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.
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Get Well Soon Nepal
Being sick is never fun. Being sick in a foreign country is especially not fun as the known cures and figuring out how to get better varies depending on culture and process.
I went to the Emergency Room in Nepal, after suffering from food poisoning, gastric then another bout of nausea, diarrhea and dehydration from not being able to keep sustenance in my body. Eventually my Mom called and convinced me to go and get at least an IV to jumpstart getting well again.
First of all, the Nepali people are very efficient. I walked into the Emergency Room and was shown a bed. A doctor came and spoke to me a few minutes later and treatment began immediately. Comparatively Nepalis do not have health insurance and costs are cheaper because the patient or family member get all the supplies in order for the hospital to keep supplies in stock.
Let me paint the scene. The Emergency Room is just that; a room with a reception and 6 beds with moveable curtains to obtain privacy at times. Each hospital bed is equipped with an IV pole and lined with a light blue fitted sheet, covered with a darker blue sheet that keeps it sanitary between patients. I rarely noticed them being changed unless some kind of body fluid made a stain.
My doctor asked me a variety of questions; what are my symptoms, how long have I had them and if I had taken anything for relief. I noticed he didn’t ask if I had any allergies, though I knew they wouldn’t be giving me any of them, so I didn’t offer the information. My blood pressure was taken and he listened to my chest and abdomen with his stethoscope. I was asked if I wanted a drip of saline and I agreed it would be helpful. He wrote up a list of supplies and Manish and Graham walked across the alley to pay and collect what was needed. The nurse came and drew blood, first asking if I had ever had an IV before. She allowed the fluid to drip onto the bed and floor until she knew there were no bubbles. Soon enough, I was hooked up and starting to feel a bit more hydrated. Manish and Graham arrived replenishing the supplies I was using; needles, tubes and a water bottle with fluid. They left again to grab food promising to check on me soon.
Conveniently, Manish’s girlfriend is the head nurse and she was calling to check on me and expedite my tests so I could get out of the hospital sooner. Finally the blood tests came back and the nurse handed me a small cup and an even smaller container to collect my urine and stool.
Here’s where I had to laugh, incredulously asking them, You want me to do WHAT.. in THAT?! They were indeed serious and pointed to the outside door, I traipsed out and around the corner where a small closet in the alley served as a bathroom, with no toilet paper or a place to wash hands. I did my duty, carefully and thankful for my days on a yoga mat while I balanced precariously as I peed in a tiny hole and used the small cup to collect a bit of whatever came out. I walked back into the hospital desperate to wash my hands.
I found a sink with no paper towels, or any towel and slinked back to bed #4 to wipe on the sheet, hoping whoever had been there previously wasn’t contagious.
I was hooked up to another IV and sent Manish and Graham back over to replace that fluid bag, this time it was only 100rs (about a dollar). We sped the drip up so I could leave sooner, but then waited for my doctor to return with the tests from my waste. As we waited, Graham walked over to the Orthopedic office to get an X-ray of his spine, sleeping meds and a variety of other pills the doctor didn’t hesitate to write him a script for. Twenty minutes later he arrived triumphant as I continued to wait. We waited for another hour before I got antsy and threatened to remove my own needle. Manish took my chart and walked to the doctor’s office across the alley demanding him to return and give prescriptions so I could leave.
About 10 minutes later, Manish returned leading my doctor who calmly and with a wonderful smile explained the medications and when to take them. He also suggested I only eat curd and bananas for a few days until my intestines could properly digest. I was finally released and walked up the block to the pharmacy where the pharmacist further explained my mystery drug, Cipro and probiotics, adding to my pile of electrolyte powder.
Once home, Graham made me a batch of powdered soup and boiling water, I took my meds and fell asleep. I now feel human again, able to eat and walk around without a terrible pain in my stomach. Manish jokes that I’m true Nepali now that I’ve survived Nepali Hospital and their medications.
There are many things that are expensive, strict rules and wait lines in the US, though I’m thankful for toilet paper, sterilized everything and a place to wash hands. In Nepal, everything must be paid for in the moment if you want treatment. It’s cheaper for me, but what if I hadn’t had the money, what if I had gotten even more sick from sitting next to a patient with a contagious disease?
