A young boy approaches us on the street and claims he can name the capital city of any country in the world. We test him with one country after another. It is only when I try Croatia that he is stumped. Perhaps he studies an old atlas. Then he asks if we will buy milk for his little sister. I am about to give him money when he says “No, if you give me money I’ll spend it on something else. Please just buy milk so I can give it to my sister.”
A young man approaches me on the street and asks if I will buy milk for his children. It seems innocuous so I agree. The shopkeeper gives him the milk and he runs off. She then demands an exorbitant amount of money from me, exponentially more than the milk is worth. Since the man has already left with the milk I feel I have no choice but to pay.
I am introduced to the researcher on place affiliation. Throughout our conversation whenever he says “Langtang” I think he is saying “long-time.” The village of Langtang is wiped out by the earthquake. Over 300 residents lose their lives.
During dinner John tells us about a new programme he is initiating to support refugee minors. Both Anne and I misunderstand him and wonder why coalminers would be a special group seeking refugee status.
I meet Luck Mervil at our orientation lunch. I don’t know who he is. I learn that he is a Quebec singer-songwriter originally from Haiti. He is a strong advocate for Quebec sovereignty. He has been charged with having sexual relations with a minor. At home we have a recording of Notre-Dame de Paris that features Luck in the role of Clopin Trouillefou, the King of the outcasts.
There is that awkwardness when you encounter someone new, wonder whether there are any points of connection upon which you can initiate a conversation. There is a tendency to look for that connection, not in his eyes, but at his nametag.
As the cancer and chemotherapy ravage his body Jim tells his wife that he doesn’t want any visitors. She is determined to honour his wishes and, in so doing, preserve his dignity and his hope of being remembered as a strong and healthy man. The family, not recognizing her intentions, grow increasingly bitter toward this woman who is denying them the right to look in Jim’s eyes one last time.
Tom gets a short-term contract doing clerical work for the office whose mandate is to find work for the unemployed. It’s not long before he joins their ranks. It’s hard when you only have a high school education. It’s hard when your only real ambition is to find another bottle. It’s hard when the only thing that dulls the anger is more alcohol. He is his father’s son.
“One of the kings divided that small city for his three sons. That was his biggest mistake. That’s when the foreigners came. The Saha Dynasty came in Kathmandu and grabbed the power. Everything changed. Our mother tongue, our nationality, our culture, everything.”
I am explaining to Jane the concept of chiaroscuro in painting. Employed by artists such as Caravaggio it features the subject of a painting lit by bright light contrasting against an otherwise dark background. She tells me you cannot know joy if you have not known sorrow.
Yin stays home on the farm, looking after the crops and animals and planning for their new home which will be designed as a self-sufficient refuge, totally off the grid. Yang is the only man she has loved and she never questions that they will be together through their senior years. Yang finds excuses to travel in the company of his young research assistant. When questioned he presents an explanation that has no connection to reality without ever feeling that he is lying. His infidelity is eventually exposed. During the separation agreement he argues over who will get the best frying pan.
Saffron drips down the white stupa like spaghetti sauce on a fat diner.
My guide asks if I am fit enough to climb the 365 steps to the top of Swayambhunath. I assure him that I am but I have to stop a couple of times to catch my breath.
Frebis and I are climbing up the back stairway to Swayambhunath when we encounter a craft stall with some fine brass figures. One in particular catches my eye. I spend some time admiring it and naturally the man who owns the stall is encouraged. I always have a hard time with impulse purchases. I need time to convince myself that I’m making a good decision. I decide that I’m not prepared to buy this figure. We tell the stall owner that we will visit the temple complex and see him again on the way back down. We continue on to the stupa and the other monuments. We are just about to descend using the main stairway at the front when the man appears. “Where are you going? You promised me that you would stop by my stall on the way back down.”
I ask Thomas if the rain will offer temporary respite from the horrendous air quality, washing the filth from the air as it falls. He says “There is fecal matter in the rain.”
There are times when you cannot afford to be honest with yourself. My brother must believe there is a chance he will survive. Without self-deception there is no way to see it through. He refuses to hear the surgeon’s words about reasonable expectations.
The anthropologist tells the story of phothi bashio. In a strange instance of gender reversal there are times when a hen has been known to crow like a rooster. When this happens custom dictates that the hen must be killed. It is not acceptable for a female voice to be raised.
Devotees bring food to leave in homage at the feet of the goddess. When night falls and no one is there to see, rats swarm the temple to eat the food. Our guide calls them the holy rats.