I wandered some of the streets, alleyways, and courtyards of Kathmandu yesterday, partly as a photographic excursion and also to get a first hand glimpse of the effects of the recent earthquakes. The first thing I noticed is that, with a camera in my hand, beauty seems to appear most everywhere I look. It is that draw to beauty which keeps me tethered to my camera. While wandering with a camera, it is as if the beauty-appreciation part of the hypothalamus shuts off most everything else.
On the practical observation side, tourism here seems significantly down. Hotels are largely vacant and the tourist areas seem mostly devoid of us westerners. Granted, this monsoon time is not the busy time of the year here, but the lack of tourist bustle and activity is obviously subdued.
Although Kathmandu is largely intact, some neighborhoods as well as the historic Durbar Square have incurred significant damage. In Kathmandu, the doorways tend to be quite short, and I passed through a dwarfish portal to investigate the courtyard that would be behind it. I found most of the entire inner section of the courtyard destroyed, as if the rear side of the buildings had simply merged into a crumbled heap. After wandering for a few hours, I began to feel a little overwhelmed, with a grief-laden constriction in my throat and a subtle sense of heart-brokenness. It has always been difficult for me to take in the suffering of others when suffering is widespread. I can sit with empathy for hours with someone who is falling apart, but internalizing widespread calamity has always escaped me. Seeing such destruction firsthand though begins to personalize the experience much more than simply seeing images. I spoke with several different locals about their experiences in the earthquakes, and while their loved ones are fine, the amount of literal and figurative upheaval in their lives has been significant. As many earnings here are tied to tourism, ongoing struggles have been magnified.
I hired the beautiful man pictured here as my guide to show me around Durbar Square. I rarely hire guides, preferring to wander at my own pace with my own thoughts, but I could sense some desperation, and truth be told, I also wanted the parade of guides to stop approaching me. I found his company enjoyable and informative. As we mounted an unharmed ancient Shiva temple, I asked about his family and he started to tell me about what truly matters to him and it was so lovely to hear. Despite his difficulties, his appreciation and gratitude was gently yet clearly articulated. As he continued and spoke of love and compassion, I saw in his eyes the truth of his words and asked if I could photograph him. I feel so blessed when I have the opportunity to be with and photograph another human being when they are without guard or guile. Thank you Prakash.
It has been wonderful being at Nepal Orphans Home with the children again. I am teaching the Khan Adademy online self-paced math classes which I established here earlier this year, and also leading a review of their volunteer placement organization. Being here brings me great joy. I am noticing that I tend to gravitate in this world to where I am loved and to where my love has the opportunity to freely express. For whatever reasons at this point of my life, that appears to be manifesting eleven time zones away from my otherwise home. To me, its all about the freedom of my heart’s expression, and in working directly with the children here I feel as I am somehow at my highest calling. Of course I want them to learn practical matters, daily instilling in individual students an understanding of basic mathematical life essentials. Mostly, however, my strivings are to support and encourage these children to believe in their own innate capacities, abilities and worthiness. My heart melts with every satisfied reflection.
I’ve also gladly returned to my Saturday morning 6am basketball routine with the boys, who are never daunted by a few puddles or playing in sandals or even barefoot. I so love playing with them. Such an enjoyable bonding experience sharing a game we all love.
Life in the volunteer house is fun too with occasional outings into Thamel, shared meals, and a fun 8am outing to a cinema for a popular Indian breakdancing film called ABCD2 (Any Body Can Dance). Although not in English, the occasional interspersing of English was still tickling: “We dance to express, not to impress!” Popcorn for thirteen was the same price as a medium popcorn in an American theater.
I had a moment yesterday while teaching where I realized that my work with the children is perhaps my contribution to Nepal’s healing. I came here with an openness toward helping Nepal in whatever way I could, post earthquake. Healing comes in many ways, and while I could (and may yet) offer other practical recovery support, I also want to trust to offer support wherever my heart is drawn, and that, at least for the moment, seems to be right here.