Thursday, March 3, 2011

Let's Make a Deal

Let's Make a Deal
In the hectic dog-eat-dog streets of Kathmandu there are some real artists working.
It doesn't matter the quality of their product. Usually it's rubbish, but this doesn't detract from their artistry in the least. In fact, it may enhance it. I am in awe.
A scruffy looking guy who could get an academy award in the role of a shifty character approaches.
"Hey. Some tiger balm?"
"What? Huh. I was thinking about buying some. How much is it?"
"Special price today for you, only 350 rupees."
"No, too much."
"What? Thats a very good price. What's your best price?"
"70 rupees."
Mugsy laughs out loud as if I just told the world's funniest joke ever, perfectly. His laugh cuts through the cacophony of bad engines, ear-splitting horns and yelling like a knife through soft butter. After he's thoroughly enjoyed his belly laugh, he turns on me suddenly.
"That's a good one. I pay twice that much just to buy it. Ok. I like you. 300."
"Nope. 70."
"Thats insulting. I have 2 children. How can I sell it that cheap. Ok 250."
"Forget it. No way."
I start to walk away. I get about 10 meters.
"Hey. Come here. Ok take it." He utters with a contemptuous dismissive wave of the hand, as if I have just stolen something precious from him.
He probably bought it for 30. The best marks are the ones who don't even realise they've been taken. I actually walk away feeling like I ruined his day, and got one over on him. What a pro!
Walking down the sidewalks, you have to control yourself. If you let your eyes wander over to someone's merchandise, they will be all over you. "Yes sir. How about a beautifully hand carved stone statue".
"No thanks. I was just admiring it. It IS very lovely."
"Why don't you buy it right now. I'll give you a rock bottom price." (no pun intended I'm guessing)
"I'm a backpacker, how could I carry it. It must weigh 100 kilos."
"We could ship it."
"That would cost a fortune.
"Sir You could sell this statue for 3 times what I'm asking for it in a minute."
Don't even try to argue with these guys.
"I have terminal cancer. I will be dead in 3 weeks."
"Sir this statue would look great at the head of your grave. Just come in the store and read the testimonials from other satisfied customers, both living and dead."
Then there is that famous tried and well tested ,"it's the first sale of the day" ploy
"Sir, I'll give you a special price because it's the first sale of the day."
"First sale of the day? It's 4 pm."
"Well it's been a slow day."
Of course, the most valuable information, which is a closely guarded secret, is the real price, the Nepali price. Finding that price takes a lot of work. One method is to ask a non- interested party. Even then, a stranger may be reluctant to tell you. He knows by doing so he will be hurting some businessman down the road. I wanted to get a haircut, so I went into a restaurant and ordered a tea. After engaging the proprietor in conversation for a few minutes, I asked him, "by the way, how much does a haircut cost here in Nepal?" He looked at me askance, as if I had asked him something very personal like whether his sister was a virgin or not. He hemmed and hawed, then finally retorted, "you can pay between 100-150 rupees. " "But what do you pay?" I pressed. Another pause. "Somewhat less than that." later I found the price was 50-60 rupees. This method can be very effective but it takes diligence. Anytime you want to go anywhere or buy anything, you must remember to ask the last Nepali person you see the price. You want to go to Darbar Square (where the famous historical monuments are located) to buy some hand made hats (they sell everything there.) " by the way, how much is the bicycle ricksaw to the square, and how much is a hat?" if you forget to ask, you are in no man's land.
Another way to find the real price is to watch closely. That's how I found out the price of popcorn and peanuts on the street was 10 rupees (I had been paying 20). I came up as someone was paying, and strained my eyes to see that he paid with a 20 rupee note (red) and received a 10 rupee not (brown) as change. I just handed him a 10 rupee note and he gave me my delicious popcorn without comment. Maybe he though I was Nepali, something some people told me. After you know the real price, it's easy. You just order and give the exact change. If the provider protests you either walk away (with your money) or say, "that's the price everywhere else in Kathmandu". The owner shrugs and smiles and gives you your popcorn (which is delicious and a nice thing about Nepal).
The third and most difficult way to find the real price involves some work. It involves the concept of "the walk-away-price. Here's how it works. You see something you like and you offer an impossibly low price. Say you want a ringing bowl, a popular item in Nepal which produces a long clear ring. It is often used to end a meditation session for meditating monks. I figure the bowl is worth 500. When the merchant says 1500, I say 300. He comes down to 1000, I come up a bit to 350. He counteroffers but I shake my head and start to walk away, slowly. Finally he shouts out, "ok 600, you're killing me." but I keep walking and listening very carefully. I hear no lower offers. 600 is his walk-away price. Next time I know I can get 600 and maybe even lower depending on the merchant. It's important the first time to know that you have no intention of buying, only getting information.
Once you know the real price, negotiating is so easy. I wanted to buy some light cotton Nepali pantaloons which is what young women in the villages wear. I knew the real price was 250. The conversation resembled a dance.
"500. "
"200. "
"400. "
"225. "
"OK." the vendor smiles. She knows I know, and we are both happy. It's like a soapy key fitting into a lock
This is not for the weak of heart. It's a cruel world, and if you want to get the respect of the merchants, you have to be tough. Sometimes a merchant will see something you bought and ask you what you paid. Of course it's up to you, how you reply, that is also privileged information. A friend and whole seller told me the price he paid for Tibetian prayer flags(also popular in Nepali temples) . I bought them for slightly higher than that (not in quantity). I was shopping for a knock off down-filled jacket. The merchant saw my prayer flags. "what did you pay for the flags?" he inquired curiously. I decided to be honest. "140 rupees". He nodded respectfully. "that's a very good price." his highest compliment.
Shopping in a third world bargaining country is a skill, an art, a test of your man (or woman) hood. In the end, it should be fun, with all the theatrics beforehand being set aside when the final sale or not is made. After all it's just a game for me. The merchant will never sell below cost, he will always make something. And for the merchant, if he only makes a small profit, there's always next time.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

