May it be a good one, whatever your circumstances.
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Last week I opened a copy of My Republica, a Nepali newspaper that I rarely read, to see a face I knew staring back at me.
In the days when I freelanced for ECS Media, before I started as editor at ECS Nepal, I wrote a lot of food reviews for their entertainment weekly (now bi-monthly) paper, Friday! and usually I was a team with one of two different but both very competent photographers.
Now I discovered that, unbeknownst to me, one of them–Sajana Shrestha–has also ventured into filmmaking. Her short film I Can premiered at this year’s Kathmandu Mountain Film Festival (KIMFF) and I was just so excited for her!
I went to see it on the 15th (last Friday) and I was really impressed – promise I’m not just saying that because I know her. It’s a seven-minute short film that tells the story of a young man who was affected by the 2015 earthquake here in Nepal and the lasting changes it has brought about his life. I really don’t want to say more than that and give it away. Despite its short length, I was surprised by how much was packed into it and its unexpectedly optimistic message.
The full article can be found here, because I know it’s hard to read from the picture above. The film itself has only just premiered but I think eventually it will go up online and when it does, I will add a link to this post.
Sajana is now working on a new film about burn victims and is passionate about telling people’s stories. I believe she’ll go far and I’m so proud to know her.
It’s two months today since everything changed and I had planned to get out of the house, distract myself–as if I could!–but instead I have been home, sitting with it.
Yesterday I began What Comes Next and How to Like It, Abigail Thomas’ 2015 memoir. I hadn’t yet read it, partially because A Three Dog Life is one of my favourite books, ever, and I was afraid I wouldn’t like this one as much, that it would maybe disappoint in some way. It was, however, perfect, or at least perfect for me right now. I finished it today.
This poem has been in my mind often over these two months:
by W. H. Auden
Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.
Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message He Is Dead,
Put crêpe bows round the white necks of the public
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.
He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last for ever: I was wrong.
The stars are not wanted now: put out every one;
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood.
For nothing now can ever come to any good.
The last line has felt the most true to me, though in the spirit of hope and the book I have just read, I am giving allowance for the fact that it may not always be this way. Just now, I stepped outside and saw a kite flying, just a light square against the blue, blue sky. It felt like hope, it looked like joy. Maybe not quite, not really; but enough for me: enough for today.
Last night I baked the last four Christmas cakes, the same ones I’ve been baking for years now, from a free recipe handout card I got at an Oxfam years ago in London, somewhere. Funny where your most-used recipes end up coming from, isn’t it?
When I was done, I realized that, including the ones made for the Christmas fairs earlier this month, I had baked well over twenty Christmas cakes this year. These final ones are for friends, and by now I know the recipe by heart.
Merry Christmas, everyone. I hope you are enjoying eating yummy things this season!
Hard to believe, sometimes – but true. I first landed in Nepal on the 9th of March, 1996!
You might recognize these flowers from last year…
My mother, if she were alive, would be sixty-five today. While I wish she had lived to see this age, I admit I cannot honestly imagine her in it. In my mind, she is ageless.
The day before yesterday, I bought this teapot as part of a attempt to complete some of my non-earthshattering new year’s resolutions, one of which is to drink more of the beautiful varieties of Nepali loose-leaf tea that I keep buying. Washing it out for the first time, I remembered a nickname of mom’s was Sunshine.
So here I go, raising a cup to her, poured from this sunshine-y teapot.
Yep, it’s another film festival! KIMFF stands for the Kathmandu International Mountain Film Festival, which started in 2000 as a bi-annual event and has been held yearly since 2007. I heard about it recently when my editor at ECS Nepal asked me to write a piece about it, which will be published in this month’s (December) issue. Altogether, 80 films from 25 countries will be screened, though only 14 are actually in competition. I was able to view a few of the films not in competition in preparation for writing the article — Infinite Space by Siddharth Chauhan, a magical short film set in a Shimla monastery, and En route. On foot. Up hill. by Barak Tal, which follows a group attempting to be the first people to reach a remote pass in Arunachal Pradesh. Both were excellent, though I don’t want to repeat myself, so you’ll just have to look out for my article in this month’s ECS Nepal. And if you missed the wonderful Drawing the Tiger that I wrote about in my last post, you’ll have another chance to see it here, as it is also screening out of competition at KIMFF.
