In the last couple of weeks, the world and I have been going through some rough ups and downs. I flew into California only to pack up and move my belongings into yet another storage facility. The up being that I saw some amazing friends who encouraged and cheered, helping me through the process. I then got on another plane and flew to Minnesota where I’ve been the last week and a half piecing together an idea of what my future might look like.
The shock of being in this country hit me immediately in the words and actions of those around me. The shock of realizing what country I’m in came a little later as I ingested the news and what is going on this side of the world. I’ve been staying at my sister’s house while she was out of town, caring for her dog and taking full advantage of her stocked fridge and luxury of showers, TVs, laundry machines and electricity. In that time I researched, talked to many friends and all my family. I’ve been weighing odds, deciding who to trust, who to rely on and which direction I want to take my life. I’ve stepped back to watch at the same time paying close attention to how I feel as each event happens. And it seems everything is surfacing.
Spending a chunk of my year in a foreign world has taught me what it’s like to be an alien. Seeing through new eyes a world that is different on the surface, though once I explain how things are, I notice there aren’t nearly as many differences as I initially thought. There are judgements made about people who live opposite, in the world or in views. We think in terms of our background; what is familiar is comforting and what is strange is shunned.
I felt this first hand in Nepal. I arrived with so much hope and optimism, that here was a place for a fresh start, an opportunity to learn and do good things. My smile faded a bit after my first try at laundry and interacting with the maid in the house. She took my damp laundry and threw it in a pile while she hung her own up. A gesture I can only assume was supposed to put me in my place. She didn’t show much more generosity as I figured out how to side step her movements to avoid actions that wore me down, finally giving in to bribing her with ice cream cones and gifts so I could eat with everyone else.
Toward the end of the journey I was put in my place by a man who told me I acted too much like a man and I needed to learn how to serve him noodles, just as the other artist I worked with spewed words of low judgement leading me to wonder why I had even come to this foreign place at all. I left understanding that I can never be more than a stranger in this land that up until this point had held such promise. As a tough pill to swallow, I gracefully chased it into my internal thoughts, struggling to find a lesson I might take away to grow in a positive direction. I returned running into another dead end with a conversation about a job I had been offered, finding out that leaving the country had placed certain opinions upon my character.
Finally after a few conversations on the hopelessness that the world had shown me, I was encouraged to find my stubborn optimism I had started to throw away. I painted a banner, commissioned on the theme of immigration and painted by my thoughts and pain. Somehow I think I understand a bit more how someone could want so badly to move across the world, to envelope themselves in a new place full of unknown hope. I understand the disappointment that can arise with the knowledge that you are not welcome and the confusion of those left behind. That isn’t enough for me; I want to swim deeper. Why is it that we leave our comforts of familiar to search out something else?
Recently I’ve felt defeated, helpless with a lack of control. Inside I know exactly what I want. I can see it happening and feel within my bones the energy of creating my future. Some days, when I am free to go about my day taking each twist and turn intuitively I know what will be around the next corner. Other days, no matter what I do someone or something is blocking my path; I’ll try to walk around and the nightmare of that thing will transpose again firmly in my way. I have no choice but to choose another path. I must turn on my heels and find a new direction, lucky to have gotten this far.
I imagine I’m not the only one who feels this. Can you imagine turning around struggling to find an open door? What if this feeling or reality is so strong you finally give up? Can you imagine that instead of having this feeling, experiencing it first hand by watching as each entity or person surrounding you is destroyed in one form or another, and all your belongings and evidence that makes you feel you have lived on this earth is gone? Where does one turn in that case?
I was a foreigner in a land that is not my own. Brushing up against the uncomfortable isn’t easy. It’s the Us v. Them mentality. The path where we are not friends and a decision that we can’t understand each other because excuses that really just mean the gap cannot be solved. Through the last few months and all that has come with it, I have clarity in love and how to maneuver in my familiar world. Love isn’t explained by language. Love cannot be taught or given. Love is shown and understood. Love is within the DNA of our beings if we allow the access to remain open. Love is a welcoming hand to receive. Love is the bridge that helps us cross over the divide. And the journey continues. My search of love and exposition has taught me that even if in the overall sense of the world I cannot feel love, it still lives in small instances with people and things. And that gives me hope. And where hope lives, so does love.
