Monday, January 18, 2016

The Everest of school visits

On the first day of 2016, I flew to India for third time within a year for my third stint at the American School of Bombay. I taught creative writing three times a day for five days, and capped it with a most unusual and unexpected speaking gig.

I’d stayed the week at a Sofitel hotel and on my first day, a restaurant manager struck up a conversation. When I said I am a writer, he asked if I’d present to the staff about my work. (On his list of suggested topics I could cover: calligraphy. I quickly disabused him of the notion that I had any knowledge of that.) I said I’d be happy to but questioned if anyone would be interested. He assured me that people would and he was right:

I learned this was part of the hotels monthly “voices” program which revolves around a different speaker each time—sometimes guests, sometimes locals.

On 1/9/16, I was off to a first for me: Nepal, to speak at two international schools in Kathmandu—Lincoln School and the British School.

The country is still reeling from the earthquake (and aftershocks) of 2015. Evidence of it is visible fairly often, but it’s far from a city of rubble. In some cases what I took for quake damage was actually new construction in progress. (Neither school had lost any staff or students in the quake, though both, I believe, lost a significant number afterward, due to urgent relocation.)

At one point, a Nepali I was with indicated a man on the street near us and said “He’s a rich man. He has an ax.”

Glimpses of my Nepal, starting with my first step there:

The airport:

Earthquake damage:

Due to fallout from the quake, some people ride the bus like this:

Small shops are rampant, this one on the scenic drive up a mountain to a spot called Nagarkot, where Everest could be visible if weather cooperates:

The Mount Everest Youth Club:

A five-star resort with a great view...but, since the quake, a drop in guests:

Two of my kind hosts, Lincoln School elementary school principal Ken Fernandez and his wife Cri:

If not for clouds, you would see Mount Everest behind me:

Great view of the Himalayas on this postcard of my hotel, Hotel Greenwich Village...but not in real life:

To go on an hourlong Mount Everest fly-by, I had to get up at 4:30 a.m. Since the quake, Nepal is enduring load-shedding, meaning times when the power is cut to conserve. Currently it is for six hours a day but there is talk it will increase to eighteen.

We were supposed to be at the airport by 5:45 for a 6:45 departure...

...but were instead in for a parade of delays:

Named for one of the biggest myths, one of the tiniest gift shops:


The plane finally took 11 a.m. It seats about 20.

The air sickness bag leaves as little to the imagination as vomiting does to the stomach:

View of Everest from the cockpit...

...and from my seat:

(It is the one to the left of the peak that looks like it is smoking.)

At Pashupatinath Temple, a holy site for Hindus, bodies from the four castes are cremated steadily. It takes a male body 2.5 hours to burn fully, a female three. Then the ashes are set adrift in the river. Among family of the deceased, crying is not allowed. After the quake, the site could not keep up with the need, forcing mass cremations. The men who perform the ritual are professionals:

The hospice on site:

Holy men live here:

It will be hard to spot me here:

Bouddhanath Stupa, a sacred Buddhist (and UNESCO World Heritage) site, which was damaged in the quake (“stupa refers to the domelike structure):

At Lincoln, the time to change classes is announced by a handheld gong:

One class greeted me with a cool sign (complete with credit to Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman artist Ty Templeton) and bats with every student:

Part of the garden behind Ken and Cris house:

A charming bakery that would also be right at home in Soho:

I have not seen tangles of wires and cables like this:

A new friend, midair:

Music, movies...and moos:

Another cow:

Jeremiah OSullivan, the risk-taking Lincoln librarian who brought me in, bore an uncanny resemblance to Bill Finger’s son Fred, and was game to pose like him: 

Less than a year earlier at the British School, on this spot stood another name of J.K. Rowling:

 The Cinema Times

My kind librarian host at the British School, Sunita Chitrakar:

The oldest high school in Nepal:

Good marketing on this brand of Himalayan bottled water:

One of the days I was in Kathmandu, elsewhere in the city a leopard walked into someone’s house. Just walked in:

Fires in the street represent hope in the future for this lovely country.

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