Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Fancy, Very Fancy!

Fancy Suitcases from Nepal

Warning, the following is not appropriate for easily scandalized adults or inquisitive children; it is perfectly acceptable for mature women and sensitive men.

I was sitting in a circle of three women on the floor of a tiny, one-room shop on Cape Cod. Crystals and pendulums, hanging in the windows, caught the morning sunshine and cast dancing rainbows on the dream catchers, singing bowls, giant minerals and exotic jewelry around us.

I was on a sales call where intuitive women were carefully selecting new jewelry for their shop from my elaborately decorated Nepalese trunks. Suddenly, a fourth woman burst through the door of the shop in tears and unable to speak.

"I," she started and wiped away some tears. "I just took my mother to the gynecologist," she finally blurted.

Our faces were turned up toward her with great compassion.

"It's been years. She's in her late seventies and I thought it was time." She took a few deep breaths. More composed now, almost mirthful, she was ready to tell her tale. "So I just went ahead and scheduled an appointment for her. Last night she was staying at my house, so I told her we were going to the gynecologist, and that was that! She got up early, bathed, and I drove her to the doctor's office. She didn't want me to be too far away from her, so I stayed with her just on the other side of the screen in the doctor's office. The questions were very routine at first. Then at the most sensitive of moments, the doctor burst into booming laughter and said, 'Fancy, very fancy!' Well, I was more than a little surprised, but my mother didn't respond and so I didn't say anything.
"After the appointment, I had to ask my mother what happened. She didn't know. She had no idea why the doctor laughed. I asked her if she had done anything unusual and she said no. But I kept pressing her and asked her how she got ready for the appointment. She told me that she showered and used the feminine deodorant spray and dressed. I said, 'Mom, I don't have any feminine deodorant spray, where did you find it?' And she said, 'It was on the back of the toilet in your bathroom.' When we got home, I went upstairs to the bathroom and found the can she had used. It was my daughter's gold hair glitter!"

Tomorrow, I am off on another sales call. Thursday I will be at a store in Washington, DC, called Transcendence Perfection Bliss of the Beyond. I kid you not! Peace!

Friday, September 18, 2009

Taking Chances

Walking on a ridge top path in the Himalayan foothills.

Sagarmatha, the mother of the universe, as it is called in Nepal, or Everest, as it is known in the West, is the tallest mountain on the earth. It is more than 29,000 feet high. If you happened to be floating on your back in the sea it would be 5 ½ miles straight up in the air. It would be higher than most clouds that you might see passing by as you floated there and just about as high as Jumbo Jets fly.

The Himalayas, are topped with snow year round. As spring turns to summer some of the snow melts from the mountain peaks and the water collects into icy streams which become rivers. The rivers plunge over the edge of the mountains in dazzling waterfalls. The rivers continue down past tiny villages where mothers bathe their children and wash their clothes. It continues down to the valley past large cities where millions of people live, then down, down, down to the low lands called the Terai where there is never any snow and it is hot and humid all year round.

If you could fly as fast as a small plane from the top of Sagarmatha to the Terai, it would take you less than an hour and you would still be in Nepal. The Terai is nothing like the city of Kathmandu and bears no resemblance to the foothills of the Himalayas. It is a subtropical jungle only about 300 feet above the ocean. It is the home of tigers, rhinos, crocodiles, snakes, giant spiders, monkeys and elephants. Once it was so full of malarial mosquitoes that it was virtually impassible.

If you stroll in the jungle you must keep all of your senses alert. There is no telling what manner of beast could be lurking behind the tall grass watching you silently as you pass by. I know this because I have been there. I have seen the tracks of tigers in the dust across my path; I have been bitten by a monkey at the Monkey Temple; I have contemplated which tree to climb before the rhino charged… There are many dangers that dwell beyond the familiar, and that is something that one should never forget, no matter where they travel in life. Yet, if I had not traveled beyond the safety of what I already knew, neither would I have been able to soar between the highest peaks on earth.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

A Letter to my Boys

A Pendant by the Qazi Brothers

Sherpa Coral
Dear Boys,

Last night I took a hot shower before I went to bed but I didn't get my hair wet. Then, I stuffed all of the next day clothes into the bed with me so that they would be warm in the morning. I found an extra wool blanket and covered my head to sleep. Still, I had a really hard time sleeping because I was shivering so much. Every time my feet slipped toward the end of the bed they were icy cold. It made turning over difficult. In the morning the windows were dripping with the condensation of my breath. I put on my clothes and decided only to wash my hair in the sink because it was too cold to take my clothes off.

I have been very productive already. I got about 13 kg of mixed Sherpa Coral at a decent price. It was from our old supplier the Shauji (shop keeper) with one veiled eye. He moved from KTM durbar square right next to our shipper's office making it very convenient for me. I haven't bought from him for a while only because he didn't have what I wanted. Unfortunately, I can't communicate with him well, so I think his feelings were hurt. Ah well... He has old glass necklaces and tantric drums also. Do we need any of these things? (I may end up buying even more Sherpa coral because I ordered some from another guy also. He doesn't know if he can get it though.)

Qazi's shop has very little in stock that I want. They are making some more large beads for us in turquoise and coral. I'm also thinking of asking them to make labyrinth pendants for us. Could you send me a picture from the labyrinth website?

I saw Karma Dolma and she is making cat pillows for us. The biggest problem is getting the synthetic stuffing. She is actually buying pillows and tearing them apart for the stuffing. I heard from some other people that getting synthetic stuffing is a problem. I'll see if Raju has a suggestion when he gets back from Chitwan.

