There was no theme song for the news stories. You just knew it wouldn’t last in the public eye as something of interest. Once we tallied up the number of Americans lost and heard their stories we moved on to other excitement the media had to offer. The actual clean up is so tedious and unsexy.
But they are still out there; cattle, sheep, goats, dogs, cats and people. Relief workers are struggling in shifts to offer the basic requirements to keep those who survived alive. I was struck by a story, written in his unique style, by fellow blogger, Philosopher Mouse of the Hedge whose niece was sent to Kathmandu with a relief organization. Phil also brought to light the canine workers being deployed to search and recover humans and animals. We rarely think of what happens to the domesticated and wild neighbors who share in the acts of God.
I searched out information. The rescue missions are covered in passing.
It is hard to imagine the faces in my photos from over thirty years ago being alive today. They are frozen in time, in my memory, but life didn’t stop when I left. I look at the relics I have dragged through my life from there and wonder at their survival for this long, so far from home. I think back to a sun-kissed American couple, renting a motorcycle and driving high into the clouds, encountering villages and orderly rice paddies carved into the mountain-sides. Faces swim before me; the woman who traded her intricately carved ivory necklace for two t-shirts, the tiny goat herder who posed for me along the side of the dirt road. Such a magical place so far removed from the Western world now shattered.
I am blessed to have such memories and cursed by my inability to help beyond the monetary donations. Those who drop everything, who put a hold on their lives to respond to the need are the heroes today. Once upon a time I went there and found the strength to change my life. Perhaps I should do that again…
Journal Entry, 9/13/82 Kathmandu—Monday
Kathmandu is not for the country club set. Narrow, unpaved streets are lined with low shop fronts. The many-tiered dwellings above all boast open windows for viewing the hustling pace of life below. Luckily, a Swiss guy who is a frequent traveler to Nepal sat next to Rog on the plane. He filled us in a bit and offered good advice on customs, airport procedures, and such. We arrived just after dark last night in the incessant rain. The airport was dreary and dank. A confusing shuffle ensued as we emerged and looked for a taxi. Our first night here was something I will never forget. We checked into the Hotel Woodlands, which both the Swiss guy, Joe, and Lolo had recommended. It was a bit expensive (forty US dollars per night) and not very luxurious, but I suppose anything would have been a come-down after the Oriental Hotel in Bangkok.
The recommended restaurant was closed, so we picked a small café in the back of a carpet shop/hotel/antique store. The food was abominable, but what could one expect? A quick walk around, and we located another recommended hotel. We liked the neighborhood and arranged for a room for today. The rain turned the narrow streets into sloppy mud-holes, but luckily traffic of any sort other than becak, bicycle, or pedestrians was light. On our walk back to the hotel, we came upon a cow resting in the gutter contentedly chewing her cud. It appears they roam quite freely here and frequently congregate in the small squares. These crowded little plazas appear where bunches of crooked streets converge and then dart off again in every direction. The cows, however, don’t “dart” anywhere, but they do seem particularly attracted to my rented yellow rain poncho. Back to last night. We hired a becak/trishaw driver and his son to take us on a mysterious ride to Bhaktapur Durbar Square and the famous “Freak Street.” Due to the monsoon downpour, it was pretty quiet, but this is the congregating spot for all the foreign tourists who have sold their passports (and no doubt their souls) for a life of hash and who knows what here in Kathmandu. We parked, and while the son of maybe ten years old and I shared a cigarette, Rog and the driver disappeared down a dark alleyway. It seemed to take forever, but after an actual fifteen to twenty minutes, I heard Rog disgustedly denouncing the driver, the rain, and everything else that came to mind. He said it was a terrifying and frustrating effort, but for twice the going price, he’d acquired a chunk of something smokeable. The smell of hash and incense snuck through your laden senses on every street corner and alley here. We arrived back at the hotel exhausted by our emotional and physical efforts of the day and soaked. First thing this morning, we started walking around. It would be impossible to get the true lay of the land in this city, but at least we explored our immediate area. We also moved into the Kathmandu Guest House, cheaper with a much more relaxed atmosphere. The location seems more in tune with restaurants and shopping of the younger clientele. It is populated with Europeans of our age, and the music of many languages is pervasive. The hotel is a four-story boardinghouse affair with ells, wings, jigs, jogs, and corridors running in every direction much like the city itself. I fear without Rog I would never find my way back to our room. The rain kept up most of the day and made it tough for shooting photos. I find I can stand on a street corner and just keep slowly turning and shooting the life around me for almost 360 degrees. It is fascinating! The people are not Asian, nor are they Indian … rather, a lovely race whose skin is smooth and warm brown. The poverty doesn’t strain the dignity with which they carry themselves.
