Thursday, April 22, 2010

Giving It Another Go

(directly copied out of my journal...)

We've been in Darkha for two full days now. Yesterday was spent very, very slowly doing practically nothing. We woke up, had tea and hung around Rams home for a few hours, then we got some stuff ready and began walking up the trail to check out the tractor that was apparently making an extended road all the way up the mountain. We made our first stop at our school site which we were happy to find was already tractored, flattened and spread, finished and pretty much ready for us to begin working on. We were joined here by one of the two presidents of our school committee, Pratap, and he and Ram helped us to layout the general dimensions of our future 3-room school building. It seemed kind of random, or at least very informal, but eventually the piles of rocks that we set up at each of the corners of the rooms became the actual layout points. Took many pictures and stared at the empty land trying to visualize what the finished product might be. Nate had the cool idea of creating a circular bench around the one lone tree at the far end of the property.

So we gathered the troops and began walking further up the mountain, finally coming to the heart, the center, the downtown of Darkha. Took a quick rest then kept on a walkin' just a bit more then we came to where the tractor was going at it. Actually at first it wasn't in use, but just sitting there with a few village dudes hanging on it, putting some fuel in it. Then, at first it seemed for our sake, they turned it on and began yanking huge boulders out of the ground and quickly piled up a small mountain of dirt. It turned out to not be just a demonstration for us but actually the continuation of the road work. The village decided that while we were funneling money and creating some progress, they would take the initiative to take care of some of the things that needed to be taken care of, like making a new trail up the mountain that detours around instead of through peoples' homes. It was really a strange sight, this huge back hoe with caterpillar tank-like treads in this primitive setting. The technology of the machinery was years ahead of anything in the village. A startling contrast.

Later on in the afternoon we went back down to our new bed room in the downtown area of the village, very close to the so called police station, which is just another funkily constructed building with a few bored looking young men in military garb. I guess there might also be a few weapons locked up inside, wouldn't be surprised if there was actually a small arsenal this is Nepal after all, and this a time of great political turmoil, best be prepared! We chilled and got lazy in the afternoon heat and Nate was still feeling not entirely healthy so took it extra especially easy. I can't get my days straight now and I wonder if this night was the party night or if it was the next one? Could it have been the same day as our school ceremony? Perhaps, well all the same the tractor and its very conspicuous presence was a never tiring source of entertainment, but we were offered more as if it wasn't enough. A piece of futuristic machinery such as the back hoe really demanded and required an operator of equally magnificent proportions. This driver of ours was absolutely the most perfect candidate for the position as there ever could be. He was handsome and confident, but like a little with-held or introverted, make for a good husband and earn any moms trust. To me there seemed to be something kind of off about him, like he wasn't entirely in control of himself, not that I am, but he seemed outwardly confused by his actions in a very subtle way. Anyways seeing him inside the glass cabin of the back hoe was a classic sight. Two friends, or two lucky village kids got to sit behind him and get a little thrill. He was highly skilled in controlling the bucket and building precarious roads along the steep hillside. Wherever the work was happening was pretty much where the entire village population could be found, all crowded around the spectacle. Sometimes they were just gazing in awe at the immense power and ease with which this machine was able to toss huge boulders and trees aside. Sometimes they were talking or laughing in a relatively calm manner. And then sometimes they were at each others throats, shouting yelling screaming complaining. But the village had voted and the consensus was that the time was now for this progressive boom. Any gain requires a bit of sacrifice, but for those who weren't into it from the beginning it is nothing but lose lose. Every inch of hillside here has been terraced for crop growing so there was no choice but to cut the road directly through some peoples subsistence crops.

Despite the angry cries of the ones who got short changed the tractor operator still seemed to win the hearts of pretty much everyone . More importantly he seemed to win the heart of the woman whom we have decided is like the official spokesperson, the M.C., and most definitely the "sway." She had charm she had power. So we were hanging around in the evening my dad and I, Nate taking his rest up in the bed, when Ram explained to us that the tractor operator and another young man had increased a level in their friendship, or like had decided to become BFF's and wanted to make it extra official and extra special. We didn't know what to think of this but we were invited to the party and were absolutely going to attend to figure it all out. We sat around waiting to see what was going to materialize. We were alone sitting the porch benches in front of our personal "cafe" when the Maverick, the Elvis, the tractor operator came swaggering up, cigarette hanging loosely between his fingers, a look of supreme pride and happiness in his eyes. He came up to us and briefly explained the party that was going to happen and re-invited us. As he spoke he was looking off into the distance, taking a drag and slowly breathing it out with a smile and that supreme look in his eyes. He quickly swaggered off and we were again left to ponder the events that were about to ensue.