Well, I have arrived back in my home country. Shocked and altered, I’m realigning my mind while a deep cough and heavy weight have rendered me mostly speechless. At first my eyes are widened by people’s lack of intimacy. It seems the masses will go to extreme measures in order to not interact with strangers who take up adjacent space. Even friends who were close enough to whisper deep secrets have moved on in my absence, blaming my departure on my lack of devotion for my home. Once again, I find myself in a state of limbo, a purgatorial place where I cannot prove love without time passing, an existence that forces me to listen and not fight back.
One hundred days spent in a foreign land where dust is a part of daily life and struggles are met with acceptance and forward momentum while music and art heals our souls. Everything has meaning just as each detail makes up the whole. An oversized gratitude rules daily life even as mundane time slips by, looking toward the world in humbleness and awe. Appreciation that I am right here and you are right there and this is enough, as long as we can sip tea and laugh about the hard times.
On day 99, I explained to a boy that I came from the other side of the world. I joked that over there I walk upside down. His response was laughter and an explanation that in Nepal, at least I could walk straight. This struck me as more true than he could realize because when one is used to walking a certain lifestyle, it seems as though it’s the only way. And now that I’m back, I don’t remember how to walk upside down.
I’m shocked by the attitudes and lack of seeing that is happening while people blindly bump into each other, blaming politicians, homeless people, gentrification, neighbors, strangers. I’ve been silent these days, finding my bearings and watching as everyone walks backward. I’m appalled at comments on things that those who udder them know nothing about. A friend commented that I’d been eating dirt for the last few months, neighbors could barely conceal their jealousy on beautiful things I have accomplished and my future was ripped away in a backhanded compliment that told me maybe this last year of strife and stubborn determination which led me to Nepal has been the single greatest gift to myself I’ve ever given.
I see the world differently. I am not complacent. I am not lost. If I wish to change my home into a place that serves love, I must change it from the inside. I must gather my forces and lead by example. I cannot scold or dismiss other’s experiences or views because I haven’t been there. I can however spread this knowledge by creating light in the darkness that has developed in my absence. I may have walked backward my whole life, but now that I know how to walk straight.. I can see where I’m going.
There’s this friend of mine, I met him last year when I had travelled across the world on a whim of faith. After putzing around Kathmandu for a little less than a week, I got up early, attempted to hail a taxi and arrived late in the rain at a meeting with the Wall of Hope crew. An older white man arrived with a much younger Nepali boy at his side. The boy was reserved, whispering in Bev’s ear, nervously quivering as a giggle would sometimes escape his lips at certain remarks.
I soon understood this Nepali boy to be Rachiv Dangol, a sort of connecting link between all things Nepali and us, the foreigners. He organized meetings, called the media, translated and made sure we got all our needs met. He walked us through the city, pointing out buildings and landmarks. He was timid, we were never sure if he was taking us the right way, though we always got to our destination, sometimes late or on “Nepali Time”. His surprising high pitched giggle and his frequent use of the word “actually” lighted up our group as we poked fun at our culture’s differences.
This year seeing him put a huge smile on my face as I forced him into a hug and he giggled as he commented on my makeup and how skinny I was. He told me he had gotten engaged and proudly smiled as he put up his hand so I could see his ring. I questioned him on the process of asking for a girl’s hand and he took a big gulp of air before quietly telling me how actually he was so nervous during the interview with her parents, actually. He’s much more confident this year, smiling more and inserting his thoughts in conversation.
One Saturday, he invited me over with the team, declaring his mother was going to cook us dinner. Our group walked from the main road turning into a bumpy alley and formed a single file line as we hugged a brick wall and climbed through a mess of weeds. We entered from the backside and climbed a flight of stairs. Rachiv had to enter last in order to make sure the alley dogs didn’t follow us into the building. Ducking beneath a pink patterned bed sheet, we arrived to a cramped apartment with a kitchen, 2 rooms and a bathroom. As is customary, his mother timidly bowed with her namaskar as we took our turns taking off our shoes and piled into the living room. Dolly, another artist and proclaimed mama of the group had insisted on purchasing some sweets and I snuck in to watch as she presented them in the kitchen to Rachiv’s mother. She didn’t quite know what to do with the generosity, though an embarrassed smile formed as she placed the box behind her. Rachiv’s Dad reclined on a bench and waved from his corner.
