I haven’t written an update in a few days because I haven’t had any exciting crazy adventures. It’s been all about brainstorming, researching and getting to know each other creatively and otherwise.
The other day we started off at breakfast in the hotel, easily the best meal of our days. A continental meal filled with all we can eat fruit, cereal, toast, eggs, sausage, danishes, pancakes, even Nepali breakfast food, which is more like supper. We filled our pockets with oranges and apples and headed out to meet Bev at the European Union Embassy.
Or so we thought.. Our hotel gave us the wrong directions, our taxi driver didn’t know where we were going and every time we asked for directions from someone on the street or a security guard, we were told to go in whichever direction we had come from. Finally, we ended up at the south entrance to the old royal palace with a couple of guards who had no idea where the EU was, we were 20 minutes late and still had no idea where the entrance was.
Finally a guy came out and told us he would guide us there, after walking around for 10 more minutes in the wrong direction, we figured out which building it was and walked until we found the entrance, it ended up being across the street from the south entrance to the royal palace.
Luckily, the ambassador was able to stay a little longer to meet with us, so we turned the camera on and we talked about the wall. Ben mostly spoke, wording everything carefully and painted a picture using ideas of moving from darkness into the light, breaking chains and walls and turning Kathmandu and Nepal into a safe place for all women and all children. The ambassador told us we have free reign and we walked out together to take pictures and look at the wall we will be painting. It’s a very long wall, about 9 ft high and 75 ft long. We want to put the lighter elements of hope and dreams where the entrance is, while a set of all seeing eyes are in the middle and the chains and a cowering girl will be placed on the other side. Ben assigned me the cowering girl after seeing my work and deciding I’d be the best at translating the emotions in her body. We will all be working the whole wall, but each big element is assigned as a different aspect, with children painting into the wall their own experiences and dreams for the future. This will be a very powerful statement that has never been done here before.
I am not only deeply honored, but also incredibly grateful for the opportunity to help others by using art and the power of image to share life experiences in order to plant seeds of change and ultimately end horrific situations and events that have occurred. We are giving voice to the unheard and shedding light on shadows of deep cracks in humanity.
We went back to our hotel to discuss and brainstorm ideas. After lunch, we headed back out to meet with the Australian Embassy. We made sure to get there early this time and met with the ambassador and his junior who had just arrived in Nepal. This was our first meeting with them and it was empowering. They are up for some leadership in humanity award next year and are eager to show their support on women’s rights. Bev talked much more during this meeting, introducing the Wall of Hope and everything his organization is doing. We watched a couple of videos, my favorite was one done by the Nike Foundation where girl after girl looked at the camera and said things such as I want you to look at me as a girl/ human/ person, not as a victim, not as a face for your campaign, not with pity, or I want you to see me, not my scars. It was a video that resonated with me strongly as I have told my story before and been met with pity, apologies and being told I was damaged or a victim.
One thing the ambassador said, which I was so moved by was when we were talking about statistics and Bev gave one about the number of girls who were taken as sex slaves. The ambassador responded that he didn’t care what the number was, the fact that it even exists is a problem. He told us that of course we could paint his wall, but he requests we give him some kind of a sketch before we start. Bravo and celebrations ensued.
We immediately began talking about what we wanted to paint on that wall, which is much taller and about a third of the width as the EU. I came up with an idea of evolution, like with apes turning into a man, but using a woman on the ground, then breaking out of a cage, then a woman extending a hand to help her up, then eventually a woman standing tall and proud. They loved it and we continued to expand that thought.
We will be starting the EU wall first, finishing it then moving on to the Australian wall next week. We will have children from school coming to help us for each project and if we finish in time, Bev has a couple of other walls for us to paint as well, one of them to be used for International Women’s Day on March 8th.
The next day was Saturday, the day of rest in Nepal. No stores are open and so we spent the day researching, sketching, brainstorming and photoshopping the wall together. I cannot wait to show you all what we have planned.
