Sunday was a bit of a wash, being the opening-ceremony-meeting-day with the team members of the Habitat Build. I, again, woke up with the morning light, and spent the quiet hours writing and reading,and getting all my junk in order. Coffee, is my point.
The streets of Thamel were starting to become familiar to me by this point, but the shops and markets and bodegas and guest houses in the area were still, and will likely always remain entirely faceless and foreign, overwhelming in how tightly packed you can cram so many shady trekking agencies in a single block. I had no idea where our meeting point, the Hotel Himalaya was, and neither did my old, toothlessly-grinning Rickshaw driver, so we just carted around the neighborhood, attempting to ask anyone that had that look of friendly curiosity. I had a better time asking them in English as my driver did in his drawling Nepali.
Eventually we found the place, the doorman’s salute signifying my arrival (In Nepal, I am the 1%!). It was noon, and the electricity hadn’t yet been turned on for the day–another creature comfort that won’t soon be taken for granted–and the Habitat crew that had already checked in had stepped out for lunch. Again, I was on my own.
I threw my bags on the bed on my half of the room, and stepped back out into Thamel. A young Nepali came up to me, of course, and introduced himself as Sanjay. Sanjay wanted to practice his English, and told me that he had been to California.
“Really?” I said?
“Yes yes, Washington!”
“You’ve been to America?”
“Yes! In my dreams!”
He told me he was a student, an artist studying traditional Buddhist art, and asked if he could take me to his school. I wasn’t hungry and had time to kill, so why not? We walked and talked and found ourselves in the middle of a Thamelic square I’d never been to, punctuated by a large, though dilapatated center-square Stupa. Also around the perimeter were Buddhist monasteries, art galleries, and schools, one of which was Sanjay’s. We went inside.
There was a girl in the corner painting a gorgeous and colorful mandala, the first time I’d ever seen one in progress. I suppose there’s no reason to assume these things aren’t hand painted, but it was still a tiny bit shocking to see it in utero, noting in fact how steady the hand must be to create those fine lines, those brilliantly layered colorings.
She took me off to the side to explain the significance of the traditional Buddhist art, what each circle and layer meant, how the process of enlightenment through meditation and the destruction of desire, ignorance, and anger are all represented in these ancient templates. The works themselves were intesely beautiful, descending through generations of Buddhist esoterica, calling back to the origin of the philosophy. Sanjay was studying this tradition.
We walked around the room, and another man of the school explained some other traditional templates and showed me fine examples. Eventually, I was showed Sanjay’s pride and joy, his first ‘masterpiece’, the work that summed all that he had been studying so far. Like Leonardo DaVinci’s students, Sanjay had completed the outlines and the coloring, while the Master touched up the faces and the final finishing. It was pretty remarkable, and
due to the circumstances of my being there, the not-entirely-subtle guilt trip of the seller guy laid on me (“your support for this school keeps us open”… gah…), and Sanjay’s work really being something worth supporting, yes yes, I bought the thing. It’s being shipped back to America tomorrow. He got me.
Sanjay walked me back to my hotel area, and I thanked and encouraged him and went on my way. Once again, and I repeat this because it is no joke: the Nepali’s freaking suck you in.
The team members were still out, the power was still out, so I went out for some foodles. Nepali’ Mo Mo are the most traditional foodstuffs I could find out there in the Kathmandu ghetto, a kind of curry-chicken fried potsticker—eight, for less than 200 rupees! Keep watch for a food-centric post in the near future.
Back up to my room, Bob was waiting. Bob is a retired engineer from North Carolina, out doing this and other Habitat builds and treks here in Nepal, and he would be my roommate here tonight in Kathmandu, and in Pokhara for the next two and a half weeks. We got along.
At 6:30, we went downstairs to meet the team. There, finally, was Staci Sanders Young, the team leader with whom I’d been emailing back and forth for the past months of planning stages. She was in charge of a crew of her peers and friends,and me, the youngest guy in the crew. Not an authoritarian leader by any stretch, she seemed understanding and flexible, and open to ideas. It was now that we all met: Bob, Bob (the Bobs), Kristen, Kristen (I remarked that if you forget anyone’s name, a guess of Bob or Kristen wouldn’t be a bad one), Julia, Peter, & Jen. We’ll get into these people soon, but suffice it to say, they seemed to appreciate the toned-down version of my sense of humor (the version I drop on people before I know if they like poop-sex jokes).
Now that our powers had combined, it was time for dinner. We hoofed it out of Hotel Himalaya towards the restaurant Satkar Restaurant, a local high-end traditional Nepali joint.
Sitting down at the large banquet table together, feasting upon wild boar and vegetables and brandy, while watching dolled up dancers cutely pirouetting to the traditional flute and hand-drum music of Nepal, we were ‘team building’ over cocktails and local bourge.
This was a relaxed day of meeting the group that would be spending the next two and a half weeks together. We’ve got other-Bob, a retired pilot, and Kristen, a mother of four, on vacation from all that. We’ve got Jen, the medical researcher, and other-Kristen, an interior designer about to make a career change. Peter, a State of California disabilities manager and Julia, owner of a Baltimore wine shop. Patsy, the new-age free spirit from Sacramento, and Haley, a 18 year old adventurer, heiress to a beef jerky estate.
“It’s like Real World Nepal!” other-Kristen exclaimed!
Yes, yes it is.