Submitted by Ben Ayers on Mon, 2008-11-24 07:40.
October 22, 2008
The helicopter touched down just after noon and we staggered out onto the tarmac. The first thing one notices upon returning to Kathmandu is the pollution, the quiet hint of diesel exhaust that hangs like some veil across the valley. The second thing one notices is the smell of wood smoke. It has become part of the very fabric of your clothes, your hair, and your skin, yet you never smell it in the hills. There, it becomes part of your environment, part of the atmosphere – one of the main ingredients in village life. I always hate to wash my clothes once I return, for fear of losing that smell, that small connection to the miracle of fire.
Then, once the first hot shower is taken and the slightly decadent dinner with wine and coffee has settled into your stomach, one begins to feel the weight of the urbanized world. To miss something intangible, impossible to define. Something in the genus of the way the wind slips through bamboo groves. Of the constant cry of the cicadas. Of the endless terraces and the calloused hands and feet, both bare, that work them. The cry of the farmer behind the plow and the two tiny bulls, turning tight circles. Certainly it’s overly romantic, too simple, too embedded with the privilege of the being the outside observer with polarized sunglasses and sore feet. But it’s a form of loss, nonetheless. What it is I feel upon returning to Kathmandu is sadness over the ending of my opportunity to learn from the communities I have come to know. There is something of critical importance there, something that I can see the fossils of in my own life and culture, in my own community in Maine. Something about necessity and ingenuity, about human kindness and cooperation as a means of survival. Something I don’t fully know yet and something that I will turn endless circles around, plowing, planting, waiting, until hopefully something grows, tiny and green. Some quiet nourishment.
I do fear the glorification of poverty. There is nothing romantic about hunger or illness. There may be some wisdom gained by the ten year old child who carries eighty pound bags of rice or cement for weeks, simply to pay for pens and pencils to use in school; there may be some genius in the hard wooden plows steel-tipped by the local blacksmith, who works into the night; there may be something closer to the very roots of art and expression in the songs of the women as they work during the harvest – but none of this belongs to us as observers. The song belongs to the singer.
I am back in Kathmandu, the rivers, the rocky trails now just an echo. Back to the States all too soon.