Katmandu, I love you. God, how did I get so lucky? Those were my thoughts as I looked out over the Himalayas at the top of Mt. Nagarkot. I had just been running through the mountains (well hills compared to my surroundings) to get to the highest point, which ended up being a helicopter-landing pad. I was all alone soaking in the wonderment surrounding me. I just couldn’t believe I was here. How did I get here?
Well you might be asking the same question right now. After my team’s trip to Bangladesh, we flew to Nepal to capture the progress being made with the showing of the Jesus Film and other compassionate ministries, along with teaching a communication class. Well, they don’t have any ministries in Nagarkot, but our host thought it would be nice to catch the sunrise over Mt. Everest. What a great idea! So from Kathmandu we hopped in a taxi and headed to the top of this mountain. I think I only anticipated death once or twice, I’m must be getting used to the extreme sport of South Asia driving. Once we got to our hotel, we didn’t waste any time, we grabbed our equipment and walked around to grab more b-roll (secondary footage that is intercut with the main footage). I was amazed at everyone’s friendliness, greeting us with a “nameste” (blessings in Nepali, yes like in yoga). When we stopped for some chai (tea), I saw some military men running for a training regimen. That inspired me. I had brought my running shoes, but had yet to use them… until then. Within the first 5 minutes, I noticed that the altitude added an extra burn in my lungs, but I loved it. I wanted to go as high as I could get. I got weird stares from other tourists and the locals, but I was still greeted with a “nameste”, and I wheezed back a “naahmseh” between my gulping breaths. I stumbled onto a sign that pointed to a tower. I thought, “hmm towers are high”, so off I went into the woods losing sight of the last trekker. I knew that if anything happened to me, no one would ever find me, but what a way to go out. I’m not a huge risk taker. I don’t go base-jumping or swim with sharks, but there are just some things where I can’t let fear take over.
When I got to the top, it was worth it; the burning lungs and legs, fear of being lost or worse. The view was majestic. I couldn’t see all the mountains due to the haze, but no tree was blocking my 360-degree view; I was in awe. All I could hear was the zephyr and a few chirps. I was completely alone and on top of the world. However, darkness was creeping in and since there aren’t any streetlights to guide me back I picked up my pace. I arrived 6 minutes too early for my hour run, so I found a plateau with another incredible view. Once again I was speechless. I just couldn’t believe I was at the top of a mountain in Nepal. I was overcome with gratitude; I was surprised to feel tears stream down my face. I’m rarely moved with emotion in this way. I know it sounds corny, it felt a little strange and cheesy. It was a new experience to be surrounded by such greatness and wonder. I felt so alive, like nothing would ever match this feeling. I was overwhelmed with marvel that I was thrown to my knees thanking God for this world, this opportunity, my life. I wondered what could I do to get this feeling again? What would it feel like at the top of Mt. Everest? I never wanted to leave. I then realized that greatness is all around me at every moment; everywhere I go. For me, I felt the majesty of God so strongly at the top of this mountain, but others might feel it when they stick their feet in the warm sand of the California beaches. What greatness have I seen, but not realized? It’s everywhere.
The swirling wind warned me of an approaching storm so I hurried back. If I was not amazed by the glory and power I’d seen during my run, I was even more captivated later that night. Around midnight, Simone and I were startled by a loud crash outside our windows. Not long after came the blinding flash of lightning. That night we stayed up to watch what felt like a battle between the gods. We got out of bed and went to the top level of our hotel to watch the scene. I’ve never seen such a storm. The lightning lit up the sky with only seconds between them. It reminded me of bombs going off in war movies or the flashing lights of the paparazzi. If there was a trailer to a movie I think it would go like this, (with that guy narrating that has the deep action movie voice) “The dark clouds shouted bursts of anger that scattered through the sky. The lightning tried to escape the stifling dominance of the clouds embrace. The rumble of its resistance screamed in our ears. The battle was won when lightning pierced through the cloud’s skin and touched down to earth. Tears streamed down the clouds for the loss of its power no longer hidden within. While the clouds cried and the lightning gloated, the dry earth rejoiced for the comfort of its long-lost love”. Well, I celebrated with the lightning until 2:30am.
