Just the other day I was telling a friend that I need to push past my comfort zone and head out on a trek. What I loved about that statement was that it implied that Kathmandu has somehow become within my comfort zone. This city in all its chaos and cacophony has somehow become familiar and dare I say… comforting? Irrespective of comfort, I am intending to go on a trek up to Upper Mustang, a remote and stunning area which has dangled mystery and adventure in front of me for the past few years. The tricky part is that there is a special restricted area permit required and the government here only issues these permits in groups of 2 or more and I am traveling solo. Thus I need to find someone with whom to arrange for the permit.With tourism markedly down, there aren’t many people trekking these days, let alone to this particularly remote region. I have feelers out to about 15 trekking agencies and I full plan to intend this trek into existence.
I sat in on a classroom the other day at the main school that the Nepal Orphans Home children attend. They all welcomed me with a unison of “Welcome Sir,” which made me blush a bit and stammer out something or other in response. Strange thing, the education here. So much rote memorization. The topic today could effectively been entitled, “The Indignities of Old Age,” and the children had about 10 things they memorized which they recited to each other, wrote on the blackboard and presented to the class. My graying temples turned me into their giggle-worthy “show and tell” guest. No real discussions, just the recitation of impairments from a textbook. Next topic was the proper age for marriage, with and without parental consent. Apparently under Nepali law, parents can marry off their daughters at 16 and sons at 18. It was a rowdy, fun classroom with lots of cheering for correct answers, and points at which everyone concurrently recited answers in a vocalized soup of infirmities.
My time at the orphanage here, as always, has been wonderful. It’s a great combination for me of feeling comfortable, useful and loved. I’ve continued to help coach in the Khan Academy classrooms I set up here earlier this year. We also rolled out a simple program called Xtramath (www.xtramath.org) which provides a computer-based flashcard system for addition, subtraction, multiplication and division – skills which seems to be lacking for most all of the students here, no matter their class level. My greatest joy comes in my interactions with the kids and especially through my teaching. The children here are becoming very special to me and I feel like I am helpful, not only in teaching and encouraging the kids, but also at a higher level in helping with some organizational development and planning projects.
Another fun project I’ve been spearheading has been the creation of a music video with the kids. Another volunteer who is very talented with music has been managing the music teaching/recording/mastering aspects while I’m focusing more on the filming and creation of the video. I’m loving the project and the kids are having fun with it too. We’re doing the old Bill Withers tune “Lean on Me” which has a nice theme to it that the kids can relate to.
I’ve also been spending a little time at a school for handicapped children trying to support the development of computer-based learning opportunities for some of the more advanced kids. While there, I’ve been doing a photographic essay of their services. I love doing projects such as this. One more trip back to finish the shoot should be sufficient.
Spent the night in Patan just to the south of Kathmandu last week. Wanted to see it again after the quake to see how it had survived. Some temple structures had collapsed as had some of the weaker buildings, but for the most part the place seemed intact. I returned to the site of a small square where I had done an impromptu photo shoot with several locals earlier this year. While there this time I was invited into a room appurtenant to a temple where I was served chai and spent the next hour singing bhajans and playing the triangle and some wood clappers. They encouraged me to take some photos too, one of which you can see here. I love when I actually get invited to partake in more of the inner-life of a place. Besides just being a wonderful experience, it can also afford a nice opportunity for portraits. I’ll make some prints and return there before I leave Nepal.
I’m very much enjoying what also feels like retreat time for me. I wake daily around 5am with the clanging of the bells of the Ganesh temple about 50 feet from my window and the neighborhood’s hacking up of a night’s worth of phlegm. Kicks me into gear for early morning yoga and meditation. I love when I have some spaciousness in my life to reflect and self-examine. As if often the case with extended travels, the normal distractions and relationships disappear leaving my raw spots more exposed for examination. Always so much to learn about oneself when the we are willing to sit with the discomforts which may arise rather than simply covering them up with our usual distractions or compensatory behaviors. I do find it challenging at times to be without physical contact for extended periods such as this in my life. Nepal is definitely not a hugging culture. Got a wonderful deep tissue massage the other day which helped quite a bit.
My favorite times are when the monsoon rains strike. I love their intensity and can often be found playing the guitar on a covered balcony looking out over the life of our little neighborhood while the torrents pass through.
Update: A trekking agency today came through with another person to apply for the permit with. It took a not insubstantial bribe to the Nepal immigration department who issued the permit, but apparently that is how things can operate here. I’ll be moving on to Pokhara tomorrow morning and flying to Jomsom on the following day and beginning the trek then. This is definitely a “Bucket List” trip for me so I am very excited about it. I may or may not be out of touch for a couple of weeks. If you are looking at a map, my destination is Lo Manthang, seat of an ancient Shakya Buddhist Kingdom for many hundreds of years, on July 31st for the full moon. In my experience, there is always something interesting happening in holy places on the full moon. Curious what I’ll find, and more importantly how I’ll be impacted.