Walk Straight

Walk Straight

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.

A Friend Indeed

A Friend Indeed

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.

Hello Springtime!

Hello Springtime!

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.

Namaste.

Goddess of Loving-Kindness and Compassion

Goddess of Loving-Kindness and Compassion

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.

Karma is Looming

Karma is Looming

I am in constant awe of the spirit that resides within each Nepali person I meet. They have such hope for their country and a desire to help their community, understanding that they are only as good as the rest of their people. Recently, Graham and I took a taxi to Nagarkot, about an hour and a half up the mountains from Kathmandu. We arrived in a small town filled with hotels, a marketplace and a couple shops, only one ATM and many hiking trails. We wandered up the only road to meet some locals and do a little shopping, then retired back to our Bed and Breakfast for dinner and a bonfire. As we relaxed by the fire, one of the workers came and spoke with us, after a bit of coaxing he procured some terrible looking marijuana which grows naturally. After picking out all the seeds and rolling it up into a cigarette, we listened as Caron told us about his country.

Life in Nepal is hard, it doesn’t matter what part they are from; those from rural areas dream of living in the city, getting away from violence, poverty and lack of education and limited contact while those who live in Kathmandu dream of going abroad, where opportunity for money and a life filled with freedom may await. The biggest issue in Nepal is their unstable government. Corruption and the Maoist rebels have filled the country with fear and violence, the last ten years have led to a mass transit into Kathmandu valley which has been safer surrounded by the mountains and an army. This in turn has led to pollution, unsafe drinking water and a huge problem with homelessness and squatters living in dirt and garbage, seemingly still a better life than where they came from. Then the earthquake happened forcing the government to release their constitution and help their people. It was too late for a quick turn around, though communities have come together in place of the government. Beginning with slowly rebuilding temples and homes, starting in more wealthy neighborhoods and extending out into the smaller villages and mountains.

It is this younger generation in their 20s that is starting to change their history, many young men and women wanting to stay and promote peace, education and community. Caron talks about the living dead; those who are going through the motions but can’t see how much filth they are walking through. I draw a parallel to the useless bulls which roam the streets, nobody is allowed to harm them since they are sacred, though surrounded by garbage and dirt, they are ignored as cars zoom past, laying in the middle of the road. The paradigm seems to be community by committee, as in if it’s nobody’s problem, it becomes nobody’s responsibility.

Our host Manish is doing his part to help kids and women in his country. Manish’s mom, Urmila Shrestha was a strong women who was one of the first female bankers in Kathmandu. She saw a need for uneducated and poverty stricken women to feel empowered and created a company called Urmi-Handlooms which trains and employs illiterate women. This company grew and now houses about a dozen looms. The other day Manish took us to the factory to view the process. First we saw the tiny dilapidated brick building in the middle of a field which housed the equipment used to make thread, then fabric. As we descended the staircase we were warned to be careful as the metal swayed with each step. Our eyes adjusted to the dark room and they turned on a couple machines so we could see the way the shuttles flipped back and forth as the looms alternated the weaves. Scarves and bolts of hemp fabric are woven with care, certain designs take more attention, each machine only in service based upon an order received. When we arrived the women were doing puja, a service situated out front in a makeshift tent using empty rice sacks wrapped around bamboo for a structure. Warmth from the flickering candles and mantras were heard as we respectfully admired and kept our distance. In the showroom, Manish pointed out options for higher end patterns and embroidery which is out sourced locally per order and upon request.

We got back in the car and he drove us through the town, pointing out the destruction from the earthquake. This town was hit hard because the buildings were made from mud instead of the stronger concrete which is more expensive not only because of the materials but also in the process of pouring. Mud can be hand caked and made from the earth.

We headed back into Kathmandu, winding through streets barely big enough for his small red Mitsubishi. We ended up in a small courtyard, ducking through a doorway, blinking up into a smaller courtyard, then crouching through a hole in the wall, stumbling to walk up 2 sets of stairs barely big enough for a child half my size and emerging into a dark closet, rough panels of wood made the walls, a metal railing and the floors covered in a dirty canvas where a woman named Pramila lives with her two children. This is where the scarves are brushed and finished. As many as 6 women work here at a time. Graham felt castrophobic and felt his way back down the steps and spoke to her son. Her daughter showed me how they brush the fabric with metal bristles to soften the weave. In the car, Graham told me about her son who is in college for IT and we realize this is where hope resides. Pramila is an uneducated woman, her husband lives in Saudi Arabia doing hard labor, but she is able to put her son through school, giving the next generation a step up in the world.

