Today is Monday the 14th and I'm leaving Nepal for good next Tuesday, the 22nd. Now things are coming to a close and I'm feeling good and ready to move on to new things. I returned from my last village trip yesterday morning. A group of us, my mom, my friend from school and his girlfriend, my Tibetan brother Yung Dung, and Rajan made the trip out together as one big ole happy family. For me the strenuous jeep ride through the treacherous mountains has become routine and I know exactly how to handle it and what to expect. For my companions it was a wild experience anew and a challenge to get comfortable. My strategy is and has always been putting on head phones; I carry a floppy black case of cds with me everywhere I go now having learned that down time is a regular part of my job requirements. In Thamel, the tourist area of Kathmandu, there are amazing music shops selling all varieties of pirated cds for roughly 2 bucks a piece and I spend much of my free time browsing for hard-to-find artists.
On the way out of Kathmandu we hit an unexpected delay that pretty much doubled our travel time. Winding down the mountains after peaking over them coming out of the Kathmandu valley we looked way down to the valley floor and saw that the whole windy road was stopped up with colorful buses and big trucks and motorcycles and people walking outside along next to them. It was terribly hot and before I knew it I had cycled through my entire library of music. Luckily I had just bought a new Carl Hiaasen book, whom I've been loving lately along with my new Henry Miller book, Nexus. Plenty of fantastic reading material and never a better time for it. We never did find out what caused the jam, but I would have to say that it happens when the buses coming up the mountain at a slow chug try to pass another slow climbing bus. This low-speed passing makes any oncoming traffic, zipping down at a high speed have to slow way down and wait for the big bus to get back on the appropriate side of the road. Sometimes 3 or 4 buses will pass a really slow one together and cause a minor traffic jam that could easily develop into a 5 mile blockage.
In Dhading we had a couple of hours of waiting before we were able to commandeer a jeep for our rugged outfit. Then we hit the trail and made it all of 30 minutes before a scary sound came from under the frame of the jeep, a popping metallic sound that seemed to be spinning and whacking against the under belly. My spirits were squashed. We were told to get out and that the jeep was broken beyond roadside repair and would need to return asap to Dhading for serious surgery. We would have to wait until a jeep came from the other direction and then convince the drivers and passengers to basically swap places with us. We getting the fresh jeep for the long journey and them taking the beat up failure back to town. About an hour passed before one of the Nepali guys in our own outfit came running back down the road from up above with an empty and strong looking jeep following close behind. He went around and accepted every one's gratitude happily. Where he found this empty and ready to serve jeep is a complete mystery to me. Then a long argument took place about the new price for our ride.
With these complications we didn't get to the lower part of Darkha, where the jeeps stop, until about 9pm, way too late to make the hike up to the heart of the village. So we slept in a rooming house down there where we all had to share beds, mom and I sleeping on one that was outside under the starry sky. In the morning we packed up and began the serious hike up to our school to see how it was looking. It was very exciting for me to be sharing this place that has become so dear and precious to me with my mom. After months and months of hearing about it and seeing pictures and reading all the descriptions here in my blog I couldn't wait to show her everything in person. We walked up slowly taking many rests and running into many friends who were thrilled to be meeting my mom. Up and up we went. My legs have become a bit stronger from all the stair hiking that one must do every day in the village so I wasn't feeling too much fatigue but my friends and mother were. When we came close to where our school building sits I went ahead and hopped on up there to wait for my moms arrival and watch her first impressions and reactions. I was really surprised to see that once again Rajan had somehow organized a huge gathering for a welcoming party. There were painted banners hanging, half in Nepali, half in English. A homemade archway with a red ribbon across it was placed at the entrance to the school and there were children in blue school uniforms scattered about all over excitedly awaiting my moms arrival. I was now a pretty regular fixture to them and didn't cause such a ruckus when I arrived but rather went around to friends to say hello and namaste and such.
Then we all gathered at the edge of the land where the trail comes up from and watched as my mom struggled up the steep narrow trail, looking up at us with a huge smile. When she came to the crest she let out a huge sigh and then looked around at the scene with a permanent huge smile plastered on her face. There was our school building with a lot of people all gathered around it and lots of decorations hanging off of it, and here all around her now where all the students who would be attending it. We were laughing and I was introducing her to more and more people who have been involved. Then the kids were called over by the adults and made to stand in two separate lines. They arranged themselves in the same way as they had a few months earlier when I first came on my own. I stood back in awe and realized what all had taken place since that first trip out when we were surveying the land and making loose plans. Now here it was, our beautiful school.