Soon we were joined by Ram who said a few things before leading us just around the corner to the spot where things happen. At first we were told to un-shoe our feet and crouch through the door of the small shop that is there. In the back room we took a seat on the floor and took everything in. It seemed they were preparing an elaborate offering, with many fancy gifts and decorations. The ceiling was all balloons. The room was kind of on the small side and soon we were standing up and re-shoeing our feet. The outside area was much more accommodating for the 30 people that had to have been there. The tractor was turned toward the crowd and its flood lights were switched on. Dad and I sat down on a bench directly across from the make shift stage platform. The tractor hero was standing up there behind a little podium, adorned with flower leis and katas and accompanied by the village spokeswoman. A little cake was sitting on the podium in front of him with a large quantity of birthday candles stuck in it and I took this as just like a universal celebratory icon but my dad thought otherwise and ventured to ask if it might be the young mans birthday, as well as the friendship party deal. The answer was yes, two in one, nothing but fun, hardy har.

The events that unfolded in the next couple hours were elaborate and extravagant, only comparable to an Indian/Nepali wedding. Lots of formality, offerings of all kinds, awesome gestures and ritualistic exchanges between the two men. Sometimes clapping and cheering or a short speech, sometimes without knowing why the spokeswoman M.C. would point at us and say a few quick comments in Nepali to which everyone would burst out laughing. We would just grin and shrug our shoulders and Ram would reassure us that they were just joking. These folks know how to party! After all the formalities and offerings were through they broke out the beer and food. Two bottles of beer were divided up among like 12 men, dad and I receiving a generous cup-full each. A lot of different foods were brought out on plates carried by little kids and we ended up with enough to provide for our dinner.

Soon after we finished eating we stood up and said good-bye, namaste, thank you, and good night to everyone and walked back around the corner to the rickety wooden ladder that leads to our room. I was still sleeping upstairs at this point but perhaps this was the last night, because upstairs is where the potatoes are stored, just like in heaps on the ground definitely not covered. In fact when I first told our sweet host woman that I would prefer my own room or rather just my own bed she quickly hopped up the other rickety ladder in our current room and simply pushed the potatoes to either side making a clear pathway to a back room up there where a lone bed awaited my sleeping body. Only problem was that the potatoes attracted swarms of gnats. At first they didn't seem to be all that bad since they were silent and at first not so numerous. But then this particular night they gave me a lot of trouble while I was trying to fall asleep but I was still alright with it. But then I was woken up way too early by them or something else and couldn't freakin fall back asleep because now they were buzzing silently around my face and landing wherever they pleased, driving me nuts. I pulled my sleeping bag up over my head and still they seemed to be seeping through any little openings. Finally it was daybreak and I poked my head out for some fresh air and just layed there chilling, trying my best to ignore the gnats. Then bam! Before I knew it one was in my ear... I reached the bugger to pull him out but he was already on his way. Christ, now I could hear him! Every little movement he made freaked me out and sent spasms through my spine. I wrestled my finger in there a bit and that stopped the terrible buzzing but I was sure he was still in there. Freaking out I made my way down to the lower room where Nate and dad were and after explaining my dilemma my dad got some warm water, left over from the previous nights boiling pot, and told me to lay backwards on the bed with my head hanging over the end. I obeyed and then he proceeded to pour the water into my ear, which felt great and definitely cleaned it out of gnat, wax, dirt and everything.

This was the rough start to what turned into an amazing day. The three of us climbed down from our room, took turns going over to the tap where we could brush our teeth, shave, and use the toilet, and then we re-grouped back at the kitchen to get some tea down our throats. This morning I made it my mission to get some yerba mate made which can be difficult since the kitchen is definitely out of our jurisdiction. We got our tea and I asked our sweet Nepali host for some tato panni, but then she disappeared and wasn't seen again for a while so I just resorted to dropping my tea bag into my water bottle. I took a few sips, half forcing it down, definitely not the best taste. Then the woman reappeared with a hot pot of water making me realize my impatience. But so I added the hot to the cold and came out with a delicious warm bottle of mate. Happy at this I took off down the hill with the gang. And before we left we saw a group of young girls making flower leis, and upon arrival at our school site this group of girls appeared just a little ways behind us. Also gathered here were most of our committee members and just some excited villager friends checking it out.

