Stranded in Nepal
At the time of the big Gorkha Earthquake that hit Nepal in 2015, a friend of mine who was living in Kathmandu told me a story that touched me deeply and positively influenced my decision to come to live to Nepal the following year. He said that one week after the earthquake, a group of monks from Ka-Nying Shedrub Ling and students from Rangjung Yeshe Institute decided to go to visit remote villages in Nepal – those that are accessed after days of walking and that, due to being far away from the main towns and cities, are rarely visited by international relief organizations (such as “Red Cross” and “Doctors Without Borders”). Their intention was to inquire about the villager’s necessities and, after returning to Kathmandu, organize supplied helicopters to fulfill those needs. After two days of walking, when the sun began to hide behind the mountains, my friend and his companions found refuge in a nearby village. As they arrived, locals received them with great warmth and love: they offered them dhal bhat (a typical Nepali dish that includes rise, lentils and vegetables), invited them indoors to spend the night and, as they woke up, they served them chia (tea) and breakfast. Before continuing their journey, my friend came to know that people from the village who had welcomed them with so much generosity, only had food left for approximately five more days – a reality that left my friend in tears and taught him an act of kindness that he will never forget.
Today, five years after the earthquake, Nepal (and the rest of the world) is once again undergoing one of the most difficult times in terms of health and the economy – the Covid 19 pandemic. In a developing country like Nepal, extended lockdowns are extremely challenging, especially for beggars, people with disabilities, daily wageworkers and their families, who unfortunately constitute a significant percentage of the population. Despite the present circumstances, I want to share how extremely inspired and grateful I feel for the warmth and the caring attitude of many Nepalese (locals, business people and monastics) that live in my neighborhood and the surroundings.
During the first days of the lockdown, sometimes it became challenging to find open shops to buy food essentials. Some sellers were uncertain whether they could open their shops or not; others could not reach to their shops because public transportation was suspended and private vehicles needed a special permit to circulate; and others, not getting provisions delivered to their shops, did not have products to offer. In one of those days, in a small alley close to my house, I found a small fruit shop that was open. Despite not having much to sell, the shopkeeper had one ready-to-eat papaya that I decided to buy. As I handed the money to the shopkeeper, he looked at me with caring eyes and said, “You should wear gloves;” to which I responded, “I don’t have.” Few minutes later the shopkeeper came back with a few rupees of change and, together with the money, he gave me a pair of latex gloves while he said to me, “Please, take care.” I tried to pay him for the gloves but he did not accept the money. I looked back at him with my heart full of gratitude, remembering the myriad of recent articles I had read about the difficulty to buy gloves, masks and similar products during pandemic. Yet there I was, standing in front of a rather humble, small shop, receiving free gloves from a shopkeeper whom I was meeting for the first time and was genuinely concerned about my health – an act of kindness that I will always treasure.
From the first morning of lockdown several local restaurants provided free food for tourists stranded in Nepal who were waiting for their embassies to organize repatriation flights. Also, through Facebook, I came to know of local families who offered free homestay to foreigners who could not manage to pay long stays at hotels. Such acts of fraternal hospitality will always be remembered in my heart. At a time of “social distance” that reinforces the separation between “self” and “other” and can lead to considering one and other as a health menace, it is extremely touching to be surrounded by locals who embrace foreigners as if they were members of their own families.
The spirit of loving kindness and compassion also reached out to the community of street dogs, cats, cows, monkeys, pigeons and other animals who are usually fed on restaurant leftovers and pedestrian’s generosity. In my neighborhood (Boudhanath) several volunteers divided the area into zones, and each assumed the daily responsibility to feed the animals living on a particular sector. Some of the volunteers fulfilled their task in very creative ways!
From the first week of lockdown and without interruption, monasteries in Nepal (such as Ka-Nying Shedrub Ling, Gechak Ling, Sechen, Pullahari, Kopan, Amitabha, and many others) whole-heartedly distributed essential food to thousands of peoples. Monks and nuns organized themselves to receive donations, buy huge quantities of food, prepare food parcels (that generally include: rice, lentils, cooking oil, potatoes and soap), distribute the food packages to vulneable families and, sometimes, even carry those food hampers all the way to people’s doorstep. On the one side, it is unfortunate that the government is not the main agent behind relief initiatives such as this. I can imagine how, especially from the perspective of those who are facing food-shortage, it is difficult to reconcile the contradiction between the government claiming to sustain the lockdown for the sake of people’s health and, at the same time, risking the life of a big portion of the population by not providing essential food supplies. On the other hand, the fact that many monasteries are taking on the responsibility to feed hundreds of vulnerable families shows that, more than just giving food, monks and nuns are role-modeling a true expression of compassion in action – a behavior that not only inspires greater faith and respect towards monastic spiritual communities but also, has the potential to nourish a fraternal, caring relationship amongst the society as a whole.
This quarantine finds me living alone in Nepal. Though my heart longs to reunite with my beloved partner, my kind parents and other members of my family who are thousands of kilometers away, I am still very grateful to have the chance to personally savor the kind, fraternal, loving nature of Nepal and its people. Like my friend’s unforgettable story at the time of the Gorkha earthquake, I have now evidenced the warm-hearted, resilient spirit of my Nepali brothers and sisters. With immense gratitude and appreciation, I wish to thank each one of them for softening my heart and becoming a true source of inspiration; for showing me all the positive results that come when we focus on others and actively find ways through which we can better serve the community.