Friday, August 6, 2010

awakening into the surreal

Flying into dawn, my head filled with wonder about the month ahead, I was restless in my seat. I was flying into the unknown, with no idea of where I was going and what I'd be doing, who I'd meet and what I'd see. I had no expectations, I just hoped I could be of some help to the school I'd end up at, and that I might be so lucky to see the Himalaya through a break in the monsoon clouds. As the sky turned blue from orange, I peered out the window and there in the distance, I spied what I had dreamt of seeing since I was a little girl— whiter than white peaks, too sharp for clouds, an unfathomable height.

 Red-eyed and wobbly-legged, I made my way through the gauntlet of immigration desks at Kathmandu's Tribhuvan Airport— filling out this paper here, paying that there, getting this stamped with this man, passing it on to the next... I was an hour delayed, and felt bad for the guy who was supposed to be meeting me. The plan was, as far as I knew, that the man who "coordinated" my volunteering, was sending his assistant to take me to a guesthouse for the night in Kathmandu before I headed out to a town called Bandipur, four hours outside of the city. I scanned the tiny crowd of Nepali men outside the airport, and not seeing any signs with my name or anyone with a spark of familiarity in their eyes, I sat down inside the waiting room amongst more men, a handful of whom kept pestering me for a cab ride.

Half an hour later, I texted the coordinator (we'll just call him that), telling him I had arrived and was waiting, asking if everything was all right. After some time, my phone buzzed with a response that someone would be on their way soon. Then my phone refused to send another message— apparently it does not work in Nepal. An hour rolled by, and I chose to sit out the front of the airport to escape the annoying fellows inside it. I made up my mind that I'd hop on one of the vans advertising random guesthouses in the next fifteen minutes, get to wherever they were going, pass out, then upon waking, figure everything out. Suddenly I heard a meek "Samantha?"

Apparently, I had been forgotten, and the assistant sent his cousin to take me to Boudha, on the outskirts of Kathmandu. I think under normal circumstances I'd have been fuming, but I was overtired and numb, and looking forward to crashing in a bed for a few hours. The bumpy ride was full of colour and unfamiliar smells, exciting me for the month ahead— I still couldn't believe I was in Nepal, it felt like a dream... perhaps I was still asleep in Istanbul?

The sky was shockingly blue— as it was monsoon season and I had never been in a monsoon, I had no idea of what kind of weather I'd be getting into. We arrived shortly at Dungkar Guesthouse, right behind one of Kathmandu's most holiest Buddhist sites, the enormous Boudhanath Stupa. I gazed in awe at the glowing white dome, transfixed by the unblinking painted eyes of Buddha. Chanting from a nearby monastery crept into my room, lulling me into a deep sleep.

I awoke to the unfamiliar ringing of my room's phone— the coordinator was stopping in a school nearby, Shree Mangal Dvip, and wondered if I'd like to come along. Naturally, I jumped at the chance. I got dressed and ran to the window just to be sure that I was still where I thought I was— everything had been so surreal, I had to keep checking. There were Buddha's eyes, still staring back at my own, but the colourful webs of prayer flags were now snapping in a new wind, and the sky was boiling with an imposing grey.

This was going to be a month unlike any I have ever experienced.