Saturday, September 17, 2011


When I was a little girl, I had dreamed of seeing the Himalaya. I imagined the faces of mountains, sharp and eternal, blues and greys. I planned that one day I would look upon these faces, I would learn their landscape, and meet the people who lived in their shadow.

In 2010, I bought a ticket to Kathmandu with adventure on my mind, and the desire to volunteer at a school, offering whatever I could as far as skills and support to people who might need them. When I arrived at the little brick building that is Tribhuvan International Airport, I had that odd feeling inside that my life was never going to be the same.

The Universe aligned in a most peculiar way to place me at Shree Mangal Dvip School for Himalayan Children (SMD) in Boudha, on the edge of Kathmandu. I was to teach art, as there were no art classes, and there was a group of talented young students hungering to draw. I still remember walking into the dim little classroom for the first time, where I was met with wide eyes and shy smiles, feeling nervous, wondering if I could give them what they needed.

By the time the summer was over, the shy smiles were wide, happy grins and the growth of confidence was tangible in all of us. We talked, we laughed, we drew. Somewhere in the grey, thick monsoon, these kids became my kids, and I felt a pull in my soul to return. I left with a heavy heart, and it took me two weeks to readjust to living in Istanbul again. I scanned the horizon for mountains, I searched for the smiles I missed. I saved every kuruş for seven months to buy my plane ticket back to what I can only call home.

SMD had virtually no art supplies when I arrived in the summer of 2010— we did everything with pencils and A4 copier paper. This year, with the generous help of a 10th grade class at Istanbul International Community School and Güven Sanat art supply store in Kadıköy (who kindly offered me a massive discount, enabling me to purchase even more supplies), I returned to Nepal armed with two suitcases bursting with paints, colour pencils, charcoal and other fun materials.

The smiles that greeted me this June were larger than the ones I remembered from the previous summer— I had come back. So often, volunteers do wonderful work and are never seen again, and though the kids at SMD are accustomed to this, I must believe there is some sense of loss felt. Every single student I had taught in 2010 was waiting for me on the balcony of the cafeteria, where we had determined had the most light, bursting with enthusiasm and anxious to get started. I pulled out a box of charcoal.

"Have you ever used charcoal before?" I asked.

As the summer rolled on with the giant, heavy clouds, we studied proportion, expression, and the figure. With blackened fingers and dark smears of charcoal stretched across damp foreheads, laughter and jokes filled the space we had claimed, and the windows to the cafeteria began to fog with the breath of curious onlookers.

"Samantha, kasto cha?" 
"Mo san chai chu." I would pronounce clumsily back.
They taught me Nepali, and I showed them perspective.

We planned an exhibition.

We filled the library with our art, something that had never been done at the school before, and all the children were brought up in groups by their teachers, and they stood on benches and stared, marvelling at their classmates' work.

"Our kids really did all this?" One teacher asked me, as he studied the drawings in awe.

I realised that day in the library, that I belong. I belong to something larger than myself. My life is entwined with the lives of these gorgeous faces, and I have a place that will welcome me as family each time I return. The love I feel is mightier than any mountain.

Thank you, my artists. Thank you, Shirley. Thank you Lama S.T. Thank you Karma Tsering.
We were lucky to have with us this summer the very talented and big-hearted Toby, a young volunteer from Portugal whose artistic skills are beyond measure. Thank you, Toby.

Thank you SMD.


Anonymous said...

They are wonderful! How talented they are and how lucky and brave you are to follow your dreams!

Anja Dalby said...

Thank you Samanta for sharing. I have eyes filled with tears of joy because of your post, thank you so much for sharing all of this.

szaza said...

Thank you both so much!

@ Renaissancemedici: These kids are so talented and hard-working, it's a joy to teach them. I have learned so much from them.

@ Anja: I am so happy to hear you were moved by this post, thank you.

barbara said...

Because I so enjoy your art, photos and prose I tend to check this site frequently....worrying a bit if there is a long span between posts (and maybe whining just a tad) and I need to remind myself that you have a very busy life, so I am truly grateful when you give us a peek into your life!

That said with today's post I do marvel that we hear from you as much as we do! And again, Thanks! Between teaching, travelling, every day "stuff" you still find time to keep us updated.

Seeing your art students and their work is inspiring, they look (as they should) so proud of their accomplishments.

szaza said...

Thank you, Barbara!

Yes, it was a long silence— too long! The first weeks of school have been incredibly busy, so I decided that this weekend was for me— to draw and to tend to Harika, to get a new tattoo and frying pan!

I have some lovely pictures from the beginning of September when I ran away to the Aegean with a red-headed stranger. They will be posted soon— just thought I'd give you a little bite :)

Anonymous said...

I'm really impressed by what you have done.
Brava! Marco

szaza said...

Thank you so much, Marco— it's the kids, really. They are so wonderful.

Joy said...

Very amazing and inspiring! These kids seem quite talented. And I must admit, I got a little teary eyed too.

szaza said...

Thank you, Joy!

They really are talented, and so determined. I have heard from them that they are continuing to meet together, on their own, to draw and work on their skills. How incredible is that?

Liz Steel said...

Hi!!! What a truly beautiful post...yes I have tears in my eyes as well!!!

szaza said...

Thank you so much, Liz!
Goodness, I am so happy to hear this post moved all of you! The students at SMD mean so much to me.

Liz Steel said...

I know... that they mean so much to you is a big part of the special-ness of this post. BTW I will reply to my letter..some day....

omar said...

You are a fabulous teacher. what this kids have achieve is amazing!

szaza said...

Thank you so very much, Omar!