The last couple of weeks I’ve been listening. I’ve ducked my head away and hidden from the world at large. In doing this, I stopped forcing my path and allowed what to be, to become. I’ve been at a fork in limbo and now things are starting to be revealed. At first I doubt my path, thinking maybe I turned in the wrong direction or made a mistake because this life isn’t as easy as the one I envisioned for myself. Then I look around and hear ideas I’ve never thought about. Such as from this visual artist who I’ve met a handful of times and his art is inspiring and beautiful within the peaceful chaos it provokes. I told him I was overwhelmed and unable to focus while at an event. His sincere tone in the reply brought me to the present. He shared his theory of 10 seconds, where if you only think about the next 10 seconds you have no choice but to remain present. He further explained that as a mental exercise it’s helpful to tune out from anything that isn’t relevant to the next 10 seconds. I zeroed my focus in and listened, becoming aware of his theory and succeeding in understanding this perspective. If I can remain present, everything becomes simplified, fear and anxiety fade and what’s important remains.
Some of my favorite things that have kept me going through this year in material hardship are the thoughtful nuggets I’ve received from strangers, many of whom I’ve met randomly and had only one conversation that could only happen in a present moment. I tend to regurgitate these lessons received in poems that encourage me to ponder deeper and connect dots I am only just beginning to understand about the flow of energy and the workings of the universe.
During an event on Friday night, a girl who I had never met handed me a love letter which she had focused on my themed prompt for the night: What Makes You Wealthy? In her letter she wrote she needed to run properly, that what makes her wealthy is different from others, that the people she surrounds herself with and the things we can all laugh about and even deeper, the endless mystery, makes her wealthy forever. It was a beautiful rendition that reminded me of the impact that these conversations with strangers has had on me. This impact has a feel to it, like coming home.
This morning I woke up from a dream I cannot remember, only two words stuck as I opened my eyes. Free Love. And I’ve been untangling these words and meanings in reference to what else I’ve retained in my memories.
Free Love. Love is free. It costs nothing to give or receive. Love is nothing unless shared, it means nothing without freedom. Freedom is the ability to express oneself honestly. How can we remain honest in each moment, this way to true love.
Conversations with strangers is the ultimate expression in Free Love. Where an exchange requires no ties, no expectations and the beginning is also the conclusion. Both sides walk away forever changed, never knowing what may grow from the interaction. And days, months or maybe years later the seed sprouts and inspiration makes sense. This is my own definition or semblance of what keeps me present, a calling to Free Love and what may come from our interactions of honest living.
In turning a page and starting a new chapter this week, I encourage you to converse with your thoughts, with a stranger and interact with love. And share if you wish in the comments or in your own way. Let’s freely express love in whatever way feels honest.
Change is the most difficult shift of energy in which the human race is susceptible to. Self willed change takes bravery, dedication, outside forces, support, love and kindness. With the mass exodus of Los Angeles by attendees of Burning Man, has come realizations, relief and another permanent departure. My greatest Aunt Pete died. It’s striking to me that she was the last of her era to pass, while this ending of an era is appropriate to my own life. It’s the end of summer. Children are back at school and the burners have left, shifting of seasons and a realization of where the time has gone. We have four more months of the year. A countdown of my old van dying a year ago, a divorce being final 4 years ago, moving to Los Angeles 9 years ago and 6 months until I turn 33. Logically this math places me within my timeline of life and ponderings of old have come back. Nostalgia of remembrances of what life used to be like and questioning if it was ever easier. Has time softened the edges?
Change. What does it take to transition gracefully utilizing our past experiences and turning around forging a path that will take you where you want and need to go? First step is recognizing the need for change. Something tells me this isn’t working. Second step is failing. I mean do people really get things right on the first try? Then what? Choose something else. I chose love, I chose knowledge, I chose adventure, I chose openness and honesty. And sometimes I fail. Sometimes events and ideas get so fuzzy with a swirl of chaos that I don’t know if I can make a true choice. Sometimes I freeze with the fear that even moving at all will render the worst possible outcome with fear to fail anymore. Change happens when we need it, whether we want it or not.
