Early May, 2009
Hi! Here’s a little bit about Kathmandu. It’s a city that, as my dad said, grows on you. Strange and varied, it offers so very much to the people who come here. Strangely, or perhaps not so much, I love it!
The sky hangs over the city like a motel bed-spread, low and dingy, neither heavy nor light, sprinkled with who knows what. It hides the hills from view, encasing the valley and closing out the rest of the world. I try to wake early and stretch in the morning, easing the night’s sleep from my limbs and readying myself for the madness of this world I love. Black tea and sugar offer a wake-up as I read before washing my face and dressing for the day. I step outside onto the balcony and descend the three flights of steps to the tiny cemented yard and the great metal gate that opens onto a brick-cobbled alley. Following the alley, I spill onto the street, not yet crowded with pedestrians, bicycles, motorbikes, taxis, microvans and buses. Today the jacarandas are once more shrouded in smog, their delicate purple matted gray and hardly distinguishable from the gray sky behind them. For a couple of days, they had been purple and purple, washed clean by a sudden rain that had caught me walking home from work and drenched me to the bone. The sky too had been washed clean and for two days, colors had regained their vivid hues. Today they are back to gray, dull, muted.
Shops have begun to open, but for the most part, metal gratings line the street, pulled down in front of shop windows and doorways. A man on a bicycle rickshaw painted a mural of very Indian looking designs calls to me, “Ride madam.” I smile, shake my head and continue walking. This morning I enter Thamel, the touristed area where, as one elderly woman on the bus ride back to Kathmandu from Singati told me, there is no Nepal. Thamel is a land not quite of here yet neither of anywhere else, created for the people who frequent it, streeets packed with beautiful objects for foreigners to buy: backpacking gear, pashmina shawls and sweaters, woolen hats and scarves, colorful clothing that few Nepalis would wear but that I long to fill my own closet with, shoes, silver jewelry, paper products, embroidered bags, t-shirts, bookstores, supermarkets that sell toilet paper and imported chocolate and muesli, statues of gods and godesses, the Tibetan Buddhist Thangka paintings, restaurants, bars and more. I need to buy some stamps and mail some letters, and I hope that one of the map and postcard stores will be open for this.
I pass a bundle of blankets on the sidewalk; it looks like a person is wrapped inside them. A shopkeeper watches two puppies nuzzle each other in a dark corner. A stray dog picks at the trash in the gutter. In the evening, this area will be swamped with people, dogs, traffic, buzzing with motion, the air electric with the exchange of money and goods. There is one shop open, dark inside because of the load shedding that puts various parts of the city in the dark for at least 14 hours a day (earlier in the year, I am told, it was up to 20 hours a day). I ask about stamps in Nepali and immediately the young man working in the store lights up. It is amazing how white skin and a few Nepali words gives me instantaneous celebrity status here.
Having purchased the stamps and left my letters to be mailed, I exit the store and head back out toward the rest of the city. I am eager to be out again in the morning. Eager to stretch my legs. Happy to know where to catch the share-vehicle that will take me to Jawalakhel on the other side of the Bagmati River. When I arrive, I will cross the street and walk through the lot of people with fresh fruit stands, the snack stands where you can buy roasted peanuts or chips or popcorn, the plastic sheets covered in piles of used clothes for sale cheap, I wind by the parked taxis and the little snack houses. I walk along a tall wall, and just above it, I can see the top of bird cages inside the zoo. I will look to catch a glimpse of the gold-topped cockatoos. A couple of evenings ago, I heard a lion roaring as I walked home along this way. Today I pass an older couple doing puja at the little temple at the corner. I turn left. A couple of little boys in school uniforms walk with their arms around each other’s shoulders. The shorter one kicks the toe of his shoe into the dirt with every step, drumming a rhythm for himself and his friend. I pass them and approach the great pink house where the office is. I let myself into the pedestrian door in the gate to be greeted by the guard. Smiling, I ask him how he’s doing, then make my way up the steps and into the building where several NGOs share offices.
I am the first to arrive, and i open windows and doors to get the air in our office circulating. Prema-ji will be in soon with her bright smile, quick wit and eager laugh. I like her so much already! She reminds me of one of my Nepali teachers, an excellent combination of intelligence and fun!
Ah what a strange itinerant life i lead. i am so grateful to be here today, and I will try to keep my ears and eyes open to learn and take in all that goes on around me.