Street Festival and Krishna Temple in Nepal

Forgive me. The last couple of days have been impossible to write about. Eventually, I will. I have a story for you today, but it is not from my trek yesterday…through the slums to the homes of the beautiful children we have spent the past week with. That story will have to wait. I can’t write that quite yet.

The view from just outside our room, and where I walked this evening.
Today I was sick much of the day. I slept for much of it, which was a stunning disappointment to me. I needed to see the kids. But, no matter how I protested, I was told to stay put. And this was the right call it turns out. I slept and ate rice all day. Late this afternoon, I awoke to the sound of music and festive voices from somewhere in the area. I went out on the balcony and could see, just barely through the houses, colorful banners and dancing blocks away.  Renu came in to check on me and I asked her what it was. A festival. Would I like to go see it? As weak and dizzy as I was feeling, a street festival in Nepal, only two blocks or so away, is too juicy to pass up. She sent her housekeeper with me.

Her housekeeper is lovely. Kind and smiling. She speaks no English. And away we went toward the festival. Just the two of us. The streets were filled with people, mostly congregated around the decorated carts holding travelling shrines to various gods. Shimmering metallic strands stretched between buildings above the street. You can imagine how conspicuous I felt amongst all of this. I spend so much of my time here feeling like a bit of a voyeur in the lives of this culture. I asked Didi to take me home. At least, that is what I thought I asked her.

Instead, as we left the festival, she veered off the path and motioned for me to join her. A shortcut perhaps? More of the festival? She walked me through back alleyways until we were standing in front of a temple for Buddha. The gods have their own temples, I was about to find out. We followed more paths to another temple and then into a large field for soccer that had the most beautiful mountains framing it in the distance. What a luxury these mountains are to me…coming from the flat land of Houston.

We then took more back alleys until we were at her home, which she pointed out proudly. We walked right by, her dog, Kali, following us. (Yes, Tina, her dog’s name is Kali J). We walked through fields to the edge of a very steep hill climbing further down into the valley. Women were washing clothes on a ledge just below us. While standing on the ledge, Didi pointed out numerous temples of various gods. And before I knew it, we were again descending the steep ledge into the lower regions of the valley. We walked a narrow path, me with no idea about where we are headed.

We arrive at a temple, her temple I gather. It is a temple to Krishna. She motions for me to enter with her and we are alone there…her showing me the modest room with a shrine behind a locked gate. We sat down for a moment to peer into the shrine. It was clearly a place of warmth and love. I have been to many churches and temples around the world…and it always surprises me how clearly you can feel how infused with love the temples are in places that are the poorest. Nothing in America, that I have seen, can hold a candle to any of them.

As we were leaving an old woman came into the room and Didi whipped back around with a look of pure glee. Her face made it clear that something wonderful had happened and that she was thrilled that I, her guest in the temple, was about to be a part of something magic.

She introduced the woman as “grandmother” but I suspect it is not literal. She clearly belonged to this temple…lived in it, as it lived in her.

Grandmother invited me to sit down again in front of the shrine and she scurried around turning on lights and mixing something in small metal cups. I was blessed and painted on my forehead. I found out later, with the help of Renu’s translation, that amongst other things, Grandmother asked where I had come from and said “You have come such a long way. I hope you find what you are looking for.” She is also praying for me at 2am…her normal prayer time. I understood none of this at the time and kept nodding my head like an idiot saying “thank you” and “ok.”

Then she produced a handful of peanuts and a piece of rock candy from the pocket of her sweater to give to me to eat, which I did, of course, like it was communion in church. As we were leaving, she showed me her room and asked me to take a picture of her. I had not brought my camera (how insane was that?), but promised to return with it tomorrow. I will keep this promise, but I will bring someone with me who can translate back and forth. I appreciate the flow of just going without shared language, but I would prefer not to miss any more of what this woman is saying to me.