I saw a man getting a blood transfusion while sitting in a chair, I witnessed a baby being shaken upside down in order to get him to quit coughing, a man threw up in a trash can while old men walking with their visible catheters to use the bathroom, not a single patient washed their hands upon the return. In fact I’m not even sure how often the nurses changed their gloves or the sheets on the beds and my curtains were constantly opened to remove any privacy I may have wanted. I watched as a nurse took the temperature of the violently coughing man in bed #5, afterward simply returning the thermometer to her pocket, nothing was sanitized.
In the paper I’m reading about how they have problems in hospitals outside the city where doctors will go on vacation leaving nobody to man the hospital and equipment too expensive to keep in working order. Dialysis is a common treatment while heart issues require expensive equipment. Miscarriages and pregnancies can be prevented easily by just making sure there is at least one doctor at each hospital. Ambulances are rare and can’t typically get through traffic, carrying many patients who die on their way for help.
I’m lucky as a foreigner who can afford the treatment, I had a translator and the head nurse on my side, luckily I wasn’t in a life threatening condition. I’m thankful to be healthy again and look forward to my next hospital experience, in the United States which is much more expensive though a lot more sanitary.
Do you ever wish you could freeze time and relive a moment over and over? I had a night like that recently where I found myself sitting with 4 other women talking about Feminism. It was a conversation that could have started as a joke; an Iranian, a Nepali, two South Koreans and an American, all women sitting around drinking beer and sharing cigarettes, comparing stories of what it was like to be a woman in today’s world.
The Iranian woman who described herself as an outspoken talker started, and one of the Koreans mostly posed questions for me to answer as the Nepali only interjected as she felt fit. They all passionately agreed they wanted to know what the American’s viewpoint is. We talked about sex, drinking and relationships, recognizing that we are probably not the stereotypical women from our respective countries.
I told them I had a hard time interacting with many Nepali men and described scenarios where I have been forcibly touched or groped. The Nepali woman interjected because she had been witness to one of these a few days ago; she explained the difference in how I had acted vs how a Nepali girl may have behaved though agreeing the boys were wrong. I had been dancing while approached from both sides and unaware that it’s improper to dance with a man just for fun. They misjudged my playful behavior and after placing his hand on my hip, underneath one of my shirts, I broke away toward the other end of the club. We all agreed that non-American men are much more aggressive with the opposite sex. Even still, the Korean spoke up that she is sexually driven and she doesn’t understand why when 2 people “want the sex” as she put it, why it is construed as bad for a female. She asked me if people have problems with alcohol in the States, an excuse that is readily used here if a man crosses a boundary.
So the Iranian dug in again, comparing scenarios of 2 couples; in one the man is having an affair, in the other the woman is having an affair. If the person cheating comes back to their spouse and says I am sorry I will never do it again; I love you. Why is it that the man with the cheating wife will most likely say no and leave, while the woman with the cheating husband will stay. She argues it’s about security. Many times the woman has the responsibility of the children and needs a husband to help her provide for them. The Korean pursisted, but what about in a club scenario? Even in a casual setting, women are in want of more than just a bit of pleasure, whether it be behavior or conversation. It’s what makes sex complicated. Even more, this is what society has bestowed upon us; women should want security, children and a man to provide for her. It doesn’t seem acceptable for a woman to seek out pleasure for pleasure’s sake.
We then launched into an even more tender topic of what is Feminism? International Women’s Day is a holiday here, many people get the day off, there are parades and speeches, awards given and recognition to strong females. There are laws around the world which aim to protect women from being mistreated, though sometimes they backfire. For example, in Nepal the first row on the bus is reserved for women, but say an elderly man who cannot stand well is sitting and a young girl gets on. The man will be forced to stand in accordance of the law. Now the question is: does the law favor the one who needs it most?
We all agreed, it goes further than this. We are all humans and that is the underlying issue. Men are not better, just as women are not “just as good”. We are equal. Varying as humans do in talents, abilities and strengths though gender doesn’t constitute these. Equality means having the same opportunites, being given the same respect, being talked about in the same way, comparatively speaking on intelligence, vitality and character.