We crowded around on the floor of his living room and ate the best momos we had ever had from a huge bowl on the table. The family waited until we had our fill before starting to cook for themselves. Having five foreigners in your home is probably very overwhelming, yet Rachiv and his family gave us a wonderful and benevolent visit. After our dinners, Rachiv came to sit with us and we conversed about his life, I realized I didn’t know much about his family.
We found out this living room is also his bedroom, making sense of the mattress roll with pillows in the corner. His Dad is relegated to the home, no longer able to work. He is in need of a new kidney, going to dialysis and treatments with blood transfusions and many hospital visits. Since his Dad no longer brings in an income, they sold their old house to pay for medical expenses. Rachiv is now the sole provider of the family at 26 years of age.
Rachiv has worked tirelessly for his country, for the women and children to grow up in a world that is more equal. He has been the liaison to gain financial resources from countless NGOs, international grants and spreading word through films and the arts, most of the time working as a volunteer.
He now has the opportunity and approved loan to travel to Australia in order to find a good job that will enable him to send money back home for his parents and to pay medical bills.
All of this is a very complex issue and sadly a common one. Young people in Nepal are not able to find good work and have to seek other countries for careers. Nepal has no medical insurance and a chaotic hospital system. Kidney disease is common in Nepal, caused by lack of nutrition and environment. I know from experience the state of hospitals and with more complicated health issues, it can’t be easy.
Getting a new kidney is a long and drawn out process, even more so in this country as more people need organs than the unorganized system can handle. It’s frustrating as an onlooker to see ways in which the world’s wealth and technology hasn’t distributed evenly. All of these reasons are why Rachiv has had to seek outside resources in order to help his family.
As he is preparing to leave, he must make sure his father gets the treatment needed while he solidifies plans for the future. He has had to ask for help. I don’t have the money to pay for his bills, but I have a little bit of money in my pocket I was reserving for sweets and maybe a fancy coffee tomorrow morning. Instead, I think I’ll skip my treats in order to help a dear friend’s Dad get a blood transfusion.
You might know Rachiv, you may have worked with him in the past, seen how he lights up when he’s excited about something or woken you up too early in the morning when he’s already in work mode. Maybe you don’t know him personally, though you can understand that at 26 he has a big future. Maybe you can recognize the selfless work he has pursued in order to care for his community, or you realize that not everyone was born into the same economic position. Most importantly, I think we can all agree that family is a strong bond worth fighting for and that the smallest bit of hope can lead to miracles. I’m helping Rachiv by collecting money. He has no way to deposit the money brought in from GoFundMe, so I will give him cash as it comes. I will be in Nepal until the end of May, I’m hoping I can collect a few hundred at least to help ease his burden during this transition.
If you woke up this morning feeling healthy and have food to eat today, you have more than many people in this world. Please click on the link below to help someone who needs a bit of hope. Or you can show him that miracles are possible by sharing the link.
Help Rachiv’s Dad
Added bonus: If you give a minimum $10 donation, I will send you a StrawberryPropaganda sticker of Rachiv’s face (above picture) by the end of June. If this applies to you, send me a message with your name and address.
A funny thing happens when you realize you are home. This morning I woke up to cars whizzing past, crows cawing about and familiar voices downstairs. I did my laundry, first washing with a bar of soap by hand, then wringing out and putting in the washer for a quick spin cycle. I hung everything up and read the paper, then got ready to head up the street for samosas. Graham and I ran into Lok Chitraker, the well respected Paubha artist who designed the Patan Dhoka gate. We stopped and chatted for a bit, he told us he was waiting for the bamboo scaffolding to be removed and told us about the festival happening started yesterday and going for the next 3. We asked him about a good samosa place and he pointed behind us at the sweets shop. Excitedly we wished him a grand Saturday and we parted ways. We headed to the sweets shop and ordered our samosas, then picked out a piece of candy each to try. Sitting among the old men on a Saturday, their only day off of the week, I filled my senses upon my beautiful surroundings.
I’m wearing my jeans rolled at the ankles with maroon sneakers and my green flannel shirt rolled up the sleeves, wishing I had something cooler. Looking out onto the street, I could see taxis rolling by, nepalis answering their phones and vendors selling morning items to buyers in the street. The sun is out and it’s a clear day, the sky pale blue framed by the tall brick buildings of a dusty town.