Some people live to survive, others live to further their world.

I have been reading The Himalayan Times everyday. I’ve read about the politics, the festivals, about water shortages, traffic accidents, gamblers being arrested, a girl stoned for being a witch and the trials that have resulted, medical issues with keeping doctors staffed at hospitals in remote places; all the while listening to people around me talk of the humanity and earnest goodwill.

I share in the frustration that many foreigners feel in wanting to help. The problem is how to help in a way that promotes healing and a sense of pride for nationals? I’ve listened as other foreigners speak on what has to happen here and witnessed them swoop in thinking they can solve all this country’s issues. I’ve also listened to nationals I’ve met talk about how they see the world, watching as their eyes glisten with the pride of history and beauty their country possesses. I worry about the hit that tourism can bring in ruining the history and reverence that belongs to the Nepali people. I remember a saying I’ve heard many times in LA; nobody owes you anything.

Nepali people do not believe they are owed. They are embarrassed by beggars who surround tourists and the taxi drivers who will unabashedly rob foreigners with fares. They are also embarrassed by those who come in throwing money around blindly, or those who impose their ignorant thoughts, not knowing anything of the history or auspicious culture, thinking they are doing good deeds. Maybe everyone feels helpless and not understanding what creates lasting change.

Nepal’s main issues in government and infrastructure will take time, human rights will be solved through education. What of the poverty though, how can we get more money into the economy? The government thinks this is through tourism, capitalizing on the mountains and rich landscape. I think it’s also in the exports, the entrepreneurs, the pashmina, clothing and the desire for women to work and give their offspring a better future.

Another organization Manish has started after the earthquake is called Get Well Soon Nepal, a group that uses art therapy to help children. He reaches schools donating art supplies and aid to promote healing and learning during difficult times. To date, they have reached over 5,000 children in over 9 districts in Kathmandu Valley and surrounding villages; those that were hit hardest by the earthquakes.

Manish and Graham have this vision to combine forces bringing Urmi-Handlooms and Get Well Soon Nepal to the next level, we created Karmalooms. This will naturally help in putting money and education into this country on an economical spectrum, enabling more women to work and capitalizing on something unique to Nepal; pashmina. Through exporting this authentic product and bringing it to an international market online and making it affordable to the masses, we are giving living wages to women who otherwise wouldn’t have income.

Pashmina is made from the softest hair on the belly and mustache of goats in a particular region of Nepal. Walking down the street, you can find many fakes sold to tourists thinking they are getting a good deal. Manish has showed us the difference, burning the fibers to reveal authentic pashmina which burns like human hair, not the melting that occurs with acrylic blends.

Graham and Manish have been busy planning and combining forces, Graham giving him lessons in marketing and branding and raising money in order to buy a first shipment to the United States. This kind of partnering is what’s needed in Nepal. As foreigners, it’s better to help build and encourage people, instead of imposing our views and ideals. We can share our knowledge of what makes good business, we can partner to export industries unique to this country, donating art supplies and  education materials which will promote confidence within the people to grow and celebrate literacy and economy.

Graham is using his knowledge and experience to extend Manish’s reach, to bring wealth and education to people who need it. A mother’s hard work puts children in school, art keeps children engaged and wanting to learn. In understanding the process of how a pashmina scarf is made, it’s clear it isn’t just within the factory, it’s the confidence and faith that the women are given, it’s the spirit of the entrepreneur and it’s the recognition of quality and hard work that has crafted the final product.

If you are interested in joining this team, we are looking for donations to kick start this ball into rolling. We need $10,000 to pay for our first shipment, web presence and tax filings, $2,000 will go to Get Well Soon Nepal, and for each pashmina sold, $2 will be donated to providing art materials keeping children interested at school and healing the next generation of Nepal.

Donate here

Learn more about:

Karmalooms

Urmi-Handlooms

Get Well Soon Nepal