Thursday, March 28, 2013

I-MAN goes back to Dang

Bhojman, a work colleague, had invited I-MAN to his village, Sonpur, but then he wasn’t invited, but then he was, but then a bunch of people died because of the cold and then I-MAN’s dear friend Arat stepped in and said I-MAN has to come to my home in Ghorai to witness the festival of Maghe Sankranti.  I-MAN was prepared to stay in Kathmandu, but then he was walking, at 5 AM from Sanepa Chowk to Teku to find a taxi.  Finally, after a 20 minute walk, a taxi was located and whisked I-MAN through the some-what deserted back-roads to the New Bus Stand, which I-MAN had confused with the Old Bus Stand.  Some NPR 500 later, I-MAN was waiting at the New Bus Stand, in the early morning cold for Bhojman who soon arrived.  By 6:10 AM the pair were on the bus and there was no speaker above his head! 

The most frightening thing for I-MAN about going back to Dang was that he would sit next to another speaker which would surely want to put another scar over his right eye in order to make things symmetrical.  But this bus company was smart as they had a flat speaker not facing any seats.  I-MAN was quite happy about this as the children across from him started putting candies in his mouth. 

The bus driver, of course, didn’t have much of a driving record and had been in jail several times for incidents related to crashing buses and having them fall over cliffs.  Never-the-less I-MAN was quite happy when at one stop a very dear relative called from a distant land, that sometimes crept into I-MAN’s dreams.  This put a big smile on I-MAN’s face for the rest of the trip.  I-MAN was also quite happy that he would be spending two evenings at Arat’s home and could show off his scar to Arat’s family.  Also he was looking forward to renewing acquaintances with the Dragon, Spider and A-MAN, and of course Arat’s mom and her brothers and their wives, but most of all Arat, as I-MAN had a special fondness for her.

A-MAN, a Nepali Superhero

Once the bus arrived at the village of Sonpur  and Bhojman jumped off, I-MAN had about another hour to go and felt a little uneasy, but knew that his little friends who continued to feed him candies would help.  Sure enough the candy kids got off at the same Ghorai stop.  I-MAN stepped off of the bus, and there was A-MAN who jumped into I-MANs arms as they flew up into the sky renewing their acquaintance.  Prakesh and Arat were also there and I-MAN gave both of them big hugs.

They all walked back to the Ghorai home where I-MAN gave Arat’s mom a big hug and checked out the friendly mouse in the bathroom.  It was just as I-MAN had remembered and they all went to sleep preparing for the big festival. 

On Monday morning, I-MAN, Arat and her mom set out and took a bus to the festival site.  Now I-MAN had been to this site before when he had previously visited an orange Sadhu man.  I-MAN remembered the peacefulness and tranquility but he also remembered the then quiet animal sacrifice site.  I-MAN could hardly believe his eyes as there were people and oranges, peanuts, a movie house and balloons everywhere, as far as the eye could see.  I-MAN immediately found some sadhus and asked them to take some photos with him.  There were also boats giving rides in the lake.  I-MAN had remembered that these boats had huge holes in them and was wondering how somewhat miraculously they had been repaired.  People were also bathing and washing off their sins, floating candles, the usual kind of thing that people did when bathing, in well, not quite clean waters.

I-MAN's Cousin with some Sadhus

I-MAN walked and walked and couldn’t seem to  get past the mounds of oranges and peanuts.  The movie house, which appeared to be a huge cardboard box, was playing a kung-fu movie.  I-MAN poked his head inside, but nobody was watching the movie, although the audio was very loud.  I-MAN found some sugar cane and a young lady came right up to I-MAN and said hello, I’m so and so and where are you from?  I-MAN was somewhat baffled, but was quite happy that this young woman had come right up to him and I-MAN told her so.

Prakesh and A-MAN had also arrived and they said ok it is time to witness the sacrifices.  I-MAN, being a vegetarian, was somewhat wary but he also wanted to take photos and maybe make a movie.  Yes I-MAN was full of contradictions, even for a young superhero.  The trio saw some people roasting headless bodies and cleaning entrails and lots of fur in big piles.  I-MAN wondered what kinds of animals these might have been and whether or not they screamed or knew that their heads were about to be taken from their bodies.

As the trio crossed a thin bridge where people were pulling the long white entrails into spaghetti, I-MAN soon found his answer.  There between a double line of people were at least 35 headless, what used to be sheep.  A little further away I-MAN saw the bloody chopping block.

I-MAN watched as a sheep was led up to the block with one man holding the rump and another man holding a rope tied to its front end, while a third man took a 10 foot sword and sliced off the head.  This was all done in such mechanical fashion as many people looked on.  The blood was running but there were no screams from the sheep, as they knew that they were going to a place where there would be no chopping and the people in the present world would be grass which the sheep would eat.  I-MAN neither saw any sheep shivering and wondered why people chopped off heads out in the open.

But I-MAN knew that maybe this might not be as cruel as the meat industry in his home country, SU.  He knew that sheep, pigs, goats, cows and other animals used to feed the carnivorous hordes were sometimes kept in small pens with poop everywhere, something knows as factory farms.  On some level I-MAN didn’t like this killing, as after all he survived on fruits and vegetables, occasionally some tofu and paneer.  But on another level, at least the sheep had maybe had a good life living in a village and had not been penned up having to sleep in their own feces, while polluting the air that the people breathed. 

