This is an excerpt from an essay I wrote this semester called "Maila Pani." This thread is about my trip to Nepal last summer.
The sprawling city of Kathmandu looks different from the ground, in the jagged, zigzag streets and alleyways, sharp turns and corners illuminated by clouds of dust cast into the air by rickshaws and old women selling corn.
This is what I hear as I walk back to the guest house in Thamel, the taxi driver leaning out anxiously and hitting the side of his cab. I shake my head, keep walking. We’ve learned to walk most everywhere, our farthest destination usually being Ratna Park. Otherwise, unless we venture the distance to Pashupati, we are here, in Thamel.
Thamel’s streets are slightly wider than those we cut through to go to Ratna Park, paved to accommodate pedestrians and taxi drivers delivering tourists to their guest houses. These streets are familiar, the three of us tracing our steps exactly as we walk underneath the dozens of brightly colored signs advertising restaurants, coffee shops, and shisha lounges toward a small intersection up the road where Krishna will be waiting.
“Chris!” Krishna has a high raspy voice that matches his boyish smile. The rest of him is far from boyish, from the dozens of cuts lining his arms like rows of corn, to the cigarette hanging limp from his scarred, dirty hands. This is the boy Chris came back for, who stole his heart last summer when he came to Nepal for the first time. Kevin and I returned with him expecting to find different reasons for being here, but we too found our hearts connected to this street corner, and we have been here every day since. I’ve never known whether to describe Chris and Krishna as brothers, friends, or something else entirely. At times Chris’ love for Krishna is like a father’s gentle concern, at others like a dear, old friend. Chris embraces Krishna and walks with him a little ways down the road, the two friends locked in silent conversation as they go.
Ashish is at his best right now, not to be disturbed as he approaches unsuspecting tourists, asking for money. When he’s rejected by one couple he nevertheless follows them down the road, winking at Kevin and me as he passes where we’re sitting on the curb. We’ve dubbed Ashish the most dedicated street kid, foregoing shoes in order to gain sympathy even though he’s higher up in the ranks of street boys. Anil is his only superior, the leader of the group. He’s the one who sat us down and sang worship songs the first night we were here, a routine he learned from missionaries and evangelists that he now uses to get drug money.
I’m assessing the street, looking to see if little Ramesh is working today, but he doesn’t seem to be here. He usually takes a break from begging when I’m around to lay his head on my lap and rest, occasionally trying to give me a kiss. Vijay is here, glue-bag in hand, arguing with Sunil on the corner opposite us. Vijay is my favorite, a 17-year-old boy with a deep love for attention and the unfortunate commission of doing the most degrading tasks necessary for the group’s survival. This is due to his most striking feature, a series of disfiguring scars that cover parts of his body and face, making him the most vulnerable in the group, and the one with the most to prove. He comes over and gives me a gentle hug, patting me characteristically on the back.
“Hello, Shara.” He lifts my water from its place on the sidewalk and pretends to sneak away with it, mischief playing at the corners of his mouth. “Vi-jay,” I say, prompting a sudden burst of laughter from Vijay, who returns my water and sits down between Kevin and me.
“Look, Vijay,” I say, pointing to my side satchel where I’ve sewn a beaded bracelet that he gave me last week. “SUMAN,” says the bracelet. I don’t know who Suman is, and I’m sure Vijay doesn’t either, but he beams with joy when I show him where I’ve placed his gift. “Sing, sing!” he says, and we break into a chorus of “Baby” by Justin Bieber. Vijay calls Chris over to “do the rap” and Chris complies, inserting Vijay’s name into the song and causing Vijay to burst into fits of giggling as we sing “Vijay, Vijay, Vijay, ohhh...”
Kev is scanning the streets for our friend Simone, a younger street boy who only occasionally shows up in Thamel. Whenever we see him his face lights up, eyes zeroing in on Kevin before he leaps into his arms, laughing. Chris and I watch as Simone clasps his hands around Kevin’s unshaven face, now broken into a wide smile.
I'm going back to these wonderful people in December! To find out more: kimandsarahstravelblog.blogspot.com