Namaste from Nepal

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Namaste from Nepal

By Iris C. Gonzales


Patan Durbar Square, now closed to tourists. © Iris Gonzales

On a very hot, dry Monday morning after a very uncomfortable flight from Bangkok, Jes Aznar (Filipino photographer) and I arrived in the centre of Kathmandu.

This city is now full of empty hotels and collapsed buildings; temples are cut off and shopkeepers are traumatized.

Nepal, one of five Himalayan countries, the land of Ganesha, the birthplace of the Lord Buddha, was hit by a 7.8 magnitude earthquake on 25 April.

It was not the best time to plan a holiday.

Most people were running away to safety. But we had been planning our trip for 3 years. We planned a trek in the Himalayas; yoga in a mountain village; drinking yoghurt lassi on a hotel balcony and cold Nepali beer with barley.

But the vacation became work assignments, to tell the stories of a country damaged by an earthquake; of how its women are surviving, or how people in far-away villages are living on donated rice.

At Kathmandu’s Tribhuvan International Airport, a small building made of orange bricks, we didn’t know where to begin.

There was chaos even before the taxis. Inside the airport, there were many lines, and immigration officers who suddenly walked away when it was your turn to step past the yellow line.

After we left the airport, what we saw amazed us.

In the capital and nearby cities, there was devastation everywhere. The streets were filled with dust and remains of buildings; lots of fallen bricks and shopkeepers waiting outside the hundreds and hundreds of small shops, afraid that the earth will shake again.

On our first afternoon, we walked the long, narrow street of Nardevi in the tourist area of Thamel.

Some hotels were empty except for one or two employees desperately waiting for things to go back to normal. People were selling fruit and vegetable by the road, trying to make a living in these difficult times.

Nearly every building – bakeries, antique shops, or apartments – was supported by long, thick sticks of wood to stop them falling down more. There is a lot of dust.

At least 8,800 people died that tragic day last April. Some villages were completely destroyed and thousands of people have not been found.

But this is what we didn’t expect: in all the devastation, we could still see the magic of Nepal.

There’s a simple, deep beauty in Nepal. The kind Nepali people smile and say ‘Namaste’ even in their most difficult times. The mornings are quiet. The coloured prayer flags dance in the wind. You hear the beauty in the sound of the singing bowls and pigeons. It’s in the kindness of rickshaw drivers and in the laughter of children living in tents.

Many times we got lost in the city’s small roads. But getting lost for hours in Nepal is magical because there is always beauty. You can get lost in the chaos and find yourself again because anything is possible in Nepal.

One of our last moments here was at the top of a hill looking over a city of pastel-coloured homes shining under the warm Nepalese sun on the Western edge of Kathmandu Valley, in the Swayambunaht Stupa.

We saw lovers. We saw many brown monkeys. An old man with sunburnt skin and grey hair sat alone in one corner of this hill, below Buddha’s giant eyes, quietly chanting prayers.

I closed my eyes to keep this music in my heart, a clear reminder that even in a devastated world, the spirit and the soul are never broken. And even in the most strange and chaotic places, you can still find your way back home.

Namaste from Nepal!

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