It is Day 4 in Nepal.
I have written every day in my journal but have had a hard time putting together something coherent for a blog.
I feel a conflict as these two worlds mix in me…a titanic clash of mind as I’ve landed here. At first, I thought it was merely jet lag, but it feels like it’s taking longer this time. I go to bed shortly after dark and wake between 2 and 4am every day. I am up on the top floor, where there is no wireless and a beautiful rooftop to do Taichi, but if I descend, the hotel is dark and cold. The Nepali guys who work here sleep on the floor downstairs and I don’t want to bother them, though I want more than anything to have some hot water for a tea to sip while I write.
It was exhilarating when I first got here, knowing that I was about to see old friends. Mahesh Kumar Budah picked us up at the airport and lots of hugs ensued. Mahesh is a friend of Andrew Schlabach (our director) and in this capacity, helps with the Acupuncture Relief Project (ARP). He runs a trekking business here in Kathmandu and designs a huge range of trips for Westerners. On our second day here, when Jessie and I took a morning jaunt to the Monkey Temple and got lost in Thamel (the neighborhood where we are in Kathmandu), we serendipitously ran into Mahesh on his way to work. In the spirit of Nepali hospitality, he took us for a coffee and then walked us halfway back to the hotel to make sure we were okay.
My conversations with Mahesh have gone from his experiences on his treks to Buddhism to how we can be the best parents possible to our children. He has been helping me to pick up volunteers from the airport and I look forward to each excursion, knowing that it means another conversation with him. It also means that I feel very safe here (Mom, this is for you, ha!). In the haze of arrival and jet lag, I view him as an angel. I have no doubt I will see him in a relatively similar light when my head becomes clear.
The hotel is run by Asta Buddhachara who is a delight to see every day. He is full of laughter and great information about where to go for a meal or any item we might need to buy before we transport to the village. The neighborhood of Thamel is hard for me, it’s been one of the things that I have run my energy down with these last few days. I have averaged three hours of sleep each night but still find myself able to build up a barrage of negative self-talk about my ability to get around.
Prior to coming to Nepal in 2015, my range of travel included only Australia and Canada. I have never been to the developing world before and it’s hard for me to see the details necessary to find my way. Even as I type this, I can feel my eyes welling up a bit because it makes me feel inadequate already, at the beginning of this trip. It seems so easy and intuitive for all of these people who have travelled to South America, India and Asia many times before.
I feel that I cannot see what these others see and that I am so easily lost. Is this symbolic of the way I wander through life? I walk past intersections where I should turn, I do not recognize basic things like bookstores until they are pointed out to me. Last night was the worst of it and it kept me tossing in bed for quite a while.
Ritesh Maharjan is the interpreter lead for our Bajrabarahi clinic. He calls me sister and this is true. I love him like one of my brothers and when we saw each other for the first time the other day, I hugged him and could not let him go. We had plans yesterday to meet up with the interpreters from our 2015 Camp but it was Ritesh’s birthday and we decided to try and squeeze in a trip to the botanical garden, which is one of his favorite places. This trip required a 30-minute cab ride to the bus depot and a 30-minute bus ride to the gardens, plus a 30 minute walk to get to the garden gate. In retrospect, it was a whole day trip and not something to be done for the morning.
Our group included Ritesh, our Bajra interpreter Milena, myself (three hours of sleep), Jessie (a few more hours of sleep) and Cami Hobbs, who literally arrived to the hotel at midnight from the epic trip from the US. She had gone for 30 hours without sleep. (This is a 16-hour flight to China, then a 5-hour flight to Nepal with layovers and all that other good stuff.)
The bus ride was beautiful, stuffed full of Nepalis young and old, the dashboard with a waving statue of Ganesh glued to it. The gear shift had ample layers of handkerchiefs rubber banded over it, for some reason unknown to me. A young Nepali man hung out of the side door whistling, clicking and yelling at potential passengers and collecting money. I quietly thanked our driver for each successful passing of other motorcycles and cars as we made our way up the hill and through the city.
Vendors on the pathway to the garden sold peanuts and MSG-coated fruits: the sour Chinese plum (called Lihimui in Hawaii, though I do not know it’s name here), small gummy squares coated in black Himalayan salt, dried pineapple and lemon rind and silver bowls with mounds of gooey fruit floating in gelatinous sugar.
We walked to the monastery and watched as people gathered inside the gate. The door to the temple was not open and we took pictures of the beautiful buildings. The monks sat quietly on the side lines of the cameras and children with balloons and I wondered at their experience, their perspective on this, which is something I will never know. I halted my mind from the judgements it wanted to make and shifted back to a curiosity.
Ritesh walked us to a building where water spouted from five or six lions head into a large pool with discarded one-use shampoo packets. Jess asked him if people bathed there. “Of course!” he answered. “This is a large bathtub for many.”
