Thursday, April 17, 2008

More on Nepal... In photos

Here's a little more on my trip to Nepal. There are probably a few more installments to come.

The first few pictures are from a jungle area in the Terai. Just days before I arrived, there was a huge general strike staged by the Madhesi people that went on for about 2 weeks. Their main issues were around autonomy and representation; they were protesting the rather Kathmandu-centric nature of the old Nepal Congress government, especially in terms of economic investment outside of the Kathmandu Valley. Their strike was felt all over Nepal as they were able to shut down the main trade route between India and the capital. Weeks after the strike was over, food prices were still pretty high (not just because of global inflation), and petrol was still so scarce that gas stations in Kathmandu were being guarded by the military and people would queue for a day or two fill up their tanks... Needless to say, this was an area that was swept by Maoists, and some of the more regional parties like the Madhesi Jana Adhikar Forum (MJF) during the elections.

When I was there, however, none of this was really evident and most people were reluctant to talk about (probably because the strikes are bad for tourism and most of the people I came into contact with make all of their money from tourists). And so I give you the tourist photos:

village houses near the entrance to Chitwan National Park.

That's me, "driving" the elephant on the last leg of our elephant safari in Royal Chitwan National Park.

endangered one horned white rhino, Royal Chitwan National Park
(dinosauric, ain't it?)

That's me giving the elephant a "bath."

Elephant Bath Time, Royal Chitwan National Park

Early morning canoe ride, Royal Chitwan National Park

Late afternoon elephant watering, Royal Chitwan National Park

A typical Tibetan monastery, Bodhnath, Nepal

This is a Tibetan stupa just outside of Kathmandu. The day I went there, I remember feeling very at peace with the world. Even if you aren't a spiritual or religious person, you can't deny the energy of a place like this. Pilgrims swing prayer wheels and chant mantras as they walk around the stupa, all in the same direction. Masum and I tried to walk around in the opposite direction, but didn't make it very far before we, too, decided to go with the flow.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Lessons from Nepal

I've been thinking a lot, trying to figure out how I can synthesize everything I learned in Nepal into one piece of writing that makes sense if it is read all together. But the fact of the matter was, the way I was spending my days and the way I was spending my nights was so completely different, that I don't know that it makes sense to write about as one experience.

On the one hand, I had the experience that I've been writing about here. The heartache, the healing-- the emotional journey that I've been on for the last two years came to an end. In Nepal, I was able to wrap up such a messy relationship into a nice neat box for me to put in the corner of my heart and the corner of my mind, where it can collect dust. I'll store it in a place where I can take it out and look at it with curiosity and detachment when it suits me; a place that's far enough to remain unseen, but close enough to not be forgotten. Yes, Nepal gave me closure.

And then there was everything else in Nepal. The everything that made me fall in love with a country, a place and a time that was exciting, intellectually stimulating, spiritual, nurturing, fun... But how do you pluck a story or an experience out of thin air and get it right, make it meaningful without telling the entire story? How could I begin to write about the time Pratit took me to his grandfather's house in this little Gurung village in the foothills of the Annapurnas without explaining my relationship to Pratit, his mother, or how his family defies traditional family structure in Nepal, or about how his grandfather's life is ruled by ritual and routine (is there a difference?); I would have to write about what the house looked like, how the white capped mountains hovered so close I thought I could understand why people believe in god... I would have to write all of that for anyone to understand the feeling I got as we sat eating daal bhat inside his old mud and brick house under a single light bulb, our eyes stinging from the smokey cook-fire; We sat there eating and he, his grandfather (who kept giving us sly looks as he cooked dinner) was not eating, but praying, making an offering to the small shrine he had in the corner of the house next to his bed, next to the cook-fire, which was next to me. How can I write all that and still not tell the story?

And then there was Saobin, a young man from the Terai who worked at the hotel I was staying. My first day there, the owner of the hotel, Devendra, said to me: "Look how he walks. So slow. Like a rhino." We laughed. And I watched. Saobin did all of the work of the hotel. He cleaned the rooms, he ran errands, washed laundry, made tea, took care of the garden... Devendra did nothing. He played cards, talked, gave orders. I watched. Saobin was shy. He had a sweet smile and he twitched a lot. He worked hard. I took to calling him 'babu', which I guess means baby or child, but I wasn't making fun- I really felt motherly towards him. I noticed there was something wrong. The last day, I asked about it. I was told that he used to live in a village in the jungle. He was a hunter. One day as he was hunting, he came across some Nepalese soldiers. They accused him of being a Maoist. He had a gun. They beat him senseless. Now he has trouble communicating. And now by telling that story, I've cheated Saobin because I've left out the context. The details. The other players. It's not complete.

To tell my story in Nepal I have to tell the stories of at least 10 others. I have to tell the story of a country in the midst of change, a hopeful time not only for Nepali people, but for myself as well. Because in the end I guess I learned that we can be reborn through our struggles and that my story depends not on myself, but on who tells it. And that we should never be careless with that power.

Writings from Nepal... Bracing

Pokhara, March 23, 2008

Yesterday, Pratit asked me what I've learned from my time in Nepal. My smart ass answer was water conservation, but I wonder what it really was? That I can live without Masum? That I was crazy to believe in him? That he was too central to my existence in Korea? I don't know.

For long breaths, I feel over him, but occasionally as I breath in, I feel his memory taking a quick stab at my heart, making me feel confused, bitter, angry and sad... And then I exhale, and the thought, the memory and the feeling is gone. Sometimes I feel like holding my breath, holding that feeling. Holding the moment until I have to let it go.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Nepali Election Photos

Here's a link from the NY Times. The pictures are beautiful. The pictures are hopeful.