Once everyone was in their position we walked towards them and then in between the two lines of students who were all holding home made flower leis and ceremonial katas, and then we all took deep bows to accept them from the children, most of whom only reached up to my knees. It was incredibly touching and a joyous moment for all of us. We were all meandering around and talking with each other, a lot of laughing and big smiles, a lot of cute little kids saying "Namaste" again and again to us. Then mom was handed a pair of scissors and told to officially open the school by cutting the red ribbon; a real ribbon cutting ceremony! All was quiet as she stepped up to the archway, scissors in hand. Then a roar of applause cut loose as the cut ribbon fell to either side and she stepped through, me following close behind. On the other side we began to mosey around the nearly completed school building. There are 7 more sheets of tin needed to cover the last part of the last room and the floors still need to be filled in and cemented, and then we will have to furnish the rooms. Aside from that the bulk of the work is finished. It is strange to think about that, after all the concern and hopes I had invested in this.
After more talking and laughing and inspecting and describing the work of the school to mom we all met in the front of the building for a quick art project. We had two large sheets of cloth that we wanted the kids the paint with their hand prints. It was a hit, every kid got a chance to cover his/her hand with brightly colored paint and then slap it onto the hanging cloth. Took a gallery of photos of that for future HANDS promotions. Then we were served tea and some biscuits and more time was allowed for this momentous occasion to sink into psyches. Then it was time for a speech giving ceremony so we decided to huddle into one of the classrooms which felt like a kind of christening to me. A few chairs were provided for mom and I, a table was set up as a podium for speech givers to stand behind, and the rest of the gathering sat cross-legged on straw mats on the floor. Mom and I sat in silence while much Nepali was spoken. Then Rajan informed us that everyone wanted to start by holding a minute of silence in memory of our brother and son Sean. I was took completely by surprise and my heart lurched when I heard him say this. This whole time I've been here I've felt like Sean has been at my side, every step of the way. I feel like his spirit has been with me, this is something I know he would have loved so much and at that moment when we stood in a big circle in silence in our classroom, perched way up on a Himalayan mountain in the heart of Nepal, surrounded by the most outstanding and just straight up cool people ever, I swear I could feel him right there with us smiling from ear to ear. I couldn't help but cry with joy at that moment, I was completely overwhelmed, and even now writing this I can't help but get a little teary, it was so moving and incredible and unforgettable. In that moment I knew that I had been doing this for Sean, without him I would not have been there.
I was knocked into an emotional state for the rest of the meeting, I was so touched and completely overtaken by the fact that we did it, how many amazing friends we've made! What an incredible community to now be a fixture in! What doors it has opened! What confidence it has given me! Now a few people stood up and took their place behind the table podium to give heart felt speeches that we're translated after the fact by Rajan sitting next to us. Soon enough it was my turn and I still felt unprepared emotionally to speak in front of everyone but I got up anyways and walked up to the podium. I said Namaskar then fumbled about trying to let them know how much I appreciated their commitment and kindness. I was speaking my thoughts as they came to me and suddenly I said "Now when I think of Nepal I will always think of Darkha," and as I said Darkha I couldn't stay calm and had to laugh and look up at the ceiling to contain my tears again. At that moment I just realized what that meant to me, and what Darkha represents to me and the wonderful people who live there that never waver or fumble in their humor and kindness. I quickly, with choking words, wrapped up what I had to say by just thanking them all again and again. I just wanted to thank them for being them, for existing and living in the way they do. People of Darkha, I love you so much!
The rest of the day was spent having a good meal of Dal Bhat and doing a bit of hiking around showing off the beautiful landscapes of the area. Around 3pm we hiked down to the river, took a quick dip to get refreshed, then got seats arranged for a jeep ride out. This was a quick trip and we all had many things to do in Kathmandu. We completed what we had came for and now it was time to go. Pratap and Gopal accompanied us down and I assured them that I would be back fairly soon, at least in the next year.
Now in Kathmandu we have been doing so so so many things. Mom is an incredible doer. Every hour of the day is filled with productive activity, very well-managed and usually very successful and efficient. Today we stopped off at the Buddhist Child Home orphanage, which I haven't visited in a long time, and rained piles of dolls, clothes, balls, and candy down on all the kids who were thrilled out of their minds. We made arrangements to take them on an outing this Saturday to a famous Shiva temple which is also supposed to be a wonderful picnic spot. Tomorrow mom, Yung Dung, Karma, his wife and I will all be going to Pokhara together for a little get away. We also wanted to visit the Tibetan refugee camp there to see if we can lend our HANDS. On Friday we will stop off in Dhading where Rajan will meet us to also scope out another village site for a possible future school. He told us that there is a village there that is of a lower caste, meaning under-privileged, community of shoe-makers who could really use help of any kind.