"Close your eyes and imagine Kathmandu. What do you see and hear?"
I took some time to think about this exercise before I actually closed my eyes. Almost immediately, I uncovered a sense of embarrassment. I realized, "I don't know what to expect." I traced the uncomfortable embarrassment down to its roots. I felt naive, sheltered, ill-prepared, and even uneducated.
As I think about what it will be like, I worry my images of Kathmandu are all silly fabrications of the western world. My thoughts sink-- "Gosh, I am so ignorant." I can quickly feign knowledge when people ask about my travels. There is pressure to defend my purpose for traveling; I fear the image of "a white girl spending her parents money to see the world." I spout off stories I have heard, or facts from books I have read, but when it comes down to it, I have no means for describing Nepal. Even with a five week stay, I will probably be left with more questions than I when started. After taking anthropology courses in which we are continually warned against the burden of "the white tourist," it is easy for my embarrassment to descend the all the more disheartening staircase. How have I moved from feeling excited to feeling guilty about my upcoming travel?
I put off the exercise a bit more, and thankfully, the time redeemed my thoughts.
Of course I do not know what to expect in Kathmandu, I have never been to Kathmandu! I am growing comfortable with this "lack of knowledge." I see it as the only proper place to start an adventure. In allowing myself to fully explore and understand my first, biased thoughts, I believe I set myself up for a deeper, more lasting learning. I recognize the void of "Nepal Knowledge" and excitedly seek to fill it during my time in Besisahar. I understand the concerns of ignorance and naivety in travel , but I think it would be more concerning if I hid my "silly first thoughts" and attempted to sound and appear educated on a life I have yet to live. Maybe, my five weeks in Nepal are going to be all the richer because of these early, uneducated, american-infused jottings.
So here it goes, eyes closed.
I hear a lively street scene with narrow avenues--busy streets of bikes and cars and sidewalks cluttered with vendors. I imagine the buildings being piled on top of each other--smushed together. I smell Curry; even though I know it is an Indian spice. I envision the Tibetan prayer flags and people shorter than me dressed in vibrant colors. I think of poverty, but in picturing it, I immediately am aware of my western notion of poverty. I see bare feet and dirt floors. I feel excitement--my eyes continually being drawn to the sky. There is expectancy in the new unfolding scenes. I am aware of my "otherness." I feel out of place. What an interesting phrase-- "out of place." Physcially, I am always "placed" somewhere on this Earth. I look at the setting sun and know I am facing west, but now it is a matter of knowing, recognizing, and understanding a place.
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."