On Another Planet

October 04, 2009  •  Leave a Comment


I am in what sounds like a city in the middle of a jungle. There are monkeys squeaking, birds squawking, dogs barking, motorcycles honking, crickets chirping, monks singing, people conversing, yelling, and spitting, all outside my window. There are tropical plants, marigolds, obscure fruits, cherry trees, and bamboo. Dogs, cows, goats and monkeys run wild, and cats are on a leash. I am in Nepal. Children scoop water from a puddle in the street into a plastic container. What are they using that for? Don't think about it too hard. Things here are exactly what they seem. There are no questions. Just as Buddha said, it is that simple. The little girl is going to drink the water. The little boy is diving in the river where the bodies have just burned and been dumped in. Yes, that is a cow head on the side of the road. Boys are holding hands and wearing pink and they don't care. It is all right in front of you. No one is hiding anything, except maybe a smile, but that is not hard to reveal.

 
People just outside my window live off the earth, literally. They have no carpet to vacuum , no toilet to flush, no television, no computer or cell phone, nothing but a small shack, a pot to cook food in, and each other. The women sit and brush their hair, wash dishes or watch people walk by. The children chase each other. The men burn trash and repair bicycles. My instinct is to feel bad for them, but bad about what? They don't seem to be jealous of me, walking by in my "Avenue Q" hat with my Nikon camera. "Namaste," I say, and they smile and return the greeting. They don't have the vibe of someone riddled with envy. I found myself envying them a little bit. I know this wouldn't last long if the tables were turned, but there is something very easy and peaceful about them. This is along the river. In the town, families ride on motorcycles, dogs look both ways before crossing the street, and children walk inches from the traffic. There are no stoplights and no line to indicate the center of the road, because it's dirt. The street is chaotic, yet there seems to be some constant magic wall of protection. The bikes squeeze between the cars and people, and they never have even the slightest contact. There is no cursing when a vehicle turns in front of traffic, or cuts you off. No rules of the road, just courtesy. A honking horn means just what it is supposed to mean - I'm coming through, keep your arms down. And we all manage to get to our destinations.
 
My first destination here was the Hotel Vajra. I am tagging along as a still photographer for my friends Patty and Janelle, who are making a video about the Unatti Foundation, a home for orphaned girls in Bhaktapur. There are twelve girls in the home presently. They are sent to good schools where they are all in the top percentage of their class. The girls welcomed us at the hotel, then put on a show, complete with choreography. They are all adorable. We went to Bhaktapur on the second day to see the Unatti home and spend time with the girls. Then we hauled eleven duffle bags filled with clothes into the middle of a courtyard surrounded by what I would guess to be about 60 young orphaned children. They all sat quietly in a circle waiting for the clothes to be passed out, and then, children helped children put on their new garments. There was no fighting over who got what, because to them, no one thing was better than another. If something was too small, it would be put on a smaller kid. They took what was given to them and they were grateful. Families watched the event from the sidelines and from their windows and balconies. It was quite a site to see. All giving and no taking. For me, it was a learning experience I will cherish forever. Good things come to those who wait. Patience is
a virtue. The true meaning of these taught to me by children who have never heard the expressions. It's just that simple.
 
Being raised on a farm, in the smallest town in the world in the middle of nowhere, I distantly relate to the "being one with the earth" concept. I played with pigs, rolled around in the dirt and shoveled manure. Baled hay and straw and cut corn out of the bean field with a machete. I probably have a better-than-average immune system. I have had no issues with digestion or anything of that nature since I have been here. I did swim in the pond at our house once when I was younger, but I was leery of stepping in some icky muck or algae, or even worse, a dead fish. Here, any of those things would be a blessing. It is very likely that you will find some sort of body part, whether it be from a cow a goat or a human. There is one area where kids go swimming just for that purpose. They are looking for a gold tooth or a ring left from the latest cremation. There are piles of buffalo bones along the river. Anything that is not burned, ultimately ends up in the water. That means any kind of garbage.
 
I am in one of the filthiest and holiest places on earth. Who said "cleanliness is next to Godliness?" I don't imagine it was Mother Teresa.
 
 
 

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