We started our day by navigating the streets of Kathmandu in search of the Kopan Monastery. As I have alluded to in earlier posts the layout of the city is not structured, there is maybe one street sign for every 150 streets, and a map is not very helpful because it is impossible to find a map with any sort of detail. You have to make guesses to where you are going and hope that people will understand what you are looking for to direct you. Many tourist rely on taxis to get to the tourist spots but we like to walk and feel the beat of the streets when our destination is relatively close (within an hour or two). As a westerner, walking the streets of Kathmandu is a challenge in itself and can be very overwhelming! There are streets of all sizes ranging from big two lane roads (with no lines indicating lanes though) to narrow 10 feet wide walkways. I say walkways because that best describes a foot traffic only area in the United States........however, in Nepal motor bikes and cars zoom through tight areas congested with people, motor bikes, street dogs, chickens, and cows. You have to always be on your "A" game or you will get run over! The terrain for walking is not like a manicured sidewalk you often find in the west. The sidewalks are more like rubble most likely because they are extremely old but also from the many earthquakes that occur in Nepal. I struggle keeping my balance walking the streets in my running shoes and I marvel at the Nepalese women walking in their dress shoes like it's a walk in the park. The sounds in the city range from car horns, dogs barking, people yelling, car horns, drums beating from a nearby school, car horns, truck horns, bus horns, whistles blowing, car horns, rooster crows, car horns, brakes squeaking, construction noise, and did I mention car horns? Don't forget.....the horn is how drivers signal their moves to pedestrians and other cars and are not always a communication of anger. Breathing the air and smells of cities in Nepal is difficult as well. Right now is Nepal's dry season so there is a ton of dirt and dust in the air, and when mixed with the pollution from the vehicles it can be very difficult to breathe. Many travelers get respiratory infections while staying in Kathmandu from the pollution and many Nepalese people wear masks over their mouths when outside. They make the masks quite fashionable with fun patterns! Sometimes when we are walking I feel like I am suffocating because the air has so much dust and pollution. I really felt it when we were walking to the Kopan Monastery because it is located at the top of a big hill and I was having to breathe hard. To John and I, navigating the streets gets a little overwhelming because we are not used to all the intense stimuli overloading our senses. You really have to be on guard at all times and when you find yourself distracted by something you are looking at a horn will abruptly startle you! Each day we get a little more desensitized and more comfortable because we are forcing ourselves to experience everything. I know what I explained sounds like mass chaos, but somehow all of it works together and functions. It's just different compared to what we are used to and makes the Nepalese culture unique, which is a reason I like to visit Nepal. I love learning about other people.....especially when they are different from me! Differences are a beautiful thing!
Surrounded by what I consider chaos leading up to the monastery, we stepped through a gate and our world changed abruptly. The Kopan Monastery is located on top of a big hill overlooking Kathmandu and is surrounded by a gate and space that sets it apart from the chaos. The monastery is home to 360 monks, lamas, teachers, and volunteers. This monastic community is devoted to the practice and study of Buddhism. They also offer extended courses for people wanting to learn the Buddhist ways. The grounds of the monastery was like a paradise and offered John and me a break from the chaos. The landscaping, architecture, and vibe was very peaceful!
Our next destination was even better!!!!! I have found my pot of gold (and maybe Kermit the Frog) near a GIGANTIC rainbow! Pema met us at the entrance of the monestery to take walk us to the Himalayan Hope Home (HHH) nearby. As I explained in the last blog entry, the HHH is a home for girls who are from the Solu Khumbu region and who have either lost their parents or their parents are missing. The Small World (TSW) (http://thesmallworld.org/) is a nonprofit organization that does so much for the people of the Solu Khumbu region. (The Solu Khumbu region is the area near Mt. Everest and has a high percentage of Sherpa people.) Children who lose their parents often become victims of human trafficking and the HHH gives these girls a place to live in Kathmandu while they earn an education. After they finish school they are expected to return to the Solu Khumbu region and give back to their community. It is common for children of the Khumbu to live at a boarding school in Kathmandu during their school age years. However, because these girls do not have parents they would normally not go to school and therefore fall into the hands of human trafficking. The HHH is a large home for 30 girls ranging from 3 1/2 to 17 years old. All the girls consider themselves to be sisters and they have two women, whom they also call their sisters and take care of the girls. Pema is one of the women who live with and take care of the girls. We were immediately welcomed with bright smiles and enthusiasm as we entered the gate to the HHH! We were led into a room where we all sat in a circle and all the girls introduced themselves to us. Krisma and Pasang gave us a tour of their garden naming all the vegetables and how they care for it. Because there are 30 girls with a wide age range, they are divided into groups of 6 or 7 girls with an older girl who is their leader. They share a room in their group and all of them take care of each other. There was an overwhelming and infectious sense of happiness and compassion among the girls and you could tell they were choosing to "walk on the sunnyside of the street." I just can't imagine what it was like for them to lose their parents and all the other trials and tribulations life had already thrown at them. The HHH is truly a rainbow with a huge pot of "gold" in the form of life and prosperity! The home just pours with positivity from the girls, messages written on the walls, and the girls' artwork! At one point I was overtaken by tears not because I felt sorry for the girls but because of the beauty I was surrounded by. These girls were like a huge family making the most of their circumstances. I was witnessing a delicate balance of independence and community. There was an elevated sense of maturity among all ages because of necessity. It appeared that each girl was loved and supported which is far more than many of today's children get. This home is a beautiful thing...........probably the most meaningful part of my trip to Nepal. I want to come back to these girls in the future.
I also discovered another amazing nonprofit today!!! The overpopulation of street dogs is a major problem all over Nepal. Kathmandu has a wonderful nonprofit making a difference!http://www.streetdogcare.org