To trek or not to trek

To Trek or Not to Trek

From a tourist's point of view, Nepal doesn't have a whole lot going for it. Sure there are some nice historical buildings in the Katmandu area, but to see them you have to put up with the stench of Katmandu. The food doesn't hold a candle to Indian food. There are no important museums, to speak of. Unless you are into observing the local Hindu culture, and have access to it, you are left with only one thing, trekking. Nepal has the Himalayas, and that's what makes it unique. My theory that each country has only two things it does really well (China, food and circus; USA, movies and bombs) holds here, except Nepal does only one thing well, trekking. So the big question when you arrive here is, are you going to trek or not?
If you are going to trek, the question becomes, are you going to go alone, or are you going to have a guide? When you first arrive in Kathmandu, the tourist scouts will pick you out of a crowd in an instant, get you into their office and convince you that you need a guide for 60 dollars a day. That is a tremendous amount of money here to be sure, but their arguments are convincing, especially the ones about safety. Then you hear about and meet other people who just go it alone, after all, there are guide books that tell you basically where to go and what to do. There are people living back there, even guest houses. So the question becomes, to trek with a guide or to go it alone?
A point of clarification. What is trekking? It simply means walking for great distances . It doesn't mean mountain climbing, it doesn't mean rock climbing. Generally it means, walking on a path from point A to point B. Of course sometimes that path will go up and up and up for what seems forever over a large hill or even small mountain, but generally you are walking on a path. And generally there are people around, farmers, local villagers, trekking guest houses, or lodges. However, it is not always easy because invariably you come to that fork in the road, with no sign or marker, and you are stuck there making a choice, is this the path or is that the path? Maybe you have a good map, and maybe you are skilled at reading that map and working with a compass, but, maybe you aren't. If you are lucky you will see a local, and you mangle the name of your next location and they will point left or right, up or down. If you are unlucky, there will be no local, and you will take the wrong way and end up at the bottom of a ravine, jumping desperately off rocks and gambling your life that the questionable vine you are holding onto will not break, all in an effort to try to get back on the path and not have to backtrack. Thats what I did. That's when you wish you had hired a guide.
Personally, I'm not really fond of climbing steep mountain paths. It's hard work going up steep rocky paths for up to an hour at a time. The footing is often treacherous. It's often cold. There is a good likelihood of injury. Once you've gotten to the top, thoroughly exhausted, you are only halfway there. Walking down, while easier, in some respects, is more dangerous in others, because you have gravity pulling on you and your fragile, brittle joints. Nonetheless, I decided that I wouldn't be happy with my life unless I trekked. What would I say to people when they asked? "What? You went to Nepal and you didn't trek? What's wrong with you? What a loser." So I decided on the easiest trek possible without a guide, a 2 night 3 day trek that would skirt the Annapurna mountains.
It started in the city of Pokhara, a 9 hour bus ride west of Kathmandu. I asked around, consulted the guidebooks, pumped the trekking companies for information by pretending I wanted a guide, then charted my course. I would take a taxi down the valley to Pedi, and start by trekking up to Dampus. Dampus was a great place for viewing mountains. From there you had a front row seat to see 2 mountains over 8,000 meters high, among the highest top 14 mountains in the world. From there I would trek over to Kande, take a bus to Nuadarot, and hike from there to Sarangot. Stay over there and walk down the mountain to Pokhara. Easy, and no guide necessary. Well that was the plan anyway.
I took the 30 minute taxi ride out, looking uneasily out the window the whole time. It didn't look good. By the time I got out of the cab it was sprinkling. I started up the mountain. It was steps straight up as far as I could see. I climbed steadily for 30 minutes and the rain continued to increase. Finally I had to admit, this just wasn't working out. I passed a shack with a sign, "hot tea and coffee". I decided to stop and sit out the storm. An old farmer came out and I ordered a milk tea. His roof didn't leak too much. If I leaned
a bit this way and that I didn't get too wet. The man spoke English a bit. He told me he had worked as a bureaucrat and then retired to his birthplace and he loved it. "I am a natural man. 100% organic", he bragged. He was a very sweet old guy. He had a buffalo for milk, butter, to help him plow his fields, and he grew some veggies in his garden. He didn't need electricity or indoor plumbing. He gave me the grand tour of his home. It took about 2 minutes, only 2 rooms. I was impressed. "This is great", I exclaimed. "I want to live here like this. Can I move in with you"? He smiled, but answered seriously. "Yes that is possible. You can live with me. I will teach you. You will learn our ways in a while." I looked at him. He looked serious. I had been kidding but now it struck me that it was possibility. "If I move in, can I call you Dad?"
"Yes......Son,"he said laughing. We shook hands (but didn't embrace). It had finally stopped raining and I bid my second father goodbye and continued climbing for another 30 minutes. Just as I reached the top it started raining again. Luckily there was a sign in front of an old shack at the top, Best View Guest House. Hmmmmm...not in this weather I thought. I looked over to where the mountains were supposed to be. I could only see about 20 meters in front of me. There would be big trouble if i didn't have some major mountain viewing moments. I walked in and found a woman sitting before a small fire cooking. We made arrangements for me to rent the room for 200 rupees (about 3dollars). I took my things up the rickety ladder to the room. It was less than 4 stars, maybe 1/4th of a star. Looked like a closet with a wooden bed frame with a piece of foam on it, a sheet, and a blanket on it. There was no light but there was a window and the floor below was made up of planks with large gaps. Perfect!!!!!
It had stopped raining by now. I looked around. I found out later it was a Gurung village. The houses were mostly made out of wood and stone. By the time I got back the father and son were home. It was starting to get cold. The wife invited me in to sit by the fire. I watched her cook.It was fascinating. She made a perfect small fire by sticking in the ends of small sticks of wood. She controlled the size of the flame by pulling sticks in or out. The father came in with a large cistern containing about 8 litters. "Buffalo milk", he pronounced proudly. The first order of business was boiling the milk to purify it. She filled up a large wok-like pot and poured the liquid in. As it was heating we talked in broken English. He was a soldier, a Gurkah warrior, famous for their fierce fighting and uniquely shaped knives. He worked in India for 30 years and then retired back to his village at the age of 48. He then married a 16 year old girl and built this shack in his birthplace village. That was 13 years ago. He now had a 13 year old son who was extremely cute and sweet. He kept playing with his mothers hair all night, occasionally stopping to flash me a bright smile. I asked the man about the famous curved Gurkah knife. He smiled and opened a drawer and rummaged around a bit and then pulled out a rusty authentic Gurkah knife. I was impressed. I cradled it in my hands, pretending to cut off someones' head. He laughed and nodded. I held onto that knife that evening as we talked in front of the glowing cooking fire. I noticed the milk was getting ready to boil. I felt some apprehension. Did she see it? Where would she put the hot pot when it started boiling so it wouldn't overflow. They didn't seem to understand why I was concerned. Just then the milk started to boil. In one swift gesture she pulled all the sticks out from under and the milk settled down, just the opposite of what i would have done. Her way was much better. She put the milk off to the side to cool. That would later be used for yogurt, a lot of milk tea, and butter. She started cooking Dahl-bat, which seems to be what Nepalis eat at least once a day every day, sometimes 2 or 3 times. Dahl is a curried lentil soup and baht is rice. Also included in the national dish is some curried vegetable, maybe some pickled vegetable, and some sweet yogurt. All this is served with milk tea. The nice thing is you can get seconds and even 3rds on the Dahl and the vegetables. Initially they serve you with an enormous portion of rice that almost entirely takes the flat large metal flat plate they serve it on. After eating it was about 8 pm and without lights there wasn't a whole lot we could do. I was surprisingly tired. When was the last time I had fallen asleep at 8 pm? Hey what was in that buffalo yogurt anyway? I climbed up into my room and fell asleep without taking my clothes off. The problem with going to bed at 8 pm is that after 6 hours I woke up. It was 2 am. There was no electricity. What was I going to do for the next 4 hours? Wait. What was that on the floor? A shadow. A shadow. I swung open the wooden window. Cool silvery moonlight streamed in. I rushed out of the room to look out the back window. Standing there in naked pleasure were 2 of the most famous mountains, one of them an 8,000 meter peak, Anapurna. I wanted to go outside to look but I would have to wait till 5 am came along and they would open the door. I quickly got back under the covers, it was freezing out there.
I fell back asleep and woke up early when I heard them get up. I went down about 15 minutes later. I rushed out to look at the peaks. Gorgeous. They were outlined in white and seemed so far away yet incredibly detailed, with sprays of white escaping from some borders where the wind was gusting. Then I had to make a big decision, should I follow the Gourka husband around, or watch the sunrise. Hmmmmmm. Toughie. I decided on the sunrise. It was spectacular, with the colors spreading and changing every second. I probably took 50 pictures. As I can back, winded from my peak experience, the husband was trudging back lugging a milk container. He went ahead of me into the cooking room and set it down. "buffalo milk", he smiled. Damn. Damn. I had missed the milking of the buffalo. I had really wanted to see that and maybe even give it a squirt. We went in for some milk tea. As we sat down to drink, the husbands cell phone rang. Tragically, his father had died in the night. We were all stunned. Finally I said, "I'm sorry for your loss." He looked me squarely and nodded. "don't speak of it," he said in a hushed voice and went back to his tea. He had to go the the funeral in the city. He told me the family couldn't eat any salt for 24 hours. All they could do was drink milk tea. We set off at the same time, he down, me to the west. I followed the path for awhile until it came to a Y. I looked around and saw no signs or pointers. I didn't know what to and was about to walk back to the last village when 2 older woman walked by."Kande", I said the name of my destination. They nodded and pointed. They were going the same direction. Each was carrying an empty bamboo woven bask by means of a strap around their forehead. I motioned to one of them and she laughed and nodded. In a few moments I was carrying her basket on my forehead. It was empty but I was surprised how heavy it was and how strange it felt to be carrying it with my neck muscles. I couldn't imagine carrying a full one. These Nepali women were strong. The women took up a nearby path. It was different from the path I had been on. "maybe it's a shortcut I thought optimistically." I walked with effort (remember my neck) for about 5 minutes and then the women stopped. They indicated that they would take the right fork that had suddenly appeared, and I would take the left fork. Alone. I tried to ask them if the path was clear and they gave me that maddening wagging gesture which in this case I interpreted as, I was probably never going to see civilisation again. They further illustrated that with a gesture that on a better day would have been razor straight but today looked more like a fish swimming upstream. Then they were gone and I was alone. Really alone.
I bravely forged onwards. It wasn't 3 minutes before there was another fork in the road. I didn't have a clue. I became a famous tracker and looked on each trail for signs. Yes, a fat Chinese man had walked on this path 6 months ago. He had 3 children, one who played the piano well......but. so much for fanatsies. Neither path looked like it had been used for a long time. I choose the right path because it was right. Wrong. I came to another fork, and chose right again. Wrong. That led to a ravine. The bright side was that at the bottom of the ravine there was a river, rivers usually lead to civilisation, eventually. . The dark side was that the ravine looked impossible to get down. "Hiker missing for the 9th day", flashed across my mind. I slid down to where the rocks started. I searched for footholds. There were none. Famous last words,"but there was a vine that looked like it would hold me" I could rappel down I thought dangerously. I grabbed the tree vine tightly and started down, (like I had seen hundreds of times on tv). Deviously, the vine waited until I was halfway down before it let go of the Earth. We fell the remaining 6 feet together, and to add insult to (literally) injury, the vine fell on top, scraping my face. That's using your (not head) ass, man. I picked myself up and dusted off, kicking the vine viscously, ouch. Amazingly there were no major problems with my clothes or body. The river was reachable, I started down. This was more like it. I walked down until reached the bottom of the valley. I could see a trail. It was way up on the next mountain ridge. I saw some buffalo walking on it. I headed up that way. That meant climbing up again to the terraced rice paddies. Most of them were pretty dry, they were waiting for the monsoons. As I headed up, I ran into a farmer. He was in the middle of repairing his plough. The blade had slipped out of the yoke. The farmer patiently cut a new wedge to secure it. It was fascinating watching him work. He didn't seem to mind at all. In no time he had whittled the pieces. I mentioned the name of my destination and he smiled and pointed up and to the left. Walking up, I had to go through many many dry rice terraces. Farmers and people were surprised to see me, but friendly. It was easy to bring my folded hands to my forehead and say ,"namaste". If there was a child around the mother would usually nudge the kid to namaste me or maybe they to get him to say "hello" or even shake my hand. The paddies themselves were like giant works of art. Like monster pods, the edges were built up painstakingly from rocks laying around with a small moveable damn for when the monsoons came, the water would trickle down. Up and up I went, passing farmers, goats, buffalo until finally I hit the top of the ridge, which was a large trail, large enough for a car to travel down. I asked the way to Kande and they pointed right, to Naudarot, they pointed left. I had walked halfway to the second city through the forest, the hard way. Now that I was on the main trail again, travel was easy, just like walking up a flat riverbed. The way was also dotted with villages along the way. So it was a few structures, then 100 meters of just farms, then a few more structures. This was fun. Each small village seemed a little different, had it's own character, or had something going on. Also this path was somewhat better traveled than the path I carved out through the wilds, so people were not so surprised to see a tourist. The first one I came to there were about 20 men sitting on the floor of an unfinished concrete house. The men were chanting away, burning incense, and a fire, and blowing a big white conch. I couldn't imagine what was going on. I hung around watching for a while until a teenage boy who spoke English and wanted to practice came over and told me the people were moving into a new house so they were having a puja or religious ceremony for that. The entire village joined in, kids even staying home from school for that. I trudged on and came to another village. An older man invited me to sit down and have some milktea. We had a nice conversation for a few minutes as I watched some women in the background fetching some water from a tap that was built into the bottom of some concrete steps. They used the same metal water container that looked like a large metal milk can that I had seen all over Nepal. Here however, they didn't carry it on their hips like in the other places i had seen, but put it in a basket and used a rope to strap that basket to their foreheads. That was interesting. I asked the man if he thought the women would mind if I took their picture. He invited me to do just that. I walked over to where they were loading up. They smiled broadly and openly to me. They were beautiful happy people. I snapped some pictures. They were so friendly that I had the idea that I wanted to try to carry the water like they did. They all broke out laughing and clapped and wanted to see me try. I bent down and they fixed the strap around my neck. Then I tried to stand up but nothing happened. It didn't budge. It was too heavy. Laughing, the woman whose load I was carrying came over and helped me boost it up onto my back. I finally got it up there. I couldn't believe how heavy it was. Everyone was laughing as I followed the woman to her house. Along the way, I increased the hilarity by moaning and complaining loudly along the way. About halfway there, the strap slipped down off my forehead, around my neck. It wasn't really dangerous, as I pulled the straps on the sides to take the pressure off. While this was happening though, in pretended to be choking, sticking my tongue out and making choking sounds. I was becoming a pretty good slapstick comedienne. After we reached her house and I set the water down, I stayed in character, walking away twisting and rubbing my neck. The laughter followed me down the road.