Tomorrow, I return to the school for my last day with the kids. I am still not well, but I will go tomorrow no matter how I am feeling. What I suffer from is not contagious…and I will not miss my last day with the kids of Koseli.

I am gathering stories from some of them…but these too must wait. I can’t write them just yet.

Love,

Kimberley
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The Bus Trip to Jhule (My Mount Everest)

This is a note to myself…while I will never forget yesterday, I might forget the details and the texture of the moment, and I never want to do that.

Renu asked us if we wished to take a separate car or ride on the bus with the children on our laps on the way to Jhule. Three minutes later, I was sitting in a seat meant as a tight fit for two people, with Srijana, Manju and Pinky, who insisted, despite the fact that their seat already was an excruciatingly tight fit, that I sit with them.  They had a mission. They wanted to teach me a Nepali song.
Photo by Manoj Jirel, Student Photographer and Joker
I positioned myself on a full half inch of seat available to me and began to try and do what they said as they moved quickly through the song, expecting me to pick up and repeat the simple words they were telling me. After a laughed filled five minutes, I redirected them. I asked “is there a song you teach the babies? Like a VERY simple song the very little ones can learn to sing?” They laughed wildly and then began teaching me this one:

Ma Janchu, Kathmandu

Motor chadera

Bholi parsi aune chhu

Ma doctor ba ne ra.

They tell me that this means “I am going to Kathmandu by motorbike. When I come back, I will be a doctor.”

I asked them to please write down the words for me so I could follow. They first wrote them in Nepalese, which is a truly beautiful looking writing, but one I cannot read, of course. They got help from one of the teachers to write the English phonetic spelling for me. I now have it in their handwriting in my little book, along with the words for parts of the face and the word for silly. They enjoy it very much when I identify several of the boys as jokers…and jokers they are.

I sat with them, trying to sing the baby song for a while (I plan to record them singing it as soon as possible, so that I can continue trying to learn it when I go home). Then Manoj asked me to sing an American song for them. I told Manoj (who, by the way, is quite the joker) that I was glad to see everyone happy and that I did not want to make everyone cry by singing. He laughed and asked me if I knew songs by Hannah Montana. I told him my favorite song of hers was Party in the USA and, miraculously, one of the teachers produced their phone playing the song for me to sing along to. So sing I did…at least the chorus. They watched me very seriously, studying me…like I held some kind of information in my random moves and singing manner. It was odd, but ok somehow. Then I sat back down (yes, I had to stand for this so I could turn to face the one requesting the song) and the back of the bus, where I was sitting, broke into Let it Be, by the Beatles. As I was sitting, I had to brace myself by placing my hands on the seat back and the seat in front of me. As I sang, my hand was stroked by the little girl sitting in the seat behind us. We only stopped singing because Manju said she wanted me to look out the window with them and see their country as we drive past.

The ride was hard. As uncomfortable as it was for me, kids all around me were throwing up from motion sickness into little plastic bags. The 30 minute bus ride seemed to last for hours. All I could do to comfort them was stand so that they had the seat to themselves, and offer the exotic wet wipes I had for them to wipe their mouths and faces. The remainder of the trip was them being sick and me wiping their faces, pulling their hair out of their faces and asking the teachers around me how much longer the trip was. I was glad when the ride ended so my friends could recover themselves, which they did with amazing alacrity.

But the amazing thing was how the other kids took care of their friends. As kids up and down the bus became sick, their friends would move them to the seat by the window, yell for plastic bags and water, and tend to them constantly. Some of the older kids, even the jokers, stood in the aisles to facilitate quick transfer of the needed items. They were all focused on taking care of the motion sick kids. And no one had to ask any of them to step up. Not one of them shirked the responsibility of caring for the others. Not one of them. No one wanted to change seats to get away from the sick ones. The seat in front of  me had kids in it who were probably 7 years old, and when one of them fell sick, the other two in the seat tended to them for the remainder of the trip. They would look up continuously and make faces like it smelled awful, but it never occurred to them to do anything other than what they were doing. And, for the return trip, they sat with the same kids…never once considering changing their seat mates as an option, though it most assuredly was.