The trio decided to leave the sacrifice area and walk to a temple. There were so many people waiting to pray, some holding chickens, some holding other kinds of things, like flowers, to give to the gods.  As the trio continue to walk on the road to leave, more and more people were coming in, so they decided to go to a restaurant and try some veg noodles.

The restaurant was located in a perfect place, right next to the entrance of the festival area.  I-MAN had been to this restaurant on his last village to Ghorai, but that was before the restaurant had officially opened.  The veg noodles were pretty good tasting and I-MAN and A-MAN and Prakash were now ready to leave. 

But this was more difficult than first thought given all of the people coming in.  In fact there were so many motorcycles, buses and people that nobody was moving, it was as if this was a gigantic game of freeze tag, with everyone frozen.  The trio decided to board a bus, but that bus driver thought that he would go up a hill and I-MAN knowing fully well the driving habits of bus drivers in Nepal, said let’s get off and walk. 

Since there were so many people and buses and motorcycles the trio decided to walk on top of this holy mess.  That proved to work as the trio slowly made their back to the Ghorai home.  I-MAN,  as usual took lots and lots of photos of the colorful Nepali people.  There was even one boy wading in a stream.  He seemed to be quite overjoyed to see I-MAN and jumped up and down in the water.

Back at the Ghorai house, I-MAN knew that it was time for a hair-cut and his second ever straight razor shave and face massage.  It was just as I-MAN had remembered from the last time that he was in Ghorai, so very relaxing.  After this it was time for a shower to get off all of the travel dust.  In fact, I-MAN had acquired at least five kilos of dust all over his body and he felt as if he needed to shed this extra weight, even if the water was cold.  Fortunately the bath area had a large drain, because if it hadn’t, I-MAN would have suffocated from all of the dust that came off of his body.

I-MAN felt pretty good after this and went outside to play with some children, including A-MAN, who had made a ball out of rubber bands.  I-MAN had noticed many children throughout Nepal making these rubber band balls and was happy to finally get to play with one.  The balls didn’t bounce that well, but they were inexpensive and most families could afford these.  The thought crossed I-MAN’s mind to buy a bunch of round balls and give them to children, but then he thought better of this idea, which might cause some kind of revolution and then he might get kicked out of Nepal, which he really didn’t want to occur.

I-MAN wondered how this revolution might be reported in the Nepal history books, i.e. first a Maoist Revolution, followed by a ball revolution.  I-MAN, having most recently come from America, although as we  know, originally from India, just didn’t want to have this on his conscience, especially because he thought that the then American President Obama, would really never play basketball with him.  I-MAN just took a load of rubber bands and threw them up into the sky, where many young Nepalis were waiting to catch.

That evening I-MAN said good-bye to Arat who would be leaving early the next morning for Kathmandu in order to take some test the following day.  When I-MAN awoke Prakesh put him on a bus for Sonpur Village.  Upon arriving I-MAN had to wait for at least one hour at a bus stop, until his friend Bhojman arrived.

Bhojman came on a motorcycle with some friends and Bhojman indicated that the and I-MAN needed to take a bus to get to Sonpur. 

Once arriving in Sonpur, a real village, I-MAN was introduced to Bhojman’s wife, daughter and his parents.  Bhojman was building a new house, but that didn’t matter much to I-MAN as he was happy to be back in a village.

He also noticed something that he hadn’t seen before.  That was the fact that none of the toilets, or outhouses, had a roof.  This was the first time that I-MAN had ever sat in a roofless toilet and given that fact that I-MAN was quite obsessed with toilets, he added this one to his long list.  Once I-MAN left the roofless toilet he just couldn’t wait to have to relive himself again.

Bhojman decided he would take his daughter and I-MAN on a little tour of the village, which proved to be quite a fun undertaking.  Most of the villagers had never seen anyone like I-MAN before and they were quite curious, walking up to him and pulling his ears, trying to pull out a hair or two from his head, pulling eyelashes.  I-MAN took this all in stride and only said, “Namaste” and explained what he was doing in his limited Nepali.  Of course there was also some dancing and laughing and sitting in a kitchen with about 50 other people. 

I-MAN was beside himself with pure joy.  Many photos were taken and there was even some music.  I-MAN could only marvel at the, seemingly simplicity of it all.  There, of course, were the frustrations with people eating candy and just throwing the wrappers anywhere.  But I-MAN would always ask the people to pick these up and find a dustbin.  (On the ride back to Kathmandu, I-MAN observed some young adults eating chips and then mysteriously the bags would disappear.  I-MAN spoke to them and wrote an article about this that was published in a newspaper, ).

After a night of sleeping in Bhojman’s home the duo left for Kathmandu as it was time to return.  Fortunately there were no speakers and I-MAN even thought that the scar over his left eye was starting to disappear.  I-MAN was happy to have spent some time out in the rural areas where most Nepalis struggle to make a living.  As usual though, I-MAN found lots of smiling people who were all too happy to welcome him into their homes.  I-MAN certainly couldn’t wait until his next adventure in learning how to become a world citizen and having more respect and understanding of those that would never have the same life as he was so blessed with.

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