There was another blank spot and then up the road another adventure. Each village I entered, I imagined I was the gunslinger entering a western village in the old West. Everyone, straining their necks to see what the stagecoach had brought in. I passed a simple house and looked up and saw a pretty woman smiling at me. I smiled back automatically. We both turned away in embarrassment then turned back and looked again. "Come here, up here '" she stammered. "ok" and I did. There were 2 girls up there. Mitra, 19, and her sister Bimole. They were in the process of cleaning their house in a way I had never seen before They were spreading mud on it. They had taken everything out and in a large bowl, had mixed some clay from a nearby field with water and using that to paint the house. I guess it was a kind of re-sealing process. Needless to say, I had never seen anything quite like that before. The girls were very friendly and also quite shy at the same time. The older one, Mitra, blushed often, surprised perhaps by her boldness. Their father had died from TB a few years ago, and they lived with their mother and brother in this 2 room adobe house. They cooked outside on the porch. They had an outhouse. There was no indoor plumbing, but water was available at numerous water taps along the ridge. I found it fascinating to watch what they were doing. They seemed like regular girls that you might meet anywhere, at the mall for example, but at the same time, here they were painting a house, fetching water, cooking a delicious meal using sticks of wood as fuel, cleaning pots and pans with a stone. We had a nice time together, they as curious about me as I was them. After just 15 minutes, Mitra spoke up, "Stay with us tonight." The invitation caught me by surprise. Then i thought about it for a minute and decided, Why not? I had everything I needed. No one was waiting for me. I had time. I was a little afraid I would be cold but they assured me I would be ok. I looked in the room where in would sleep. It looked dark and dank in there. There were 2 beds , a large and a small one. You sleep in here with my brother. Me and Mitra and my mom will sleep in the other room, which had one large bed. I tested the mattress. It was a board.
Once I decided to stay there everything changed. I put my things away and planted myself on the porch and just watched. The girls were finishing up the mud painting. I helped them move things back in the house. It was about 5:30 pm by then and starting to get dark. They started cooking. The stove was just a hole in the ledge on the one side of the porch. They had a grill set up over it and starting the fire quickly with some plastic and kindling. Quickly and expertly, they washed a large bowl of rice and got it cooking in minutes. They prepared the dahl or lentil soup while the rice was cooking using a pressure cooker. In about 15 minutes they had that going and started on the curry which consisted of cauliflower and potatoes. They threw in some oil made from the flowers growing in the nearby fields, salt, and some mystery spices. Cooking took a long time, about an hour and a half. I watched how they did things with interest; holding things with their feet, minutely adjusting the fire to adjust the temperature, peel the potatoes and cut them by using a device that consisted of a blade held up at a 45 degree angle on a piece of wood and slicking downward on this without having to hold onto the knife. It was like these girls lived in 2 different worlds, one modern and one prehistoric. Sitting on the porch there with them was like going back in time. I felt like we were camping, but this was their life, not a camping trip. Once I adjusted mentally to the fact that it was like camping, it became a lot easier, even fun. After all, I love camping; making fires, sitting on the ground, sleeping out in nature. That's what it was like. As they cooked various people of the village walked by and of course everyone noticed. It created no small stir I'm sure, but I felt also that people accepted me as well. Her mother had a small store in the center of the village about 100 meters away. Bimole and I walked down to meet her. She was very nice and beautiful. I could see where the girls got their good looks. She wore a brilliant blue shawl and a colorful red sari. The girls wore loose fitting Nepali pantaloons and jackets. It was getting a bit nippy up there. Her uncle lived another 50 meters down the path. They had a house with electricity and batteries for when the power shut off, which happened frequently. Being in that house felt almost like being in a real home, except that all the bulbs were blaring without shades and the floors were hard packed earth. I couldn't understand why one part of the family lived with and one without electricity, but they just said they liked it like that, didn't need it. Her younger cousin was a boy of about 10. He became my buddy as he was eager to interact with me. Walking back to the house, we passed a large clump of bamboo trees that was filled with invisible birds. They were making an incredibly loud symphony of sound. It sounded like there were 1000 singing birds in there. I listened in amazement. "Watch this", said the boy. He bent down and picked up a stone and threw it into the lower branches. It went into the clump and hit one with a thud. The birds were instantly silent. It was like someone had suddenly turned the volume off. Then in about 20 seconds they started up again. Cool. What a fun thing to know about. I tried it. It worked. Fascinating. I tried it again and again. The boy was pleased by my delight. Walking up and down the path between the girls house and the rest of the village,I saw many cool things. All of the women came out to get water at the well. It was fun to watch. They stood around waiting and as they did they chatted amicably. Nepali Facebook. Sure indoor plumbing is a great convenience, but I think so much is lost in the way of community connection, conservation and respect for a valuable resource, and connection to nature. I know that you won't waste water if you have to carry it home. Water is heavy. Everyday they started out with a milk jug full of water and they used that for all their needs. The water was right from the earth, sparkling fresh and cool. It seemed so simple and natural.
Walking around the small village, it seemed like I got to meet everyone in ashort time. It seemed like a good time to play a song on my saxophone. I set up outside the mother's store and let loose. Many people crowded around, never having heard something like that. Some seemed to like it, most were transfixed but didn't show pleasure or a reaction, and a few seemed to not like it and walked away. Just towards the end of my song, we heard the rumblings of a different kind of music. Someone in the next village was getting marriage and they were marching to nearby villages to shae their good news. A raucous wedding band made up of 3 or 4 drums, trumpets, a clarinet, some tubas and some long tubelike instruments that looked like they belonged in a Dr. Suess book, marched by. Their music was wild and energetic. For fun I tried to follow the clarinetist as he produced streams of sound. The marching never stopped but they waved as they went by. I played another song for "my" village. At the end a crowd of about 15 people just stood there and stared at me. The silence was awkward. I looked right at them and then in exaggerated slow motion, I clapped once. They finally joined me and started smiling. I pantomimed, great relief, and then started asking specific people if they liked my music by making a thumbs up sign and then pointing to myself. If they gave me a thumbs up back I tried to get them to high-five me and if wouldn't do that, I would point to them back with thumbs up. If they just wagged their heads I would wag along and pantomime something funny to the audience like "he doesn't know....I don't care". If someone gave me no response I would either pantomime cry or point and give them a down thumb. It was especially rewarding to get the old toothless grandma who may have been the village elder to high five me. Then she gave me a big black and white grin that was wonderful. Everyone enjoyed that.
By the time I got back to the house, it was starting to get seriously dark. That meant it was time to eat. The girls served up the food and mom and big brother showed up just in time. The food was served on an enormous metal dish with raised sides called a thali. The girls spooned enormous amounts of rice in the middle, then poured on about a cup of the lentil soup. The curried cauliflower and potatoes was served on the side of the rice. They were considerate enough to give me a spoon though they all ate with their hands. I feel comfortable eating with my hands, but not when my hands have been so dirty. They served me first and then out of courtesy I waited for everyone to be served. The mother however interpreted this as me not knowing how to mix everything up, so she helpfully stuck her fat hand into my plate and my rice and started gumming everything together. Yuck. Who knows where those hands had been (carrying manure?), so I wasn't too thrilled by that move, but there was nothing I could do. I just ate it and hoped didn't get too sick. It was delicious. Amazing that they could do that with the tools they had.
We all sat on the dirt floor and ate our Dahl-bahts. As we did, the sun went down and it started to get cold. The stars came out brightly and the birds from the bamboo clump stopped singing. At first I felt uncomfortable sitting on the floor, and not having lights on. Then I reminded myself, "hey it's camping. I love camping, especially the playing with the fire part. I sat next to the fire and started playing with it. The mother asked me if I was cold. I looked around. The girls didn't seem to be cold even though they were wearing flimsy Nepali pantaloons. I had to admit that I was. With a deft stroke of one of the sticks, she spread the ashes out in a circle between all of us. The heat radiated up nicely and i felt warmed up. A neat trick. Also it was beautiful to look at the undulating embers all spread out like a galaxy in front of us. Were we gods? Is this how the gods felt? After we had all eaten our fill, the girls put the dishes aside to soak (just like I do at home). It was all of 8 o'clock by then and with no electricity and only a bit of mutually intelligent language between us, I wondered what we would do now. I had the idea to sing. I would sing an American song, and they a Nepali song. I went first and sang a rousing rendition of "I've been Working on the Railroad". I think they especially were moved by the "fee fi fiddle I-O portion. Everyone except Bimol refused to sing. She sang a sweet Nepali folksong. Her voice was small but clear. I enjoyed it. That took about 30 minutes. Now it was 830 pm and I was feeling very tired. It had been a long day. Everyone else seemed tired too. That's village life i guess, go to bed with the sun. They had told me that I would be sleeping with the brother Laxshum. I had feared we would be in the same actual bed together, hugging each other for warmth, but it wasn't like that at all. We merely slept in the same room. I had my own bed. It wasn't long before we were all in bed. I might of wished after a few hours that I had been in the same bed with her brother, because it was cold. The mattress (really a board) was hard and the blanket way too thin. I fell asleep off and on, but every time I woke up, my feet were cold. I even went so far as to
put gloves on my feet. That may have been the longest night of my life. Finally, it was 530 a.m. and I heard someone get up. That was my cue. I got up too and looked around. It was the mother. I decided to follow her. She went down to the water tap and got in line with the others. I showed up a minute later. Everyone gave me the namaste sign, or nodded or waved. It was very friendly for 530 am. I hung around for awhile, then went back to the house. The girls were up again and Mitra was starting the fire for lunch. They didn't eat breakfast, just milk tea. I sat around the fire and had a bunch of tea with the girls, and played with the fire as the sky caught up to us.
I went to school with Bimole. I talked to her English class. They understood me fine, but were a bit too shy to ask me questions. I asked them to comment on the saying, " The best things in life are free." they all strongly disagreed with that. "oh no, sir. The best things are very expensive, like iPods, cell phones, and tickets to your country." In a country where money is hard to come by, luxuries seemed impossibly far away. I challenged them, "which is better, a parents love, or a tv. "They had to agree with me. "the fresh water you get everyday from the spring, or an ipod?" In the end they all agreed with me, and I tried to make them appreciate the incredible beauty that existed in their midst, in their lives. Really it was stunning. "Nepal is a great country. You have the Himalayas and amazingly beautiful village life" when I left, they all held their heads a little higher I think. I went back to the house and watched Mitra cook. She served me lunch around 11 am. It was the same menu as the night before, and also very delicious. I felt like I was in a dream world, which was rapidly ending. It was time to go. I wanted to play in more villages along the way to Sarangot. I said goodbye to everyone and as I walked through the village for the last time, it felt like a farewell parade. Everyone was smiling, waving goodbye. I mentioned to Bimole, who I saw as she walked home for lunch, that I wanted to live here in Kashikote Molla and without hesitation she said, "if you do, you stay with us. You are my new big brother". I was touched. I had a new little Nepali sister!
I kept walking and stopping and playing until the last bus came at 4 pm. I got on and road to Sarangot, which was much more developed, and found a guest house. My mini- trek was almost over. The next morning, I hiked down the steep trail for 2 hours to Pokhara. As I went I noticed that there were many paragliders, jumping off the mountain side in Sarangot. It was the Nepali International Paragliders competition. I watched them swoop around as I went down. Paragliding was cool. Climbing up and down mountain trails was fun, but for me it was the people that I met along the way that made my mini-trek unforgettable.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Ramakrishna the Comedian