Next installment will be about the trek itself.
xo,
Kimberley

To Be Willing to March into Hell for that Heavenly Cause

Yesterday was final exams results day at the Koseli School. Yesterday, each child found out if they were promoted or needed to redo the year. I had no idea this was happening, and, had I known, I would not have had any context for the experience of it. It was brutal.

Renu has a very tough job. She is actually trying to give these kids the tools they need for a better life. Some of these kids come from very bad backgrounds and all of them come from a culture of very low expectations. No one really expects much of anything from them. No one, that is, except Renu and the staff at Koseli. And these expectations are critical to their success. If they learn to rise up and continue on, despite the repeated failures, they can change their lives.

Most of the class failed their final exams. Renu explained that much of the schooling they had prior to coming to Koseli was really inadequate and did not set a foundation to succeed. She also confided in me that, she does not think it is a bad thing for them to fail. If they fail, that is one more year she has with them. One more year to imbue them with skills and knowledge they need to rise above the challenges that have been dealt to them.

But the air of disappointment permeated the school. The girls cried and cried. Parents came to the school (well, some of them) to hear the results and, coming from a background of no education at all, could not fathom how the kids had worked so hard and not succeeded. They were angry.

Renu is worried that some of the children will not return. She is worried that the disappointment will be so crushing that they will just return to the life they have always known. As she sat on the floor in one of the classrooms and talked with me, I could see the pain all over her face. It is a pain she deals with every single day of her life and one she has committed to enduring for the rest of it. The pain of losing some of these kids she loves so much.

When she verbalized all this to me, I could literally feel the pain in my chest. It literally felt like I had been hit. Something in me had imagined that, once in this place, a child would never choose to go anywhere else. And for some children, this is true. But the reality is present every single day, as some of the kids fail to come to school for days at a time and gamble on the streets instead. And some of the kids cannot take the crushing failure and never return.

In that unguarded moment, alone in a small classroom, Renu gained my commitment forever. Koseli is my school too. These are my kids. She communicated volumes in her hushed tones, slumped shoulders and distracted air. This is not a charity for Renu, this is a monumental quest.

And I’m in as a sidekick…for the long haul.
XO,

Kimberley
P.S. I have pictures to post here…but I am on a new computer and have no idea how to reduce the size of my pics so that they will upload. 😦 will work on that tonight.

Miro Nom Kim Ho

My writing will have to change. If I am to capture the intensity of every moment on these kinds of trips, I will have to learn to get out of my way. To lose the training I have had in writing. I ache for this, particularly today.

Today, I am capturing the stories of some of these children. I was not prepared for how I would feel here. I knew I would feel compassion. I knew I would feel pain that I could not do more. I knew that I would think they were sweet. But these are the least of my emotions here.

I am filled with hope for the world here, within the walls of this school. I want more for these kids, and I want more for me and my kids back home. I want the thirst for life that these kids have. I want my kids to want to learn and be as these kids so clearly do.

Stephanie is teaching them now and their focus and intensity is not compulsory or polite. You can feel them pulling the information out of her…hanging on her every word. Sometimes, it feels more that she is allowing the information to be pulled from her, rather than “teaching” it to them. Stephanie and the kids are natural together in a way that I would not have thought possible.

In fact, I am surprised at how comfortable I feel here. With this group from the US, with Renu, who I only met three days ago, with these kids whose names I am becoming so familiar with.

As much as we bring knowledge to these children, they have more to bring to us than we can imagine from where we sit at home. I am only beginning to learn. What I am learning today is hope.
In any case, the stories are not done. They are not simple. I need more time with these kids. In the meantime, I am sticking some of the pics onto Facebook.
Tomorrow we go trekking with the school. I am hoping to get to know them better. One at a time.

