In August 2013 I found myself in a month long residency in Kathmandu. It was a cultural shock. Kathmandu is one of the most disordered cities I have ever seen. Mud roads, no sidewalks, dogs and cows blocking the narrow streets and swarms of motorcycles.
Few people speak English I started to wonder if I made the worst bargain by going there to deliver an art workshop at Patan museum.
After a few days I started to spot the emeralds in the dust field. A simple and very poor people practicing their faith every hour of the day by giving flowers to statues of Buddha, that are found in every corner, chanting their prayers, ringing a bell and walking happily to their daily work.
Kathmandu is a hard city to live in but then I decided that I will try to look at the reality around me, not with my ‘western eyes’ but rather with a fresh view that takes in to consideration that happiness is more important than wealth. I lived near the Durbar square and Patan museum. The other day I had a meeting in the east side of Kathmandu; it took the taxi forty minutes to arrive there because of the heavy traffic and the impossible roads. Looking at the map it seemed it was about ten kilometers away from my room. We finished the meeting around 6 pm; it was a clear, beautiful evening so I decided to walk back. I knew the direction and I had a map with me so felt secure and I started walking, it was a long way but I thought it was the best way to explore the new town I am in. I didn’t know that in Kathmandu there are no street lights and after sunset there was complete darkness, clouds started gathering in the sky hiding the stars, I was in the middle of a huge complex of slums reminding me of neglected refugee camps. I continued walking for an hour when I understood that I am lost. All the so called houses looked the same, all the muddy roads were alike, I tried to ask for directions but Nepalese don't speak English and complete darkness around made me understand that I have no idea where am I and that I had no clue about the directions to my residence.
What should I do? Knock on doors offering money to sleep there for the night? Sleep on a bench in the street? Continue walking and hope I will find the way? Wait for a miracle?
I consider myself a good navigator, I had years of experience navigating in the army in mountains and deserts, never got lost before but this time I was completely disorientated. I was a stranger in a strange city, stuck in complete darkness in the poorest neighborhood in Kathmandu. Lost. Completely lost. I sat on a small tree trunk; there were no people around, no lights, no signs of life.
I had a phone without a SIM card and tired legs from about four hours of non-stop walking, the possibility to sit there for seven hours till sunrise didn’t look promising.
Then, I thought I can’t find something without losing something. I lost so many things in my life and this time it is my way.
Then I thought, people who don t know where they are, are not getting lost, they just remain in the same area.
I heard from far away the sound of motorcycles, if there are motorcycles there is a road; I started navigating by sound, the louder the engine sounded, I walked towards it, if it sounded more distant I turned to the other direction. Around midnight I reached a road but still was disoriented. As Durbar square is in the middle of town I figured out that most traffic would lead to the center so I walked along the road heading to the more crowded traffic till I reached a Pagoda on a hill I recognized. This was a rare moment of revelation because from this moment on I knew where I am and like the pilgrims I kneeled on my heels on the hill and kissed the ground.
It took me another hour to reach my place.
My landlord's name was Buddha, he lived on the fourth floor while I am on the second the moment I entered the main entrance he shouted from the upper staircase, 'is it you Mr. Barr?'
'It is me Mr. Buddha'
'All good Mr. Barr?'
'I just lost my way Mr. Buddha'
'In Kathmandu', replied Buddha, 'if you don't lose your way you're not here'.
Have magic in your life
Ted Barr, Ramat Hasharon, March 2015