Conversations in Kathmandu

Today began wonderfully, with the sound of rain pattering upon the cement, brick and grass outside my window. Its sound let me drift, slowly and heavily, making the bed feel especially warm and comforting. Soon, though, I woke up because I finally caught that most-despised gastrointestinal problem travelers often face. That led to an interesting morning, involving drinking 1 oz water mixed with “bovine (cow) colostrum, egg solids, silicon dioxide, and vanilla flavor” plus rehydration salts which taste so terrible… But I was kind of proud, in a way, to have made it to Nepal in order to have such a travelers’ illness.

By the time I was feeling better it was drop-off time: Patty, Dorjee and Rinzi had all of us students pile into a bus toward Kathmandu. We had lunch as a group, using our hands as utensils (as Amala says, using your hand makes the food taste better) then walked over to Durbar Square. There, we were given a map, 30 Rupees (approx. 30 cents USD) and told to explore and answer various questions as posed to us via a slip of paper. Avoiding the trinket-sellers and would-be guides, we walked into the area, our eyes wide and our steps hesitant. I found myself walking toward an entryway, a sign nearby stating “Kumari Ghar.”

Walking through the doorway, the sound simply melted away. It was loud with the voices of peddlers, tourists and locals, but suddenly that noise was gone. I could smell a new layer of paint on the banisters, which were a deep red-brown color. The room made way to an open space in the middle, a sacred area in which carved deities sat proudly.

I saw a young man sitting nearby and walked over to him with Allie. We asked him if he’d mind answering a few questions and he said that he wouldn’t. His name was Bissu Takuri, and he was quiet, with an engaging smile which reached his eyes. Through our conversation we discovered that Kumari is the “fortune goddess” to Hindus, and we were in a place for prayers.

Walking to the right outside of Kumari Ghar we saw an enormous white marble building which was crumbling, huge cracks appearing along the walls with some bars against the wall to keep it standing. Scaffolding laced the edges of the building. It was breathtakingly beautiful, with green moss startling the eye against the blue-white walls with gaping blue doorways… to learn more, we began to talk with an old man sitting by the curb, looking up at the building. His name was Salik Ram and he spoke like he had everything to say to us. “Destroyed by earthquake, it was a palace…” he told us, pointing at the building. We asked him what he was doing there, if he was praying. “I have not to pray!” he exclaimed, “I have done everything in my life. I have come to rest.” We found that he’d been a political science professor and a journalist as well; his children are in the US studying or living. He spoke highly of America and said he’d spent 15 years there. Finally he told us that he had advice for us, which he’d learned from his long life: “Life is for you to enjoy,” he spoke, looking into each of our eyes. “Money is not everything. Love is everything.”

We walked on, and met a woman hawking her goods on the main street in the Square. Instead of ignoring her, I asked when she’d started selling. “Eight years ago,” she told me, smiling shyly. I asked why she’d started working the shop and she laughed, pointing at a man behind the table; “Because I married him!” Everyone laughed and another student asked a few questions, and Julia got a photo of the woman, named Vina Karki and her 9 month old baby, Sohara. We spent more time talking, and then walked on, saying goodbye to their smiles.

When we were ready to leave, we asked the ticket clerk for the Square where the nearest minibus stop was. He pointed us in a general direction; after many minutes and more asking people, we found the stop. We called, “Boudha?” to each bus, and were pointed further and further away. Finally we found a bus headed to Boudha but there looked to be no room, and there were 6 of us. The young man taking bus fare wasn’t fazed, though, and hurriedly waved us into the bus. We stuffed ourselves in and I found myself sitting haphazardly across Julia and Jennifer’s laps.microbus-ride-to-boudha All of us were laughing at the tight situation, and one man sitting in an actual seat laughed with us. As the bus started forward one of us began to talk with him. Soon, he was telling us about his work with NGOs in land sustainability and local farming north of Kathmandu. I cannot express the ease of meeting incredible people here in Nepal; the more I speak with people, the more I am stunned. As the bus ride came to an end, I asked if he’d receive volunteers for a study project. He gave each of us his business card and told us to connect with him if we wanted to volunteer; then we parted ways.

Lessons from today: speak to people. We are social beings and, for the most part, simply looking for connection.

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