I’ve been thinking of an analogy recently that could describe this change I seek. It begins with a stone. A stone can be hard or soft, can be molded by running water or chiseled with iron. A hard stone can also cut, mold or chisel away at other things. I have been molded by my life, it has created my shape and texture, deciding my place in this world. I was taking to a friend the other day who suggested that I’m being guided after I expressed my frustration with always brushing up on opportunities though never quite achieving them. In this way I feel like a stepping stone, a hand rest for a mountain climber, or a sunspot for a tired seal at sea. Maybe it’s time for me to be less passive in my life, to view what is happening around me, understand it and change my scenery to be what I want. Maybe it’s time to become a diamond, be the force to cut, mold and transform my world instead of the other way around.
In chemistry a change occurs when a reaction causes atoms to rearrange and/or a formation of a new substance. Let’s think about that for a while. A new substance partly of my own choosing, mixed with the results of my past, causing the rearrangement of the atoms which make up my being. Sounds painful. And this is when I recount a life well lived, my great Aunt Pete, a woman who used her voice for others even when it was hard, even when it was painful, even if it wasn’t the popular thing to do. She was persisent, she was kind, she was made up of love.
Change isn’t easy, but if I want to achieve the change I seek, I must be persistent, I must be kind and I must ooze love out of every pore in my body. I must allow the anger and frustration to fade, let the resistance of past hurts and heartbreaks to release and open gates where I’ve built walls. It won’t be easy, and I’ll probably swing and miss a few more times, but freedom is waiting on the other side and I’m tired of having my hands tied.
I have been homeless for 421 days. I moved out of my beautiful apartment on the west side of Los Angeles last June as a conscious decision to live life to the fullest, to adventure and focus on saving money in order to meet people and travel. A few months later my beloved van Myrtle passed and it became less of a decision and more of a fight. I never asked for money or favors, never forced anyone to house me, feed me or shower, asking only if I had something to offer in return.
It’s been 421 days since I have had a reliable roof over my head, a shower to cleanse, a kitchen to cook and a deadlock to lock. I’ve learned more in this last 421 days than I thought I would, made less money than I anticipated and had many many more catastrophes that have led me to spells where I’ve cried, raged and thought I had lost every friend and thing I thought I had.
But I’ve learned some things about this world that I wouldn’t have known otherwise. I’ve gained insight from strangers and others who I might have ignored or never met. I’ve been in situations that have changed my outlook and I’ve become more accepting and loving than I was before. I’ve learned how to read people and who to trust. I’ve learned about the real-ness of the world and how closed off most minds are.
When I sold my belongings and bought a van, I was told I was brave, strong and people were jealous of my free spirit to be able to cast away material possessions. I didn’t feel brave, but believed that I was in for a blessed ride, a social experiment to see what I could achieve if I didn’t live conventionally.
When Myrtle broke down, I was in a race with time, to see if I could live according to my worth, to make money with my talent; and I did. Life doesn’t always work out the way we plan and as life got more and more difficult I was forced to rely on friends, family and strangers. I never asked for much instead settling on the minimum that could be given, showing gratitude and love wherever I went. I stayed with my Grandma for a couple of hard months, connecting and listening to her viewpoints on what I was doing. I then stayed with a boyfriend and finally had saved enough for a trip overseas living on the bare minimum of $10 a day on foreign soil.
It’s been 421 days of rubbing elbows with a new person each one of those 24 hours, and the thing that has stood out the most is what people say vs what they do. The people who I have met who have the least are willing to give the most. The people who are loneliest will take up all your time. The people who claim hardest to be your best friend, or enlightened or full of wisdom will be the first to drop you in a moment or talk about you in negative light. The more a person claims to be something, the less likely they are. People tell you who they are based on their actions and their words, not always in what they do or say, but in what is never mentioned or done. The people who are happiest are sober or at least not tied to a particular vice or habit. The people who are spreading the most love are usually the most unexpected; usually homeless or have had some kind of tragic event.
People who try to be invisible are the ones who need love the most. Kindness will save lives, love will save the world.
It’s been 421 days and I’m not sure how many more days will be added to my total but I do know this: it doesn’t matter. I love this world, I love each person who inhabits this world. I have become better at standing up for myself, better at creating boundaries, better at knowing who is a friend and who I can trust. I am better with my words and speaking with care. I am more grateful and more confident in my abilities. I know that I’m stronger, more open and flexible, more communicative and I smile much more.