KIMFF 2015 is on from December 10th through the 14th, and will be held at QFX Kumari in Kamal Pokhari, with both full passes and individual event tickets available at the venue. For all the details, including the full list of all the movies they’ll be showing, you can check out KIMFF’s site here. See you there!
Today I was invited to attend the opening of Film South Asia 2015, a South Asian documentary Film Festival that is held every two years. As we all took our seats in the cozy theater, there was an announcement, “In the likely event of a tremor, there are two emergency exits there, and there.” This was greeted by a wave of laughter; I’m not sure if “in the unlikely event” was meant to be humorous or not, but this morning at 10 am there was a 5.3 tremor here in Kathmandu, the first one I’ve personally felt in a while, and I’m sure it was on everyone’s mind. While it wasn’t that strong, it seemed quite long. More about it here.
The documentary screened at the opening was Drawing the Tiger, directed by Ramyata Limbu, Amy Benson and Scott Squire, and filmed here in Nepal over a period of seven years. The film follows a young girl from Ramechhap District who comes to Kathmandu to pursue her education, and the ripple effect this action has on her entire family. I am glad I didn’t know much more than that when I sat down, as the film was a beautiful and moving experience, including an emotional sucker-punch I was not expecting, perhaps extra difficult for me as I also have the Humla girls I’m helping to educate so it hit really close to home. If you have a chance to see this film, I couldn’t recommend it highly enough: it’s a simple, honest piece and a great sample of ‘show, don’t tell.’ Even documentaries sometimes get carried away in trying to make a point via omnipresent narrator or other methods, but despite the subject matter, this film did nothing of the sort. The only people you heard from were each of the family members involved, and the result was touching, honest, and surprisingly revealing. More about the film at its website here, though be warned that it also tells quite a bit about the story that I was glad I didn’t know ahead of time.
The festival continues for three full days: tomorrow, Friday November 20th, Saturday the 21st and Sunday the 22cond. It’s being held at Yala Maya Kendra, Patan Dhoka, in Lalitpur, with between 8 to 15 documentaries of various lengths being screened on each of the three days. Each film costs just 50 rs. to attend, and are from all over the region–Afghanistan, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and of course, Nepal. The screenings begin around 10 am each day and continue to 5 or 6. For details of which films are shown on which days, you can check out their website, http://www.filmsouthasia.org; unfortunately I had a hard time accessing the site and if you do too, you can click on the high-res picture I took of my programme below to embiggen it and see what the choices and timings are. This is a really great chance to see some of the best recent documentaries from this part of the world and I recommend that if you’re in Kathmandu you take full advantage of it!
And with the fuel crisis and shortages unfortunately still in full swing, the organizers have added a special festival motto: “Walk, bike or take a public bus to the Doc Fest!”
It’s strange that Kathmandu Durbar Square is such a normal part of life that I find I have taken few photos of it. Some taken on special occasions, such as these, all lit up in the evening during Tihar in 2013. But a general, panoramic view of the square, with the busyness of daily life in full swing? I can’t find one.
It’s one of the reasons I love it, though–as with many of what are considered Nepal’s cultural heritage sites, it’s simply a part of daily life here. Friends sit on the tiered temples to hang out, catch up, people watch; others walk through it on their way to work or home. They are not dead monuments, but a backdrop to daily life here.
Which is perhaps why the sight of Kathmandu Durbar Square hit all of us here so hard; I took the pictures below on the 26th of April.
