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Saturday, March 10, 2012

A long update is in order. The last 10 days have been fantastically busy, full of silliness, magical moments, some chaos, and a few goodbyes. On the 6th a few volunteers and I took the bumpy 7 hour bud ride to celebrate Holi on the 7th in Kathmandu. Holi is a Hindu festival celebrating of the end of winter and the coming of spring and the monsoons. It also commemorates many events in Hindu mythology, but is the least religious Hindu festival yet the most enthusiastically celebrated. The day began with our own water and colored powder fight which some local and tourist kids joined in on. By the time we made it from the back alley of our guesthouse to the main street we were already caked in layers of power and drenched through our clothes. And we were the only ones. The locals were still clean, dry, and color free and staring at us. But not for long. We brought the Holi warfare with us wherever we went as well all singing, dancing, music, smiles, and whiskey. As we walked through Kathmandu we saw more and more people celebrating as excitedly as we were and joyously contributed to each others Holi outfits. By the end of the day we were all soaked, covered from head to toe in a rainbow of colored powder, and drunk off the happy excitement of the day, as well as the seemingly never ending flow of whiskey and beer. Though the late afternoon shower was far below room temperature, it was one of the most satisfying, though maybe not so effective considering my scalp is still stained days later. It was definitely a day to remember. 

I was back in Pokhara by the 8th to be present for ceremonies at the Monastery that the kids school is associated with. His holiness the 41st Sakya Trinzin Rinpoche, a Lama equal to the Dalai Lama but for a separate sect of Buddhism, was visiting Pokhara for opening ceremonies at this Monastery as well as a few schools in surrounding villages. It was very special to be in the presence of this man.  On the 9th, the staff, volunteers, and kids all went to listen to him speak and to be blessed by him. When we were there again on the following day to watch ritual dances, I asked someone how many people had been there the day before. He said about 40,000. The crowd was calm and respectful while Sakya was speaking, but turned to a mass of pushing and yelling once it came time to line up for being blessed. I became a human barrier protecting the kids from the crowd and helping make sure all 51 of them were safe and together. The monks were using huge bamboo rods and spraying water on the crowd to keep them under control. But we all got through safe, had a scarf placed around our necks by a monk then walked single file in front of the Lama where he tapped us each on the top of the head with what looked like a wooden rod as he said a prayer. Then were filed inside where we laid the scarf in front of and bowed to statues. Outside we were led down a row of tables where we were given special food and red strings to wear around our necks for the 3 days following the blessing. I am still asking questions about what all of these things meant, but even for someone unsure about what was going on, it was a very special moment and again something that I will always remember. But I definitely had a lot of questions afterwards. It was very interesting to see the monks holding clearly very expensive cameras taping the ceremony, then using water and bamboo rods as crowd control. And I couldn't help but wonder what the Lama thought of the pushing and shoving happening to be blessed by him when his duty is to spread love, compassion, and peace. I'm sure he is used to witnessing it, and maybe it doesn't phase him, and I also know that it is a question I will have to accept that I may not ever have an answer to. 

Going from the chaos of Holi in Kathmandu to the chaos of a blessing ceremony in Pokhara reminded me that there is truly craziness everywhere. Though much less in Nepal than back home. Time flows here and people rarely seem to be in a rush, yet the streets and crazy and very loud. It is a good lesson to learn for me, because I am able to relax through the craziness and quietly read my book. 

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Rafting was equal parts fun and fear. The moments of silliness with the trip leaders and fellow volunteers made it worth while, but it's going to take a few years for me to forget the moments of terror and convince myself to go again.
We launched Thursday afternoon. It was very warm and the 8 of us were suited up and excited. The first legitimate rapid we approached was called Little Brother and looked easy enough. The guides got out of the boat and surveyed the scene to see the best route through the rocks, climbed back in, and we started paddling again. We started down the rapid and the next thing we knew the raft was sideways, we all had (hilarious) looks of terror on our faces, and realized that we were going to flip over. I was on the side that went under first and got stuck under water under the raft for a few horrifying seconds, but easily surfaced, and calmed down quickly once I heard everyone nervously laughing. That was the equal parts of fun and fear. Flipping over on our first rapid made every rapid for the 3 days following terrifying, which wasn't so bad because no one actually got hurt, and we have the memories of the hilarious looks of sheer terror on each others faces, which makes it all worth it. Our guides cooked us delicious meals and pitched tarps for us to sleep under. I froze at night, but the stars were beautiful, and the food really was awesome. Some of the best I've had here. The scenery also made the trip worth it. Rafting down the Kali Gandaki with large hills all around. It was gorgeous and so quiet, at least when we weren't screaming or giggling. For now.. I am happy to be back in Pokhara, and definitely excited for a warm shower.