We had come knowing that this was going to be a little opening ceremony sort of thing, but we were not at all sure of how it was going to go. Well first off we took measurements using the very long and capable measuring tape that Pratap provided. The measurements were based on the funky rock piling layout marks that we had set up the day before mainly so we could just get some pictures showing where the rooms would roughly be. Now we adjusted the marks slightly to make even measurements and we also scooted the back wall a little closer to the hillside. We had to consider a few things when deciding where the building would finally sit like we had to be sure to not have any part of it on the freshly created ground which would not be fully strong and compacted for a long time. Really landslides are the biggest concern because during the 2-3 month monsoon season they can become quite frequent. So freshly established, filled-in land is very likely to slip away along with anything that might be on top of it when the first rains come. Also, the fresh cliff on the opposite side of what will be our building is another disaster waiting to happen. One of our first objectives is to create a retaining wall to hold up that crumbly face.

After much discussion and recording measurements into different books the formal ceremony began. We still didn't know how it was going to go but we just went with it and had a lot of fun. First we sat around the far, rear, right hand corner of the building where a guy with a pick ax began striking the ground, within no time making a nice hole about 2 feet deep by 3 feet wide. The next thing that happened was 3 men came cruising up all sharing the weight of a nice hefty stone which was dropped into the freshly dug hole. Some things were arranged and some words exchanged and then the next, more formal ceremonial rituals began. Oh shoot, actually there was one strange thing that was done before the huge stone was dropped; a small piece of poop, a turd probably from a donkey or who knows, was placed down in the hole, and then a coin, a gold coin was placed on the poop, and upon this was the stone dropped. My dad let me know that he had seen this same things done before, in fact one of his clients had gone through this same elaborate process only on a million dollar house and not a primitive stone and mud bare bones building. Somehow it seemed much more appropriate in this setting. We were all huddled around the hole and Munju the awesome, energetic, independent and intelligent woman who will be our head teacher began tossing dirt on the embedded stone. My dad also did this however Nate and I did not partake but rather sat back and took pictures. Now Munju was creating a beautiful little altar on top of the stone; a little tea pot, golden and full of water was there, some flowers and natural beauty, and then a bundle of lit incense was stuck into the dirt just above the hole. Then she, and again dad following suit, began tossing red tikka powder at the altar, and then while different people came up to throw a little red of their own, Munju stood up with the golden tea pot of water and poured a thick stream all around the stone, emptying the pot. I remember seeing, as this was going on, a few woman around the perimeter of the hole making prayer gestures almost like they were going to do prostrations but never quite going for it.

This concluded the objective side of the ceremony. The altar was looking beautiful and the incense was burning strong. Now the two committee presidents (sporting blue HANDS shirts that we had given them that morning) Nate, dad and myself crouched in a line and received our blessings. I was to the right of dad and got to see a preview of what I was in for. Munju took a palm-full of red tikka powder and smeared it on his forehead starting between his eye brows and then all the way up and over his skull. A thick smearing making him look like a crazed warrior. Then a flower lei was dropped around his neck, and then she bowed to seal the deal and moved in front of me while another woman repeated the same process on dad. 3 rounds of dousing and 3 layers of flowers each before we were allowed to stand and then pose for several group pictures. And this pretty much concluded the whole ceremony but we hung around for at least an hour more going over our plans, talking with the man who would be our head contractor about window and door options, copying down notes, dimensions, and estimated prices into several different books.

..... (that is all I have for now, sorry to stop it short, but that is the meat of the tale, and I think now I will just pick up with whatever new things come about, the rest of this one stays in the village. So now we are leaving again tomorrow, after a 6 day break where we went on a trek to Everest. More on that soon, we are so rushed for time. My dad leaves on May 2nd so we are trying to really use his time wisely and do as much as possible. I am thinking of staying out in the village for a little more lengthy period of time on this trip, but then again I might just come back with my dad to see him off at the Kathmandu airport. Nate is also joining us again, going to give it another go and get some more quality pictures. He is having a lot of trouble getting his photos uploaded onto the web, but soon he will have a nice little collection and then I will definitely post the link to it on this blog here. So everything is still going pretty good, and I'm really looking forward to getting out into the country again, so much more relaxing and nourishing compared to Kathmandu, although I have to say I am starting to really have a lot of fun cruising around the city now that I know where I am and where to go and how to get things done, etc. Anyways I wish I could write more right now, feel like I have a lot to say but really no time and absolutely have to leave right now to get back to Karma's in time for dinner. Peace! Namaste! Check back in soon!