In Nepal, 33% of Parliament is reserved for females, which on paper looks nice, but when you look deeper and realize that many of those women are illiterate and are holding titles for political families that want the prestige. Can this really be the best thing for women? Maybe it’s time to focus on getting more girls in school so that they can grow up to naturally take office and make real world progress.
And although she didn’t need to say it, the Iranian woman told me that the Korean woman is one of the smartest humans she knows though with a language barrier it’s never easy to completely understand one another. I agreed and admitted my own English has changed while traveling, I have to think about the words I use and the sentence structure I speak to clearly and concisely get my point across in a way that is easily understood. It’s the same when I started to learn any other language, the most basic sentence structure is the only thing I can understand and any variation of prepositions or slang is confusing.
Instead, I focus on the topic of conversation and the ideas brought forth. Considering English, Farsi, Nepali and Korean were all our mother tongues, all five of us must be well educated and intelligent to be able to have a passionate conversation on Feminism. The way we all spoke, we agreed, high fived and smiled when we found out– none of us are Feminists, we are believers in Love, in humans and hopeful of an inclusive world where gender doesn’t dictate where you sit on a bus, your education level or your ability to dance when you want to dance.
And the Iranian woman later told me, Kathmandu is the place where I will meet many more freethinking women and men of the world. We are all drawn here for one reason or another and we all have made it here because we have open minds enough to want to be here, regardless of what we may or may not have heard. And that’s when I told them all with a big smile on my face: Thank you for being my People. I feel more at home in Kathmandu than I have in the US because of these strong women I’m inspired and surrounded by.
Thank you Neda, Nistha, Asha and Sylvia.
I have settled into a routine here at MCUBE Gallery in Patan. I awake naturally every morning around 7am, drink 2 cups of hot water and follow Manish in Yog; a very much not western version of Yoga where we loosen each joint from the top of our heads to the bottom of our feet, use breathing exercises and end with meditation and OMs. Then I cook 2 soft boiled eggs and make toast with honey while I enjoy juice or tea and read The Himalayan, a local newspaper which prints both an English version as well as a Nepali version. By the time this routine is finished, it’s about 11am and I’m free to go about my day.
I have started to meet many artists here and I’m fascinated by how similar our minds work. Women’s rights are different in this part of the world and the political statements that are made intrigue me. Compared to what is happening in the United States, where the political climate of issues circles around environmental, immigration and females; it’s obvious we have moved mountains already. Here they are conflicted with the modern existence; struggles with traditions and accepting women to have minds of their own, understanding the complexities of science and how to better their world. Life is much harder here and the general idea has been surrounding community where everyone plays their part, one life may only be a cog in the wheel, humility is readily practiced to the point of not being able to accept each as an individual.
This has created a dissonance within my mind of art in this world. While each artist works in their own studio and own works, there is a great overlap of ideas that are displayed in unique styles, representing their own imaginings of how their world is vs how they want it to be. The other day, I visited a studio nearby called Kasthamandap Studio where I met, conversed and viewed works by 5 Nepali artists who show throughout the world. Erina Tamrakar who has evolved through being a woman, Bhairaj Maharjan who enjoys landscapes and explores the idea behind Buddha and peace, Binod Pradhan who has an impressive array of landscapes melted together using a watercolor technique, Pramila Bajracharya who uses oil to convey simple and emotional landscapes and Asha Dangol who focuses on juxaposing new with old ideas and his own body to evoke thought on violence, peace and new beginnings. All of their work is visually stunning and each studio represents their artistic perspective and their influence through ideas even while they are all striving collectively through the Nepal art community. I learned that after the big earthquake almost 3 years ago, there was an upswing of creativity while they struggled with petrol shortages, a divergence into the modern world as many historical temples were destroyed and a coming to terms with environmental damage and global warming.
Afterward, we stopped off at Beautiful Coffee in Sanepa. Beautiful Coffee is run by a South Korean woman, who is passionate about Fair Trade Coffee and produces the best cafe latte I’ve had in Nepal. She explained the process where they get beans, and shows off the spacious and open front courtyard filled with signs about love and coffee, then the inside which houses a coffee museum and more punny signs intended to leave you with a laugh. We spoke about possibilities of creating a Breakfast at Bethany type party with spoken word, live art and music to transform your soul, all with the assist of tasty coffee and the main ingredient of love. We left after deciding to throw a BBQ on Friday inviting all of the Koreans and others who we’ve met thus far, so we can get to know each other even better and explore further possibilities of promoting love, our common language.
