Well friends, it has been over a week since my last update, which means I’ve had a busy week! I wish I could have continued sending them daily, as I have said before, I typically write most daily events down in my journal. However, I have been so busy I have barely had time to sleep and eat and shower.
The last week, I have been waking up between 6 and 7, at breakfast by 7/7:30 and at the wall by 8:30/9. We have been painting until 9 or some days even until 11:30pm, then back to our amazing hotel, showering and in bed by 12:30/1am.
We finished the mural today and the result was epic. I was given the opportunity to shine and I am beyond grateful. I took the paint and flew, shaping the wall from a crumbling brick wall into a journey of heartbreak, pain, freedom, beauty and resilience. We not only transformed a wall, but transformed ourselves, the volunteers and the women and children who, for the first time, held paint brushes and made art.
Some highlights of the week came in ups and downs. Of course the biggest downer was in some challenging interactions with each other. Ben and Chris have known each other for about two decades, which shows itself in their disagreements and their brotherly love. They know each other so well that when it’s good, everything is wonderful, laughing, joking and the energy is magnetic. However, when it’s bad, well, let’s just say there was a terrible taxi ride that ended in yelling and Chris almost walking out on the project.
Chris and I also had a few moments and though we made up later, there are a few characteristics that cause us to clash in moments of pressure. We are all artists, creative and dedicated to spreading love and acceptance. We are all here volunteering, which means, we are all here on our own accord. Some people work better under these circumstances than others.
Livia is Ben’s travel companion at the moment and though she continually claims she is not an artist, she brings a vibrant energy to our group. She and I have become really good friends, giggling as I’ve been teaching her how to mix colors and making fun of the boys. If we ever have a day off she plans to teach me a Brazilian dance.
Ben and I are very similar in our work ethic and views on humanity. We both like early mornings and have no problem getting to the wall early and staying late. Chris on the other hand is not a morning person, which makes it hard to not complain about the division of work. He also has a habit of talking to me in a way I don’t respond well to, more in the wording and timing of statements. Many deep breathes have taken place, many reminders to myself of why I am here and how much growth has and will continue to happen.
I realized today I have been in Nepal for 3 weeks. I feel like I’ve been here for 6 months. I am getting used to the people, I know my way around the city and I’m getting really good at arguing prices with taxi drivers.
We take a mini bus into the center of Kathmandu everyday, about a 20-30 min ride depending on traffic. It costs 15 Rs, but as with everything, we are always hassled to give at least 20Rs a person. After an off morning with Ben, Livia and I having to make a huge fuss and Ben body checking the boy taking money in order to get off, we now have a system where we refuse to pay until we are all off and the last person pays the boy and we walk on without looking back. We found out after that episode that the bus system is led by the mafia and they have pressured the government so nobody can encroach on their routes. This explains why the 14 seat vans are packed full of 35 people who can’t move.
One night, Livia and I squeezed into a mini bus and couldn’t stop laughing the whole way, the van stopped for gas halfway to our hotel, packed the entire time.
Lunch has been another thing, Nepali time is real. We have started ordering lunch from a restaurant close by an hour before we expect to eat, most of the time it takes them an hour and a half, sometimes not all of our food comes.
After eating all of the gluten, I ended up getting sick, so I have cut back and been eating a more normal diet for the last several days.
Reflecting back to this mural, it is the biggest thing I have ever painted. The figure they entrusted to me is 6ft tall and 12.5ft wide. It was an intense expression on her face and a difficult pose on a rough wall with holes. It took me four and a half days, though I also helped with the art therapy with the women and girls and spent the last couple of days helping with the rest of the wall, adding eyelashes and details to the eyes, perfecting a lotus flower with heart petals and adding a teardrop on one of the eyes. I have learned so much, struggling through certain aspects, most especially with using a grid system to enlarge images, all in all, I have grown not only as an artist, but as a person.
I watched Ben as he led a few art therapy sessions, he had us do the activities with the children so we could deepen our experiences and share in our cultures. Ahead of time, we were under the impression we would be working with rescued sex slaves, in actuality, it is very hard to organize this, as they are protected closely by the organizations who help rehabilitate them. The fear is in their former captors finding them again. You can imagine how traumatized they are and having them bussed over to a wall or bringing strangers into their midsts is dangerous and possibly even more trauma can occur.
We mostly received groups from wealthy private schools in the area. However, on the third day, we were informed that a small group of women from a shelter would be coming. They refused to give us any specific details of what kind of trauma they had experienced and we were forbidden from taking pictures or video of their faces. Ben told Livia and I that he would like us to be a more involved with this group because he didn’t want his masculine energy to overwhelm them.
Upon arrival, Ben always started the groups at the end with the girl and we went through the process of explaining the story and the reason for our mural. After the first group of kids, he had each of us in turn explain different elements. These girls were the first who interpreted each element without us explaining anything.