Ramakrishna the Clown

"Why not? "
This is the most common English phrase I hear while traveling around Nepal. I'm not sure where it comes from, whether it reflects a deep held belief of the people or whether it's something that has just caught on, like "Oh My God!" has caught on in most other non-English speaking places in the world. Of course, "Oh My God!" just wouldn't do here. You would have to specify which of the hundreds of Hindu gods specifically you were referring to.
"Would you like to have some tea?".
"Why not? "

"Can you help me?"
"Why not? "

""Can I take your picture?"
"Why not? "

"Can I play a song for you?"
"Why not? "

As I was walking along the ridge road from Saragot to Nandarot, near the city of Pokhara, on either side, the valley sloped steeply into the valleys below. The rich farmland was lovingly terraced for growing rice during the monsoons and vegetables at other times. I passed a smattering of shacks and dwellings here and there, before I passed a farmer entering his fields carrying a wooden contraption that I later learned was a yoke. He was anywhere from 35 to 55, one of those ageless people, strong, simply dressed, but with a beautiful big grey eyes and a big droopy moustache. The kind of person you see and say, "Now there's a face." It was a face with a lot of character, but also funny face. A face born to make others laugh. When our paths crossed, he looked at me and raised his eyebrows in a questioning gesture. I had to smile. What did he want? I decided, he was wondering in a very kind and thoughtful way, if I, obviously a tourist, would like to watch him yoke his oxen. Later I found out there was more to it than that. I hesitated for a moment and then thought,"Why not?", and followed him.
Basic farming is fascinating. To me it's almost a basic part of my humanness. After all, isn't it what partially defines our species, this transition from hunter-gather to basic agriculture? The locals seem to sense that we "city folk" are fascinated by the old ways and they don't seem to mind us looking on. Why just the other day I had sat and watched and old farmer repair his plough for 20 minutes in the field after it had broken off. Here was another great chance. Why not?
I followed him through his compound, past the gate past a tied-up bull, into the field. Standing at the top of the large hill, this small pod was about 50 meters long and 20 meters wide. There was another man there, his brother, and 2 oxen stood patiently, stupidly waiting. I'm sorry, not to be too species-centric, but oxen must be some of the dumbest animals in the world. Why with their massive power and dangerous horns, they could run havoc at any moment and take control, but they just stand there, docile like cows. The kind farmer instructed me to sit down over there, away from the bull, for a front row seat of him yoking the oxen. His brother even brought me a straw mat to sit on. I felt like royalty.
The yoke consisted of one larger piece of wood (about the size of a 2 by 4) with 4 smaller rod-like pieces wedged in downward at intervals of about 20 centimeters and a length of about half a meter. 2 of these fit neatly over the narrow lower neck of the ox. The trick was to get both oxen in it at the same time. Amazingly, the two farmers walked in between the massive hunks of muscle, pushing them this way and that like big babies, slapping them with a stick, tugging, pulling, herding. It was amazing to watch them move these beasts around. They had a kind of special simple language they shared (it had to be simple). . Also there was a whole chorus of sounds, coaxes, whoops, and Nepali phrases that were used. "hunya, wungchi, gumpcha, yaaaa" a few times one of the ox turned and ran away, but the patient farmers, walked after him (he was to stupid to know where to go) and brought him back. Within ten minutes they had both oxen in at the same time. Then quickly before they escaped, they tied ropes under and they fastened them over onto pegs on top and whoilla, a team of oxen. Tied tougher like that, they had no choice but to follow the farmers wishes. I clapped. Amazing really and sat back and watched with pleasure as the man started to plow the small plot of land. The farmer looked over at me and raised his eyebrows comically and wagged his head in the way Nepalis do. Was it good? He watched me as he plowed the field, making a deep furrow in the rich brown Earth. He let go of the plow for a second and the oxen instantly stopped. He put his hands one over the other and wiggled and wagged his head. What? Then it hit me. That was it. He wanted me to play for him. The sound of my saxophone had carried all the way here from the last village down the road 100 meters where i had just played not 15 minutes before, and he wanted to hear for himself. Sure. Why not? I usually played for larger audiences, at least 8, but I was only too happy to play for 2 farmers and 2 oxen at the top of a terraced mountain towering over the stunning valley below. Why the hell not?
I thought for a moment. If this were a story, what would be the ideal ending? Many people would come? The oxen would stop and smile? My dream woman would come out of a shack and look at me with loving eyes? I tried to think of something amazing, but couldn't think of anything good. I took out my instrument. I was a little concerned that the sound might startle the oxen or the bull and they would run amok. The farmers assured me the oxen were ok, they knew their oxen, but we did take the precaution of moving 20 meters further away from the bull. With the first notes of the horn the man smiled devilishly. He closed his eyes, taking the music in. The other man, his brother, also listened whole-heartedly to the music. They were simply delighted in a way a small child is delighted the first time he sees you blow the seeds off a dandelion. And they felt the feeling of the music as if they were drinking some delicious cold beer on a hot day. Ahhhhh. The farmer with the amazing face seemed drunk with the sounds and started swaying slightly to the music. And then suddenly, he broke out and started dancing. Right there in the partly plowed field of rich soil, behind the yoked oxen, He was dancing beautifully with arms raised slightly turning from side to side. He looked good, like Zorba the Greek. There were peels of laughter. More people appeared,his uncle and aunt, his 2 sons, his aged father and mother walking with canes, they all lived there together and worked the fields. Another tall strong man had walked up the hill from the fields a bit so he could see. 2 middle aged women dressed in traditional Nepali saris and blouses with many earrings, emerged from the farmhouse, and the laughter rang out. This man obviously was used to making people laugh. He was a natural, a Chaplain, a Keaton. I kept playing, and he kept dancing, in front of all the people, the mighty Himalayan mountains a few valleys over, the powerful oxen, and the open sky on that half plowed terrace, and it seemed like the most natural and funny thing in the world. He danced with poise and feeling, and that made it even funnier. He was really enjoying the music and the dance, not just joking. We all did,and when it was over we all felt satisfied. In broken English I told him, you shouldn't be a farmer, you should be a comedian. "You farmer no. You TV. funny man". And somehow everyone understood and nodded agreement. I started to put my instrument away and as I did I thought that life's ending to the story was much more imaginative than mine, way better. The funny farmer turned his attention back to plowing and I watched happily.
Then a question tugged at my consciousness, like a tap on the windowpane. Why not? Why not? What was it? When he came around again I waved to him and then pointed to the plow and then to me and then to the field, wiggling my fingers around to represent grinding up dirt. He understood at once and laughed heartily. Without a moments hesitation, he waved me over behind him. The few people watching were all laughing and talking excitedly. I stepped carefully over the soft plowed furrows next to him. He handed me a long bamboo stick and gave me a quick lesson in oxen steering. You want them to go right, hit the left one on the left side. You want to go left, hit the right one on the right side. You want them to stop, just stop, they don't really want to work anyway. You want them to go fast, hit them on their butts and make a sound. I tried it. I tentatively whacked the left animal on the left side. He adjusted his walk slightly. I did it. It was fun, and amazing. Then it struck me, I was hitting an animal that outweighed me 10 times over. He could run over me without even slowing down. I looked over at the farmer. He nodded his encouragement. I did it again. They really responded. I could make them go exactly where I wanted them to go. Of course I did make a slightly crooked line a few times, but that as all in the name of creativity and a bit of inexperience. As we walked up and down the rows he would occasionally call out encouragement and coax them to go faster. I just repeated whatever he said to the great amusement of the assembled onlookers.


