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Epiphanies

June 2001

Last month The ScreamOnline received a letter from Nepal. Our reporter on the road is Ross Calvin of Albuquerque, New Mexico, who is currently on a 6-month circumnavigation of the globe. We are proud to feature as our first Epiphany the following:

Last night I went up to the roof of my hotel in Kathmandu to practice some Tae Kwon Do. The moon was bright orange and full, and the lights from the temple on the hill speared through the leaves of a poplar tree. Going through the motions, it amazes me every time that someone from so long ago and far away could make an art that works so well for my body and mind. It is the expression of an innate connectedness, a commonality, like being part of a great web of some precious metal, bound to an invisible hand.

After awhile I noticed one of the hotel staff watching me from a shadow. He was stout and short, with a grand smile. I had said to him that the next day was my birthday, and he felt inspired to take me to his family's village for a festival.

"The full moon is special for the Newaris," he explained. And in the early spring the valley resounds with celebration. To accept his offer made me feel a little embarrassed as I didn't have much to give him in return except money. This would have been a silly exchange, especially since the gift of hospitality is such an intangible thing.

It is a legend that a goddess once lost her necklace while bathing in a sacred pond tucked up in the hills. A village is built around the pond now, and every spring at the full moon she is carried through its streets on her path to find the necklace. I don't think she has found it yet, but they tote her around as they fill themselves with rice wine to bear the weight. Her stone effigy ends up covered with red and yellow powder, rice, and goat's blood as offerings, once she finally reaches the pond.

The procession lasts all day, and so I was invited to the house of my friend's sister to have something to eat. Her house looked medieval, made of low-fired brick and carved wood. Its doorways were Nepali-size. The two small windows looked down over the dusty dirt streets spotted with sacrificed chicken bodies and burning cooking stoves. Like most Nepali households, her whole family was living there. They had hung pictures of Lenin and Mao on the walls, covered with white silken scarves—the traditional sign for adoration and respect. It was an ominous reminder of the twenty-five deaths last week at the hands of Maoist guerrillas, just up the valley.

The hospitality could not have been more freely given or genuine. They prepared lentil cakes and small bananas, goat yogurt, eggs, and wheat biscuits. Only one of them spoke any word of English, so I found myself smiling awkwardly as I ate, without anything to give them in recompense. They were not well-to-do either, and I'm sure my big American stomach made them fear for house and home. Nepal is the second-poorest country in the world, and I could not be further from home on the planet. Even so, I could not remember the last time I was invited like this to someone's house. In many ways it seemed that they were so wealthy, while at home we are so impoverished.

We went back out to where the procession was going on. I leaned-in close to get a picture, and a local policeman fined me for having leather boots too close to the goddess. Cows are sacred in Nepal, where one can get life in prison for killing one. It was an expensive picture.

The sedan with the statue finally approached the pond. There were little boys bathing and a crowd of people surrounded the water to watch the culmination: the statue being carried through the water. The men were throwing one another in. It was a twisting mass of wrestling bodies. They wanted to throw me in too, but I got free and sat down to watch from a distance and think about the day. It seemed like it wasn't the bathing that was the holy part. It wasn't an exercise of tradition or sentimentality, or a belief in the water's special powers. And for me, it wasn't being treated to a good meal or sitting with Mao. It wasn't the Nepalis that wanted to throw the white guy in the water. It was being part of life that crept in and made me so happy. I think that was the holy part, like an invisible hand pulling my metal through some great ocean of experience, and I just get to be here.

©2001 Ross Calvin

Update : "We just got back from an absolutely awesome trek. We went up north of Kathmandu through a place called Helambu to Langtang. It was about six days of constant up and down in the heat (with our 60-lb. packs) where little medieval houses cling to the hillside. Then, the trail got up above 11,000 feet where it looked a lot like New Mexico with pine and fir trees. Beyond was a 15,000-foot pass in the clouds to a Hindu sacred lake. We crossed in a snow storm, and the next day down into a jungle. From there we walked up the Langtang valley past monkeys and eagles to a Buddhist monastery on the edge of a glacier. It started with fog every morning and snow in the afternoon, but we had some good exploring before going back to get a bus to Kathmandu. We are going to Thailand on Saturday. As great as Kathmandu has been, it will be exciting to see a new place."

 

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