And two articles on the elections: one and two.

I wish I was there.

Writings from Nepal... Attachment

Pokhara, March 17, 2008

How easily a person clings; how easily a person breaks. I feel like if I start crying, it's never going to end. I've kept a fairly calm composure for almost a week- if I can keep it up, maybe I'll become hard and numb inside. I really don't want to feel anything right now. Except fullness. And that's not possible.

Loneliness must be the most fundamental part of being human- and our struggle against loneliness may be the only thing that ever really unites us in the end. At least, that's when it doesn't break us completely.

Oh how I miss Masum. How I miss the idea we created of our lives together. The injustice of it all breaks my heart. And he, too, breaks my heart.

Writings from Nepal...Healing

Pokhara, March 12, 2008

I left Masum three days ago. It seems like it has been months. Maybe I have only partially realized that Sunday was the final goodbye, or maybe I was prepared, but I'm shocked at how few tears I've cried. Maybe we've already had too many "final" goodbyes to believe that was really it... I feel lonely and am thankful that so far I've been able to surround myself with people. I guess after I say goodbye to Raju, Gom and Pratit, maybe everything will sink in.

I've though I'm sad and heartbroken, and feeling cheated, some part of me knows that it is time to move on. The relationship I had with Masum would have never worked in the real world. A world where we were married and had kids, jobs (that we got paid for), responsibilities. In this situation, it's hard to tell which world was real and which world was a fantasy. What a surreal life I've been living...

Monday, April 7, 2008

On Nepal... Kathmandu in Pictures

This is an awesome food stall near Durbar Square.

These old Newari temples and buildings are everywhere in Kathmandu. This is in Durbar Square, the former seat of the King's power, now UNESCO world heritage site. Most of the buildings here date back to before the 17th century.
This sadhu hangs around Durbar Square mostly for the benefit of the tourists (and himself). Foreigners take pictures of him and then he asks them for money. Or sometimes he blesses you (by smearing some red paste on your forehead) and then demands 200 rupees. All sadhus don't do that, but the ones who hang out in the tourist areas and charm snakes tend to be a bit snake-like themselves.

This old man was resting at the top of a temple- a popular place for locals to hang out during the day.

Honestly, I have no idea what she's selling. Medicine? Herbs?

Cute chubby little girl

This is a very small temple in Durbar Square. In Kathmandu, you can't turn around with seeing people praying, or making a puja (offering). There are temples everywhere and everyone seems to be religious, or at least superstitious. In Nepal, Hinduism seems to predominate, but there are a lot of Buddhists as well. It is often difficult to tell who is who because a lot of the temples and shrines seem to honor every Nepalese religious tradition. I started learning to distinguish between gods, whether I was looking at something was Hindu or Buddhist, Nepalese Buddhism or Tibetan, but it definitely takes some serious studying to get it all right.

Garland Vendors in Durbar Square

This is a political rally in Durbar Square. Throughout my month in Nepal, I saw people campaigning for the elections (mostly Moaists, but other parties were also visible). This, I think, was a business owners association. It was weird to see banners and billboards attached to such ancient buildings.

This only covers part of day one. Stayed tuned for more installments...

On Nepal... The Introduction

The beginning of my adventure in Nepal can best be described through pictures. I was with Masum and we were, for the most part, avoiding talking about anything too seriously-- namely us, his life at home and my return to America. We had sad moments and serious moments, and seriously sad moments, but we spent our time together around the Kathmandu Valley very much like we spent our time together in Korea: In Denial. So we ran off to this place and that; we visited friends and ate delicious food. We pretended like everything was fine. And then we said good bye. For good.

The good bye was, well, anticlimactic. I was to get on a bus to Chitwan, a national park in the Terai, and he was to get on an airplane back to Dhaka. I nearly missed my bus, so our goodbye was rushed- a quick kiss while throwing my bag on the top of the bus and rushing to find the last seat. As the bus pulled away I waved to him as he watched, and I remember thinking, "was that really it?" I was sad, but quickly distracted by a gaggle of Russian tourists who were complaining about their seats and demanding that an elderly Nepalese man sit in the worst, most uncomfortable seat on the back of the bus because they didn't want to. I was enraged at their back of the bus comments and started battling immediately, calling them out in front of the whole bus, but to no avail. The bus attendant acquiesced and I sat there fuming and boring holes into the back of the rude Russian's head with my evil eye for the entire 6 hour ride. Distraction was the first coping mechanism I had to deal with the end of me and Masum.

I think it's safe to say that I spent the rest of my time in Nepal examining not only my time spent in with Masum (in Korea and Nepal), but my life in general and wondering how I was going to move forward- emotionally, intellectually, professionally. How the hell was I going to move forward? I don't know that found any real answers, but I did find some comfort in a new friendship. My old friend Raju introduced me to Pratit, mostly I think because Pratit's English is so darn good. But what Raju didn't know is that Pratit and I have an awful lot in common and that Pratit's company, and then his friendship, provided for me a kind of intellectual and emotional cocoon that went a long way in helping my tired broken heart to heal. And for that accidental gift, I must thank Pratit.

So thus begins my little project 'On Nepal'. The first part of my journey is documented through pictures and the second is documented through writing. Maybe the electricity will stay on in Pokhara long enough for Pratit to send me some of the photos I took while I was with him, but until that time, you'll have to bear my clumsy words...