It’s been a bit hot the last couple days. Ba is in bed with a fever and we are just getting over a digestion blip. Didi is in high spirits are she has just returned from her family for new years and the whole town has been renewed for spring. We are planning to leave on a bus to Pokhara tomorrow and after last night’s presentation we sat while dipping our samosas in sauce and planning a video portion of our exhibit.
I remember the feeling of coming here. Arriving by private taxi to the unlocked gate in the dark of night, feeling our way down the steps and eventually into the house. I remember opening the doors and first seeing snoring humans then 2 empty rooms with beds and cabinets for storage. It felt like I was in a foreign place with strange mattresses and empty walls. I’ve been living here for 6 weeks and it not only feels like home, it also feels like I’ve always been here. The youthful humor of our host Manish colors our perspective on Kathmandu and Nepali culture and I’ve cherished familiarizing myself with the attitude and differences to the point that I forget I’m a foreigner. Last night I walked down the street to buy some roti and the little boy smiled at me sweetly and brought out a chair, brushing it off and sneaking glances my way. He offered me to sit and I poised gracefully watching as one boy pinched off pieces of dough and dipped it in flour, molding into a ball and rolling swiftly into a thin flat circle. The smaller boy flipped it over a ceramic plate and fire, pressing it at the right time and counting out the number I had ordered. He gently placed the handles to the bag around my hand peaking up at me and giving me his sweet smile. I couldn’t help but laugh and nodded Dhanyabad.
Upon returning to MCUBE, a group of us sat around some drinking, some smoking and sharing cheese and roti, telling bad jokes from our cultures and expanding on our thoughts. Three of the boys jammed for a bit, Graham grabbing a recording and spitting the blues about what we’ve all got. I’ve got a wonderful life and artists excited to evolve. I’ve got a beautiful home with a family I now consider my own. I’ve got friends who teach me everyday about the world around us and experiences I could have never had. I’ve got sunshine and terrific thunderstorms, with nature’s music to carry me throughout the day. I’ve got a community of people who I’m always excited to see, a mutual feeling of listening to each other and building joyful relationships. Even while I’ve been sick regularily, I have reason to smile and laugh, shaking off the weakness to join in poking fun at each other and making time to share advice and explain why things are a certain way. I can’t imagine being anywhere else and the thought that I’m halfway questions why I can’t stay.
I’m formulating my plans, realizing I have much more inspiration than I could possibly use. I’m focusing, playing off my other residents’ interest. Now everything I see has small details, I’m piecing together my past and future to create the now of my product. Everything is relevant and everything has meaning. Maybe that’s the main part of what I’ve learned. It’s in the interactions. The moments of contact between worlds, what we teach each other, the give, take, make and do. The build and rebuild, waves of getting to know another person, another world.
It’s springtime and the world is your oyster. Open your eyes and see the world as if you are entering for the first time. Look at what you’ve been missing and share in the laughter in the breeze. That’s what I’ll be doing today, enjoying in the festival and farewell of temporary friends. I’ll be dancing as the sunsets, watching as the world turns into another day.
The end of January, I had a vivid dream the same night as the super blood full moon. In the dream, I was at a friend’s house with some people I knew, joking and hanging out. I left and after a period of time, I re-entered, this time everyone had big smiles on their faces though they were quiet and still. I looked deeper and realized they were dead; one girl’s head was stuck in the sink with a huge smile even as a fork stuck out of her neck. Another guy was sitting in a comfy armchair with his legs cut off, eyes carved out of their sockets even as it looked as though he was laughing from something on TV. In the midst of the kitchen, one figure stood chopping carrots. I pretended I couldn’t see the carnage even as her eyes bore into me. She spoke, telling me I wasn’t like them. As she grabbed my right arm, I broke free and ran out the door, through the forest and festival, brushing along tall grass. Behind me supercharged werewolves chased me, I sought refuge at the feet of a woman on top of a hill. I couldn’t see her face, but her white dress and long black hair are imprinted upon my memory.
