Causes and Conditions are stories of an American living and working in Nepal.
January 21, 2014
I woke up cold this morning. 1:30am. Still jet-lagged. Power is on until 4am. Then off until 10am. This is typical in Kathmandu, and all Nepal for that matter. It is called load-shedding. The generators will kick on at around 6am, when the young Tibetan employees of the Siddhi Manakamana Guest House begin breakfast and cleaning rituals. The monks began even earlier with their chanting prayers, bells, gongs and horns. Earlier than that…4am, at precisely the same time as some unknown force flipped a switch that turned the power off, the rooster began his morning announcing to the valley that another day was upon us.
January 23, 2014
Technology. As women continue to gain equanimity, it seems that the old adage…can’t live with it, can’t live without it, should (for many reasons) be replaced by “technology”. It is the reason we are so connected and disconnected. It brings us together, when we are miles apart, and it keeps us separate when we are within meters of each other. Just to write these simple word, which only will take me minutes, I spent a half an hour fiddling with wi-fi, searching for chords, and checking for power.
“Why hasn’t this downloaded? Why can’t I connect?”
These words fill the days of millions. We wait endlessly for tech support from a distant land, from a co-worker, maybe our spouse, or a friend. We spend time providing the same support for our children as we vainly limit them to the amount of screen time they should have, except when we use it as a tool to babysit. We want our children to go out and play, read a book, while we quietly play Candy Crush or peer into the lives of our old schoolmates.
I haven’t begun to choose a direction, and for now, I choose to be the direction. I have settled into the office and have begun to make it my own. We have settled in our apartment and have begun to make it our own. But Nepal is settling on us, and making us its own. It is impossible to ignore through all the connectivity, that there is something so much larger than just us. This business, the work, the streets, the vendors, the pilgrims around the stupa, it has been happening for long before I arrived, and will continue for long after I am gone. But it makes me no less a part of what is now. As always, the only trouble starts when I worry about what I need, instead of just being.
I’ve spent my first days waking, walking my son to his bus stop, going to Kora around the Great Stupa, yoga-ing, mixing up my own words, eating breakfast with my wife, and then venturing off to the magic carpet land. Work consists of observing, listening but not fully understanding because I don’t speak Nepalese or Tibetan, making suggestions, and in quite a ridiculous way…acting like a boy king. The reality is I must find time fulfill my objectives: improve communication, increase productivity, develop new lines, develop new qualities, and so on. Smile, nod side to side and get it done.
This is not possible without the great network. The network of connectivity here and abroad. I am reminded of it every time the line goes dead. But in those quiet moments, I also realize that is why I love it here, and why I wanted so much for my family to share it with me. There is a peace that comes only from disconnecting. In that peace we can look outward onto all we are a part of, not apart from.
January 25, 2014
Saturday. Slow start to the day. Perfect to reflect on the past week of settling in Kathmandu. I spoke for some time with my younger brother this morning as opposed to reading more of The Snow Leopard. The journal entry date in the book was my brother’s birthday, and he was the one who gave me the book, so my thoughts naturally drifted to him, some 14h 45m behind me in Juneau, Alaska.
Work has been challenging only insofar as establishing a rhythm. It has been pointed out to me several times, lastly by my brother, that although it feels like a lack of schedule, it is settling into a new schedule. Time here is ruled by the “beautiful chaos” that permeates the whole valley. Sometimes it feels like everything at once. The pounding of a hammer in the endless construction of the city, the multitude of horns from the tightly braided traffic of the main roads, the birds singing off in the distance drowned by the planes soaring and skimming over the wall of protecting and imprisoning razorback foothills of this giant bowl. Children scream and laugh, monks chant, and the denizens go on about their social ways. Nodding, smiling, and stopping to talk. The smell and pluming smoke of incense streams in the lightly hazed air. The vendors’ wares are out everywhere, from NorthFakes to handicrafts…thangkas, masks and malas, to baked goods and so on. No more than a few steps separate one vendor from the next. Even tucked back into the lonely alleys, a Nepali bodega opens behind a garage door.
My breath is constrained slightly by the congestion and dust that forms thin veil upon veil on every surface of this city on a daily basis. Perhaps a little of the altitude adds to the tightness, but I still lean towards the pollution as the cause. I know that with the gentle rain and winter mist of earlier in the week, current conditions are above the baseline for positive air quality. Most of my previous trips have been marked by black mucus blown into tissue or hocked into a sink, so it’s not so bad. Living in Boudha allows me to walk almost everywhere I need to go, and I am sure there is an added benefit of not spending the two hours daily it would take to commute 10km, simmering in petrol soup.
Walking to work, I pass the doll-like school children, all in their handsome uniforms, blazers and the like. A group stops me to say, “Hello sir! What is your name? Where are you from?”
Whenever confronted with these snickering questions, I always answer and ask them their names in return. But even after coming to Nepal for 15 years, I still have trouble understanding… and so I ask again with spelling included, until I am sure I understand correctly what I will forget moments later.