August 5, 2011
We’ve been up most of the night, since our flight departed at 11:30 pm and arrived four hours later in a different time zone. We had to wait for another seven hours for the next flight. It’s a nice airport, extremely clean. We’ve gotten used to grime. There are trash cans! I don’t know why Nepal lacks trash cans, or dumpsters, or people who clean bathrooms. Nice to have toilets you can sit on, t.p., and soap again, too.
What else is different. People are diverse. There are a lot more Africans, Europeans, Americans, Middle Easterners. Lots of Arabs, but not as many as you’d expect. Not too many women walking around in abayahs. I’m wearing my favorite kurta suruwal, the one I had made to match the outfits I bought for the girls. We only had one day together in our identical clothes.
Anura painted a sun, surya, on my palm in henna. It is my most precious ornament. Like all things, it will not last. It fades a bit more each time I wash my hands. Who will make sure Anura washes her hands with soap now that I am gone? No one comes to braid their hair before school, to sit with them during their breakfast. A new volunteer will come, I am sure. This does not console me.
Brendan is very happy to be going home, happy to have me with him in the airport. He said that my being with him makes it 100 times easier for him. He would have been fine without me, I think. I have no way of knowing that. No use pushing a child into a situation that they don’t feel ready to face. You can’t build character through intentional suffering or indifferent neglect.
Same day, about 24 hours later:
New York, New York
Sitting in a well-lit Vino/Volo wine bar at JFK with Brendan. When the waitress brought the salad I ordered, I had to stop myself from saying “thank you” in Nepali (danyabad). Then, wonder of wonders, she brought salt and pepper, which never would have happened in Nepal.
I’m drinking pinot grigio, which is somewhat insane since I’m exhausted. I got up yesterday morning at 5:30, Nepali time, and have had only short naps in the past 48 hours. Brendan is dozing in the chair next to me. He has been in a wonderful mood, thrilled to be able to get a milkshake that he could drink safely and very, very happy to be back in the States.
He just opened his eyes and laughed. A woman has come onto the airport intercom twice now to cuss out another woman in standard Black American English. I didn’t catch all her words, but did manage to hear “nigger, bitch, mother-fucking…” Welcome to America!
I have spoken to T now twice. I called him after we got through customs to announce our arrival. We spoke for a few minutes in the usual friendly tones. It was awkward. It has always been hard to talk to him on the phone, and this time the odd silences were no longer or more uncomfortable than usual. Still, it felt strange.
He called again just now to say that he was going to the market for us, and to ask if we had any requests. It’s nice of him to do this, and nice of him to pick us up from the airport, and nice of him to have gotten all his furniture out of the house in time for our arrival. I asked him how he accomplished this. He said that friends from his church gave him a hand, and that one of them had a 22 year-old son who was particularly helpful. I wondered if this was the woman he’s interested in, but didn’t ask.
Tim has bought a house just steps away from mine but won’t close on it until the end of the month. So he’ll go to his sister’s tonight. This will probably be a strange move for him, since my house has been his house for so long now. I’m worried that it will feel very cold and empty without him there.
Brendan said, “Don’t worry! Soon you’ll have me and Danielle and a Great Dane to keep you company.”
It is true. With Baldr and Freya, there will be three dogs, two children, and one cat under the roof. Plenty of company. Thank goodness for Brendan.
I’m sure I can’t possibly assess to what degree or how I have changed in the past few months right now. My brain is not working so well right now, and it’s too soon to say. But it is certain that I have changed. I’m neither devout nor dogmatic, but I’ve become much more seriously interested in Buddhism.
One of the strangest things about being here—in addition to the odd announcements from the airport loudspeaker—is getting used to the fact that from now on most of the people I’ll encounter will be Americans who speak only one language and who have never traveled anywhere outside the country. Given the neighborhood I live in and the places I go, most of the people I see will be white. Some of them will be black. Very few of them will look like the brown faces I’ve come to know as ordinary. There will be no more diversity of Asian faces bearing witness to Indian, Mongolian, Tibetan, or Chinese ancestry!
I have been living at a Buddhist monastery for the past week, getting up to the sound of chanting monks. I have gotten used to women in kurtas, dogs, cows, ducks and chickens in the street, to women swishing their beautiful Tibetan silk skirts and aprons, to men in Newari caps sitting for hours on storefront stoops, to gaudy saris and tikas and tinkling plastic bracelets, to attracting unwanted attention because I am white.
I love the slow pace of life in Nepal and love to gaze upon the stupa.
I miss Anura, Bipin, Gaurima, Krishala, and Nirmala. It seems cruel and unfair that I won’t be able to see them every morning. It is terrible to contemplate the thought of never seeing them again.