Kathmandu Memories

There are places we go in our lives where we feel more connected. An affinity that stays with us long after we’ve departed. Sometimes that leads to a desire to relocate. Sometimes to visit again and again. I’ve been fortunate to have more than one of those places – in some the bonding was instantaneous, in others it took awhile for the rhythm of the place to become an ingrained part of me.

Nepal as country was, for me, instantaneous. The first time we crossed from India into Nepal the transition – the sights, the sounds, the relative calm, were a welcome, and enduring, respite from the sensual cacophony that had engulfed me in the week that we’d been in India. Oddly, Kathmandu, was not instantaneous. But it was enduring. So enduring that when we got married seven years after our first trip, we chose Kathmandu for our honeymoon. So enduring that when the Nepalese Royal family was massacred by the Crown Prince ten years later I was devastated, and knew that things could never be the same. And now, another fourteen years have passed, and I am shell-shocked. Heartbroken is the word that first came into my head.

All human tragedy, natural disaster or wrought by man, is difficult to bear, but some is more abstract than others. It is always easier to relate when you have a frame of reference. Have you had a similar experience? Are you familiar with the geography?The tsunami of 2005 was less abstract because places that I’d been, had spent months living in, were impacted – but fortunately no one that I knew was directly affected. I was stunned by the loss of life, but it didn’t seem to consume as much space in my head. The earthquake that struck outside Kathmandu feels personal, somehow, even though I’ve not been back to Nepal since October 1991. And so, I reflect on the Kathmandu Valley that I once knew, and still look back on with many happy memories. And I know that now, even as much had already changed, things can truly never be the same again.

We first went to Nepal in 1984, and for a variety of reasons ended up staying nearly two months – mostly in Kathmandu. I’m not a city person, and Kathmandu was noisy, smelly, crowded, and pretty much the worst of what I’d seen since we’d arrived on the Indian Subcontinent (even Pokhara was far more laid back). Taking the advice of Lonely Planet, and some fellow travelers, we headed to the Thamel section of the city, and booked ourselves into the Kathmandu Guest House. It was a wise choice. It offered enough sanity, and the Thamel area was so full of fellow travelers with reasonable experiences to share, that we had the chance to get our bearings. And quickly realized that Kathmandu was actually a wonderful place with an incredible amount to explore. And when Bill was briefly sidelined by a stomach bug, it also became apparent that it was remarkably safe for me to wander around alone – a rarity no matter what continent we were on. Almost inevitably, for when you get too comfortable somewhere you become less cautious, I came down with giardia. This led to a big delay in our return to India while I was being diagnosed and treated by the Canadian-run clinic. Actually, it was a fortuitous delay. We were still in Nepal when Indira Gandhi was assassinated. In the ensuing chaos and confusion – and suddenly poor availability of newspapers, all we knew was what overland travelers had reported back – the land crossings into India were briefly closed on the Nepali side, and for a slightly shorter time, the airport also has India bound flights backed up. When we finally located the International Herald Tribune and the Times of India, we realized that contacting home would be a good idea. While at the telegraph office, with a couple dozen other Americans and Europeans, the goal became to figure out how to send the least expensive message out. One Dutch boy won with “Safe in peaceful Nepal”. No further explanation was really necessary.

When we got married in 1991, Kathmandu, and the Guest House, were where we headed. This time with a bit more money, a camera, and a fixed departure date. Obviously the city, and the country, had changed a great deal, but it was surprisingly easy this time to re-acclimate. We did more exploring of the region, and even found our way to lunch at the Restaurant At The End of The Universe in Nagarkot. Which was in an awesome location with fantastic views of the Himalayas when the clouds would briefly part. The temples, and intricate carved wood windows, of Patan. The Tibetan refugees, Swayambhunath, Bhaktapur, even the fruit bats hanging from the trees. So many memories of people and places that have now been largely destroyed. So many lives lost. So much devastation and ruin. In a region that is ill-equipped to deal with it. I’m at a loss for words.

