Greetings from Kathmandu!
Which is both a greeting of relief and one of sadness. The relief comes from knowing I have safely made it back to the Kathmandu valley…which is not always guaranteed based on the political climate, road blocks, protests or accidents along the way. The sadness comes from having to leave Pokhara and all of the people who I hold dear. Each day, I ventured forth to one of the households who Indigenous Lenses supports to say good-bye. And I received words of blessings, katas (silk Tibetan scarves) and small gifts. When I arrive in Nepal, one of my duffel bags is filled with gifts for my family on this side of the world. When I return home, it is filled with gifts that have been given in return. Each of the old ones that we support reverently touched their foreheads to mine and with tears in their eyes, prayed that we would meet again.
Sunday found me sitting for the last time in Lobsang’s shop…trying to entice the tourists to ‘come and have a look’ and that ‘looking is free.’ She gave me the last of the inlaid mallas that I will bring home to sell on her behalf…and a malla made out of amethyst as a gift for me. I ate my last onion omelet with Tibetan flat bread with her and her husband. They both came to Bel’s home on Friday for the final good-bye and to place a kata around my neck.
Monday we started at Pasang and Khando’s home. This is one of the old couples that Indigenous Lenses supports. They told Migmar that without the monthly stipend, they would be desperate. He sells meat in the camp and she sells trinkets at one of the local Hindu temples. If one gets sick and cannot work, there is not enough money to buy food. They said that with the monthly stipend, they now live without constant tension…and for this they say prayers on my behalf and on behalf of all who have donated money… and they hang prayer flags with my name on them on all of the auspicious Buddhist occasions. From there we walked to Trinley’s home. We romped on the floor with his son and Trinley fed us bread and eggs. He makes the most amazing tea…laced with delicious spices that I keep trying to identify. I’m leaving a small HD camcorder and five, one hour tapes so that Trinley can record footage of his son during the months I am away. These will be the beginning seeds of my next documentary…maybe the continuation of Wangchuk’s legacy? His son, Karma Tashi, has the most interesting presence. He will sit quietly and look deeply into your eyes for long stretches of time. It’s like he is an old man. I will look forward to seeing him again in one year’s time to see what he is becoming. His wife had knitted me a most beautiful scarf. And Trinley loaded my bag with boxes of incense. It was then on to the two old women’s home. They are the poorest of the old one’s we support, so that even the offering of a kata comes at a sacrifice for them. They also spoke of how the stipend is the only reason that they are still alive…and that they speak with great wonder that someone from so far away would take more interest in keeping them safe then people who live close by. Dechen, the older of the two, was crying when we said farewell, wiping her eyes with the back of her hand. I told Migmar that I was going to put all of these katas that I was receiving into a bag and have her give them to the two old ones when she delivers their stipend next month. Monday’s last stop was at Norzin and Karma’s home. They served us noodle soup. Knowing that Yeshi (Migmar’s husband) and two daughters have immigrated to Canada, there is the real possibility that one year when I arrive in Nepal, Migmar will be gone. This year she and I have been talking about who would be a good replacement for her if that happens. And the topic has even come up at most of the homes we visited, as they also are quite worried. I think the best choice would be Karma. She is Yeshi’s sister, I have known her for as many years as I have known Yeshi and Migmar, and her English is pretty good. Migmar has started to process of talking about it with her…planting seeds for the future. We are pretty sure that Migmar will still be in Pokhara next year. But just in case…
Tuesday, before visiting Nyima, we stopped in at the house where one old woman and her two old brothers live to say good-bye. They gave me bottles of coke with butter on the cap and we repeated the process of forehead touching and katas. Each of the old ones also put a kata around Migmar’s neck, knowing it is because of her that they were identified as needing help. Migmar tells them that it is not necessary, but I always tell them I am happy that they also honor her. I had my last bowl of delicious flat noodle soup at Nyima’s and we chatted without yelling and repeating sentences because he had his new hearing aide. At one point, it was just he and I and in my broken Nepali and his broken English, we pointed out each of the new sounds that he now can hear. His brother continues to recover nicely from his amputation and spoke of that for many months, he only thought of death. Now, he is not only recovering…but he will be able to get the artificial limb because of Indigenous Lenses. I can hear in his words that he has shifted from only thinking of what can no longer be to what possibilities are now in his future. Their daughter Tenzin, who is away at boarding school was one of five selected out of five hundred at her school to travel to Dharamsala…all expenses paid… to meet His Holiness the Dalai Lama and His Holiness the Karmapa. We spoke of how maybe this is the beginning of a new year of good tidings…that maybe the year of constant distress has come to an end. Wouldn’t that be grand? Nyima’s mother is now 94 and is as frail as a bird. When she put a kata around my neck and spoke words of prayer, I felt my eyes welling up and a deep sadness in my heart…like this might be the last time I receive her blessing.