As Graham and I have gotten to know our host, Manish, we have discovered his many pursuits, one of which we are in talks to help promote in the United States. His non-profit Get Well Soon Nepal, an organization using art therapy to help children and families after the big earthquake. We want to use pashmina, which is woven and created into scarves, ponchos, blankets and other items in his textiles factory started by his late mother Urmi to promote and sell, reserving a portion of profits toward earthquake relief. In starting this path, we have needed to create content and we spend a portion of yesterday modeling, taking photos and deciding what would sell best in the United States. This is an exciting venture as we’ve been talking about starting a company of this kind and I even made moves to do this type of project last year with another organization, unfortunately ending with a lack of communication.
Last night, Graham and I attended a play by Anton Chekov and Adapted by Rose Schwietz, an american who directed and acted in the piece alongside Nepalis. The play was in english and the easiest to follow Chekov adaptation I’d witnessed. It was entertaining to hear the Nepali accents speak about wanting to go to Moscow, though it reminded me of not only my own desire to return to Nepal but the sentiment expressed to me from many Nepalis of wanting to go anywhere else. It was clear this production didn’t have a lot of money for set and costume design though the use of the space and elements played to their ingenuity and capacity to create something from nothing. Rose played the general which normally is a male role, turning a light on LGBT issues which is just starting to come out in this country. It was evident that many students had never been subject to lesbians as a simple kiss at the end led to gasps and shocking photos.
I feel protected and separated from the streets in this residency, which I’m sure my parents are happy with, though it removes a layer of being with the people. I’m seeing a different side of Nepal, the side of people who have luxury to travel and portray their world, the side that has a bed and meals every day, the side of business and commerce that helps and promotes the people who need it, and there are so many people who are in need. Interesting that the people I have met look down upon beggars, they want to protect me from seeing the dark side because they are afraid that is how I will view their country. I see the beauty within the struggle, maybe because I have struggled too. I understand that struggle leads to enlightenment, that to suffer is to live.
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In the last few days, I’ve kept busy; feeling like myself again after recovering from food poisoning which turned into gastric, basically a bubble in my stomach from too much acidity in my diet due to the spiciness of food. I’m having to keep a special eye on my diet, enforcing more alkaline foods and drinking a special fizzy artificial lemony powder in my water to prevent a new bubble from forming. I went to a grocery store to buy food I can make in the kitchen and I gotta say, I’ve perfected a soft boiled egg which I eat in the morning along with a cup of Ensure with full cream milk to force myself into gaining more weight. We also stocked up on pasta and bread for PB&J sandwiches. It’s interesting to look at prices here, dairy is astronomically high in price along with meat, nuts and candy, while coca-cola, eggs and pasta are about the same. Honey is cheap, ghee comes in large amounts and tomato sauce is basically ketchup. Produce is cheaper on the street, though much of it is imported from India, it all still tastes much more fresh than what I’ve had in the US.
The other day we took a trip to Thamel, I showed Graham the “touristy” area where I started my last trip. We took a big bus over the Bagmati River and after a couple miles we decided walking would be better and wrestled our way through the packed vehicle, paid our 15 Rs and walked for another hour before arriving tired and hungry to a surprisingly calm and empty area. We opted for pizza to set the mood and took our time to enjoying the empty rooftop and service. Afterward, we landed back on the streets which had filled in the meantime and carefully made our way over the uneven gravel and dirt to bargain and purchase items easier found in this compact area of Kathmandu. Graham loved the bargaining and immediately fell in with the locals, joking at the expense and tough deals they claim to make. We sneakily found some hash then continued on for handcrafted paper, a water bottle and somehow managed to run right into a dusty old crystal shop filled with some of the biggest and most beautifully cut rocks I’d ever seen. Our jaws dropped at the prices and we snuck away feeling like royalty.