Last night I met Pemba Sherpa who will arrange our trip to Lhasa and elsewhere in case I should take a tour group. He is wonderful. He was very organized and had a complete estimate drawn up and waiting for me. It's a little more expensive than I guessed, but he thought of everything, he even has high altitude decompression bags in case someone runs into an altitude problem. He's a real pro and has been doing this kind of thing for 18 years. We talked for about 4 hours. He has taken people above 7,000 meters before and has dealt with people from 4 to 70 years of age. I questioned him carefully about illness and accidents and it sounds as if he reacts quickly and competently to crisis. I feel confident that the trip will be smooth and highly entertaining. We're ready!

We spent a good hour talking about the Yeti, black and white ghosts and other spooky stuff. I have a feeling that everyone here has a few good spook stories. My friend is going to try to help me find some books written about ghosts in Nepal.

I love you all. Mommy will be home soon!

Many people have asked me to write about my trips. This is a very ordinary example of what I do. It is an excerpt from a letter written during a January buying trip in Kathmandu.

Friday, September 4, 2009

The Streets of Kathmandu

Kathmandu City Street Scene

I'm on the back of the bike on the right. My friends are Western women and Nepalese men.

If you were in Gainesville, Florida and you jumped on your magic bicycle, which could ride across the water, and you rode straight east or west until you came to the spot precisely halfway around the world, you would be in a country called Nepal, very near the city of Kathmandu.

You would be greeted with great white smiles beaming from light-brown people. Some of them would look a bit Chinese others would look Indian. They would invite you into their shops and offer you a hot glass of milk tea. Then they would ask you if you would like to buy a mask of Hanuman, the monkey king, or a statue of Ganesha, the god with the head of an elephant. Perhaps a shaman's ritual dagger or a Gurkha soldier’s knife would be more to your liking?

Everywhere that you would go you would smell burning incense. Dust, dirt, smoke and exhaust fumes would be swirling around you turning your hair shades of gray and your face black with dirt.
Shrines and temples would be all around you, and the ancient homes so ornate with carvings that you could not be certain whether they were dwellings for people or for spirits of a time long past.

No longer able to ride
down the narrow rocky streets, you would push your bike past fruit and vegetable vendors, cows, salesmen, and goats, as hundreds of people would crowd around you trying to get past you and your bike. They would be ringing the bells on their own bikes and beeping their car horns very near your ear and then they would pass you. And you might think to yourself, "That car passed me and it was only half an inch from my handle bar!"

When you looked over to your right, you would see that you had almost knocked into a butcher as you were jumping out of the way of the car. Staring vacantly up at you from the butcher’s outdoor table would be a bloody goat’s head. Its body cut into legs and ribs and other sellable quantities. Flies would be buzzing around around it and dogs nearby would be hoping for a scrap to fall off the table and into their mouths. Other goats, in the process of being butchered, would be on the ground in an alley around the corner.

The movement and noise of the people would be constant, like the ebb and flow of the ocean. Behind you, barely audible, a boy would whisper "Hashish? Change money?" You would put your head down, and walk a little faster. Someone else begins to follow you. "Your shoe is broken!" he says. He follows you for blocks while you are still walking at a determined pace. Thinking that you have escaped you turn a corner to find that you are surrounded by open palms... a woman with an infant, a crippled Sadhu on the ground, a child with his drawing for sale.

And you would have to decide, shall I stay and explore this foreign land or shall I get back on my bike and pedal home as fast as I can. And then you would lift your head, and look up above the crowd, and find and opening between the temples. There you would see a golden light illuminating the most enormous white capped mountain range you had ever seen in your life. You would pause to fix the beauty of that moment permanently in your mind. T
he mystery of what could be waiting for you just around the next corner would compel you stay a little longer.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The Golden Fish

When the dogs begin to bark and the shrine bells ring with vigor, I know that the valley is emerging from its dark but colorful world of the dreamers into the cold bright mists of another day in Samsara. It is too early to find an open restaurant or shop, but by the time that I walk from Thamel to Naxal, just beyond the Narayanhiti Royal Palace, Mike's will be open for breakfast. It is winter, so a young man shows me to a table inside what looks to be a hundred year old palace and he pulls a space heater close to warm me. There I dine alone with my pad and paper and a real cup of coffee. My hand in a fingerless glove, I take notes about my dreams, I sketch new designs, I plan my day, and I wait with anticipation for tourists to arrive and tell me the stories of their lives.

It is a long walk back to Thamel, but I would like to explore Nag Pokhari, 'Snake Pond' on my way back. I wave off the motorcycle rickshaw and walk the unpaved road. Cows and cars and pedestrians whirl around me with great purpose. Nag Pokhari hides behind a wrought iron gate and low dusty shrubs. Inside the gate, is what appears to be a large and ancient rectangular stone swimming pool. In the center of this murky green brown pond is a 25 foot post with a beautifully carved copper serpent's head.

A man arrives with some food in a bag and tosses it into the water. Immediately the water begins to churn and boil and splash about as dozens of carp fight over the crumbs. Suddenly, I no longer see a peaceful pond but a writhing horror of insatiable desire. The ravenous carp are the embodiment of the sea of suffering. Each leap from that pond is the symbol of the soul's emancipation...

I have been busy moving boxes from here to there. We are now nearly settled in our new home in Shaker Heights, Ohio, next to Cleveland. Soon, I will be emerging from my current murky pond.