" wungchi,"
" wungchi,"

" gumpcha,"
" gumpcha,"

" yaaaa"
" yaaaa"

Sometimes after a silence of 5 or 10 seconds, I just repeated one of the old ones
" yaaaa, gumpcha", and the guffaws started up again.
Steering was fun, but I wanted more. I pointed to the plough itself and he shook his head doubtfully, but agreed. I took hold of the wooden plow. At the top was a handle, and I held onto that.
"wungchi". Slap,
and we started off. It was surprisingly easy. All I had to do was balance the plough, keep it from twisting left or right. The oxen did all the work as they pulled the plow with incredible ease through the dirt about 1/3 of a meter deep. There was a pleasant satisfying crunchy sound as the plough dug in. The rich funky smell that surrounded me felt familiar and natural, as if I had done this already many times. I plowed a few rows while the farmer walked cautiously behind smiling. Then the oxen stopped suddenly. I had had enough. I was grinning from ear to ear. The farmer clapped me on the back. I held out my hand, "10 rupees" and he laughed his deep natural laugh that spilled down into the valley of his as yet unploughed fields.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

The Last Sadhu

The Last Shadhu

I've met some interesting people on the streets of Kathmandu. One intense looking man is smiling openly at me. "Sir, your music massages my lower mind and awakenings in me a clean spot of higher consciousness."
I can't believe I am hearing this.
"who are you?"
"I sir am a gypsy."
"a gypsy? There's no gypsies in Nepal"
"That may be sir but nevertheless, I am a gypsy"
I nod impressed. "I like that. Gypsy. I think 'I'll use that. Can you teach me to be a gypsy?" "Sir, I can not teach you to be something you already are. We are all gypsies. Most of us just don't know it" I nod impressed. Wow, this guy is good.
A shadhu is a holy man who has given up the game of life in pursuit of a higher goal, a spiritual awakening. This could come in the form of enlightenment or more probably, an end to the cycle of reincarnation. It is said that shadhus believe that by devoting their life to God and the singleminded search for truth, they will not be reborn again into a life that by it's very nature is filled with suffering.
I went to the Hindu cremation site in eastern Kathmandu, Pashipan. The site is open to tourists and is a must see stop, as is a similar site in Varinasee,India. Tourists can wander anywhere in the site except for inside the large ornate wooden carved temple. To go in their you must be a hindu. The tourist are tolerated in much the same way as the scores of monkeys, who also wander around the site eating food that was orginally left for the gods. It's ok as long as people respectfully observe their funeral rituals which involve cleaning the body ceremonially in the river and then burning it. Insense mingles with the smoke from the funeral pyres, and chanting fills the air. It is an other-worldly atmosphere. Its an entire industry and there are workers who supply the wood, priests who manage the ceremony, people who clean up and push the ashes and wood into the river. The half burned wood is given to potters to fire their kilns. The eldest son will be clothed in a special outfit as he lights the fire that it is said will return the parent's parts to the universe so that the reincarnation process will begin. I was told that some NGO set up a cornea donation site at the banks of the river, but that it went out of operation because the families feared that if they donated Papa's corneas, he would come back in the next life blind.
Some say that the Sadhus hanging around that holy sight are not real shadhus, they are just there to take money from the tourists. Indeed, they can be seen posing for pictures and asking for donations. Some of them look very outlandish, with hair that hasn't been cut in 30 years, faces covered in ash or painted wildly with colors from the temple. Each Shadhu is free to find his own way to show his extreme devoutness to God. There is one there who claims he hasn't sat down for 12 years. He stands in a harness that holds him up and allows him to sleep standing. There is another Shadhu who claims to be the oldest living one, at 103. There are shadhus who decided to show their devotion by continually raising one arm as if to say, "Me. Choose me God". Some of these sahdhus arms have become locked in the raised position from years of non-movement, and cant be lowered. The real shadhus some say, you won't see at tourist sites. In fact you may not see them at all. They may stay in caves meditating or away from the public eye. But they have to eat.
I see a lot of people who I think could be shadhus. To me many Nepalis walking around look like that. Wrapped in a blanket, with distinctive leg wrappings. But I think a real man of peace can be identified by the calmness, the goodness in his eyes. When he walked up and stood on the edge of the crowd, I sensed a goodness in his presence. He was simply what he was, a man wrapped in a grey blanket and wearing white muslin pants, with a full black beard and very kind sensitive eyes. I looked at him and he looked right back at me, holding my gaze but not aggressively, not challengingly, but with warmth, as if to say, "Ah. Here we two have found each other for a moment.let's see what will happen next" like gazing into a still pond, and any movement may create the slightest ripple that may be reflected throughout the pond.
After talking for a short while I asked him,"what do you do?"
He put his hands out to the side and gestured all around. I just walk around and think about....about all this."
"so you're a Shadhu."
He fidgetted around and then smiled embarrasedly. "Yes. I am"
"But you don't look like other shadhus I've seen."
"I'm not that kind of Shadhu." he smiled.
"So what do you do all day?"
He smiled brightly. "I consider things"
I considered that.
"well what are you considering now?"
his face showed eagerness, as if finally the conversation was getting really interesting.
"ah lately I have been looking into the nature of problems. How does the concept of problem arise in the mind. After all life is life and it's what happens to you, but at some point our minds pick out a portion of life and label it as a problem and this becomes a problem in our mind. I'm looking at how that begins and how it affects us and our relationship to what is."
"Wow", I thought, "this guy talks like I talk if I'm really stoned only he's not stoned".
"well, what are some of the problems that you have as a Shadhu anyway?"
here his face turned serious and he looked troubled. "Many times I can't find anything to eat. As a Shadhu I must really on things that people give me, and sometimes no one will give me anything for days, and I get quite hungry and even get headaches. This is I realize a part of my life and must be accepted, yet still it becomes a problem in my mind. I suspect that if it didnt become a problem in my mind, it wouldn't be a problem. That's my working theory. So now I watch as my mind becomes upset about food and how that affects me"
He seemed animated and enjoying himself. He reminded me of some of the religious Jews I had met who relished nothing more than a good discussion and argument.
"Do you have any other problems?"
"Yes. Often when I sleep, people will come and disturb me. Sometimes they kick me, or make a loud noise to startle me. I always sleep by the side of the road or in a doorway. I think many times it's the street children who do this because somehow in their mind it seems funny." He smiled awkwardly, torn between judging these people as bad and his normal way of looking at people positively. "sometimes I can't sleep and I feel tired the next day." As he talked, even about his problems, there was a sweetness and innocence about him, like a freshly washed face. He seemed eager to go one, discussing and analysing the workings of his mind, which clearly fascinated him, but I cut him off.
" It seems to me," I said as I looked into his eager face, "that your problems are very real. It's natural that you would be upset about them. You don't have enough food, and you don't have a safe place to sleep. Those problems exist in reality and are not products of your mind."
He looked pleased with our conversation because I was speaking his language of analysis. "although your mind does react to these problems, it is natural that it does so because the problems are real. Perhaps at this stage in your life, it would be better if you found some easy job where you could make enough money to solve these 2 problems, and then they would be gone from your life, and you could consider the other aspects of your life from a much less disturbing space."
he looked startled as if I had just turned his world upside down, yet the logic of my argument was inescapable.
"Get a job?", a grin broke over his face and then his eyes went wide as he really considered it. He was having a revelation of sorts right in front of my eyes. "Sadhus don't work,"he protested.
"But Shadhu is just a label you've created in your mind. There's no reason why you couldn't continue considering your life even as you were working, especially if it was an easy job, like watchman or night clerk."
His expression was like that of a child and I could read his feelings as easily as eating a piece of fruit. He smiled warmly at me. "I will have to consider all this. Its very exciting. talk like a Shadhu. Are you a Shadhu?
"No," I pause and whispered conspiratorially, "I'm a gypsy."