Yesterday, Manish took us to a couple of gallery openings in honor of International Woman’s Day, a holiday in Nepal where many get a day off. The first gallery was very pretentious, a sales person for each of us followed us offering tea or coffee and making sure we knew the process and that everything was for sale, boasting of big named artists and anticipating our complements on their space. The next gallery was located at the ground floor of a hotel, opening out to a beautiful open courtyard where they hosted a ceremony to honor their artists and one of the longest programs I’d seen. We ended up leaving before it ended mostly because it was entirely in Nepali and we didn’t understand the speeches. A woman sang a couple of Nepali songs and Manish introduced me to a few of the painters while Graham snuck out for a beer and a smoke. Soon we were on our way and we all agreed that we wouldn’t be doing a program to that extent for our own opening.
Closer to MCUBE, we arrived at a magical destination. Walking through the metal gates, the tables and chairs were made of motorcycle and bicycle parts, glass bottles hung from trees and the opening to the cafe was a concrete wall filled with recycled glass and a bicycle wheel for windows and an opening of clear plastic curtain to keep the dust out. We were immediately introduced to a multitude of artists, pulling up chairs, excited to talk with fellow foreigners. Mark Bechtel, a professor of product design at Parson’s in New York was doing a presentation on his work. Garreth, from Wales was showing his photography and shared he was extending his stay after three months while Flora shyly told us she is exploring art after living in Nepal for almost four years, not sure exactly what she wants to focus on. Rebecca is a dancer from Brazil, though she lives in London now and is only visiting Nepal for the first time, having traveled throughout Africa studying tribal dance. Matt is a hacker who works closely with the Burning Man community; he took the left over bikes from last year and is fixing them up to rent out and sell for future use. After a couple cigarettes and coffee and tea, we adjourned to the second level where Mark gave his lecture, explaining his life’s work and struggle of making ends meet while also fulfilling his desire to create art, ending with an invitation to return in a couple of weeks for an exhibit of his residency.
Mark’s lecture was intriguing, his focus has been on objects and figuring out meaning, reasoning and relationship within an anthropologic context and invited us to watch a documentary on Gregory Batesman outside following his presentation. I ordered a bowl of soup and cozied up in an arm chair under the stairs to munch on noodles and knowledge, happily stretching my mind and conversing long after the documentary ended. My mind was buzzing and this was the exact reason I wanted to come to Nepal in the first place, meeting other artists who are pushing their minds to understand and create more questions that cause our human race to move forward. Finally as Manish and Graham dragged me away from the cafe, all of us hugging and promising to see each other soon, Manish asked if we wanted to go out. Graham was tired, but I persisted that I finally was well and I wanted to make the most of the evening.
So, we ended up in Thamel again, this time the unpaved roads were packed with people. Shops were closed and everyone was dressed for a night on the town, Nepalis and foreigners mingled as people were celebrating the end of the week and earnestly spending their hard earned cash on food, cigarettes and booze. We followed our guide to the spot and somehow managed to sneak in without a cover and ascended a metal staircase to a dark bar packed with mostly young Nepali men who hooted and hollered with their hands stuck in the air sharing their love of Rock ‘n Roll. An impressive stage was set up above our entrance with enormous speakers, colored lights and a sound system many bars in LA would die for. A group of security guys next to stage ensured nobody smoked or drank on the dance floor though a mosh pit took over soon enough. The first few songs were in Nepali, though after each song the crowd joined together yelling out their requests for classic songs that would keep the energy going. COBWEB didn’t disappoint playing covers of some of the best Metallica, Linkin Park and Rage against the Machine I’d heard. Pink Floyd is some of my favorite and they blasted out Another Brick in the Wall perfectly rehearsed. The boys asked if I was ready to go and I begged to stay for one more song. Sweet Child O’ Mine came on in that moment and I pushed further into the crowd, thrusting my own hand up in rocker status. A Nepali boy wanted to dance which was fine until he bravely tried to place his hand under my shirt on my hip and I ran back to join my own friends, deciding maybe it was cool to leave before the crowd got too crass. We wove our way through the mosh pit as we found our exit, noticing a few drag queens or possible sex workers posing on the street as we found Manish’s car and laughed the whole way home.
Another wonderful week in Nepal has come to a close. Meetings and plans for the future took place today and I’m fascinated with stars in my eyes as I await the next. The adventures continue as I realize the difference in the Nepal I’m experiencing this trip and the humans who will help shape the focus of my work in the future.