It is so inspiring working with Ben, he has travelled all over the world, working with all kinds of people, orphans, refugees, traditional artists with a dying art. He has a huge heart and you can easily see the passion he has for all of humanity. He also has the craziest stories. He has snuck onto trains and boats, hitchhiked through Europe, gotten out of countless situations of people trying to kill him, and he has stayed true to himself and his art through all of it. He told us about the time when he almost had his arm cut off in Columbia, and when he meditated with monks and the Dali Lama. He was given keys to a Shaman’s house in Peru and was told he was in charge of healing anyone who knocked on the door. He lives off of less than $200 a month usually and gets countless gifts from those he has helped. He and Chris went to high school together and have 20+ years of friendship, not always on good terms.
We have all shared our stories and although I am well aware of my journey and how I got here, it’s always fun for me to look back and share the difference the last couple of years has made. After one share over lunch where I told everybody about my ex husband telling me I wasn’t allowed to do art in my own apartment and the last phone call I received where he was astonished by my happiness and hung up on me, Ben reflected at the beauty in my strength and persistence. I have been told over and over by both Chris and Ben that the energy I have brought and the talent I hold makes our team complete. They are grateful to not only my feminine touch, but the humbleness and balance I hold within my demeanor and art. I am reminded daily that art is not a career or an action, but a way of life.
Today, the boys went shopping for paint while Livia and I taxied over to Thamel to look for string to make her a dread, which we couldn’t find and we all met back up at the EU wall to measure it. We then took a big detour, led by Rashiv (Bev’s assistant) to meet Bev and look at the other walls he has in mind.
What a detour. He walked us down the street and showed us the nicer parts of town, starting with malls filled with designer brands, then a recreation center filled with expats and wealthy Nepalis. Traffic picked up and we started hearing yelling through a few loudspeakers. A huge crowd had formed, countless people squeezed into a makeshift stadium with riot police and army men surrounding it. We asked Rashiv what was being said. He replied it said to stay strong, believe in the government and not listen to the untrue rumors that were spreading. He warned us to stay close and I moved my backpack to my front. He cautioned to be wary of pick pockets and told us all of the people in the stadium were lured there by $10 and free lunch. It was a political campaign. I am learning so much about the politics here and it makes me much more optimistic for America. Nepal is a small poor country and they have been through so much in the last decade with civil war and political unrest. Like many poor countries, their government doesn’t help their own people and seems as though it is very corrupt. I have walked past protests and seen many police in riot gear walking down the street.
After passing the stadium, we worked our way onto a bus only to realize we could walk faster, so we hopped off and found ourselves at this crazy underground swap meet. Of course we had to see what was below, so we trailed down into the dirt where it was much cooler. I wanted a hat since I had left all mine at home, not wanting to lose any and found just the one: a black baseball hat with a dove on the front holding a marijuana leaf, the side has a red atlas of the world and the back says 2013. It’s rad, it’s hilarious and it’s so me. I immediately feel much more comfortable and the sun is out of my eyes. Poor Rashiv tries to drag us out telling us we are late to our meeting and we eventually comply.
We hop back on a bus, by then traffic has started moving once again and we weave through traffic and arrive at the zoo. After Bev shows us around, he walks us to a restaurant that has a nice space for live music and is right next to a music conservatory. We order food and he comments that we must be sick of Nepali food, since we order pizza, sandwiches and pasta.
An interesting thing has happened while being here, I haven’t gotten sick once and I’ve been eating all of the gluten I want. I’ve mentioned this a couple of times throughout my trip and Ben agrees, he never eats any of that while in the states. The fruit even tastes better; I have never had a more banana tasting banana or a better Asian pear as I have eaten here.
Of course when eating with Bev, we always pay twice as much, though the food is also much better, he frequents upscale expat and NGO locales. Bev and Rashiv leave for another meeting and they let us figure out how to get back to the hotel.
This proves much more difficult than expected, as most transportation goes here. We sit on a bus for 30 minutes only moving about 20 ft so we hop off and weave through pedestrians for an hour before grabbing a tuk tuk to take us the rest of the way. We get back to our hotel two hours later and exhausted from walking and telling all of the drivers that we refuse to pay more than a Nepali. (We are catching on, but it’s still hard to correct every time).
Once in our suite, I give Livia a haircut, eat an apple and help Chris cut up his paint shirt for ventilation.
Tomorrow we scrape, grid and start painting the EU wall. I anticipate my updates will become more sporadic as my days are filled with more strenuous activity and intense emotions.