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Skinny Man Feeling Fat

Now much time has passed, things have happened, a lot of time was spent. I'm growing more and more into this lifestyle, so much so that it feels silly to write about my daily outings. I guarantee you that there is not too much to tell. The things I am experiencing in my day to day life are really interesting, sometimes exciting, but it just wouldn't translate well into a blog, or even into a photograph. It is the little interactions with people, the subtle differences of Nepal and the U.S. that make any boring activity a little more fun for the person involved in it, but not quite enough to make the person who is not directly experiencing it understand how nice it can be. But my friend from home, co-graduate from Atascadero High School Class of 2006, Nate Abate has a blog now and I imagine he is writing with more enthusiasm about the finer things. He is a follower of this blog, and his profile will take you to his blog.

He is a journal entry from this morning, I was in a really good mood.

"Last night I collapsed into bed exhausted, completely spent, and this morning I woke up feeling great. While lying in bed last night trying to fall asleep my mind began to wander and drift and examine itself. I had a sort of slight subtle realization that up to now my life is where and how I want it. Looking back over the years I can now see that everything that happened to me, no matter whether I thought it good or bad, wonderful or terrible at the time, has led me to where I am today. My life is and has been how I want it, and now I just feel like that in moving on I will have more appreciation and understanding in the sense that things that I may perceive as unpleasant or threatening could be a potential doorway to what I am really looking for.

"Currently I am sitting here again in the Shechen Monastery guest house, just a few doors away from the room I checked into when I first arrived here from India. Nate arrived in Nepal about 5-6 days ago and is now experiencing the third-world sickness that all must go through. Yesterday evening when his condition was shown to not be improving we decided to move him into my dads room where he would be closer to a toilet and have the luxury of a hot shower. My Dad has been here for about 2 days and is really enjoying himself, everything is trippin' him out.

"Reading Henry Miller's Sexus for the second time I came across this now familiar passage which addresses perfectly the feeling I've been having this morning; 'When I think now of the ruse by which I was liberated, when I think that I was released from this prison because the one I loved wanted to get rid of me, what a sad, baffled, mystifying smile comes over my features. How confused and intricate everything is! We are grateful to those who stab us in the back; we run away from those who would help us; we congratulate ourselves on our good luck, never dreaming that our good luck may be a quagmire from which it will be impossible to extricate ourselves. We run forward with head turned. We rush blindly into the trap. We never escape, except into a cul-de-sac.'

"So yeah today I'm feeling good and content. It's wonderful to share my exotic and strange little world here with a couple worthy companions from home. It puts things into a fresh perspective to take them places and see their reactions."

(end of transmission...)

So this afternoon, just a little while ago in fact, my dad, my Tibetan brother and father and I (Nate stayed at home to rest up) went to visit our good friends parents. A few years ago we helped one young girl named Gnaw-wan get a visa and come to America to be with her now husband Topgyal, who happens to be one of Karmas children. We took a bit of time and effort, making many copies of legal documents, providing sponsor letters, and even making a trip to the U.S. embassy while in Kathmandu and in the end it all paid off and she got to take a plane outta here and to a more hopeful future. Now her parents are eternally grateful and insist that we come to their home for a lunch or dinner whenever we are in Kathmandu. Well, as it turns out, we are in Kathmandu almost every year! For the past 3 at least. So now we have made our annual visit and have eaten our annual supply of momos. I warned my dad about the vast quantities but he merely brushed it aside, refusing to believe it until he had seen it. Now I sit here feeling fatter than I've felt in a long time, and dad sitting next to me looks like hes ready for a nice siesta. It was an incredible meal, and for the first time I was actually ready for it. I prepared all day by eating nothing, just a few cups of tea here and there. We walked all over the place, checked both Nate and dad out of their respective guest houses and trucked all the gear up to Karmas by taxi. Then we had tea there, and Dad decided to get a lot of questions off his chest. Mainly just drilling Yung Dung about the visa process, and the Nepali passport process. Then we got Nate good and comfortable before heading out to walk the 40 minute walk all the way to the Tibetan refugee camp in Boudha where Gnaw-wans family resides. So yes good and hungry I was.... once inside and after the customary greetings and gift exchange we were sat down to more tea, and a tin of cookies and snacks, none of which I ate. Then, just as my will was beginning to flex a little and I made a grab for a cookie, Amma swung open the curtain and came in bearing a huge pot of freshly made momo's. Shin Po Do Amma!!! I let out a little cry and a whimper upon the sight and smell of it. Then the daughter brought in a sizable pot of Dahl, and then I think a cousin, or some relative, brought in a large plate of rice, and then amma came back with another pot of some sort of like glass noodles with a good sauce and chopped mushrooms, and then there was the pot of green vegetables, and then a plate of sliced cucumber with salt. We all dove in, loading up the plates, and I think I must have re-loaded mine at least 3 times. Amma was very pleased with me today. But now I am a little hurting, probably will be skipping or at least cutting way back on my rice dinner.