We went into the small building to see a shimmering square of water, filled with fish. Metal bars kept us from going nearby and a cleft in the rock at the corner was covered in the pink powder of Shiva, whose image sat nearby. More children with balloons made their way around the temple while tourists rang the bell next to the God and applied the pink tikka powder to their foreheads.
We found a rooftop where we could get noodles and momos and shared a tea. Satyamohan, one of the interpreters before my time who is now attending the acupuncture school in Kathmandu, walked by and our friends waved him up. We said hi, hugged and he departed as we made our way to the gardens. Ritesh tried to buy our tickets for the Nepali price, but the ticket handler saw us entering and made us come back to pay the extra $570 rupees for admission. Loud Hindi music wafted through the air from picnics in the background but it was not allowed in the garden itself.
The buildings were old colonial style greenhouses and it felt like stepping back an entire century. Unlike the rest of Kathmandu, the garbage had been picked up in the gardens. Though we went during the Winter, it was still quite beautiful. We visited the cactus and succulent nursery where a spidery web of cactus fur draped down from a metal pole in the ceiling. Unusual looking crepe paper ferns caught my attention in the next house. We eventually settled near a large greenhouse, closed to the public. Though a missing window at the uppermost section, I could see the rusted ceiling beams, cutting triangles through the greenery. We stretched and talked for a bit and I did a headstand in the grass which two curious children had to come see.
Time was short, our friends were calling us, but I could tell that I was already fading from a lack of sleep and so much travel. The other Westerners in our group, who were back at the hotel, were going to make their way to the large Bouda Stupa to meet our previous interpreters for a meal. I knew that the idea of this was more than I could handle and I asked Jessie and Cami who said they wanted to see Bouda and thought they would be ok. By the time we took the bus back and squeezed ourselves into the tiniest cab, the traffic to Bouda was unbearable. A Nepali song played on the radio over and over, “Sani-bar, Sani-bar, Saniiiiii-bar!” it exclaimed: Saturday, Saturday, Saturday. It went on and on for the forty minutes we spent in the cab. Jessie gasped at a pothole that she didn’t think our overloaded cab would make it through and I crossed my fingers and held more tightly to the young Melina, who was sitting on my lap. Cami’s eyes grew redder from the dust and she took turns leaning forward into numb feet and then back into the seatbelt that gouged her lower back so that her circulation could return.
We finally made it to the stupa, but I no longer had the blood sugar to hug and celebrate my old friends the way I wanted to. They rearranged the table for us and I ordered a dal bhat. When it came, I poured the dal over the rice, mixed everything together and didn’t come up for air until there was barely any left. By the time we got in the cab, I felt very sleepy, a little grumpy and mad at myself for doing more than I knew that I could do.
Cabs in Nepal are always precarious, but the cab that the three of us rode in seemed exceptionally so. Our driver continually passed the other cabs by making risky moves into the right lane and was clearly not afraid to hit pedestrians, one of whom only made it by jumping out of his way. I saw the Garden of Dreams to my right and then the cab stopped. The driver turned the engine off and leaned out his door. I was confused, I had no idea where I was…I knew that we could walk to the Garden of Dreams from our hotel, but I hadn’t done it and didn’t know how to get home.
I tried asking him what he was doing but he spoke no English. I didn’t think we were in Thamel, though it was merely due to my delirium with 12 hours of sleep over four days. He pointed to the cab behind us, I walked back and asked about Thamel and finally, the other Westerners in our group saw us and led us home. I felt like I had lost my mind and I was even more upset about not knowing my way around the city better. What would I have done if they hadn’t been there? I carry a compass and a map in my bag and I would have used them, but why is it that nobody else needs to use these things?
I took some herbs and other things before bed and was able to sleep for six hours last night. I woke up and did my Taichi, headstands and stretching for an hour. And then, at 5am, I decided to have a dance party with myself, hoping that I could stop being so mad at me for not knowing where everything in this city is. That felt better. I have spent all of 8 days of my life here and perhaps I don’t need to be so mean to myself about it. I can also work a little harder at it. I know myself and I know that I can. When I signed up for a physics degree, I did so because I was not good at it and I was determined to be. It took me four times longer to finish my Classical Mechanics homework than most of my classmates, but I always got a good grade. Determination and persistence is what works for me, not a magical intuition that will guide me into feeling my way around Kathmandu.
The other morning at breakfast, Mahesh told me about the time that he visited the cave of the Rinpoche. He said that on the left and right sides of the cave you could see the footprints of the Enlightened One, where he had gone mad fighting against his own demons. This morning, in an attempt at more self-love and acceptance, I put some metaphorical footprints on the walls of my room.
Today is a day that I have two airport pickups and not much else. In between these things, I will be studying a map and walking around the city, not for any other reason than to find my way out and back in, and hopefully in the process I will find a little bit more of myself.