Two hours later, I woke up regretting last night’s party as I have many times before. I gathered up my equipment to catch the no longer “much anticipated” sunrise. We set up the camera in the direction we thought the sun would rise, but we slowly realized we were wrong. Due to the clouds and haze our 4:30 am sunrise turned into only a 10 minutes glimpse of a hazy sun. By 6:00 am the sun was up, but still hidden by clouds, which were obviously getting revenge because I cheered for the lightning the night before. So we packed up our stuff and accepted the temptress sun and grabbed another hour of sleep before heading back down the mountain.
We picked up Dilli (Nazarene Compassionate Ministries Coordinator) along the way to visit a ministry center and get another interview. I wandered around the village taking pictures while Steve and Simone filmed the interview. It didn’t take long before a crowd of kids surrounded me, soon followed by their parents. One of the little girls, around 9 years old, spoke a little English. She became my interpreter to the crowd. She was definitely a leader, and everyone knew it. Everyone listened to her and she always seemed to find herself in the focal point of my camera.
While I had been in South Asia, I had never thought that the women I met were strong and independent, I mean I didn’t think they were weak or subservient. When I think of independent women, they are in power suits motivated by the rights they’ve earned through women’s liberation. I realized that just because women wear traditional clothes, work in the field, and cook, doesn’t mean that they don’t have a voice in their community. Now women’s rights in South Asia still need improvement, but they are making progress. Even the church is helping women provide a second income for their family, self-help groups that allow women to brainstorm about ways to help their community and protect each other from injustice.
So I realized that I had met many strong, self-reliant women. For example, 2 nights before, we went to a village outside of Kathmandu to interview Sarita, a woman impacted by the Jesus Film. Her house was in complete darkness, and I had to feel my way to a wooden ladder to climb to the second floor, the only source of light was from one bulb hanging in the corner and the last rays of the setting sun through a hole in the wall. We sat on the dirt floor and interviewed this woman while she was surrounded by her family. She told us about how she came to know Christ through the Jesus Film Ministry. She is one of the only Christians in her village, but hopes to bring the truth of Jesus to everyone she knows. The most memorable part of her interview was when she said, “If I don’t eat for two or three days that is fine, but if I don’t attend a Bible study I feel so unsatisfied”. The Jesus Film was being shown outside her house. There was no DVD player on a HD TV; the film was projected onto a white sheet that was taped to the side of one of the houses. It didn’t take long for the whole village to gather to watch the film. The children sat on the ground while their parents stood in the back. Sarita invited us into her house for dinner, rice. It was cooked in a way I’ve never had before. It was like it was fried with water instead of oil; very chewy. As I ate I remembered what Sarita had said just an hour before and wondered, “How many days would she go hungry for hosting us?” I no longer wanted to eat. I have enough to eat. I never have to experience hunger, painful, gripping hunger. So why should I be so honored to take food away from her? I wanted to give her back her food, but I knew she would take it as an insult.
When we left, one of the men we came with traded his spot in the car for a woman so she didn’t have to walk back. It would now take him an hour to walk home. No one seemed to think that this was a great deal except for me, “Oh its fine, it’s only an hour.” I guess in the land of trekking anything under a week isn’t very long.
On our last day we stopped at the Monkey Temple, named from its immense monkey residence. At the top of the temple was a hazy view of Kathmandu. I really like that name, Kathmandu. This was a Buddhist temple; the eyes give it away, and in one of the sanctuaries I was surprised by the friendly welcoming Buddhist monks who let me sightsee while others monks were chanting. I felt like an intruder, but none of the other tourists inside seemed to be disturbed by it. I guess like many other historical European churches, the donations of tourists are a big part of the their funding.
As soon as we made our way down the temple, we were off the next one; a Hindu temple. At this temple I had one of my most memorable connection with another religion. I was a little more surprised than I should have been to see people using religion for a personal gain. For example, there were Hindu “priests” or “holy men” dressed up in traditional clothing charging tourists for pictures with them.