The mural starts on the right side, away from the entrance to the embassy, with a girl curled up on the floor covered with a red scarf, her face is scrunched up, but one of her hands is reaching out, in a gesture asking for help. She has chains around her ankles. The chains go off the wall, but then swoop back in, leading to a crow glistening in gold, breaking apart the chains that flow into the distance. We have a girl’s eyes in the middle of the wall, the one next to the chains has a tear welled up in her eye, but the other is floating on a lotus, the petals are hearts, behind is a whole different world, inspired by the traditional paintings called thangka, a Tibetan style very popular here. It’s placed as if the wall has been broken and we are actually seeing this paradise that is behind. On the far side, next to the entrance is a girl’s profile, with a clouded leopard faded together, representing the strength and resilience in our spirit. The whole wall is very long.
We then sheparded all of the girls into the embassy and sat in a circle on the lawn. Ben had asked Chris to sit out of this session, so it was just the women, their translator, the founder of the organization, Livia and I. He told us all a little bit about his story and talked mostly in reference to experiences with his sister. He then grabbed his flute and invited us all to close our eyes and draw whatever we wanted.
Early in the day, Chris and I had had an argument over the way he made a comment about my brushstrokes, I felt disrespected and had snapped back and he responded in a fuck you too manner and I cried in the bathroom. I asked Ben for a group talk at lunch to clear up the tension.
Before lunch, the girls had shown up and Chris and I were separated anyway. After the first exercise, Ben turned to me and asked if I knew the proportions of a face and if I would teach it to the girls. I said yes, though I’ve never taught anyone. He responded with great! And told me to go ahead, then he walked outside. My mind went blank for a second and I looked at 6 Nepali women, Livia, the translator and the founder, all of whom were staring back at me. I gathered all of my wits and strength and showed them how to draw an oval, placing lines through the middle, where the eyes, ears and mouth belong and how by changing the angle of the features, we can show emotion.
As I taught them, I studied them closely. They were reserved, skittish, shy and each one seemed smaller by their posture and voices. All of them displayed fear, distrust and all of them seemed insecure and unsure of themselves. I realized nothing was being accomplished by this exercise, so I changed course and remembered another exercise Ben had taught to the first group of students.
I gave them each a new piece of paper and asked if any of them knew what their heart looked like. Nobody came forward, so I asked Livia to draw her version. I then had them each draw a heart on both sides of their paper, even if they were unsure of how to draw it, I said they could draw a heart symbol. On one side of the page, I asked them to draw what makes them feel bad, on the other, what makes them feel good. After a few minutes of drawing, I asked if anyone wanted to share. One girl immediately raised her hand and shared; on the bad side, she drew tears and violence, the good side had only the Nepal flag. Not all of the girls wanted to share, but as each one talked, we all realized how even though we come from different cultures, bad things included violence, being scared, hospitals and feeling helpless. Good things were family and friends, nature, laughing and Buddha or a godlike figure. When we were done sharing, I reminded them that even though we drew two sides, we each only have one heart filled with both good and bad.
And then we walked outside and we painted a pink lotus flower. They were so careful with their brushes, but were not afraid to get dirty. We couldn’t speak the same language, but as we added color to the wall, it didn’t matter. By the end we were laughing and hugging. They wouldn’t even let us clean their brushes and they took so much care in making sure the bristles were straight and laid out to dry.
The biggest comment that stuck with me was when Ben asked the girls if they could feel their inner leopard within. One girl said no, but she would like to have that feeling one day.
As the girls left, Chris came up to me and I sobbed as he gave me a big hug. We sat down in the grass and everything hit me all at once, those girls who were so capable and strong, but insecure and scared? I was them. I had sat in a relationship that scarred me, stole my energy, made me feel less than and I carried his voice with me for over a year after it ended. I remember being that girl who wished she had a leopard inside, not knowing it was already there. I was that girl who didn’t have the courage to use my voice, who hid by shrinking her shoulders and tried to fade into the background.
And then I told Chris, having those girls look to me to teach them how to draw a face and differentiate between good and bad feelings, it hit me how far I have come in the last 3 years. Three years ago, I was preparing for my golden birthday, I thought my husband was the best thing in my life. Eight days later, on my birthday, my life drastically changed and even though that story is written along my bad feelings in my heart, it led me here, to Nepal, meeting beautiful women and staring into a reflection of my own eyes.
I am, without a doubt, exactly where I should be, a culmination of all of my experiences, a heart full of good and bad feelings, torn and patched with violence, tears, love, and laughter. I somehow have not only broken my chains, but I’ve found my leopard and by giving another person a brush and a little paint, I’m building love and housing joy and by sharing laughter, and reflecting on all of the beauty that surrounds us, I’m offering hope.
At lunch, we talk about the women who had painted with us and Ben suggested that next time I might share my story a bit, not as far as details, but to let them know I understand and by sharing and letting them see who I am now, that might help them realize the future can be bright, the future is up to us to create.