I haven’t painted as much in the last 421 days, but I’ve written more than the prior 30 years. I know what it means to be an artist and sacrifice for what I care about. I know what it is to love. To love unconditionally even the people who have wronged me because they haven’t really done anything except show me who I am and how much I can grow. I have learned about prejudice and propaganda and evils in the world. I have learned how to relay all the information and inspiration I receive into works of art and how to reach an audience through words and visual symbols. Most of all though, I’ve learned what it is like to really and truly be alive. And that is the most important lesson of these 421 days well lived and well spent in this glorious world. I wouldn’t trade my homelessness and rich life experiences for my old beautiful apartment for these last 421 days because I wouldn’t be nearly as wealthy as I am today with less than $4.21 in my bank account.
So I ask you once again as I do from time to time: What opens your eyes? Have you talked to a stranger today and what have you learned? What makes you wealthy and how can you use that to change your world?
“What are you afraid of? Are you afraid to love yourself?”
Her brown eyes even and direct stared back into the windows of my soul. Her words pierced me in the center of my being. I opened my mouth and couldn’t find a word to defend myself. I’ve started wondering how StrawberryPropaganda really came about and the ventures of my life that have led me to this quest of understanding and sharing love.
I suppose a certain part of myself is afraid to love myself full stop, which is why I have come to rely on other people to fill that void. I pass out tokens of love to give my hands something to do during events, to create conversations that perpetuate love and progress. We all have a bit of social anxiety, mine stems from a place of “not good enough” where I’ve put myself in situations to hear these statements of shame and believe them.
The more people I meet in LA, the more I realize most people are just barely holding on. The illusion is that we are all successful, while none of us are really comfortable. Maybe that’s what has happened with these strawberries I created. The illusion is Love. I play the part so that I can pass love onto others, while storing my secrets in my back pockets. I don’t want others to know the patterns that I get myself in, based on my fear of self love. I’ve broken out of this pattern before and I remember the freedom that accompanied this acceptance. I yearn for the day my van broke down, the sense of independence and knowledge that no matter what I would be okay. I still walk through that memory as a crowning glory, even though I remember how broken I felt. That is nothing compared to the strings and web I’ve caught myself in.
Friday night, I met a girl who claimed as her title “pleasure facilitator”. She was one of those people who had a glow about her, so strongly in a state of being I realized my own fear immediately, it was a reminder that I’m not where I want to be yet. I must release my baggage and throw caution to the wind. This is the only way I can succumb to my wildest dreams. I must be to the best of my ability, remaining true to myself and not fearing this path to myself. When do I feel most alive? What makes me move even when a seeming fate is set against me? My art moves me further than I’ve ever been capable of going. This being I call PinkRiches that when I explain it people might think I’m crazy. PinkRiches isn’t me, it’s this entity that is bigger than one person can encompass. It’s the artist that I look up to, an ideal that I haven’t achieved, though I’ve tasted it.
But what is directly in front of me? Am I able to cut these ties to live fearlessly? I’m encumbered by people who want to help me, who end up owing me for the things I’ve given as a result to their promises. I’m in a love debt that has directly given me insight into an addiction of sorts. I am drawn to people who claim love. Who approach and are drawn into my PinkRiches fold because they so desperately want to feel it too. In this city of Angels where everyone is living proof of the illusion of success, I am stuck on a lifeboat, held together by duct tape placed by friends who believe in me, standing by as I make mistake after mistake.
I have dug my hole. I see the grey area that I saw and jumped thinking I would be strong enough this time to stay the course. I’ve jumped hurdles bigger than this and yet I’m pausing. I’m taking on responsibility that isn’t my own because I’m more afraid to love myself than other people. And sometime it takes someone who doesn’t know your whole story cover to cover to look directly in your eyes and speak a truth that nobody else can say in just that way.
I am not PinkRiches, I am Bethany and I am addicted to love. One step at a time is an ease that I’ve stubbornly claimed through my existence and I’m flowing back into that place. A rebuild is necessary and I know without a doubt will lead me to more truth, good and bad, which will enable me to become PinkRiches once more. All it takes is releasing the fear to love myself. Sounds easy, right? Thankfully I have some amazing people on my side, leading my duct taped life boat to shore. Thank you to all my heros and thank you for loving me always.
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.
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.
Learn more about:
Get Well Soon Nepal