every rooftop. All those prayers going to the gods and still most Nepalis are impoverished and the Tibetans are in exile.       
Tibetans seem to like dogs. The building across from me has balconies and there are two lovely pooches that I like to watch. One has a reddish bristly coat and short fiddle legs. His legs look too small for him and his voice gives it away. He really is a big dog in a small body. He has a deep, chesty bark. The other dog is a white long-haired pretty thing!     
April 13: New Year’s Eve        
Walking around the stupa dusk to dark. Everyone keeps up a good pace – an odd combination of tranquility and purposefulness. The sounds: children’s playground noises, a successful cocktail party, chanting, talking in tongues, clanging bells, crashing cymbals, pounding drums, blaring horns. Oddly, amidst the reverence, the roar of the garbage truck and the urgent TWEET, TWEET, TWEET of the rubbish collector’s whistle.   
Someone hands me a candle and I go round and round trying to be meditative and calm but being stimulated by everything. I notice things about the stupa that I’ve never noticed before. Small niches in the wall (about the size of a very generous piece of pie), inside each niche a very ancient-looking Buddha image. People put candles inside the niches – one, two, three, even four candles. Candles everywhere on the stupa, high and low. A small shrine in the side of the stupa about six feet square, monks spilling out of it chanting, clanging, crashing, blaring.     
What do the Tibetans-in-exile wish for on a new year’s eve? This week two young Tibetan men – sons of men who came here as children in the 50’s and 60’s – spoke to me about their homelessness, statelessness. Unable to leave here but unable to feel at home in the place where they were born.
Pacing round and round the stupa I remember the undeniable blessing of the life I have this time around.   
The chaos of the old market area of Kathmandu:
Narrow streets, no sidewalks, shops opening onto and spilling out to the streets. Copper, brass, stainless steel, saris, shoes, shawls, flutes, icons, brassieres – all of it pushing out toward you. And shoppers, hawkers, gawkers, rickshaws, motorcycles and the odd car pushing, pushing.     
And in the midst of it all, a road crew repairing the huge holes in the road. First shoveling rock out of the back of a truck that is almost completely blocking the already narrow road.  The rock goes into rickety wheelbarrows with flat tires and gets wheeled to the holes. Then dribbling hot, black, sticky, liquid tar from paint cans with holes punched in the bottoms onto the rocks. Then laying black chunky stuff (asphalt?) over the sticky tar. Finally rolling over it with a hand roller to press it flat. By the time the last step is done the new parts have cigarette butts, pink binding tape, wrappers of all sorts, paan spittle and marigold petals pressed into them. I thought, ‘Why not close the road for a couple of hours?’ Sure enough at the top of the street there was a metal barricade and two fresh-faced young ‘officers’ in some kind of uniform all intended to close the street and all being pushed aside and ignored. Vendors and buyers rule!      
I went shopping with Marsang to buy saris for her mom and grandmom. Both sari shops were about the size of a queen size bed. I sat silently while I watched the sari seller unfurl at least a dozen saris. As the saris unfurled,  noxious gasoline-like fumes filled the small space. The seller was up to his knees in saris. Much chit chat back and forth and then Marsang gave a slight jerk of her head and walked out.     
The ritual was repeated at the next place. The sari seller was my age and the only word Marsang spoke that I got was ‘uncle’. Much comparing, discussing, bargaining and calculating and finally consensus. I paid and as we left I thought I was the only one who was satisfied. Marsang thought I should have paid less and uncle thought I should have paid more. I was just happy it was over.

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