XO,
Kimberley

Going into the Cocoon

Today, the universe totally messed with me. I’m not gonna lie, today was tough. Who am I kidding? It’s still tough. It’s messy. Like the caterpillar must look in the cocoon before the butterfly escapes the binding.

This morning Jen asked me to interview the children for a piece of the project. I did not and do not feel up to this task. And this floors me. Who am I that I am literally afraid of asking questions to these children? What does it mean that I am not up to the task? And, make no mistake, I was afraid. Afraid that I would not get any more of an answer than I had heard from them yet, which is to say smiles and giggles. Afraid that they will only say stock answers like “I like to learn.” Afraid that I will find out for sure that I am unworthy of the abundance of being with these kids.

So, today was brutal. The start this morning colored everything that happened all day. All I saw anywhere was my uselessness. At one point, when there was truly nothing for me to do, I sat on the stairs and tried to write my feelings down. This is as far as I got…

Today I want to go home. Not because I am uncomfortable or overwhelmed. But because today, I feel abundantly and exquisitely useless. It is paralyzing me. I wish

Then two kids came up to me and asked me if I had pictures of my kids. So, as they sat on the stairs beside me, I pulled up picture after picture of my kids and told them about them. Then two or three more would come up and want to see the pictures…then more. As they cycled in and out, probably about 15 kids and their teachers sat through my impromptu slideshow. One particularly inquisitive child, Manoj, quizzed me right away about each of my kids. Then, as new kids came up to see the pictures, Manoj would rush in to give the vital stats before the pictures even came up.

“That is Haley. She is 12.”


“Grant wants to be a ninja.”

“Do you know how old she is?” (pointing to me)

After I had gone through all the pictures multiple times, a child came up (Rajesh) who, all agreed, could dance just like Michael Jackson. I am not able to pass up an opportunity like this. The kids cheer me on as I chase him into a classroom to show me his best Michael Jackson moves.

“You better make her happy! If she is not happy, she will not come back.”

This convinced him for some reason, which is bizarre to me. So, without music, without a stage, without shoes on…Rajesh killed it.

“AH! That is from Smooth Criminal! (this is me)

“OOOOHHHH Thriller” (me again)

I have asked him to dance again for me tomorrow so I can capture video. If I can get him, I will post it so you can see his sweet moves. J

Then Steph distracted everyone and I was again alone. I began to pick up where I left off. But I had no more opened the document, when again, I was surrounded. So, I began asking them questions…and they began answering them. I have only just begun this project, which I will pursue in earnest tomorrow. By the end of the day, I was not ready to leave, and they wanted more. They wanted to tell their stories. And I told them that there are people on the other side of the world who really want to hear them. I told them about you.

So, I will be pulling double duty on the posting for the next few days as I process their stories through here…pictures and all. You will be surprised at how hopeful and joyful they all are. I will warn you, however, that you are likely to love them forever and ever once you read their stories.

My whiny document never got worked on, actually. It is not that I feel better…it is more that I have work to do now that is more important than writing that piece out. And maybe that’s the point.

XO,

Kimberley
P.S. Formatting all messed up, and I am too tired to fix it. 😛

End of the First Day…Part One

After a day in the school, I am not ready to leave. But leave we did. And went straight to a café to digest the day.

Two giant beers later and I am talking smack to our whole group. I have been told there is drinking required at dinner and this is fine with me. I am celebrating. I am celebrating the manifestation of my heart’s desire.

It now feels selfish to be here. I am in heaven. Experiencing the beauty of children who are wide eyed and ready to take on what is real. I want to a part of their growth, any part.
Tonight, we will dinner with Renu’s husband, Anand. And, as we eat, I will be thinking about these kids. I will be thinking about them returning to their homes. I will be thinking about returning to Koseli tomorrow and soaking in the hope and beauty of their hearts.

I am in love.

Xo,
Kimberley

P.S. more pictures tomorrow. I am exhausted. And there is more…much more.

I’m not worthy…Nepal

Am I up to this?