Nothing to Do in Dattatraya Square

Nothing to Do in Dattatraya Square
It's 7 o'clock. The day is winding down. The streets are dark, because the electricity is off, or as the locals say, "lottery". I can't even read a book. There's nothing for me to do but hang around. I sit down on a cold stone slab in Dattatraya Square. In the center is a 3-tiered temple about 20 meters high. It is imposing, stately, beautiful. Each level is decorated with a red skirt of silk that wraps all around the circumference. There are some battery operated lights that produce a faint warm glow at random points of the temple. Only slightly brighter, they blend into the emerging stars. On the side, mostly sari-clad women pleasantly chat as they throw plastic 4 litter plastic containers with the tops cut out down the wells, then gracefully haul them up by the attached rope hand over hand. Some are washing their faces and feet at the well. I let the sounds and smells wash over me. The water well is a wonderful place, a community builder, a touchstone. I'm sure all the news gets spread here faster than any Facebook. For them it's just their routine but for me it's poetry, simplicity, the essence of life and the human spirit. I wander up to the well. People tell me I look like a Nepali when I wear my face mask, a necessity in dusty Nepal. Someone told me I had an international face. That and my ratty travel clothes let's me blend right in. At the well I look around and down into the well. Amazing. There's shimmering water 10 meters down there and people are drinking it. Where does it come from? Surely indoor plumbing is a wonderful thing, but also surely humanity lost something when we stopped using the well. I take off my mask and some of the women whisper and giggle. Usually men don't come to the well anyway. They look for my camera. I don't have one (thankfully the battery is dead). I spot a very old grandmother. She is pulling up a full load of water and through sign language I motion to her that I would like to help her. At first she seems surprised, and them amused, and then thankful. It's heavy for her. It's an adventure for me. I pull it up and pour it into her large silver urn. It must hold at least 5 gallons (about 20 litters). The design of this container is simple and elegant. The opening is wide like a funnel. Then it narrows to about the size of a child's neck before widening finally out to a round barrel-chest size. The interesting feature is that the gap between the top and where it finally widens is just enough so that you can curl your arm around it like you would around your best buddy's neck when you are walking intimately together, because that's how they carry them, the bottom balanced on the woman's wide hip, and the top nuzzled around the arm. The women are looking and laughing at me in a good natured way as I throw the plastic jug down into the well again and start to pull it up. I'm not nearly as efficient as they are. I mimic the other woman's hand motions and after awhile I start to pull it up better. A murmur of approval ripples through the gathering. When I get my jug up and pull it over the lip of the well, I am dismayed to see that it is only half full. This produces gales of laughter. I empty the jug and watch the other women as they fiddle with the ropes, looking like fishermen playing with their lines to trick the fish. Their movements are quick, subtle, and their jugs fill up 100%. Try as I might I can't get my jug to fill up. Grandma doesn't mind. I think she is too happy to be relieved of a little work to mind. She seems still winded from the walk over. Though it takes me longer than anyone else, I finally fill the jug. I "namaste" to grandma and she creaks over to pick up the container that must weigh at least 40 pounds. I think, "why not", and stop her and pick it up. But I don't know how to do it. I just pick it straight up in front of me and nod to the other women and then to Grandma, "let's go". Now everyone is really laughing. Men don't carry water, and I'm doing it all wrong. Grandma protests, slaps her wide padded hips indicating I should carry it there, but I have no hips to speak of , don't know how to do that, and anyway I know I can carry it. I follow her 50 meters up the street to a small doorway which leads to a tunnel I have to bend a bit to get through (Grandma doesn't) and then widens into a large courtyard ringed with ancient brick 2 and 3 story apartments, the windows and doors beautifully carved. I reflect how this entrance and courtyard are not unlike the container.
In the courtyard, there are some rough woven mats around which a group of women of all ages are sitting in a circle, weaving hats at incredible speed, which tourist will buy later for anywhere from 1 to 10 dollars, depending on how they bargain. As soon as the women see me, there is an instant wave of laughter. I think I made their day, and perhaps will provide some entertainment at the well tomorrow.
I follow Grandma to the entrance of her apartment. I offer to carry it up the stairs but she smiles warmly at me and I understand that though she would like me to, it wouldn't look good. I hand over the container and it seems to jump into it's comfortable position in the space on her hip.
I walk out of the courtyard, namasteing and smiling. The women look and smile at me wide-eyed. I go back to the square and my sitting place. That was fun, and it killed 15 minutes. What should I do now? The only real restaurants that are open are for tourists and the prices are 4 times the normal price. Never! I walk over to a doorway where a lot of Nepali men are huddled around. It's a tea shop. I've been in Nepal for 8 days and haven't gotten sick yet. I've been very careful not to drink tea unless the place looks clean. This place looks worse than my room back home. Definitely not. I turn to head out. A well dressed Nepali man walks up to me and says in good English, "that was nice of you to help the old woman. Allow me to buy you a cup of tea." I hesitate. I don't want to appear rude. I don't want to insult him by implying, " no I won't drink your dirty tea", and I would like some milk tea. I love milk tea. I warily accept. I figure I should know the results within a few hours. In the tea shop they also have samosa, a deep fried dumplings filled with potatoes,peas, curry and other goodies. I also have tried to stay away from deep fried foods because for one it's deep fried and by definition unhealthy and for another, some of the oil they use makes me sick. But I figure I might as well go for it, as I will probably get sick anyway. The 2 teas I drink are delicious, the samosas are the best ever. I also get a sweet fried Nepali sweet that looks like a pretzel dipped in honey. The man and I have a pleasant conversation exchanging details of our identities. I ask him how much it all costs and he insists on paying. I watch as he pays 50 ruppes (about 70 cents). I thank the man as he leaves for an appointment. It's 7:30 pm. Still too early to go to bed. I go to the tea shop owner and indicate I want the same again. I hand him another 50 and take the 2 teas, 2 samosas, and the Nepali donut and sit on the cold stone ledge where I started about 30 minutes ago. The old men and women have gathered on the temple porch and started playing some drums and singing. Added to this is the sound of all kinds of bells that are attached to the temple, bells that locals ring as they say a quick prayer to the god. Ring, ring. I'm calling you God. Are you listening? I listen closely to the sounds of the singing and the drums. I can't really detect a pattern or a rhythm but there seems to be one, hidden. The sounds of the chanting, the bells, the talking and laughing of children, the occasional motorcycle and blaring horn, all mix together into a kind of street music that with a little imagination becomes a symphony. I add to it with munching and sipping. Sitting back and being entertained by watching the comings and goings in the temple square as people have been doing since before the time of Columbus. I peel off some parts of the fried samosa (I have to watch my veins) and look around for one of the many curled up balls of fur called goats who are more and more dotting the square. I take my samosa in it's paper wrapping and set it down in front of a furry black one. He smells it immediately and is very interested but not enough to uncurl and lose his body heat. He finally manages to eat it and I go back to my cold smooth seat. I see some older men playing chess in the corner of the square. I put on my mask and walk over to watch. They are good, and I watch the end game with interest. The lights suddenly come on. Some boys start playing ping pong on the side. But they don't have a table, they play on the smooth concrete porch. Their net is a piece of wood they've balanced on edge. One player stands off the porch and his side is almost like a regular ping pong table, the other guy plays leaning over playing like a giant would play. It's amazing. The leaning down guy plays as well as the other guy. I watch awhile and then interrupt and ask if I can try. They oblidge. I used to be pretty good at table tennis or TT as they call it here. Standing off the porch I'm able to hit them back OK but the stone surface is different. I try playing leaning over and I can't do it at all. We all laugh and I walk away smiling.
In Kathmandu Valley, there were 3 ancient kingdoms; Kathmandu, Patan, and Baktapur. Each king competed with the others to make the most fabulous palaces. Dattatraya Square is part of the old city of Baktapur. It was built in 1437. The large 3 tiered temple is said to be made out of a single tree. The base is square and it's roof comes to the center at 4 points. The second level rises from that so that it looks like 2 inverted 4 sided pyramids. The 3rd smaller level also rises like a pyramid. Around the rim of each level is a row of tiny bells. You can watch the wind play with the bells, rarely ringing them, but swaying them in waves. The lights go off again. In the dimness, the dust hangs as does the sounds and smells of 500 years of Nepali people, living, working, playing praying, spitting, laughing, yelling, ringing, hauling, trading, carving, weaving, washing, gossiping,cooking, living.
Its now 830. The electricity is off. It's time to go to bed. There's nothing to do in Dattatraya Square.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Some Children of Kathmandu