Wednesday I made my way to Pau Rhichoe’s home for my last visit. When I first arrived he was in a great deal of pain and his wife was quite sick….but now both are doing quite well. He always gifts me with a beautiful Tibetan rug. The floors of my home are covered with these treasures. This year, I am leaving it in my room at Bel’s home so my feet have something warm to step on besides the cold cement floor. His words are always very moving and we always share a poignant hug when it is time to leave. When Wangchuk was still alive, I would always try to soak in his face, knowing that there was a real possibility that I would not see him again. I find myself doing this same ritual now with Rhichoe.
Thursday I ventured Lakeside for a lunch of tuna and potato momos (Tibetan stuffed dumplings) with Migmar and her son Chime. These are usually made with buffalo meat…but I do not like the taste and texture of the buffalo, so found years ago that using tuna fish produced quite a nice dumpling. We said our final good-byes and I spent the rest of the day Thursday and all day Friday packing up my room and getting my bags ready for travel. One benefit of having the room at Bel’s is that they just put a lock on the door and no one uses it while I am gone. This means I do not have to put everything away like I did at Migmar’s place…. I just have to make sure my clothes are in duffel bags so the cockroaches and mice don’t eat them…and put things into the cabinet so they don’t get dusty while I am away.
I have also been making the rounds of Bel’s extended family. Each evening, I was informed as to whose home I was to go to for a drink of raksi and some snacks. One night it was with Bishnu’s mother and Kamal…the next night Bel’s daughter Durga had me come to her room behind the house and she cooked momos…Wednesday night it was a Prem’s home…and Thursday, Babita came for my last couple of days and her husband arrived Friday. Yesterday morning, Prem drove us to the airport…and standing outside of the entrance was Migmar, Chime and my driver…all holding katas. We pulled to the side so I could get out and do one more round of tearful good-byes.
After all of my many emails griping about cold showers and squatting to go to the bathroom, I have good news. When my upstairs bathroom was built four years ago, it was semi fitted for a shower to be installed at some future date. I told Bel that I think that date has come…and that in the process of installing a shower head and a way to have a hot shower, I would love it if we could put in a ‘pot’. There are several options for having hot water…connect to the already existing solar panels…put a smaller solar panel and tank on top of my bathroom…or install a ‘boiler’ system that heats the water using gas and electricity. I’m voting for that…because rain or shine, sunny or cloudy, hot or cold…I would only have to flip a switch and the water would heat. And the sink would also be connected so I have hot water to wash my face and hands. During the coming months, Bel will get estimates for the various options and let me know. Then he would hire someone to complete the work before I arrived next fall. Please oh please oh please, be reasonably priced!!!!!
So…Bel, Bishnu and I are making the rounds of the Kathmandu valley. Our flight was uneventful…although it was Bishnu’s first plane flight and she held my hand in a death grip the entire way. Yesterday we visited Boudhanalkanti and the hospital where Sangita had her surgery. We met up with Sangita’s friend Soni and she went with us as our tour guide. Her family generously let Bel and Sangita stay with them during their frequent trips to the heart hospital this past spring and summer. We have two days to visit as many holy places as possible…and maybe even get in a visit to the zoo.
Next email will be from home. How surreal!