Interestingly, I hosted a Breakfast at Bethany’s almost a month later which ended in quite the disaster. During this breakfast, a random woman showed up. Not a single person knew her, though in accordance to my mission, I welcomed her as a friend. At one point as I was speaking with her, I burned my right arm on a stick of incense, giving me a scar still visible. She apologized and she gave me her earrings as a gift; 2 beaded wolves, declaring I was running with the wolves, not being chased. Eerily, after everyone left, as I was walking through the house, a magnet fell off the fridge; a piece of metal, in the shape of a wolf head.
A couple of weeks later, I left the country for Nepal. I’ve had many vivid dreams since my arrival, each one through symbolism has occurred in waking life in the ensuing days. I’ve submerged myself into research and inspiration, my curiosity has lead me through stories and details of deities within Hinduism and Buddhism. Manish took us to Boudhanath Stupa the other day and we stumbled into a shop with thangka paintings of deities. One in particular caught my eye, a figure seated on a blue lotus, holding a blue orb with two hands and another hand holding a necklace or rosary, the other holding a lotus flower. Her palms of both hands and feet are pink. This is the Goddess of Loving-Kindness and Compassion. Below her were 2 figures, a man and a terrifying creature engulfed in flames. The man is seated on a pink lotus, holding a great sword in one hand, with the other pulling a stem from out of his chest, the stem growing into a blue lotus with a book resting on top. The blue creature with flames is holding nothing, though the flames behind him show a great force.
I met a well respected and incredible artist named Lok Chitrakar. He is regarded as one of the most renown artists of a Buddhist and Hindu type art called Paubha, similar to Thankga painting. His pieces are so detailed, telling stories of deities, the creation of the world and various stories within these religions. He exactly maps everything out, measuring with triangles, circles and squares. Each element within the painting brings the story to life. He has been painting since he was 9 years old, he told me that you cannot just start painting in this style, you must find a teacher and learn the stories for yourself through meditation and experience to learn not only who, but also the whys and hows. I have begun to understand some symbols that are used within these religious paintings throughout Nepal and Asia, deciding to create my own version of deities which are prominent within my PinkRiches world.
In viewing the painting of the Goddess of Loving-Kindness and Compassion from Boudha, I did more research upon returning home. I found out her name is Chenrizig, from the Tibetan Buddhist culture, sometimes she is depicted as male, sometimes female. Her blue jewel represents the wishes she bestows upon all beings, the lotus flower is the purity of heart, her rosary is the consistent compassion she feels towards all beings equally, as each bead in the necklace. Oftentimes, to further display her purity, she is shown as a virgin wearing a white dress and long dark hair. In this particular painting, the man below her holds a sword to cut ignorance and show a lotus of enlightenment and knowledge which grows through experiencing compassion. It has been explained to me that ignorance is perceived differently in the East, it can manifest as unwilling to look from all sides, or the rejection of knowledge; it can be fear, it can be loathing, it can be pushing one’s own agenda above other’s feelings or emotions. The blue creature of power is just that, in experiencing compassion for all living beings, we need protection from evil and prejudice.
Chenrizig is sometimes shown as the Green Tara, a bottisatva or enlightened woman who rejected that a woman needed to be reincarnated as a man in order to achieve enlightenment. She is equated to the Virgin Mary of the bible, she is the most powerful female in buddhist philosophy. In my presentation at MCUBE of my journey as an artist, I compared my strawberries to hands and both as symbols of love. Sometimes, deities are depicted with buddha’s eyes on their palms or feet, even navels as the most direct way into the soul, an all seeing and all knowing pure source.
As I learn more about this culture, journeying through Buddism and Hinduism, I’ve come to a place of realization about PinkRiches and my artistic path. PinkRiches is love, the thread that weaves us together through stories, conversation and understanding. PinkRiches is the beauty that transcends our present moments and surpasses time, presenting an option of believing in equality without exception. A feeling of unity and acceptance of every being.
In relaying my dream, I’m seeing how I’m stepping into my power, under the protection of Nepal, Manish, Chenrizig and the compassion I feel toward all humans. As the real work starts, I’m wondering how I can depict from a PinkRiches perspective of color and vibration, the beauty, love and compassion I’ve experienced without falling prey to the ignorance that I have and that which surrounds me. Also, how can I as PinkRiches spread this to each person on the planet, no matter culture, belief or knowledge.