I lost my camera on the second day of my trip. Being a solitary traveler who relies on a camera especially when I am feeling lonely, I decided I had to get another one. I decided to buy one of the new point-and- shoot digital cameras to take it's place. I've always been against them in the past, but it seemed the best solution in this case, because of the price, weight, and number of pictures I could take .There are many reasons to take a picture; just to remember something you've seen or somewhere you've been like a diary entry, because something is different from other things you've seen, because something is beautiful, because you want to artistically express yourself, and as a remembrance of a nice moment or close connection. I always find it awkward to ask a person for a picture just because they look different or are doing something I've never seen. In that case I am prone to try to steal a picture, take it on the sly without the persons knowledge. I've gotten pretty good too at shooting from the hip. My new camera really made it easy. Also, I set my camera for the lowest range of density so I have a ridiculous number of pictures (8,273) left on my memory stick. But this last kind of picture, the one to remember a shared moment or closeness, is one that is never awkward to ask for, and is never refused. In fact, just the asking is an honoring of the other person, and a good way to culminate and celebrate the end of a moment together.
I ventured out on the streets of Katmandu to play jazz street music yesterday. I was unsure how the people would receive it. It went reasonably well. It allowed me to have contact with some people I normally wouldn't have had a chance to meet. Initially I just walked down about 2 minutes from my hotel and just sat on the side of the street and started playing. There was a cute little girl who smiled at me. With sign language I told her I was going to play. She gave me one of those ambiguous shakes of the heads that Indians also do, that means, I acknowledge you, but doesn't necessarily give you a yes or no. I took it for permission to play however. As I sat and prepared to play, a number of curious onlookers gathered. These people looked anything but friendly. One group of 3 looked like tough workers, with finely chiseled faces, grissly beards, some kind of turban wrapping on their heads, and a no nonsense look about them. I started to doubt whether it was proper to be playing here. I started playing along with my background tape. The first notes sent a shockwave through the group, like a knife plunging, ripping the worlld. Then it was absorbed and accepted. More people came. Most gave me that curious skeptical glare. A few people smiled. The pretty little girl just kept giving me the ambiguous nod. I didn't know what to do, but I figured I would at least finish the song. About 3 quarters of the way through the song, a boy of about 12 years of age appeared. He was covered from head to foot in grey dust. His shoes were covered with plastic, on his head a turban. He looked like a ghost. His face had a most amazing expression. He was smiling broadly. He was laughing at everything, me a tourist sitting on the street, me playing music, the strangeness of the music, the fact that the music WAS in a sense talking to him, and the fact that he was associating with a tourist at all. He was a poor boy and a construction worker. I had passed them before. I think i had never seen anyone work so hard before. They were making cement and separating the stones. It was like they were absolutely sprinting, working full out, 100%. I could work like that for perhaps 5 seconds, but they just kept doing it, and they seemed to be enjoying it. I didn't think the music would reach them, but it did. The boy listened and laughed with a kind of purity that you rarely see in people. I didn't feel like he was judging me, or was jealous of me, or wanted anything from me, he was just laughing at the absurdity of it all, at the absurdity of life at that moment. If for no other reason, playing the music to have a moment with that boy was worthwhile. I played to him for a few seconds and raised my eyebrows to fit the phrase. That made him laugh even harder. Then he turned and ran back to work. Another boy took his place. They were taking turns watching me until the boss yelled at them. I finished the song. I looked around. There was an uncomfortable silence. Everyone was giving me stern looks. Should I run? Should I pack up and walk away. What to do when everyone was just staring at me? I spread my hands apart and slowly started to bring them together in a kind of pantomime of a slow- motion clap checking around to see if anyone would join me, exaggeratedly encouraging them to do that. Maybe clapping wasn't a part of their culture. Finally one or two people got the message and went through the motions of clapping a little. I clowned being angry that the clap was so small and pointed at them and then myself clapping with only my index fingers, pretending to be annoyed. Then exaggerating clapped with only my pinkies, pointing to my ears and frustration because I couldn't hear it at all. Finally a few people smiled. It was like pulling teeth. I focused on one of the smilers. I pointed to myself than made the thumbs up sign and then made a shrug like a question. They smiled and made the thumbs up. That sign at least seems to be pretty universal, up is good. I ventured to some of the non smilers. Good? They wouldn't give me the sign. I pantomimes horror and gave the down sign. They shook their heads smiling. I exaggerate relief and point the thumb at 90 %. They give me the Indian head shake. I goof around with that, shaking my head and showing I grudgingly can accept that. I focus on the kids. If they give me the thumbs up I try to get a high five. Some will give it and others are too scared. Soon all the kids want to give me high five. Someone in the audience speaks English and asks the standard questions; "Where are you from? How long have you been here? How long will you stay here? Is this your job? Is Nepal good?" I answer the questions. Everyone else is leaning in, straining to understand. I encourage the brave one to translate to the crowd. At first he doesn't understand. Then shyly, reluctantly he does and now I have a translator. Someone yells out in Nepali, "Why did you come here?" "I am a tourist and playing street music is my hobby. I want to learn about Nepal and I want to share my music with you.". A murmur runs through the crowd. "One more time sir". I've been waiting for this. Hoping for this. "One more time"? I look all around. Everyone is smiling and nodding. I repeat it again getting very excited." One more time? One more time?" almost leading like a chant. Then when it's at its peak, I pout and sit down and say "No." as if I am mad about something. Then "ha-ha. Just joking." they are with me now. The ice is broken. I play "Over the Rainbow" they don't know the song, but they seem fascinated by the melody, very sensitive to each nuance I am able to put into it. I try to play freely with feeling. I try to find the joy in my music. I know if I can feel joy in my music, they will feel joy in it as well. I try not to think, but let my inner voice guide me. What will be the next note? Where does it come from. It comes when I am not thinking, just feeling. When my feeling mode takes over for a second, I am out of my mind. When they hear that, they are also out of their minds and experiencing the moment without mind, reflected through me. We are directly connected at those moments, both feeling the same thing, the same joy, the same feeling that came from somewhere outside of mind. When we are both feeling that, we are connected, and for a moment there is a closeness. It's not about me, it's about the music. If at that moment I can focus on the music and not on what I want or my needs or my personality, there can be a bonding, beyond language, beyond culture. At that moment we can experience ourselves fully, not through the mind, but as beings existing in time in space. That's my ultimate highest purpose here. That and to get laid. No just joking. I hope to also use the attraction of the music to make some friends too. I finish the song. One interesting looking man is smiling openly at me. "Sir, your music massages my lower mind and awakenings in me a clean spot of higher consciousness." I can't believe I am hearing this. "who are you?" "I sir am a gypsy." "a gypsy? There's no gypsies in Nepal" "That may be sir but nevertheless, I am a gypsy" I nod impressed. "I like that. Gypsy. I think'ill use that. Can you teach me to be a gypsy?" "Sir, I can not teach you to be something you already are. We are all gypsies. Most of us just don't know it" I nod impressed. Wow, this guy is good. I try to make arrangements to meet him again. He is so positive and fun, but he is busy he says and can't meet again. He does agree to give me his email though. Some street children are standing there beside me in the front row. They are caring large paper sacks full of what appears to be trash. Their faces are grimey. As they stand there, they don't put the bags down, they just stand there holding them, transfixed. I start to play another song. One of the kids is sniffing glue. He has a small paper bag which he is holding over his mouth pumping with his hand. These are the ones I want to reach. I play, hoping my music will find a clear space and touch these kids, make them feel joy for a few moments, . take them to a place they've never been, turn their day around. My desire to move them helps to focus my mind. As i play I watch them peripherally, looking for some reaction on their faces. The small shoeless boy in blue is just staring blankly. I can't say he is enjoying the music, yet I have to consider this a victory because he is listening, transfixed. The other boy with the snotty nose is looking around, seemingly bored, but he is still there. I've lost him though. His attention is skipping here and there. The little girl, standing between them, is listening and nodding and smiling at me. I've won her over. I smile back at her, a wonderful music motif pops out, I go with it, repeat it, vary it, go away from it, come back to it. Snotty comes back to me, I have everyone's attention now. We are all feeling the magic of the music. It would be difficult to say exactly why but the music just feels good right now. That vain now seems exhausted and i wait for something else. I play something else but it sounds boring. The crowd is with me though as I try, experiment, search for the nugget. It can't be forced, it just comes sometimes, if I listen. I keep playing, sometimes finding sometimes waiting. I finish the song. I hi-five the kids. They are in beggar mode. Pointing to their stomachs and feigning fainting with hunger. Right. These kids are probably stronger than I am. Still, I can't help wondering when was the last time they had a proper meal. I motion to them that in a while i will take them out to dinner. Another man helps me translate to them that if they will wait around, they will get a free dinner in a restaurant. The street urchins are excited beyond belief. It's starting to get late. One more song, I announce. At the end of the song, the kids stand there, not believing I will really take them. I motion to them, let's go and they happily come along. It only takes a few minutes before the little girl reaches up and takes my hand. That really touches me. I take her grimy hand in mine and we walk along, the two boys walking arm in arm talking excitedly. We have to walk off the pedestrian mall of Darbar Square through the hellish streets of Katmandu, jammed with cars, motorcycles, horns blaring at painful volumes, bicycle rickshaws taking up vast quantities of precious space, humans trying to squeeze through the mechanical mess, a centimeter at a time. Everyone pushing forward, believing they have to get through. Finally we puncture through onto a less busy street. There is a restaurant. I walk up to the counter. "We want to eat here" the owner looks at me like I am crazy. The kids are still holding their bags. This is a nice restaurant, with some tourists and respectable looking Nepalis. The manager looks at the owner who shakes his head. I just stand there like it's the most normal thing in the world to want to bring 3 street urchins in for a meal. Fianally they say, " yes of course sir, you can eat here", and they usher us to a small room to the side. I nod, impressed. What a wonderful solution. We all sit down and I order a vegetarian thalbat for everyone. Thalbat is related to an Indian thalli, which means combination. It's just a large metal disc with raised sides. In the middle is a large mound of rice and around the edges are little mounds of different curries, vegetables, pickled radishes, yogurt, and of course Dahl which is a curried lentil dish that is the staple here. I figured, hey its a free meal for them, and I'm going to order something healthy for them and cheap for me. No drinks either. They are just sugary and expensive. The kids look at me, uncertain what to do. They don't know how to act. They are all orphans. They are not related except through the street where they look after one another. They sleep together in piles for warmth. They claim they are from India but I doubt it. They look at me. "Hands. We have to wash the hands." they hold up their hands. You can barely see any skin. The waiter directs them to the sink. I stay and watch the table. They come back 5 minutes later, hands holding up hands gleaming. They seem so proud. I clap excitedly and they beam. As I clap I slowly look at my hands and then clowning allow my face to fill with horror as i realize my hands are dirty. I make a silent scream. The girl and Snotty crack up. Blue shirt just frowns. He's a tough customer. This is how we communicate, through signs and pantomime. I get up and go to wash. I come back clowning, showing off my sterile and still wet hands like I'm a doctor. Then I flick the moisture into their eyes. A game they've never played before I guess, because they think it's so fun. There's a tourist couple behind us. I point to them and then pretend to kiss the back of my hand romantically. The kids get it and laugh it up. I kiss more passionately then turn my back to them and wrap my arms around so it looks like an embrace. We are in stitches. We play hand games and fool around until the food comes. After 10 minutes, the waiter brings out 4 identical trays of hot steaming food. The kids eyes get almost as big as the trays. When was the last time they got to sit down and eat, had their own plate, ate in a restaurant, had a napkin. We all dig in. There's no need to entertain them now. We eat silently, only punctuated by my quiet "mmmmm. Thats good". The kids mimic my "mmmmmmm" but not to be funny but because that DOES express the feeling. Mmmmm. We eat wholeheartedly for the next 15 minutes. The kids eat all their rice and Dahl. Blue shirt doesn't seem to like his curried vegetables and none of them want to eat the greens, which I thinkare delicious. Oh well, kids will be kids I guess, anywhere in the world. We finish and feel like kings, gladly holding our full stomachs. is good. We walk outside and it's a little awkward. I wish I could take them with me. I wish we could all go back to my hotel and snuggle up in the same warm bed (it would be warmer with three hot little bodies in it) but I know that the hotel owners wouldn't allow it, people might wonder what I am doing with those kids at night (ala Michael Jackson) and even if I could get the kids to take a long shower, how could I get their clothes clean. So we just stand there a minute, knowing this is the end of our nice evening. I wish I could do more, provide a safe home for them, start an orphanage for street children in Kathmandu, start a school where they can use art and music as an alternative to sniffing glue, I wish I could do great things .....but I just sadly say, "I go this way, you go that way". We gaze at each other for a moment and then something clicks and they go back to being little beggars, "please sir gives us rupees, we are hungry." but now we all realize it sounds ridiculous. We can't go back. We all laugh and walk on our separate paths.

