July 25, 2011
Maureen arrives in Kathmandu a week earlier then I do because she has to go back a week early for her sister's wedding. I arrive on the night of July 25 armed with the vague idea that I will be contributing my drop in the bucket of goodwill. I know nothing about Nepal except that it is sandwiched between India and China. I will be in Kathmandu for a couple of days and then head off to some touristy city that starts with a "p" for a few days and then to a village that I don't even know the name of. I unpack my backpack at Aastha's parents' place where Maureen has been staying for a week. I sit on my bed and think, "What in the world am I doing in Nepal?" I feel unprepared and inadequate to even make a dent in the face of intimidating poverty.
In Kathmandu, I meet Manish who supervises the boys at the SOS Children's Village--he is also the product of the organization. He was sent there when he was three when his family was too poor to raise him. Manish is my age and I mispronounce his name as "Mannish" as in "He's so mannish." It's actually pronounced "Maneesh" with an accent on the "neesh." He takes me and Maureen around Kathmandu and is one of the nicest and generous men I have ever met. He studied ethnomusicology in Kathmandu University but had to drop out two years into it because his mother fell ill and he felt he had to earn money. Dropping out of school is one of his greatest regrets in life. He says he envies me and I feel apologetic for the opportunities I have.
I also meet Bsam who was sent to the SOS Children's Village when he was two by his grandmother when his mother abandoned him. He is granted admission at Kathmandu University this fall and will be studying ethnomusicology there. I give him a couple of piano lessons and I can tell he's smart. I ask him about the music education that is available in Nepal. He tells me there is a dearth of resources for teachers and students of western music. The "books" that he has are photocopies of the music foreign teachers brought to Nepal.
On my second night, I meet an 18-year old Sulochina who invites herself into our room and asks us various questions with beaming curiosity. She shows us her Nepali things that might fascinate a couple of foreigners. We love her trousers and want to get some for ourselves so she takes us shopping. We also get mehnhi (henna tattoos) on our hands and we think it's the coolest thing. We go back to our place and show her the things we got earlier that day. She immediately asks us how much we paid for them and gives us a nod of approval for not being the stupid foreigner and getting ripped-off. Her charm and sass totally win me over.
I still feel bewildered by the newness of this place. I can't believe I am in Nepal! The reality hasn't sunk in yet. But after living in the dusty and crowded city for two days, I long to get out to the countryside and take in a breath of fresh air.
Me and Bsam in his room
Me trying to sing a hymn from Maureen's iTouch on demand
Bsam's friend, Bsam, Maureen, me and Manish
Our henna tattoos
Me and Sulochina