By John Considine With thanks to John Donne Good Friday, 1613. Riding Westward
Day 2 Kathmandu, Nepal: Easter Sunday 6:00 am
Sunny and dry, some pollution haze, streets are quiet. 8 ANSWER boys are waiting for 22 ANSWER girls outside their hotel. These 30 students have finished their grade 10 public examinations; they will spend a week in Kathmandu for career counselling, leadership training, social action programs and team building. The vast majority have never been to Kathmandu nor have travelled so far, alone, on 5 – 24 hour bus journeys from their home village: theirs is an educational odyssey, a social rite of passage, and an ethical pilgrimage.
Hence is it, that I am carried to the West.
We move on foot to the east in a long, broken line. These aspiring agents of change cannot understand my British accent, nor can I understand theirs: isolated in the midst of company, I move over rough dirt roads and incomplete building projects . . .
Monkey Temple is on a hill, a stately Buddhist compound atop a hill, a setting in a sea of trash. This is no isolated refuge, rather a center of commerce and community. Leaving the students, we three westerners take a turn ascend to the side of the Stupa – to our left its great white dome, to the right construction to replace the destruction of the earthquake. The restaurant is open, we order coffee and climb the spiral staircase to the roof and a view of the complex (the monkeys are abseiling down the prayer flags all around).
Our restaurateur brings (excellent) coffee and sits to join us. Earle asks “what is your story” and Kash tells his tale.
“I came [to the temple] in 1990 but my business had few custom[ers]. 20 years ago I borrowed money to build here, at a perfect location- after 20 years the loan is almost paid. . . Do not judge me by a few of my fellow [Muslims] …. I am not divisive, I accept all people. Religions are different voices with a common message. All men are my brothers. Every year I travel to Kerala, to practice healing: I thought to take money, but now I offer my services without recompense. . .”
In a Hindu Country, at a Buddhist sacred site, with an ecumenical Muslim host, on the greatest Christian festival, a moment of connectedness. . . . it is sufficient.
And then, his talk turns to visa problems, corrupt and frustrating Kashmiri officials (“the bastards”), and the bitterness of a failing bureaucracy.
The students arrive (tea for 30!), I buy souvenirs, and we move down the foothill. Like the monastic novice master who is responsible for the (character) formation of his charges, so do we wish to journey these students that they might create value, meaning and dignity in their lives.
Though these things as I ride be from mine eye,
They’re present yet unto my memory.
Ours is a broken and beautiful world, we are asked to embrace this imperfection as complete.