Poverty in Kathmandu

Poverty surrounds Kathmandu like a shroud. People live with it as best they can. You can see it in many places, the electrical system, the streets, the homeless children, the city parks, and the voices of the people.
There are rolling electrical blackouts everyday. That means that each neighborhood has no electricity at certain times everyday. From what I've heard, the city just cant keep up with te population growth as more and more people roll in from the villages. In my area there is usually no power from 7 pm to midnight and sporadically at other times. That means the streets are completely dark. They have street lamps and an electric grid, just no juice to run it. After the power turns off, some stores and restaurants crank up the generators and that clank clank becomes a part of the aural landscape, not really pleasant, but distinctive. In my hotel, there is a generator, and when the diesel fuel runs out, there are candles, and we go back in time to a less convenient, but in some ways , more charming way of lighting. For me this means the day ends early, around 6 pm because there isn't much open around my area after that and t's impossible to get around. Walking home a little after 6, I come across the night market in a small square fed by 5 streets. It is bustling with people shopping after work for food and goods. Around the outer ring is the crazy traffic. On the inner ring are small vendors, their produce and products lying on plastic sheets on the ground, each one lit by a candle. In the center are 4 large street lamps that could light everything up, but they are dark, there's no power to light them. It has an eerie feeling, yet a lot of business is being done. It seems so inconvenient and dangerous as a pedestrian, yet that is how people must live in a poor country.
The streets are over-crowded, are poorly paved, and most have no sidewalks. That means that everyone is competing for the same space. Trying to walk the 500 meters down the road from Dirvani Square back to my hotel is my personal hell. If there is a hell and if i am judged unworthy, i know I will be sent here. It is jam packed with motorcycles, horns blaring at ear-splitting volumes, huge bicycle rickshaws that take up a tremendous amount of space, cars and taxis also blaring horns, and people trying to squirm through it all. Everybody is literally jammed against everyone else and you have to move around and try to make progress. You have to pay attention. People and vehicles will hit you, knock up against you, push you out of the way, cut in front, blare at you, and that's just to take the next step. It might take 20 minutes to move 100 meters in this madness. Because the roads are poorly paved, many of the roads have sections of dirt, which become dusty. Dust fills the air and makes a perpetual haze. Many people wear face masks, and the city looks like a community of robbers, everyone walking around ready to pulls out a gun in the hazy solution. "Give me your ruppes!" Luckily for me, with my face mask on and my shoddy travelling clothes, people say I look Nepalise, so i don't get hassled as much. Whats the solution? Sidewalks, one way streets, subway system, wider streets, all things that take money and planning and probably won't happen, so people live in this hell and just accept it.
There are many homeless children living on the streets. You see them everywhere, often carrying large plastic sacks that seem to be full of garbage, but may be their bedding and some few belongings that they have. Often they can be seen with a small paper bag which they they are holding to their mouths and pumping. It's glue they are sniffing, a cheap high for them. These kids live in tribes and are tough. They grow up fast and it is interesting to watch them because they have adult gestures and body movements. They are like gypsies and are unafraid. They live outside of society and social norms. I like them, but keep my distance. They will come right up to you and glare at you then dismiss you with a wave of the hand. The young ones are still tender and seem like kids, the older ones are scary. They sleep in packs like dogs on cold nights. They form very close friendships and help and protect one another. Sometimes they push up to the front when I'm playing street music and just stare at me as I play, unsure whether to let the music in or not. I hope some nice music will come out at that moment to give them a good feeling for awhile, to show them a different way to get high. Sometimes I break through and they will stand there, transfixed, maybe show some enthusiasm in their eyes, maybe even give me a smile. Then they break away without a sign and go back to the harsh world they live in. Yesterday a boy tried to help me and after I said thanks, he said he was hungry. I took him to a restaurant to eat. On the way there, 4 of his friends wanted to come along, but it was really not a good idea. The restaurant owner doesn't want those boys in his place. The sometimes fight and are dirty and they disturb the other customers. So it was a bit of a scene. I had to tell the other boys to go away. They stood outside the window pantomiming their great hunger. I made him was his hands. Then the food came. He ate like an animal, eating with his hands like Indians and Nepalis do. But normal people eat with their fingers. This boy ate with his entire hand, like he was grabbing a baseball. I kept telling him to slow down and he nodded but didn't, like he was afraid I might take it away at any second. He drank 3 cups of water. He ate every bit of food on his plate. When he was down, he stood up, said "thank you" and walked off into the night.
I take the bus from the center of the city at a place called Ratna Park. Yesterday I ventured in. Let me say it is the alternate hell in case the streets during rush hour, which will be my first hell, has no vacancies. It's just a big dusty field now, maybe 100 by 200 meters, in which homeless people and very poor families are camped out, each group cooking and sitting on the ground in the dust, around their pot. The dust sways around eerily like phantoms. Some groups are made of families clothed in tribal rags. Others are made up of groups of men sitting together doing nothing. There are a few vendors here and there selling slices of fruit or some cooked goods like noodles or stir fried something. Their is the inevitable hawker, selling some magic potion that will cure whatever ails you. He is sitting on the ground ranting away while an excited spellbound crowd huddles around him. Off to the other side, some street kids are putting on a show. One of them is walking on stilts while playing a drum. There is a large crowd watching. The boy performs with the confidence of a seasoned performer and commands respect. Later when he unwraps the rags holding his feet to the stilts, I see he is just a tough little boy. Other even smaller boys walk around collecting money from the crowd. At the end they have a pile of 5 rupee bills and coins.
There is desperation in the voices of the people selling things. They tell you their stories and you don't know whether to believe it or not, it sounds so fantastic. "I make 33 dollars a month. My family lives 50 miles away but I don't have time to see them. I work 15 hours a day everyday". You want to help them, help them all, but can't. You can help a few or you can just ignore it completely because to admit the enormity of the problem would bring to the foreground, the glaring unfairness of it all. Why do I have money and they don't? Am I a better person, more deserving, more talented, did I work harder, am I smarter? Hardly. It just comes down to the simple fact that life isn't fair. And yet, within those parameters, you see that some of the people here are very happy, gracious, graceful, and productive, making choices that allow them to live their lives fully and happily within their society. As tourists we walk among these people, getting glimpses of how they live and what they do. It's amazing because it's different and it's the same. Different clothes, different food, different ways of doing the same things that we do, but with the same feelings that we have, the same reactions to situations that I would have. I delight to see myself, to recognize a piece of me in them. A blind beggars reacts to a coin dropping in his bowl. He smiles then frantically searches with his hand for the coin that hit the bowl and popped out. He could hear that it popped out from the way it sounded. He drums with one hand for a few seconds while he searches for the coin with the other hand. The drum sounds still talking, still making sense and calling to me. He finds the coin after a few seconds feels it's size, knows it's a 5 rupee coin, seems satisfied and drops it in the metal bowl and continues playing with 2 hands. Yes I can understand him. That's what I would do too. That but for luck, but for karma, but for a roll of the dice is me and I feel happy and sad when I recognize myself in him and in the other people of this wonderful terrible city.