Now I have never met a priest, pope, or pastor that had a photo booth, but I have found Disneyland-like coin machines inside Notre Dame. Anyways, what really struck me was the funeral process we witnessed. There were two going on simultaneously. Like most tourists, I was intrigued, but it quickly didn’t feel right to take pictures, even though they do the ceremony out in the open for all to see. To start off the ceremony, the deceased are wrapped in cloth and covered with flowers and laid down by a river (dirtiest water I’ve seen since Mexico). Then holy men come and perform certain ceremonial preparations such as prayers with incense, as family members throw coins and flowers on their loved one’s body. The deceased is then placed on a pile of wood and lit on fire. Then their ashes are thrown into the stream. One of the most difficult parts of the ceremony to endure was seeing young boys scrounge the smoldering remains for small treasures like change, jewelry, and watches. It was unsettling to watch women, mothers, daughters weep for their loss, while kids ravaged their loved one’s body that had just been dumped in the murky water. I wouldn’t want my body laid out in public for tourist passersby, and then looted before my ashes cool. What would be even worse is while mourning, seeing the person I loved defiled and disrespected. I just couldn’t fathom why anyone would want to partake in this kind of ritual. I just couldn’t understand or relate. However, when I looked at the mourners, I realized that it didn’t matter one’s religion or traditions, the pain of loss love is still there and that sadness is the same everywhere I go. No matter what one believes happens after death, losing someone you love hurts, a lot. We are all human. I felt honored to be apart of this intimate moment, but ashamed to be a tourist taking pictures of someone’s suffering. If someone walked into a funeral back home to gawk and take pictures of my rituals, how would they be received? Not well. I wonder as Christians if the suffering is any less because we believe we will see our loved ones again some day. Does this hope take away some of the pain? I wondered what hope this Hindu mother had, reincarnation? I don’t know, but I’m thankful for my hope.
Our next stop was to Thamal a busy shopping district. Pashmina (cashmere) are Nepal specialties, but with the heat I couldn’t muster the energy to try anything on. By this time it was already 5pm and we were having dinner at our host’s house for our last meal of traditional Nepali food. It was one of the best meals of our whole South Asia trip. There were at least ten different dishes and out of courtesy, of course, I tried every single one. Delicious. When I couldn’t fit in another grain of rice, our host brought out a plate of fresh mangos. I ate two whole mangos and later discovered that this would be my demise.
The next day started off smoothly. We flew back into Dhaka where we had a couple of hours to wait for our flight home. I was starting to feel a little queasy, nothing too unusual for this trip. Our next flight was to Dubai where we had an 8-hour layover 1am to 9am, plenty of time to explore the sleeping city. We grabbed a taxi and got a tour of what appeared to be the next bigger and better Las Vegas, which is incredible because our taxi driver said it all used to be desert a couple of years ago. There were ginormous skyscrapers, mile-long shopping districts, extravagant hotels like a 7 star hotel (looked like a spaceship). I don’t know what makes it 7 stars, but the rumor is gold flatware (just learned that “goldware” is not a word) and a tennis court on the 20th level. Soon our adventurous eyes were red and puffy, so we headed back to the airport where we all slept in a coffee shop.
Our final flight from Dubai to Zurich was the worst traveling experience of my life. My queasiness hadn’t gone away and it was getting rapidly worse. I didn’t eat much that day, but just drank some ginger ale. That did the trick… and I mean trick. I rushed to the bathroom and rid myself of what used to be my favorite meal. I went back to my seat assuming a fast recovery. Oh wishes. On my last trip to the bathroom an angry woman harassed me. As I was kneeling on the disgusting airplane bathroom floor someone knocked on the door. I opened the door and this is how it went, “I’m sorry, but I’m getting sick.” You would think that would be enough said and someone would leave you alone. I quit assuming after that. The lady said, “Well this is not your personal bathroom you can get a bag if you are sick.” Now this wasn’t a prop plane with maybe two bathrooms, this plane was huge; it sat 3, 5, 3 across with first and business class as well. So out of 10 bathrooms in sight, why did she have to be at mine? It is amazing how quickly grace leaves me. What I wanted to do was throw up all over her. If had a spew trigger I would have used it. I wished I could say that I turned the other cheek, because that is what it says to do in the Bible, but the truth was I didn’t have the energy to fight back. If I could have transmitted my sickness to her just to repeat her own phrase, I would have. So I grabbed a hurl bag and carried it with me all the way home, where I curled up in the fetal position for the rest of the week sick with a parasite. Stupid mangos.
Not the best ending to my trip, but as I laid in anguish or what I thought was my deathbed, and I was too tired to read, not committed enough for a movie, and not strong enough to sit up to use the computer, I thanked God for podcasts… and more importantly friends. My bunk bed was turned into an easy access ground bunker, soup happened to find itself at my side, and a certain um sample got to the doctor… that is true friendship. So in my “last” moments I was thankful, even though till this day I have lost my appetite for soup… and mangos.
Below is the video of Sarita
A little slide show below
Here is a nice song for you… song+slideshow=less boring slideshow.