The last couple days have been a blur, have I been here a month or three? After International Women’s Day, I thought I would have a chance to rest.. however, I completely overbooked myself. Everyone has been so sweet that I felt I wanted to give so much love back. I wish I had said no to a few things in the last couple of days, but I managed to get most of it done, a couple of things I regretfully feel are not my best work. I guess it all comes with a learning curve.
This morning I woke up at 6 am, went over to the Red Mandolin and knocked and yelled hello for a good hour before anyone woke up to open the gate. They brought me coffee while I worked on their sign. A couple of hours in, an older gentleman came by, he had been past several days ago and had given me a hug and told me he loved me, then walked around the corner and brought me some snacks and drinks. I didn’t know his name, but he was so touched that I was painting his Nepal that when he came by today he walked into Red Mandolin and had them introduce him to me. He ordered another coffee and I cheers-ed him even though here they frown upon cheers-ing non alcoholic drinks. He told me his name is Terrence Lama and I guess he owns a few of the buildings on the block. He brought his granddaughter over and he explained my mural to me and her.
My challenge with the mural was the hands. They were the most difficult for me to incorporate and didn’t turn out how I had hoped. If I had been able to place each handprint, I know it would make more sense, but to the kids who put them there, they mean much more. Passersby will wonder, the participants will selfie and maybe that’s the lesson in perfectionism, sometimes it just doesn’t matter as much as you think it does.
Terrence Lama explained everything wonderfully and exactly how I had hoped, but then he asked about the hands, which once he understood, he nodded enthusiastically and seemed very pleased. He showed me where he lives and told me if I ever come back, to knock on his door and he would love to serve me tea. About 30 minutes later, he came back once again just as I was finishing and started asking me about my own grandfather and if he had been in the military during the Second World War. This took me off guard a bit, while being here, not many people have asked much about my own life and country, which is fine because I’m here to learn about theirs, but it was heart warming that he genuinely was curious about my own heritage. It turns out he had been in Burma at the end of the war and had met a lance corporal from Minneapolis, Minnesota. They lost touch I’m not sure how long ago, but something beautiful must have happened between them because he not only remembers Minneapolis, but his name and his children’s names.
The more people I meet in this country, the more I love it. I guess I never expected to be as welcome, I thought because America is so wealthy compared to Nepal, they might judge me based on that. There has been some of that, especially early on while in Thamel (Chris nicknamed it The Mall after his phone autocorrected it). I think I recovered well from those people and continued on and found the ones who do see past a place where someone is born. But it brings to mind stereotypes and prejudice and racism. We are not born with these thoughts, but we learn them as we walk through our lives. Before I came to Nepal, I was told to bring pepper spray, a knife, to carry little money and never drink water offered to me. I was told I would get sick and needed antibiotics or I would end up in the hospital. I was told to prepare to be groped and to make sure to dress in baggy clothes and never show my shoulders. I was told so many things from people who had never been here, but were so afraid for me. I think had it been up to someone else I never would have come. What a sad thought to me. If I hadn’t come, I wouldn’t know the beauty that is hiding just below the settled dust. I wouldn’t have heard Namaste everyday all day, I wouldn’t have seen the hope and sparkle in the eyes of Komal when I bought her a doll. I wouldn’t have drank so much masala tea or told my story in front of 800 women and girls. I wouldn’t have tasted a momo, or ridden in a mini bus, laughing at the fact I can’t move. I wouldn’t have painted a wall or met ambassadors, or heard stories of Buddha and Kali or seen cremations on a river. I wouldn’t have been surrounded by monkeys at dusk or tried mystery street food that was hot, delicious and very cheap.
I grabbed a taxi for the airport and to my surprise, the driver recognized me from walking home late every night. We had an amazing conversation on the way and he took a back way, so I saw a new side to the city. Everyone has asked how I like Nepal and nobody is surprised when I reply I’ve fallen in love. Nepalis are known for their hospitality, they love to share their lives and culture, always with a namaste and tea. I have had no fear walking the streets at night, feeling much safer than walking through Los Angeles where I’m overly alert, avoiding shadows and normally wearing my small knife around my neck.
