We just returned to Hotel Shakti after our first day in Kathmandu. With steady rain, we toured Patan, one of the 3 royal cities of the Kathmandu Valley. We were on the grounds of ancient kings. As we walked and rode through the city, so much caught my attention--so much that contrasted. I noticed the things that seemed to oppose--the monkeys traversing electrical wiring, the green space used for prayer grounds and military parades. I couldn't find how it all went together. How do the shopkeepers patiently rest on the front step of their open door shops untouched by pestering car horns and persistent madness on the streets?
I noticed an older woman, brilliantly clothed and wisely wrinkled. She sat leaned back on a wall of the palace and seemed to be counting. Instead of using her full fingers, she counted each knuckle. How ingenious. Nepali counting system surpasses ours 3 fold with the creases of each digit. I noticed a man carting bananas with a bicycle. He balanced the bananas as if the bike was a pack mule. I picked up a snippet of conversation as Dr. Folmar mused about sharing in impoverished communities. "Maybe it is not so much out of a goodness, but out of a need." I listened as Saman (our awesome and kind tour guide) explained the "Bahals" or community-oriented architecture in which houses were built around a center square along the edge of a monastery. This provided a center to gather and to worship together. Saman spoke of the Nepali "youngsters" and I smiled--a Carolina drawl echoing in my mind. I was touched by how walking friends put an arm around one another or clung to each others' wrists and elbows. Saman taught us the intention of the prayer flags. When you write a prayer, you hang it, resting in the promise that the wind will sweep by and usher your prayer to God. My attention heightened as I learned about the farming in Nepal. Saman explained that it is not commercialized. The traditional methods are still used; Saman said, "farming is a way of living and therefore there is no famine, but there is also no cash." The villages must send their men into the city to work if they want money.
I have talked so little today. I have taken the position of the observer. So little thought has gone towards myself as I must quiet inner thoughts in order to take in such a bustling world. Early on, I stopped attempting to draw meaning, or "make sense" out of it all. I am only 5 senses--tasting, seeing, hearing, smelling, touching. The synthesis must come later. For now, I will continue to gather and collect all of the pieces.
It reminds me of lunch today. When the waiter came by with lentils, he asked one of my friends if he wanted some. The student hesitated and attempted to make up his mind. Our waiter smiled that familiar Nepali grin I am quickly growing fond of. He said "Taste" and dribbled a spot of the lentil soup onto my friend's hand.
That is what I want to do right now. I want to experience this place, to peer out of van windows wide-eyed at the perplexing contrast, to quietly listen as my neighbors chatter in Nepali, to smile as an older brother beats his sister in an after school foot race. I want to taste all of this before I all too quickly close my mouth, purse my lips, and attempt to conclude with an understanding--a meaning for it all. I believe these will come, but for now, I hope to wait on the front step like the shopkeepers.
view from our hotel in Thamel Kathmandu
Home is in North Carolina. But, I take seriously Wendell Berry's imperative, "Be like the fox who makes more tracks than necessary, some in the wrong direction."