A week ago, the earth moved under my feet. Not in love, not metaphorically. I live in Kathmandu, and I was minutes away from stepping into the shower, having just completed a few household chores before a plan to meet a friend at the International Tattoo Convention downtown. I never got there.
Standing in my doorway after having just pulled my laundry off the flat roof, I tripped and caught myself with my hand on the step, scraping it. It took long seconds for my mind to register that I wasn’t being clumsy, that everything was moving. I ran for the field outside my house, followed by my dog. In some dim recess of my consciousness I saw one of my cats, who’d been on the lam for several days, running for the house at a dead heat. So much for the wisdom of animals, I thought. But maybe she was looking, as we all were, for safety.
I was fortunate. My rented house—a tiny, one storey affair—still stands. When I made it across town to check on the girls I help take care of, I found them all safe, too. The friends I have been able to contact are alive, safe.
So many others are not.
When the power returned days later and I could finally bear to watch a few minutes of the news, I saw an interview with a woman from an aid organization, doing a show and tell on the type of shelters being flown in by them to Nepal. The news anchor asked her—she’d been here in the past, so presumably she’d know—if she thought the country would, could, recover. At first she skillfully evaded, then said, in so many words: “Things were so bad before, this will be pretty much impossible to recover from.”
Respectfully—and not ignoring the plight of those suffering and the long road still ahead—I’d like to disagree.
Nepalis are among the most resilient people I know. I’ve been here through the quasi civil war and the massacre of the Royal Family, both episodes that shook Nepal to its very core and altered the fabric of people’s psyche forever. And yet they bounced back.
Over the last week, these are some of the things I’ve seen in the streets of Kathmandu, Patan, and my own neighbourhood that give me hope, that have made me smile.
The day after the big one, I drove across town, looking for a friend who lives with her husband and son in his ancestral home, an ancient wood-and-brick affair in the old part of town. Every time I visit her I think the thing will fall around my ears, and I was very afraid for her. When I entered the courtyard her home fronts, I saw it still standing. A small crowd was in the center of the square and my friend detached herself from it and ran up to me, smiling. Her husband also smiled and waved from his place by a large pot, where he and some others were preparing a communal meal for the neighbourhood. They were organized, working together, full of a cheerfulness I hadn’t expected. I left them unexpectedly touched, unaccountably hopeful.
Another friend pitched a tent in an open area near his house, along with many of his neighbours in a more newly built up part of town. “We didn’t even know each other’s names—in fact, I still don’t know them—but we all take turns cooking the meals; if anyone is missing when it’s served, food is saved for them.”
A few days later, the family who owns the plot of land in front of my house showed up to till and plant. Schools are closed, so the whole family was there, and the daughter shyly wandered my way.
“What are you planting?” I asked her.
She struggled for the right word in English and finally found it: “Corn! Do you like corn?”
Then, the question that was really on her mind. “The earthquake, how did you feel?”
“I was scared,” I admitted.
“Me, too!” She smiled broadly and returned to her family.
A few minutes later she returned to ask if I had any drinking water, and her and her family took a break from their planting to drink.
Everywhere I went I saw generosity, giving, sharing. Most often through food.
By the time I made it across town to check on the girls, I had already lived through what felt like a week. After I’d sat for some time, I was asked if I wanted anything to eat.
“No, no, don’t bother. I’m fine.”
“I’ll make some wai wai, we’ve all just had some.”
I tried to refuse again, and eventually relented.
Soon, I was handed a bowl of steaming soup, made from the ubiquitous and much loved Nepali instant noodle and studded with fresh vegetables, so neatly julienned a chef couldn’t have done it better.
I had not eaten all day. I’ve never been so thankful for a meal.
There is a long road ahead. Many are still suffering, villages are still cut off, and years of rebuilding face the country. But the Nepali people will not only survive, they’ll thrive. Nepal’s got good people. No, great ones. That’s what it looks like from where I’m standing.