Journal Entry, 9/14/82 Kathmandu
Day #2 dawned sunny if not totally clear. We rented bikes and set out for breakfast at the Annappurna Hotel. Not bad, but my egg tasted a little funny. From there, we sought out the post office to send cards and onward to check out the Oberoi Hotel. That was not overly impressive, so we headed off on an alternate route back to town. I must say, Rog’s sense of direction and map-reading skills are very impressive. We followed winding dirt trails through the outskirts of the city that were little more than a footpath in places. These paths opened into larger spaces of tiny rice paddies and garden plots. The houses were still the tall, brick, solid construction of the city, but the air was clear, and the sun, combined with the physical exertion, soon had us sweating. Over a bridge, we started to climb into the sharp, narrow streets of the city again, dumping us in a crowded bazaar/square. After a rest and refreshment of tea, we headed back out for Dumar Square and “Freak Street.” I was having a wonderful time finding abundant shots of the local color, but Rog became bored, so we pedaled back out through another section of town until we came upon the Woodlands Hotel street. An Indian restaurant looked promising for dinner but didn’t open until 7:00 p.m., so we headed back to the room for a shower first. Dinner was surprisingly excellent! It’s only 10:00 p.m., but I can’t keep my eyes open tonight.
Journal Entry, 9/15/82 Kathmandu
Because of the tourist/hiking/climbing economy here, you can rent/buy anything you might need for the environment from tents and Sherpa guides to rainwear. We have outfitted ourselves with an odd assortment of gear, including my oh-so-necessary rain poncho. But the sun was out when we arose this morning, so we rented a motorcycle and flooded our senses with the incredible scenery on a long ride to Kakani. I said, “Oh my God! Look at that!” so many times that the words became useless to describe what my eyes told me. Tried with the camera to capture and create the awesomeness of it all, but failed to even scratch the surface, as Rog most aptly put it. I feel my spirit slowly mending, warmed by the sun, and swirling gently upward like the hawk I saw today. He flew so close I could see his talons and yellow-spotted breast. I really think I got some great people shots today. Can’t wait to develop this film.
Journal Entry, 9/16/82 Kathmandu
Started the day off sniffling and achy. Terrible cold brewing. We walked over to Dumar Mary to buy some of the colorful boxes I had so admired and to look for a yak-wool jacket for Rog. Also picked up a coffee table book and stopped off at the post office. I traded a Lacoste polo shirt and two t-shirts for an amazing ivory collar/necklace. Th e shopkeeper smiled broadly, showing red, betel-nut-stained teeth. We both got a bargain. She so pleased with her Western clothes, and my necklace is a beautiful wide collar of carved beads. By the time we’d made our way back to the room, I was really dragging. Fell into bed and slept the rest of the day away. It’s raining again, and Rog has gone in search of dinner. I feel lousy.
Journal Entry, 9/17/82 Kathmandu
Oh, to have a typewriter to be able to catch the fleeting impressions my senses absorb. It’s about 6:00 p.m. The bicycle bells jangle, and the pigeons are cooing and squabbling in the niches where they struggle to roost. Voices ebb and soar in so many foreign tongues that are no more intelligible than the pigeons’ throaty mumblings. Shopping and shipping filled the major part of today. We bought six netsuke figures (small ivory carvings), a pair of Nepalese mukluk-style boots, and woven slippers. The rain has cooled the afternoon and laid the dust temporarily. The alligator fell off Roger’s Lacoste shirt; it won’t be worth anything in trade now.
These boots were made for walking…