My back aches. I just finished washing my clothes in two separate buckets in the bathroom outside my home here in Boudha, Kathmandu. The process took a little while; first you fill one bucket with water then pour a few handfuls of washing powder into the water; powder my Alama walked me over to the shop across the street to buy, saying “If you ever need things, come here. It’s a good place,” to the shop owner’s modest smile. The shop itself was dark with the incoming dusk, items and people stuffed into a tiny space adjacent to more small shops. The road itself is dusty, with cobblestones mixing with patches of grass and mud from the rain this morning ~ it is monsoon season here in Nepal. Back to washing: after filling the soapy bucket with the clothes, you let it sit for a few minutes and when you come back the water is a dark brown. It’s oddly satisfying to see the muddy water, as if you’ve already accomplished something. Then you must take the clothes out, one at a time, and wash them in the other bucket (full of clean water) and hang them on the handle of the spicket and the knobs. After this, you empty both buckets and fill the larger one with clean water, repeating the soaking and rinsing sequence with each article of clothing and ringing them out well. Afterward you pile the clothes on your arms, upon which goosebumps arise from the chill of the cold clothing, and walk outside to the wire run haphazardly across the back of your home. You hang the clothes, hiding your undergarments on another wire perpendicular to the main one, harder to see.
Then you walk inside and sit down, your back growling at you for your efforts.
Dinner was beyond my wildest expectations, as per usual. But not in a way I can really explain; it has to do with the smell of this home. The nose is embraced by it, touched and loved by it. It smells intrinsically of home, something deeply human. Lentils, partly, and perhaps soap and a bit of incense from the prayer room down the hall from my bedroom. The prayer room itself is wild, with a curtain barely hiding reds and golds and paintings and pictures. My family here is Buddhist and they pray daily, if only for a little while. Om mani peme hum and other mantras. They think of emptiness and the impermanence of the ego, but “we really know nothing, we are laypeople” says my Pala. He is too modest.
These people have found what makes the soul full, what connects all the dots, what is right for here and now.
I am learning the Tibetan alphabet and language for these human beings. Their culture, their passions, all are inherently connected with Tibetan and I am learning it for them and for myself. I did not, though, realize how much it means to learn Tibetan until I began to live here.
My bed is so much more comfortable than I could have hoped; “You slept under the pad,” laughed Amala when she saw my pulled-back sheets. I didn’t understand until she pulled out the large blanket which I’d mistaken for a pillow. “Past students, they tell me the bed is hard,” she says, showing me the original pad, “so I fixed it.”
Kindness is a culture here.
Tomorrow, classes start at the Yantra House, a haven in the middle of the dusty bustling city. There is a rope swing, and many trees with vines growing everywhere and a library. A library!!! I am happy. Surprisingly so because I had expected to be homesick or physically ill from the water and food changes, but instead I am balanced.