Today we meet the children. We are going to the Koseli.
After breakfast, Jen pulls me into her office (our bathroom) to discuss my enthusiasm. Which, despite my assertion that I am controlling, is apparently bubbling over the edges of the teapot of my brain. Our bathroom conversation is wildly helpful in a way that I cannot possibly verbalize. What I can say is, that Jen connects with me in this and now I have someone here who can hold my intensity…if I can hold it through the day, Jen will hold it for me at night and help me contextualize. Now, I am good. I have so much to learn. And that makes me happy. I love to learn. I want to grow into what is next. This is an intensive in that.
We leave for the school and I am sitting in the front seat with the driver. Jen directs me to sit there and I protest, but she sits me up there anyway and I’ll be damned if she is not right. I feel like there is a soundtrack moving through my head as I we make the trip to the school. I don’t want the drive to end. I am happy.
I step into the school’s gates, my insides melt. I could live here. I swear this is true.
Stephanie disappears immediately. How anxious she is to begin her mission. Ah, her mission, I have not told you about this. Let me tell you now.
Stephanie is a photographer. She lives in Georgia, outside of Athens, on a cow farm. She has a brilliant smile and she is here on her own mission. She wants to teach the kids to tell their own story, through pictures. She has just formed an organization called Lens on Life. She has kids in Tanzania and Nepal that she is now dedicated to in driving this mission. This is a real call of the heart. She travelled, met these children, took pictures, and when she left, her work came to her. She needs to help the kids tell their own story. These kids needs the tools to communicate. This is a mission I can get behind.
Stephanie has, through her Twitter network, eight iPhones donated for her trip. She is teaching the kids to take pictures with them. Pictures of their life.  Pictures of the things that are important to them.
So, today, I am in a class of twelve kids as her assistant. Twelve kids who are magnificently ready to take on this challenge.
And they are incredible, these kids. Each comes from the slums of Nepal. Slums I have not seen, but are clearly beyond anything we identify as slums in the US. Each of them has a story that is beyond our ability to comprehend from where we are. I fall in love instantly. This is not the “how precious are these children” kind of love. This is “I love them. I want to them to teach me. I want to help them become whatever it is they want to be.” I want my kids in this school. I want my kids with these kids.
Immediately, two girls focus in on me…and I on them.
This is Srijana and Pinky.
As Stephanie gave them the iPhones. They immediately began taking pictures of me. Every time I looked at them, they were looking at me.
Pinky is an artist. I mean, seriously. I will post pictures of her work tomorrow.
She and her friend, Srijana were magic to me.
I love them. Seriously. I want to bring them home with me.
Stephanie engaged them in a way I would not have thought possible. She taught them how to start the phone. How to take pictures. How to communicate what it is they see.
“What is important is you…not your camera. There are people in the United States who would love to come to Nepal. They can’t. They need you to see what it is like here. What your life is like.”
Stephanie showed them her pictures from Tanzania and the US. Showed them pictures of kids in their natural environment. The kids were silent as she clicked through the pictures, drawing in the lives of kids they would never see in person and don’t have any context for what their lives are like. They got it. You could see it in their faces. They understood the importance. You could literally see the lightbulbs going off in them. I could live in that moment.
Neil and Kristi, the videographers who said yes to this project before they really knew what it was, were moving around the small room in a way that seemed completely natural and beautiful. I have been watching videographers for years and I have never seen a dance like this. They moved around the room like they were connected by an invisible thread. Never in each other’s shot and always shooting the complimentary shot. It was a beautiful symmetry that could only exist between two people in love. And they are. You should see them together. It is a true romance. It is my goal to capture that love with my camera at some point so you can see. They are lovely, fun, sweet and their heart is totally in this.
I am an assistant here, and I love this role.  I am learning so much. Stephanie tells me what to do and I gleefully do it. If she asked me to clean the bathroom with a toothbrush, I would do it with more love than I thought imaginable.
There is more. Of course there is more. And you will know it. I promise you. I will give you everything.
Xo,
Kimberley