September 26, 2010

September 26, 2010


I have traveled safely to the other side of the world and am settling in to my room on top of Bel’s home. It’s a week since I left and a world away. The traveling part went smoothly with all flights on time. It’s the sitting on a plane for a grand total of 24 hours that gets me. I’m in the process of shifting my internal time clock twelve hours ahead. I crash early in the evening and then am up in the middle of the night. They say for one hour of time change, it takes a day…so I guess twelve days from now I’ll be set.

It is always a wonderful feeling when my bags come up the conveyor belt at the airport in Kathmandu…and to then walk outside the terminal and see the ‘boys’ from the Tibet Guest house smiling and waving madly at me. I am always so well taken care of at this way station in the Kathmandu valley; it’s another one of those home away from homes I cherish. We’re on the tail end of monsoon season here, so the city was cloudy and cool. Which also meant no mountain views of the mighty Himalayas. The city is so full of intense sights and smells, it triggers an instant recognition of where I am…incense, spices, diesel, smoke, sewage, unwashed bodies…it always gives me a sense of place. I love walking the narrow twisted streets filled with shops and vendors…listening to voices calling out, bells ringing on the small shrines tucked into the most incongruous places, having someone walk up behind me and whisper ‘smoke, hashish, boy?. I sat in the Thanka Brother’s shop surrounded by thankas (beautifully painted images of Buddhist gods and goddesses on canvas) and sipped a cappuccino my first afternoon, catching up on all the news since I last saw them last fall.

On Thursday, Pramod came by the guest house with his motorcycle and took me to his home for lunch. I first met Pramod and his father Ram on my first visit to Kathmandu. They were assisting our group leader and helped us navigate their world. Riding on the back of a motorcycle in busy Kathmandu is always an adventure. I admonished him to please not kill Didi (me). The streets are narrow and crowded with cars, motorcycles, bicycles, buses, trucks, people, dogs and cows. There are no lanes, no traffic lights and no sense of space. The custom is to constantly honk your horn so everyone knows where everyone else is. Motorcycles, in particular, love to cut in and out of traffic, ride on the outside lane or inside gutter or sneak their way between two buses to get to a better place. I just close my eyes and hang on. I was met at his home by his father Ram, his mother, his wife and his sister. And was treated to a delicious Nepali meal. For the record, I do not like Nepali food. I find the spices too hot and struggle to eat when it’s offered. But years ago, Pramod took me to his home village and his mother prepared the most savory and delicious traditional Nepali meal of rice, lentils and vegetable curries I had ever tasted, so I knew I was in for a treat. Luckily, their family also does not like to make the food spicy hot but prefer to savor the natural flavors of each ingredient. His mother made chapatti (a flat bread similar to a tortilla). I watched her as she would roll out the dough, and then spread the top with ghee (clarified butter). She then folded the dough in half, then in half again and re-rolled it out. From there it goes into the hot pan to be browned on both sides. When I ripped off a piece to scoop up some of the mustard greens or chicken curry or potato and beans side dishes, the bread would fall apart in layers it was so flakey. I was in heaven. We sat and visited until his young daughter came home from preschool, so I could meet her…then it was back on the motorcycle for the return trip to the guest house.

I made my way by jeep on Friday to Pokhara. We left the guest house at 5 AM and arrived at Bel’s home around 10:30. It is only 200 kilometers from beginning to end, but the roads are narrow, in poor condition, so it takes that long to wind our way through these foothills of the Himalayas. If I had gone by bus, it would have been an 8 hour ride. I was greeted by a stunning view of the mountains as I neared Pokhara, which I took to be a blessing. I was also greeted by Bel’s son Anil, who came running out of the house to give me a big ol’ hug. The family says he’s been asking where I was every day since I left last December. He’d been sick recently and had lost a lot of weight. Something that I’m finding in many of the folks I’m seeing. A virus swept through recently knocking everyone to their knees. I haven’t met a single person who wasn’t affected. One by one, the entire extended family made their way to the house to say hello. While I was gone this past year, I had Bel arranged a re-model on my ‘bathroom’. I am now pleased to report I have a Western style toilet that I can sit down on. No more squatting over a hole in the floor. We also put in an automatic water heating system and a shower head…so I’ll be able to take a hot shower each morning. I just flip a switch and in 30 minutes the water is hot. Yahoo!

Friday evening, relatives of Bel’s second oldest daughter Babita’s husband came by to negotiate a formal marriage ceremony for this already married couple. This is part of their tradition. The first ceremony is conducted by a Pujari, who blesses the union. This happened two years ago. This second ceremony is for family to come and put blessings on the couple. I sat in another room with the women as the men negotiated what needed to happen. I teased Bel that he should be asking for many cows, sheep and horses for such a fine daughter. If all goes well, the ceremony will take place in one month. Babita’s husband is in the Nepali army and is in training in Kathmandu. This ceremony will all depend on his getting leave and they need to consult an astronomer to find the most auspicious date. Babita had a baby who is now 6 months old. She’s beautiful. And Durga, Bel’s oldest daughter is about 7 month pregnant…so I think there will be a new baby while I am here. So many changes since when I first started coming here 13 years ago.

Today I’m heading to the Tibetan camp for the first time to see Pau Rhichoe, Pau Nyima and Wangchuk’s son Trinley. I can’t wait!

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