Just realized that I've been in Nepal for nearly a month and haven't updated this thing once. To sum things up, it's crazy, annoying, hectic, loud, fascinating, stinky, strange, and amazing here. I've been in Kathmandu a total of two weeks, broken up by two weeks in an idyllic village living and working (though not as much as I'd hoped) at a fledgling organic farm. Since they're in between major crops here (the wheat is already in the ground and the rice planting begins in June), there isn't much actual work for a volunteer to do. I almost managed to cross the barrier between guest and family member by asking to help cook (albeit badly), but my hostess still wouldn't allow me to assist with the daily "women's work" of carrying water, washing clothing, milking cattle, etc.
So now the plan is to work my way around India for about three months, praying that my money will last that long, and return to Nepal in early June. So while I enjoy the comparative luxury that is life in Kathmandu, I'm itching to depart for warmer climes before they get too warm.
Being surrounded by such a totally foreign belief system a Hinduism is fascinating but also overwhelming. Walk on any street outside Thamel for more than a block and you're bound to stumble across some sort of temple or shrine, usually lodged improbably between a trash pile and a butcher's stall. The most important temples, usually popular tourist destinations, have an almost carnival-like atmosphere surrounding them, as hawkers gather there to sell everything from cotton candy to prayer wheels (at Buddhist sites) and cheap silk scarves. In the village, religion was simply a part of daily life. Amazingly, our hosts included us in everything, with no fuss and no awkwardness. We tried to spy on the Saturday puja (a ritual of offerings and incense to the Hindu gods, predominantly Shiva), only to be hunted down and solemnly given tikas (the red dot on the forehead) and expected to participate in the ritual. Another morning, we were surrounded by our customary crowd of preteen girls--I made the mistake of teaching them "Go Fish" on the day we arrived and as a result we spent our evenings playing interminable games of "Go Piss", as the Nepali accent rendered it, for the entire two weeks--and begged to "Go to temple" with them. Complying, we were led on a two-hour hike through the countryside and eventually arrived at a jumble of massive stones on a hillside. After removing our shoes, we followed our hostess into a tiny crack in the rocks and were led crawling through a tight passage to a cave deep in the rocks. At the shrine--a barely-lit jumble of rocks with an image of Shiva lodged between them--we imitated our hostess in tossing offerings of rice and flowers to the rocks, ringing the puja bell (supposedly to wake the god), and finally receiving tikas. We repeated the process at various other red-smeared rocks in the cave, then received a blessing from the resident priest just outside. Another interesting aspect of Hinduism is that worshippers all give something--a few coins, some food--to the priest in exchange for his blessing. From the flower-strewn red rocks to the crawl into the darkness, it was a surreal experience, and still hard for me to believe that we were included as foreigners.
For those few people actually reading this: when I speak of "we", I mean myself and the British guy I met who unexpectedly decided to join me after he helped me find the place (on a motorcycle, no less, but I don't have time to write about it). I realize now that this is a whopping big post, but there may not be any more for a while. Unfortunately, I won't be posting pictures, as I idiotically left my camera cord at home. Argh.
Hopefully, my next post will be from India!