All the birds have flown up and gone;
A lonely cloud floats leisurely by.
We never tire of looking at each other –
Only the mountain and I.
Scandinavian children grow up remembering cold days outdoors and warm floors indoors. Goretex overalls and muckshoes. Nepalese children grow up remembering cold days outdoors and no heating indoors. Wool layers and proper shoes – if they are lucky.
Scandinavian children grow up remembering communal daycare and after-school clubs. Nepalese children grow up remembering village teaching rooms, NGO schools, and English private schools – if they are lucky.
Scandinavian children grow up remembering endless streams of hot water from a faucet, dishwashers, laundry machines, and saunas. Nepalese children grow up remembering endless streams of cold water from a faucet, the pride of the family-owned village water distribution system, and a maid doing the dishes and laundry – if they are lucky.
Scandinavian children grow up remembering boxy houses and lawns and dogs and cats and maybe rabbits. Nepalese children grow up remembering gorgeous temples and flowering trees and dogs and cats and chickens and pigeons on the temple roof and a cow in the street and a goat on the market square and eagles in the sky.
We are all same but different.
(Kathmandu, Nepal; January 2015)
Once upon a time, lord Shiva wanted his wife Parvati to learn that the world was an illusion. Parvati found it difficult to understand that material things such as food could be completely disregarded. She became angry – and poof she disappeared. And suddenly there was no more food. People and animals and nature starved. Lord Shiva became nervous, then upset, then desperate. He begged for his wife to return. And she did – and immediately she began to make food for the world. She taught her husband that as long as we are on this plane of existence, and made of matter, we cannot completely disregard material things.Parvati is also called Annapurna, goddess of nourishment. Up high in the Himalayas there is a mountain called Annapurna. Perhaps it is under this mountain’s watch that Kathmandu valley seems to be brimming with food? (Kathmandu, Nepal; January 2015)
Stuck in traffic on our way to Lalitpur and the orphanage. “No time for love” he proclaims, words spelled in red letters behind a Tata truck carrying water canisters. Next to the words he has carefully painted a set of eyes and added Nepali script I cannot decipher.
I find it hard to believe the Nepalese have no time for love – or anything else they desire. Even if the traffic is terrible, nothing is organized, the power is out several times a day, and nothing works like in Germany, the Nepalese have time to care about beauty: drape themselves in the most fabulous fabrics, wear colorful woollen hats, and even decorate their cars with flowers. Beauty created is love for the world – beauty bestowed is love from the world. The Nepalese are all about beauty and thus I dare to think the owner of the car is wrong. There is always time for love in Nepal.
Life is so much more present in Nepal than it is in Western countries. And so life is also much more present at Buddhist temples than at our Christian churches. There is no wheelchair access – one must often climb many steps to the top of a hill, where the view is stunning. There is no one solemn building but many places to worship: shrines of various deities and images of Buddha, and places to leave little oil lamps burning together with a thought or two. Or why not send a thought to the universe by spinning a row of prayer wheels?
Flower garlands, rice, and red tika dye color the holy statuettes with reverence. Prayer flags wave in color, tightly spun around trees. Incense slowly releases quiet prayers into the wind of the world. Here faith is an integral part of life and the philosophy of living. Faith is imperfection: old torn prayer flags beaten by the wind. Faith is equal: the wealthy mingle among street dogs and beggars. Faith is living: children chasing each other around the stupa. Faith is moving on: birds perched on the limbs of a deity feasting on offer rice grains.
As I squinted at the eyes of Buddha on the stupa, ever watching over Kathmandu valley, I could not help but reflect on the difference between a Western church and a buddhist temple: in a church we are to walk in, wipe the smile off our faces, stop talking, light a candle, and sit down in solemn silence. In the Swayambunath temple we are to walk in together, gaze at the sun, talk with our family, light an oil lamp, and have moments of meditation at our own leisure. And perhaps offer a garland of strikingly orange flowers.
Temples. Pagodas. Flowers. Fruits. Pollution. Traffic. Scooters. Rickshaws. Women in red wraps. Men in woollen skullcaps. Dirt. Dust. Hawkers. Dogs. Shawls. Street kids. Monks. Monkeys. Sickness. Youth. Buddhism. Hinduism. Capitalism. Tourism. Life, never ending nor constant, always changing and present. The bad, the good, and the ugly.
There is a lot of ugly in a city like Kathmandu, if ugly can be called everything that is unpolished to the western eye. And it is better to keep one’s eyes wide open because there is always more beauty.