I am drained. I haven’t had a single moment to myself for over a week. Everything has been done together as a group. So today, I stayed behind, washed my laundry and went for breakfast after everyone else and am now sitting in a gazebo with the sun and a nice breeze as I write this email.
Kathmandu is so polluted. We have been on the street for over 12 hours a day, breathing in dust, fumes and bad air. You can especially see it at dusk, when the cars have just turned on their lights. Brown smoke rises and other than the headlights, only the colorful squares of shops are visible. Most everyone wears masks while walking down the street. Masks are annoying, they fog my glasses and it’s hard to talk with them on. We have all developed nasty coughs, we were told that being on the street during the day is equivalent to smoking 2 packs of cigarettes a day. In the local paper, a graph of air quality shows yellow for 3 hours in the afternoon, the rest is red; morning time it’s just below critical. Not surprisingly, Kathmandu sits as the 7th most polluted city in the world.
One day, a boy approached me and asked if he could help me paint. Our group decision was if anyone wanted to pick up a brush, we would include them in any way we could, so I taught him how to create highlights on my lady’s legs, using a light blue. His English was good enough that I could get the jist of what he was saying and we talked for a bit in broken phrases. It was his first time painting and he was so careful because he didn’t want to make me angry. I laughed and told him about layering and that it’s more about adding interest and color. I hadn’t even started the scarf covering her and joked with him that he could color outside of the lines. I knew that most of the blue would be covered, but the wall is very rough and by using the texture, it would peek through in the holes and roughness of the bricks. He asked if we could be friends on Facebook, so I gave him my name so we could figure it out later on wifi. That night he sent me a heartfelt message thanking me for the experience and telling me how touched he was by my kindness. He came back a couple of nights later with a friend who started a mask company. His friend gave us all high quality masks with washable filters and a moveable wire around the nose. It was the first mask I could wear that doesn’t fog my glasses.. and it’s pink! I painted a little heart on the front which looks like lips from far away.
The rest of the team has started catching on to my PinkRiches persona and they’ve been poking fun at my mask.. I look like a PinkRiches bank robber. At least I can breathe just a bit better now, though knowing what the inside of my nose is like, I’m not sure I want to know how terrible my lungs are getting. It’s just another reminder of the gratitude for breath and clean air, even in Los Angeles where we joke about the smog, this is at least 5 times worse.
Marriage is another differing aspect of this culture. When people have approached me on the street, I am first asked where I am from, then in no particular order, what’s my name, what’s my age and am I married. Everyone is shocked to find out I am 30 and even more shocked that I am not married. Sometimes I offer an explanation that I was married, but he went crazy and is a bad man. (Easier said in simple words, of course it’s more complicated) They usually nod their head with understanding, but then insist that I should be looking for a husband. I try to cover this with jokes, but more often than not, I usually get some kind of offer to marry a Nepali man.
One man has continued to greet me 3 nights now. The first night, Livia was helping me by painting my lady’s scarf red and he started asking us which was more important, the mother, the teacher or God. I responded God, because without God we wouldn’t have our mother or our teacher. He told me I was wrong; our mothers come first because they gave us life and we know them before we know our teachers or our God.
The second night he came to me and asked my age and if I was married. I gave him the simple details and he responded by telling me I need to get married. He was very concerned why I am single and told me it was important to make my parent’s happy by finding a man and making a family. I responded with a laugh.. knowing full well what my parents really think, but I just said I come from a different culture. He persisted and told me I didn’t need love, but security. It is important, he was saying, to share money so that I will always have someone to take care of me. I once again responded by saying I come from a different place. He laughed and said I didn’t understand. He told me he would like for me to come to his house and have tea, he wanted to introduce me to his sisters, I would like them, he claims. I gracefully thanked him for his thoughts, but said we would all be very busy painting and I wasn’t sure if or when we might have time to visit him. Then he told me he would bring his eldest son to the wall the day after next at 10am, he said we should marry and I would become his family, that his son speaks excellent English and I would be cared for throughout my life. At this point, I thought it best to continue painting and thanked him once again for his thoughts. He replied, “Sister, sister! You misunderstand.” He then asked me if I knew where God lives, I said God is all around. He pointed to the sky and said, “God lives on the moon.” He continued and said something about Neil Armstrong, from US, like you! And reminded me he would bring his son the day after next to the wall for marriage. I laughed and said goodbye, hoping we would be done with the mural before then.
The next night, I was painting eyelashes next to Ben who was painting the bird. He came up and greeted us both and once again reminded me about the next morning. Ben laughed and said, oh! I’ve heard about this date. The three of us chatted and we told the man we were planning on finishing the wall that night and starting another the next day.
We ended up working until 11:30 that night, which is apparently when all of the nights in front of the mural go dark. All of the other lights on the street were still lit, so we asked the guards if they could turn them back on. They claimed the lights were in a timer and they always go off then, so we cleaned up for the night and planned on an early morning.
I got about 4 and a half hours of sleep that night and Ben, Livia and I arrived back at the wall at 7am the next morning. Chris has started sleeping in and arriving around 11:30/12 each day because he doesn’t like waking up early. We finished the details on the wall, but it was a really hot day, by far the hottest we had had. None of us really wanted to be there, we were tired and hot and hungry, but we finished by around 2pm and celebrated by taking pictures and eating lunch.
After we were full, we took more pictures and packed up our supplies into a taxi and delivered them to the Australian Embassy. We crossed the street and started talking about what we could do with the new wall.
This wall is much taller, much smoother and on a busier street. We don’t want to repeat any of the same themes or images we have already used, so the trick is in how to convey a message about the dark world of sex trafficking and bringing to life the hope and growth of our children and humanity. We also want to bring in elements of Nepal’s culture and hand them the brush of thought and enlightenment.