Once I arrived at the airport, the check-in seemed to be a bit of a problem, the lights kept blinking on and off and they couldn’t find my ticket number. An hour later, they came back and told me I couldn’t board the plane because my connecting ticket was cancelled. If I boarded and didn’t have a ticket, they would just force me to return to Kathmandu. I asked what to do and she sent me to a phone to call my booking agency, reminding me, I only have 20 minutes before I needed to board… no pressure.
After a long conversation with a helpful customer service agent, I was told that the airline changed my ticket and the agency had been working to figure it out for the last 2 days. My 2nd flight wouldn’t arrive in time for me to make my 3rd and final plane to Los Angeles. He asked if I had any restrictions and I told him if I didn’t arrive in LA by Saturday midday, I’d rather stay until the 13th or 14th, to witness a festival called Holi. He told me to leave the airport and find a comfortable place to wait with good wifi. The constant struggle of not having a mobile I can make calls on makes everything more complicated.
So, I used the phone again and called the number to a guy at The Red Mandolin, who had forced me to take down his number just in case.. I guess it was a good idea afterall. I didn’t know anything about my flight and I am lucky enough to have somewhat of a friend base there.
I’m actually really happy I was able to see them one last time. I was stressed for most of the day and it was great to come back and have nothing pressing to accomplish.
It was raining most of the day and as I drove back in my taxi, it was pouring. After awhile at the restaurant, it started hailing.. the boys joked that Nepal really doesn’t want me to go, even the tears are frozen. We sat upstairs and drank a bit of whiskey and hookah.. it was the most casual it had been and felt so familiar. Even when they speak Nepali, I can’t understand the words, but I think I’m starting to understand the context. Finally it was time to go and one of the boys offered to drive me on his bike so I could save a bit of money. I’ve gotten used to piling everything on a bike and my backpack really isn’t too heavy. It was the perfect goodbye.
This time, I was checked in and up the stairs through security within 20 minutes. I happened to get on the same flight as Bev and Deborah and another Nepali girl I had met at Women’s Day who lives close to them in the Bay Area. I hadn’t seen much of Bev and Deborah in the last couple of days, so it was nice to sit and chat for awhile. Deborah is good friends with the owner of a gallery, she says the best known in Nepal, who also has a residency program.. I asked that she connect the 2 of us, since that seems to make a difference in applications and she replied that she had already shown her my work.. and she was impressed. That’s pretty bad ass 🙂 so now, I have not one opportunity, but 2 galleries I can apply to, so a slightly better chance of this actually happening. I can feel it in the air, I’ve been told by almost everyone I should return, I’ve made some amazing contacts and gotten more acclaim here than I could in LA. The idea of being able to expand my art in a foreign country is exciting.. the perspective is different and will force me to continue to stretch and grow. I’ve found people here to be brutally honest, not in a way of trying to insult, but they matter of factly will tell you if you made them look fat or old. There is no passive it looks good. I know where I stand in the eyes of my peers and it’s refreshing. Honesty is the only thing that can help you see your flaws and the way to progression. Being open to receiving the bad critiques can only help us become better. It’s something I’ve struggled with in the United States, especially Los Angeles where it’s frowned upon to make someone feel bad. We all want to live in a comfort bubble and pretend the world is perfect all the time, it’s the lies we fall into on social media. Showing the world only one side, the side that glows with good light and the best angle on your camera. But life is messy and complicated and sometimes terrible and confusing, we can’t be happy all of the time or we wouldn’t know that we are happy. What a shame it would be if only good things happened, we would all be soft and careless, life would be meaningless and mundane.
After navigating the airports on my way to Nepal, I’m now managing quite well on my return. I was given a hotel room for my layover (I’ve found out they are required to book you a room for any layover longer than 8 hours) so no sleeping on the floors of an airport for 13 hours. I know that I must hand over my boarding pass, passport and arrival or departure card at customs and I know that the Chinese people will yell at me regardless of what I do. It’s amusing to realize how clueless I really was when I set out, armed with naive hope for adventure.
But I received it and much more. I now await my flight to Los Angeles, where Basic Betty (my car) will be waiting to drive me to the desert where I will dance with the stars under the full moon. It seems fitting, the last Moontribe is where I met Chris who told me about this place called Nepal and an opportunity to paint a mural. The universe is a funny thing sometimes, I love to reflect on my life and the steps that have brought me here. As John-Paul Sartre would say, that’s destiny.