Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Wandering Mystic Meditation From Nepal Part II

The comedy and tragedy that is my life eventually led me on a journey to Kathmandu. Here I soon discovered my destiny to found a global charitable organization helping the children of Nepal, as I noted in the previous post. I will never forget the sensory bombardment that hit me immediately on arrival in Kathmandu.

Streets full of compact cars, mini-buses full of Nepalese and foreigners watching their purses and pockets, motorbikes saddled by drivers who only recently purchased their licenses, three-wheeled auto-rickshaws whizzing by. Skeletal dogs sleeping or dying in shady corners and underneath eves. Goats tied to posts witnessing the slaughter of their siblings just a few feet away in darkened hole-in-the-wall shops lining every street. Cows roaming free in traffic and monkeys running across tin roofs creating a racket.

Gutters filled with rain water, vegetable peels and cholera flowing down into the abyss, draining toward the dark river below. The same river where the daily cremations proceed ceremoniously. Arne, the German medical student who I live with at the volunteer house, says he could use that river to fully supply an entire microbiology class. The same river whole families wash in and drink from.

All this on my walk to work. Children hang onto creaky railings separating them from the madness of the street, though just barely. Clothing hangs everywhere in the shops, providing the merchants some refuge from the blistering 38 degree sun. Their colourful stands line the dirt roads in every direction, seemingly stretching into all corners of the earth and beyond.

Miles of tiny statuettes of elephants and gods, cards depicting the lives of deities like Vishnu and Shiva, sparkling bangles neatly arranged. Tibetan flags boxed in fives for releasing to flail in the North, West, East, South and heavenly winds that grant wishes of good fortune and protection. Cheap trinkets, religious talismans, and spiritual history displayed on tables or in the creased faces of the men and women who sit there with beautiful flowing dress twisted around their bodies.

In a word, this place is contrast. Of colours, sounds, sights and smells. I pass a beautiful timeless temple surrounded by rotting garbage and walk on. Fragrant flowers are briefly punctuated by warmed sewage then ceremonial smoke and incense. Shimmering saris with greens, blues, yellows, oranges, and fuchsias, followed by shredded colourless rags on the remains of a footless man, his skin eaten away by ancient diseases. Reminders of biblical plagues are thrust into the present here. Another sits with polio's hand outstretched and mangled fingers begging, while a shiny new car drives nearby pumping fumes into the faces of dirty, half-naked street children.

Traffic stumbles, stacks up, drives on top of itself, while horns blare to warn pedestrians only inches from fast moving car mirrors or the hot exhaust pipes of motorcycles. I try not to envision a motor bike tearing off my limb as it carelessly speeds by. It's impossible to imagine that minutes away, off the main roads, exists silence, peace and relative safety.

On the street, a woman falls with a quick cry. Two others who were arm in arm with her are torn away then scramble to straighten their saris. They help pick her up off the road, where a blue racing bike now lies overturned on the child driver trying hard to free his leg from the bike's crushing weight. He finally steadies and looks at the three ladies with a half smirk of fear, apprehension and embarrassment. The women check each other for damage. The fallen one seems okay but a little bloody and scraped up. The faces of shopkeepers peer out of portals in the street’s brick walls.  Silent but interested, they wait to see what happens next.

The sounds of joy and agony are intertwined here. Sometimes one blocks out the other, but sometimes they are indistinguishable. The madness rages in the main streets as young officers in blue uniforms, white gloves and face masks direct traffic while protecting themselves from the dreadful pollution and swine flu. If you ask anyone here, there is no swine flu. Yet, the fear is so strong many walk around with the futuristic masks like survivors of Armageddon.

In Kathmandu, I stay at the house of a man called KP. He says, "If swine flu breaks out here, Nepal will die." The health care system is atrocious, near non-existent. The government is corrupted beyond stagnation into criminal negligence. Cholera and diarrhea death tolls are reported daily by the local newspapers I read after KP has finished with them. A girl of 13 is left alone to care for 5 siblings when her parents succumb to diarrhea. She says, "I don't know how to take care of them. After all, I am only a child."

The poorest people drink from sources where they will eventually contract a disease and may die from dysentery. Such is easily treatable, but medication costs money, plus they will simply have to return to the water sources that made them sick in the first place. Newspapers only report the bad news, of course. They never tell you about hope, triumph, or humanity at its best. Happiness doesn't sell the way hopelessness does.

When I come home from coffee with KP, his 9-year-old daughter Kusi takes to combing his hair. We hear a girlish giggle then see KP turn around with a look of happy resignation to reveal a barrette clipped to the side of his head. We all laugh as she continues her styling. I think about the stark contrast between this house and the world outside the elegant walled off property.

Later on, we gather in the living room, so KP can serve the volunteers his homemade rice beer. Kusi gets us dancing to some Nepalese music as she laughs and prances. You can see she's a happy loved child. Kusi's father soon joins her, while her mother and I laugh at how the men dance. Kind of like animated chickens. Bok, bok, Bok-kah!

In madness and wonder, I love Nepal. As I sit here in my room after the festivities of the evening and a full day of volunteering, I listen to the sounds of joyful children cavorting, the calming music of an unseen flute player outside my window, birds chirping at dawn, the laughter of women in intimate conversation, a man speaking to his wife with loving admiration before their child watchfully taking it in. All of this sensory input - good, bad, calm and insane - in less than a week. Stay tuned for the final part of this story about my love affair with Nepal and her easy-to-love children. 

Joanna Bryniarska is a traveler and writer from Canada. She is also the founder of Org4Peace that seeks to improve the future for children in Nepal. You can check out their website at


  1. this photo is nice i like. "juan josé castro garcía"

  2. I love the image of the grandmother and the girl
    because they look that much love...........
    jose luis alvarado silva.

  3. JOSE LUIS GARCÍA HERRERANovember 30, 2012 at 12:28 AM

    beautiful shots, interesting landscapes shows the beauty of other countries and how people live.

  4. Very vivid in what you say, Joanna. It's a beautiful country, particularly for those of us with a climbing mentality, but at the same time, it has a lot of struggles to work through.

  5. Joanna is a fantastic writer and human being.