I am heartbroken. Something that doesn’t affect me at all, has affected me deeply. It really feels like a personal loss. There is nothing I can do, or say, to fix this. But I can encourage anyone who is able to donate to any of the larger, more established aid organizations that are active in the region including the Red Cross, Save the Children, Oxfam, GlobalGiving. And I’m sharing some photographs that my husband and I took in 1991 – some of what we photographed has been significantly altered by the earthquake, and I’m grateful for the pictures to aid the memories.

These 2 were taken in Durbar Square in Patan:

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This next set was taken in Swayambhunath – pictures of both Bill & I, plus what would pictures of the Monkey Temple be without monkeys?, and of course the top of the temple & a view of the valley below:

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This next set is a view of the neighborhood around the Kathmandu Guest House from the roof, a street view a block away from the hotel, and a quiet spot in the hotel’s courtyard:

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This a Nagarkot – The Restaurant at the End of the Universe – with the Himalayas in view, 3 boys on the road that kindly allowed us to photograph them, and a view of the valley below from the top of the mountain road:

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This last group was all from Bhaktipur – I wanted to include the amazing woodwork on the doors, windows & temple entrances, and also some of the beautiful stonework & statuary:

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What happened to spring??

I took this picture on Saturday to demonstrate that green stuff had replaced the white stuff on the lawn – not bad for mid-April. It was sunny and warm – I remember it well. Today it was cold. And it snowed. And there’s a freeze warning (kind of strange since we aren’t out of frost season yet – but those opportunistic farmers and gardeners will try to plant as soon as the ground thaws a bit).

The good news is that there shouldn’t be any more snow. I hope.

The bad news is that I had a not so great commute today filled with many different occurrences of stopped traffic. Which gave me time to contemplate the snow and sleet that were periodically hitting my windshield. And the wind. Kind of reminiscent of November. So I got home late and have somewhat muddled what I’d initially intended to post. But no matter, I’ll just keep going…

Two noteworthy items today – in a good way. First is that Loretta Lynch was finally confirmed as US Attorney General. This was a long-overdue vote, and demonstrates that it actually is possible for our Senate to function – at least once in a while. The second is that the $45 billion merger of media and communications giants Comcast and Time Warner is dead. Comcast is apparently dropping the plan since it has become apparent that the Federal Communications Commission was not going to make it easy. I’m almost starting to regain my long-lost respect for the FCC.

And back to the weather:

Long stormy spring-time, wet contentious April, winter chilling the lap of very May; but at length the season of summer does come.

–Thomas Carlyle

I hope he’s right – winter seems determined to hang on this year…

#1000Speak – Thoughts on the nature of nurture

Nurture – what a perfect topic for this month’s compassion post. After all, I’m female and apparently we were born with an innate nurturing ability. And I’m a parent, and nurturing is what we do. With those stellar qualifications, I should be set. Perhaps…

When I was rummaging through Anne’s Frank’s diary to find a good quote for the 70th anniversary of her death, I came upon this one – which may more closely reflect my own views on parenting:

“How true Daddy’s words were when he said: all children must look after their own upbringing. Parents can only give good advice or put them on the right paths, but the final forming of a person’s character lies in their own hands.”

I am about as un-helicopter a parent as you will find – or at least among the ranks of reasonably responsible parents. My daughters are both very good self-regulators. It’s possible that things may have been different if they weren’t. It’s also possible that they wouldn’t be had their father and I been more controlling. But they are also two distinctly different people – and neither is quite like either their father or me. Nature? Nurture? Both?

Well, of course it’s both. The questions that remain in that debate are ones of degree – which holds the greater sway, if either, and the more thorny question of how much can nurture overcome nature when it comes to human behavior. The behavioral psychology views on ‘nature v nurture’ run along a spectrum as varied as the behaviorist views favored by Rousseau, and his ‘tabla rosa’ theory, and the extreme behaviorist views of B.F. Skinner, to the other end of the spectrum with Francis Galton, and his belief in inherited intelligence (which disturbingly helped fuel the eugenics movement, and the ‘superior race’ notions of the Nazi Party), and J. Bowlby’s belief that infant-mother attachment is an innate survival mechanism for the infant.

