Friday, October 31, 2008

Tihar and Drowning Cows

Oh, there's so much to say! Should I start in chronological order?

~It's festival time! Well, now I guess it's over, but for the last 4 days, the streets have been full of people people singing and dancing, lighted butter candles and Christmas-esqe lights, children playing games, dogs and cows and humans running around with tikas no their foreheads and garlands around their necks. And there has been praying. Lots and lots of praying. If the internet would cooperate I would post some of the rather excellent pictures I've taken of all the pujas I've attended this week.

~The first puja I attended was at my friend's house. It wasn't technically part of Tihar, but instead was a prayer and (rather long) ceremony for the health of their family. The auspicious day for the prayer was chosen by consulting an astrological calender, as was the reason for the prayer since the calender suggested that there was a bad omen over some specific family members. The ceremony was quite beautiful and consisted of hundreds of flower petals, bananas, apples, coconuts, ghee candles, incense, copper dishes and lots of that red, yellow and orange paste that you see smeared on people's foreheads in this part of the world. And oh yes, I forgot to mention the cow urine- consumed by the Brahman priest in shots as a natural remedy for well, everything, I guess.

~I attended more pujas, one for a dog and a Newari one for my own health and longevity, but I guess they are more or less the same in terms of what you see and do... There are so many complicated parts to the praying that I'm sure I can't describe it accurately (like I got three cups of flower petals and seeds dumped on my head, fire touched to either shoulder and my forehead; I bowed to some fruit (?), drank some yogurt with honey in it and made some funny gestures with my hands... I have no idea what it all means).

~Nepal, as I may have mentioned before, is a definitely an early to bed and early to rise country. By 8 o'clock, people are generally at home, eating dinner, performing their daily pujas, washing their faces and watching TV (power permitting). So you can imagine my surprise the other night when a group of men came rushing, shouting and with flashlights, through the empty lot next to my house. We all (my neighbors including the family I mentioned before and the small family that lives upstairs) rushed to the roof with our flashlights so we could see what was going on. From there, we could see the men looking into the narrow and fast-moving Seti Canal, to which access is generally blocked by tall walls and fencing over the top. But in this part, it seems four cows which had been grazing the the empty lot, wandered right into the canal and couldn't get out. The men called the police, who called the army, who came with no lights and no tools. They were using their mobile phones to look into the canal and shouting to all the people on the roof tops to throw things down to them. So we did. We threw ropes, sickles, bamboo poles, lights, even pashmina scarves... And they managed to rope all four cows and heave them out of the canal, though one suffered a broken foot. Each time a cow was retrieved we exploded into applause... And everyone was quite relieved they there were rescued, not only because cows are holy here, but because they next day was the cow puja day in Tihar... We would've had nothing to pray to if they'd died! (Actually, there are plenty of cows roaming the streets here, but those 4 seem to live only on our street...)

~I guess the nearly drowned cows are about the most exciting thing that's happend this week. When the internet cooperates, I'll post photos...

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

To be honest, I've totally lost track of the time. If I thought my life was simple in Vermont, I don't know what word I'd use to describe the life I've started living here. I came to Pokhara four or five days ago and in that time, I have managed to find a place to live (with help from a friend) and already feel as though I have two Nepali families. Both of my families are constantly looking after my well-being, checking to see if I've eaten (and feeding me if I haven't), making sure I have clean drinking water, and helping buy things I need for daily living.

Yesterday was the first real day in my new home, so I decided to hang around and see what everyone else was doing. My next door neighbor is a family of four- a 30 year old mother named Surita, her husband and two sons. It's festival time in Nepal, so I watched as the boys ran in and out of the courtyard to play with their friends. And although Surita was busy preparing butter candles for Tihar- the next big holiday, she invited me in to watch TV with her and chat.

I share the courtyard, the water tap and bathroom with Surita's family, so it is difficult to not know everything that is going on. When they wake at 5 or 6, I wake at 5 or 6. I listen to them take a shower, cook their food, wash their clothes and their dishes. And they of course, watch and listen to me as well. Last night, as I sat in my room to study by candlelight (power outages are frequent in Pokhara), the youngest boy ran up to my window, blew on my curtain and announced that his father was calling me. So I went to their room and discovered that the oldest son needed help with his English homework... finally something I could actually do! So I helped him and then went to take my bath. Later when I was back in my room, Surita discovered that I was studying Nepali so she came into "help" and brought the whole family with her. The boys quickly cuddled up on my bed with my Ipod, while Surita and her husband tried to help me learn the alphabet. This morning as I brushed my teeth, Surita's husband came to me and started saying the Nepali words for everything he saw: mirror, soap, water, clothes... I guess I'll start remembering what he is telling me, but right now, I just look at him and laugh, thinking my brain isn't ready to process all of the language stuff he is telling me.

The Annapurnas are hovering over the city. The sky is clear, the sun is warm, and I'm starting to feel quite at home...

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

I've been in Nepal for nearly a week now. It's been a slow week of reacquainting myself with the noise, the smell, the manic traffic, the planned and sometimes erratic power outages, the poverty and heaps of garbage around the city, as well as the friendly open nature of Nepali people. Kathmandu feels very....familiar. I remember now why I don't like Kathmandu and can't wait to get out of here! Maybe today... Maybe tomorrow. I guess it depends on how long it takes to take care of business...

The most exciting thing I have to report is how I voted: On the street of Kathmandu with a gaggle of Nepali men grinning over my shoulder as I filled in the Obama/Biden circle. Today I'll deliver that ballot to the US embassy.

I've started learning Nepali (I actually had my first lesson yesterday), and I'm beginning to lay the ground work for what might come next on my adventure here. Earlier in the week, I met with some of my Nepali friends that I met while working with the Migrant's Trade Union-Korea, who suggested that I might volunteer for GEFONT- a Nepali trade union- here in Kathmandu. I've contacted WWOOF and am preparing for some farm work in the Pokhara Valley. And I've signed up for a 10 day course in Vipassana- silent meditation that will start on November 4. (Frankly, the thought of that scares the shit out of me, but I'm going to try it anyway.)

I've been taking pictures, as yet have no way to post them. I'll figure that out later.