Packed into a small bus, eleven use head for John F. Kennedy Airport from New Paltz, more bags than people, 1,000 books in tow for a new library in Nepal. Aged seven to somewhere north of sixty, we are on a mission of sorts. Your mission. Each of us brought together to do your work in Nepal. Sometimes I think, “now that you are not here”, but I correct myself, for you are here indeed. In every loving smile, in every sleepless hour, in every self-doubt and every re commitment to this work, you are most certainly here.
From the charter bus we go to plane, twelve hours to a country that troubles you, women dressed head to toe in black, subservient they follow behind the men in white; do they know another way? We wonder as we wander the huge airport, a conspicuously garish display of oil money. The worst of the west meets the Bedouin east. Then another flight, another four hours, still little sleep, more movies, more laughter, giggling, tender moments, still the mission.
Finally the Himalayas appear from our windows; such sheer simplicity, such sheer beauty. We pale in comparison. Then the bus again, this one a taste of everyday life here, dodging dogs and potholes, cars, precipitous edges and of course cows. All in a hustle and bustle of a dusty, noisy city, heading up the mountain to our guest house, our little home here.
We unpack, clean up, and are ready to venture out for more. In search of food, we wander carelessly through dusky alleys of the Bhoudanath area of Kathmandu. Very little English is spoken. We point to water bottles, hold two fingers, and hand a 100 rupee note to the vendor. I received 60 rupees back. Each litre bottle sold for twenty cents. A first taste of the vastly different economy here.
Finally we settle on a restaurant that can seat eleven. No menu, no signs in English, we are not really entirely sure if it is a restaurant or a family’s dining room, as a little toddler wanders around freely. Elise manages to convince the women to cook us a meal of vegetables and noodles. In our party are three children, four vegetarians, so at least seven of us are wondering if we will get to eat. I looked around the room and saw sheer exhaustion, faces in hands, some eyes closed; also pure love. Love for each other, love for Maya, to be here on this mission, love for what is about to unfold.
It takes about an hour, and two trips to the grocery store by the women in the kitchen’ husband, and we are eventually served eleven bowls of hot, oily, delicious noodle vegetable soup and fresh steamed rolls. The vegetarians were happy. The meat eaters too. The kids, not so much, with inversely proportional to the abundance of chilis.
Somewhere in there I actually read the cook’s shirt. It did not really click for me until we were ready to leave. Oh Maya, your sense of humor again. And of course, I got home and Googled, the phrase., to find a Robert Frost poem referenced.
Nothing Gold Can Stay
By Robert Frost
Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.
Love being here with you my dear Maya!