feature Humanity Nepal Travel

What is Possible?

It’s possible that a year makes a huge difference in our lives.

What a great word. Possible. It’s a word which was tossed around like celebratory confetti during my best friend Isha’s wedding festivities last week.

The word became something of a game and a tribute for our international crew of lovable goofballs. Vivek decided that every time it was uttered, the person responsible would have to take a shot. When they did, we all reacted with a Pee-Wee Hermanesque I just heard the word of the day madness. It was not a punishment or even a way to ensure people weren’t talking about work on vacation. It was a philosophy we adopted for our time together as wedding guests and instant friends, in the spirit of why not? 

The word carries weight with this group-Isha met Anant while working for Possible, a non-profit which focuses on providing healthcare for Nepal’s most underserved communities. A fair amount of wedding guests have also devoted a big chunk of their lives to this organization. So it’s no big surprise that when Isha and Anant share their love story, it is one of substance. Each brings to the partnership a kindness and a real understanding of who they are as individuals.

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Isha and Anant’s pre-wedding toasts

They met in Achham, a remote village in Nepal, (a gorgeous place, though  not one I would instantly categorize as a romantic hot spot)doing their respective thing. There exists between them a particular kind of hope- not an expectation of what life together will be like, but a willingness to take the ride and laugh while they figure out the surprises.

Recently, Anant, Isha and I gathered to wrap Isha’s sari  for a family wedding using a YouTube video for play-by-play instructions. At one point, I was laughing so hard I quickly became useless.We were not great at this.The clock was ticking while the taxi waited in the driveway. The YouTube woman giving instructions turned out to be selling a product that looked like a comb, designed for sari-wrapping ease. I shouted that I had a comb and ran in, waving it triumphantly. We all dove into the new plan,  folding material around the spikes, accidentally dropping it all and starting over numerous times.When we finished, we all sort of stared at the sloppy folds and tried to stay positive.  It was one of those moments as a friend that I think I will always remember for its authenticity. We made that sari possible, even if it wasn’t the way people usually do it.

Possible.  It’s such a good word because it leaves room for hope, something we needed at this time last year.

One year ago this week, all of us were holding our breath and emailing like crazy, trying to find out if Isha was safe after the earthquake which had devastated so many people in Nepal. She had been living here a year by then; something she had dreamed about doing since I met her twelve years ago. I can remember the post where she acknowledged her safety and we all could breathe again.

This April 24,  I stood near Durbar square in Nepal,a place which sustained a significant amount of damage. That night, it would host a ceremony commemorating the earthquake and all that was lost.

Once again I was holding my breath. This time, it was because of all the dust in the Kathmandu air. Dust which had found refuge in my lungs after swirling around in the wake of motorbikes and taxis. The dust, which makes me study  my used tissues with childlike curiosity because my nose is either bleeding or full of soot. As my friends and I approached the square, all we heard were quiet drum beats. The silence was appropriate, if a little surreal. Temple steps were dotted with delicate tea lights and every available space held candles glowing brightly against the hazy sunset.

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Candles perched on rubble from the earthquake

Prayers were offered. Older women in quiet colored saris were stoic, lighting their candle from another and staring off into the distance. There was no singular focus or appropriate place to stand.

Prayer flags fluttered overhead and teenage tourists took selfies of the lights, smiling wildly while changing poses. And I stood alone for a long moment and felt the weight of it, a heavy sadness that comes with experiencing a tragedy remotely and being unsure  of exactly what to do.

I was present in a place which I had previously only read about when the earthquake happened. I felt momentarily conflicted- would my attendance as a tourist diminish the experience for people who had lost someone to that disaster or was my empathy enough to warrant my presence? I voted for empathy and lit a candle myself.

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Candle lighting ceremony, Durbar Square, Nepal

As much as the event became a background for photographs, it remained a place to pay respects. The tiniest of children were overcome with decorum as they quietly lit candles, stooped over the flames until they got it just right.

Not one of them ran around or got into mischief as if they also sensed the heart of the matter. The Red Cross waved flags and corralled people behind gates.Crowds grew restless and began gently shoving in protest.

Then all the candles were lit and it was time to go, because as tourists, we had the luxury of leaving this behind.

Three steps out of the square, the dust remained unsettled and leaped right back toward me, arms outstretched. My long-lost friend. I inhaled it because that’s what the dust wants and I was no longer capable of resisting. Street meat sizzled and tempted. Horns honked like they do and rickshaw drivers offered up their services.

Suddenly it was about finding an ATM or stepping onto the curb to avoid getting clipped by a motorbike.Looking for the restaurant. Thinking that my flip flops were not meant for all this walking.  And then, just as I was about to shake myself for losing perspective of what I had just witnessed,  the truth of my surroundings fell all over me.

I happened to glance over to my left and saw a pile of rubble where a house had once been. It was the only house on the block that had crumbled. Kids scrambled up and down the piles of bricks that might have been their home once. That’s the thing that always gets me- kids find a way to play in spite of almost any circumstance.Their mom hollered at them to do something from her squatted position on the bricks where a door might have been a year ago.

Of course I don’t know their whole story. I am just an infant in my understanding of this culture. I don’t pretend my observations are rooted in a deep wisdom of having been here five minutes. But I think any human knows enough to wish people well on their road to recovery from such an event.

I did not photograph that private moment, but the image stays with me,  doubling as a reminder of the loss people endured and a symbol of strength that is required to live this life sometimes.

Maybe it will be possible to rebuild a new existence after losing so much.

Maybe a year from now, things will be much better for that family.

It doesn’t hurt to have hope.

Stay tuned for a story about my trip to Byalpatha Hospital in Achham….

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