April 5, 2008
A familiar Nepali song whose words I can’t quite catch croons in the background as I sit and pound at the computer keyboard. The internet cafe I’m in is tucked under a building at the bottom of some concrete steps, and I watch people’s feet as they walk by. Gangtok has been a city of memories for me, both memories, crisp and clear, of the last time I was here three years ago – people and places – as well as the new memories I create with the people and places now.
Three days ago we went to Rhumtek, the seat of the Karmapa, an important figure in Tibetan Buddhism. The drive takes us through a road that winds along the edges of hills, beneath the leaning walls of bamboo whose leaves whisper like pieces of parchment whispering the secrets that have been written upon them.
Houses perch on terraces cut into the hillsides; their front porches a throng of flowers parading their colors before passers by. It is beautiful, and I try to breathe it in as we bump along the roads. We arrive at the monastery and walk down the paved road that leads to it. Jiwaan Daaju points across to a village of scattered homes, carefully terraced fields, green with this season’s crops sliced by a road that zig zags down to it. Isn’t it beautiful? He asks. A perfect village. I nod and sweep my eyes over the village and the hills around it. The monastery faces away from the road, down across the valley and the hills on the other side and as I turn the final corner to reach the front, a deep sense of knowing this place fills me. An afternoon three years ago, with rain falling hard, and myself and other students and teachers dripping. My friend Michelle is trying to take off her wet jacket and struggling with her bag. Instinctively, I take the bag from her, holding it while she removes her jacket. Shova-ji, a teacher and role model for me here looks at me. You’re different, she tells me. You pay attention. This is what we Nepalis do, but I have noticed it is not so common among students from the US. The memory floods my mind and I feel a pang. Shova is back in Kathmandu. I move away from the temple unable to go inside. I sit on a low wall enclosing a square of grass in front of the monastery and watch the path below. A calico cat walks up it, sleek and sure of her footing. Small flowers, tiny pink and white daisies, dot the rocky land below me.
It’s 9:00 and city lights twinkle in the night. I am not ready for sleep or even for sitting. I turn to the students with me – Jost and Dan – do either of you want to go walking? I’m not ready to head in yet. Jost nods. Yeah. Let’s do it. We set out on the road that curves down the hill from the Cherry Guest House where we stay. We talk as we walk, following the road down and then up and towards the heart of the city. We pass groups of people standing in the doorways of shops not yet closed. Jost turns to me, do you ever feel afraid here in India. Afraid? I ask. And think…. Yeah, like with the dogs or something. I think again. Not really. I mean, I guess I usually feel pretty safe. I’m usually more fearful of people anyway. But I’ve traveled a fair bit, and people tend not to hassle me – when I’m here or when I”m in the US. I think I give off a: don’t mess with me sort of vibe. I don’t know. Jost laughs. A don’t mess with me vibe? He asks. Really? Yeah. I mean. I don’t know. People usually leave me alone or talk to me. I don’t know why.
We walk and talk – about people and fear. I say something and Jost laughs.
So does the person walking behind us. Excuse me, he says. But you are speaking Nepali. It’s true, we have been. I smile. Yes. Where did you learn such good Nepali? How long have you been here? I don’t usually hear foreigners speaking Nepali to each other. It makes me feel quite pleased. I let Jost talk with the man and add in a few things here and there. Okay, this is my turn, he tells us. Goodnight. I am so glad to have met you. We’re happy to have met you too. I tell him. Good night. We walk on. The night feels warmer. So often, these are the interactions I have here – not at all frightening or dangerous. I smile and keep talking to Jost.
Today I head to Kathmandu to renew my Indian visa and work out plans for travel in Nepal/India after the program is over as well as plans for returning to the US. I am excited about visiting my new home that I will share for some time with my parents in Massachusetts. After all the moving I have done in teh last two years, it is exciting to hear about their experiences doing the same.
Interesting how good life is and how I still find myself sometimes spending so much time and energy obsessing about things that are in some ways meaningless. Wry smile. Just a thought.
Love and peace to all of you.