Few people subscribe to any theories on the extreme ends of the ranges, anymore – which is a good thing. Certainly there is much to be said for the notion that infant-mother bonding is necessary for the infant’s survival, and few would argue against the notion that children model the behaviors of the adults around them. The idea that there is a criminal behavior gene has been largely debunked, but every advance in the human genome mapping leads to more questions about how much behavior can – or should – be ascribed to nature. It’s long been understood that there is an ‘addictive personality’, and that some people are simply more prone to psychological addictions – gambling, food, even exercise – but the discovery of a genetic predisposition to alcoholism had both a positive side – by leading alcoholism to be treated as a medical condition – and a negative side – if my father was an alcoholic, am I destined to become one also? If I pay for the genetic testing and have the marker – what does it mean? Do we end up with a new variation on the eugenics theme by placing too much focus on genetic predispositions toward things? My husband an I both have some mental illness in our family trees – schizophrenia in his, and both depression and bipolar disorders in mine. Fully understanding that psychiatric disorders are chemical, but knowing that the inheritability possibilities are very muddy, led us to think more than twice before starting a family. And, just as we had learned to watch ourselves, it sometimes led us to watch the idiosyncratic behavior of our children when they were very young with concern, and on occasion to question whether it might be necessary to consult with a psychologist. But we didn’t. Instead we redirected the girls behaviors where we thought we needed to, and as they got older, we occasionally gently pointed out that perhaps there was an alternate way of looking at things (or sometimes we teased bit, I confess). In the end, they developed into mostly normal beings, with the ability to function independently – and I think that is what our jobs as parents are.

In nurturing my children I am, hopefully, supporting, not smothering. And certainly not controlling. I worry, when I look around at some of the adult ‘children’ I know, and work with, I wonder when their parents will begin to let go. It is a sad reality that the future belongs to our children. When I see twenty-or-thirty-somethings with little apparent sense of responsibility, I worry about that future. When may love them, feed them, clothe them, guide them, but in the end we are responsible for making sure that they are able to function as independent, compassionate, reasonably happy, adults. One of the only certainties in life, is that we are mortal. Our biological imperative towards parenthood is for perpetuation of the species – and raising our children to be functioning adults is necessary for them, and the species, to survive.

And no, false nostalgia fans, the problem is neither a lack of religion nor a lack of corporal punishment. I think the lack of free play is a factor, and I actually agree that schools have far too many zero tolerance policies – kids need to play, they need to develop social skills by being permitted to deal with other people. Certainly intervention is sometimes needed, but not always. And it seems that sometimes it is often not provided when it should be. We live in a semi-rural area, so it was necessary most times to drive our children to play dates, and any activities that they chose to participate in. Choice was important – we did not want our children to do things simply because it is expected that they do things. We wanted to raise children in this environment, but geography, in some respects, hindered their freedom in ways that their suburban-raised parents from a different time didn’t foresee. But they adapted, and we adapted.

Do I have all the answers? No, obviously not. Am I a perfect parent? Very far from it, and in fact, there have also been times when our children were less than enthusiastic about how close a relationship their parents have – nurturing yourselves, and your marriage, can’t get lost in the child-rearing equation. We have to be reasonably good humans in order to be good parents. And if we do it right, I think that being good parents make us better humans but helping to take ourselves out of our bubbles.

Nurture may not always be able to trump nature in the face of psychiatric disorders, but I do think that somehow managing to get the parenting thing mostly right can go a long way to mitigating less severe problems, and perhaps even overcoming the idiosyncratic ones.

Quiet Sunday

As I rush to finish my monthly compassion post – which will surely be readable, with relatively few typos – I am steering away, once again, from the distractions of the news, and instead leave you with this, from Khalil Gibran:

“I have learned silence from the talkative, toleration from the intolerant, and kindness from the unkind; yet, strange, I am ungrateful to those teachers.”

True words, I think.