Awake in Kathmandu

Five days (and counting)  into our stay in Kathmandu, I think my body is acclimating to the place.

Kathmandu Guest House is a beautiful retreat, offering us a lush garden, a lobby adorned with intricate wood carvings, and a peaceful cafe providing some of the most delicious food I’ve encountered from the road. My personal favorite is the banana pancake with honey which, I’m pleased to say, seems to have caught on with the rest of the group.

Outside the hotel gates is a very different scene. The streets are busy, always. Men shuffle along with large bundles strapped to their backs. Mothers rush through the narrow alleyways holding tight to their young children, while older school-age children stride less hurriedly towards their destinations, dressed smartly in uniforms and tights for the girls despite the heavy humidity.

Taxi drivers blare their horns to warn pedestrians to move to the side, as though a side of relative safety exists on these tiny paths. And  the lavishly decorated bike rickshaws announce their approach with the ringing of bells.

As our group of eight ventured out for dinner a couple of nights ago, I thought about  the inescapable divide between  everyday life on the streets of Kathmandu or Mumbai or Lusaka or Birmingham and the spaces I typically inhabit–at home or in another corner of the world.

My students and I were talking this morning about the quest for authenticity that defines most travelers. As we venture to new places in the US or abroad, we are in search of the “real” people, artifacts, and stories that define a place. But too often the “real” is disguised. One of the things that draws me to Edwina and to those whose struggles can be felt on the streets of Kathmandu is the sense that I’m somehow closer to the realities that define this world.  I’m awake.

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