Finding Nurturing Hosts Amid Chaos
For 15 years Wes, a world traveler, had repeatedly expressed, “Someday I want to return to Nepal and trek. It is my favorite country.” These words were a golden thread woven into our relationship.
Before we knew it, we were both retired. The words were clearer and brighter. While living in Costa Rica, a friend announced one day, “My son is going trekking in Nepal in a few weeks.”
That was all it took to get the stream flowing. I watched from the river bank, hesitating due to health reasons and no desire to trek. Then the tragic earthquake occurred. That solidified my determination to have no part of this crazy endeavor. Or did it?
I was breathing, praying for my life, praying for an attitude adjustment and fantasizing revenge again all of those crazy people who told me how much they love this country.
As Wes’s plans were coming together, it seemed the universe started sending me people, strangers, friends, and acquaintances wherever I turned, who all lit up enthusiastically about Nepal. My resolve started dissolving in the flow of Wes’s preparations. After all, this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Before I could think too long or too hard, the words burst out, “Book me a ticket.”
My boat was spinning through the currents. I received necessary shots at three different locations; loaded up on supplies, including a water purifier, wet towels, medications, and Pepto-Bismol; read; and packed. Doubt was drowned out by my busy planning.
Then, suddenly, we were off for our first stop: Bangkok. After 10 wonderful days together in Thailand, we finally flew to Kathmandu, Nepal.
Now folks had warned me that this was not a pleasant city. However, nothing could have prepared me for the impact. We got off the plane and immediately found ourselves engulfed in a cacophony of cars, trucks, cows, motorcycles, people, homemade vehicles, bells ringing, beggars, monks, familiar noises and smells, people selling their wares, and others asking me to buy milk for their babies. The scene threatened to inundate me with despair.
Wes’s guide, Kuman met us with a huge grin, draping marmalade colored marigold garlands that his wife had made around our necks. In a daze, we followed him through the narrow streets as he tried to find accommodations for me upon my return alone to Katmandu, while Wes trekked. My love of quiet shattered with each step. Only my mantra, breathe, focus, breathe, focus, stay present held me in check.
The next morning, we embarked on a seven-hour, life-risking jeep ride to Pokhara, where Wes’s true journey would start. Pokhara, I was told, was a town I would love. Ha, I thought. I will believe that when I see it. I was breathing, praying for my life, praying for an attitude adjustment and fantasizing revenge again all of those crazy people who told me how much they love this country.
My ears tried to shut out the drivers’ incessant horn beeping as we came face-to-face with people, dogs, cows, and buses along the way. Just imagine a horror show of bumper cars!
Kuman, in his observant way, seemed to notice that I was barely functioning. In fact, just as Aborigine people communicate telepathically, there were times when the folks of Nepal seemed to be able to read my thoughts. For instance, towards the end of my stay, Kuman had come into town to take me to the airport. We were taking an early morning walk, and I noticed all of the folks carrying huge containers for water. On the way back to his house, I was thinking, I wonder if I should ask to see the watering spot. That very second Kuman turned to me and asked, “Would you like to see the watering spot?”
As I extended my stay, I made friends with many lovely people–people who wanted to be of service with no expectations.
A couple of days after Wes had left, I found myself adjusting on my own in Pokhara. Wes called and said, “Kuman wants to let you know that you can stay with his family when you return to Kathmandu. His son will pick you up at the airport with a sign with your name on it.”
But I had come to love Pokhara so I decided to stay in this quaint town longer than the few days I had previously planned. Its green glass lake and its mesmerizing snowcapped mountains called out to me. I was in total awe, and even took a day-long trek. As I extended my stay, I made friends with many lovely people–people who wanted to be of service with no expectations.
One day, I took a boat ride across the lake and then hiked for three hours through tiny villages to the Peace Pagoda. It felt like I was living in Buddha land, with everyone greeting me with a slight bow and prayer and then saying, “Namaste.” (The spirit within me recognizes and honors the spirit within you.) This heartfelt greeting is not superficial.
Too soon it was time to return to Kathmandu. Luckily, my dread was eased with the knowledge that I would be picked up and taken care of. But, deep in the recesses of my mind, some anxiety was still bubbling.
After an enchanting 10 days, I was headed back to another adventure. The 14-seat plane afforded breathtaking final views of the mountains, which had stolen my heart. Then I was out of the plane, and dumped back into indescribable chaos. Where was the young man with the sign with my name on it? “Cab, miss?” I heard at least a hundred times. Eyes searching, searching. With trembling fingers, I finally reached Kuman, still high in the Himalayas.
“Where is your son?” I shrieked in panic.
“There must be some mistake,” said Kuman. “He will be there in half an hour.”
Mistake, what mistake? I looked at my ticket and sure enough, they had let me on the plane two days early!
Somehow I had decided I was leaving Pokhara on Friday. Was this because of my anxiety? Was I afraid there would be no fuel to get to the airport? It is still a mystery to me. I would have preferred to stay in Pokhara. However then I would have had less time to develop my rich relationship with Arada. Maybe someone that knows more was watching out for me.
Soon Umraz appeared.
In an hour, I was in an immaculate room, being served a banana lassi with a huge smile. Now honestly, can you imagine a stranger coming to your house two days before expected, one who does not speak your language and graciously, calmly serving them?
Arada’s smile and desire to please came from her heart and never wavered. Her open-hearted trust was childlike in its innocence. She could not do enough as she fit me into her busy life.
Now honestly, can you imagine a stranger coming to your house two days before expected, one who does not speak your language and graciously, calmly serving them?
“Lunch time, Judith,” she told me. “Eat more.” “Today I am taking you to the temples, then to the cremations site.” “Where else do you want to go?”
Arada would get up every morning at 5 or earlier. I would hear her sweeping, scrubbing and ringing bells as she worshipped at her Buddhist alter. Later, she showed me that she also had a Hindu alter hidden upstairs. She had been brought up Buddhist but her father had been stationed in India for awhile so she was familiar with both traditions.
Our conversations consisted of lots of hand waving, whole body movements, and yelps of joy when we understood each other. Her English became clearer as she became more at ease with me.
Arada was a nonstop dynamo of cleaning, cooking, and shopping and yet, she never appeared to be rushing. Soft singing accompanied all of her tasks. She always had time to sit with me to eat and chat.
One day, I took her out for lunch. Her glee was infectious. I ordered some vegetables, and thereafter, I had the same vegetables each day cooked with the scant fuel available. While I was in Nepal, the country was in the midst of a fuel blockage by India. It was a political disaster for this already suffering country. People were cooking with wood, and hotels were shutting down but Arada found cab drivers willing and able to drive us.
With earthquake destruction all around us, Arada lived only in the moment. She gave generously at every turn. She makes simple jewelry for extra money. She showered me with “extras.” When I wanted to watch the Democratic debate on CNN, she made sure I was up at 6 am, and brought me tea and a blanket. This was even as she became busier preparing for visiting family and an upcoming family wedding.
“I wish you were coming to dance and eat,” she told me, as she sat on the floor, cooking 150 pieces of bread over a propane flame,
As I write, the still-fresh memories fill my heart with gratitude and amazement for this illiterate woman. I feel her final gift, a silk Kata, placed with honor around my neck. I see her waving from her balcony as my taxi pulls away from the curb.
Arada, my host, is an inspiration, an example of pure love with no expectations other than her sincere wish, “You will be back, yes?”
Oh, yes! God willing I will return to this land where everyone, most especially Arada, her son Umraz, and her trekking guide husband, Kuman, have the courage to show the love in their hearts to a sometimes cranky stranger. Namaste!
Top Photo By Sharada Parasade