Some thoughts…

I have not moved from our home base here in Boudha, Kathmandu, Nepal to conduct my research. I am the only one of the 14 students on this program who decided to remain, but for good reason. I am interested in Sherpa youth and it just so happens that Boudha, and more generally the Kathmandu Valley, has quite a large number of Sherpa families. Thus, it only seemed proper I remain here. In short, my project is focusing on the lives of Sherpa youth, exploring their current interests and pursuits, be they academic, artistic, or occupational. While I take time to sit down and talk with these young Sherpas, I am also asking them what their thoughts are on mountaineering/trekking/tourism as it relates to their lives, Sherpa culture, and the overall concept of Sherpa identity. This interest raises a number of other questions and possible pitfalls, through which I am trying to navigate safely without getting too bogged down by the details and anxieties that so often serve as distractions. We are currently in week 2 of our 4 weeks of research, and things are continuing to go well despite hiccups here and there. 

About a week ago, as I was sitting in a cafe with a friend who is now in the remote region of Lower Dolpo in north-west Nepal, I discovered a book entitled Light from many Lamps. If you are familiar with this book, you can imagine my genuine excitement upon finding such a literary gem. It is not a novel. It is a compilation of some of the greatest quotes – and stories behind the quotes – that cover topics such as courage,achievement, happiness, perseverance, and many others. The authors of these quotes come from not only literature, but also from politics and religion, as well as a few who just happened to pen inspiration into the pages of their personal journals. Last night I was frustrated with the state of my research and the direction I appeared to be heading with the little amount of time I perceived I had left. So, to ease my frustration and anxieties, I felt it was time to pull out the book and get some inspiration. What I read put my mind at ease, and I think the two quotes are ones that everyone should be aware of in times of frustration. They go like this:

“You wake up one morning and lo! your purse is magically filled with twenty-four hours – the most precious of possessions.” – Arnold Bennett.

I think it is pretty self-explanatory why this quote made me feel better, but it was nice to read it and its accompanying story anyway. Essentially is just tells all of us to keep in mind that time is the one thing that we all receive the same amount of. None of us will ever haver more or less than our neighbors, our friends, our enemies. It is what we do with the time we have that makes the difference. We can never go into debt with time, and we will never have it taken from us. Bennett simply wanted to express, from his own personal experience, that all we hope to do is entirely possible given we budget our time well. This is not to say that no time can be allotted for leisure or sleep. In fact he stressed the opposite. Instead, we should plan our days accordingly if we wish to accomplish things. I, for one, like to leave time open for spontaneous moments, but even that can be planned to an extent. In my final weeks of research, I will employ this method of time management so that I can not only work diligently and effectively, but also relax and thrive in my last few weeks in this wonderful country. We would all do well to consider his ideas. At the very least, keep this quote in the back of our minds for those moments when we feel that “we simply do not have the time.”

The other quotes goes like this:

“We must do the best we can with what we have.” – Edward Rowland Sill

Although this quote comes from a man who was physically disabled, it can easily be applied to anyone in any situation. Personally, I look at this quote as a way of saying to myself, “Don’t worry about getting the best of everything. Instead, do your best to get the information available to you. In the end, you will work with what you have, and you will make the best of what is there.” This is not to say that one should simply settle for what they have, or that one should not work hard in things that they do and in the end say, “well, I guess I’ll just do what I can with what I have and that will be fine.” No. This is stressing the importance of being content with what you have and making the most of it. Sill did not whine about his condition or think of all the ways he was disabled. Instead, he looked at all the ways he could make good with what he was given. We can only play the cards we are dealt, so we must make the most of them. We can never be the best at everything, nor can we be better than others at all things, but we can all be great at something. As for my research, I am taking this quote to heart when I worry that I may not have asked enough questions or the right questions. I think of it when I see people walking around with better camera gear than I have. What I see as important is that I have adequate devotion and time to do my research and filming. Thankfully, I have an abundance of both.

I hope that these were helpful and interesting for those who took the time to read about my troubles and subsequent insights. I will try to post more like this over the next three weeks as I encounter more road blocks that send me to Light from many Lamps once again in my humble abode that is the Lotus Guest House.

Image

Thanks for reading, and check back soon. Oh, and just as a selfish plug, I’ll put a link here where you can find a better description of my research project, and those of two other amazing students at Gettysburg College who are also currently abroad. Enjoy!

http://www.gettysburg.edu (then look under “News” and select the “International Bridge Course…” topic.)

Advertisements

Final days together

This need not sound as sad or conclusive as it does; it is simply the best way to describe our last days together as a cohesive program before heading in different directions to conduct our research. At this very moment I am certain that all 14 of us are deep within the throes of our research, slaving away over interview transcriptions, photographs, and related literature trying to make some sense of anything…Then again, I am drinking coffee in a cafe with blazing-fast internet and updating my blog. I suppose others might be trying to retain their sanity as well. Nevertheless, these pictures are from our trip to Swayambhu on the north-western side of the Kathmandu Valley. Swayambhu (or Swayambhunath – with the ending very common to many names here) is known to many who travel to Nepal as the infamous “Monkey Temple.” Although this is a misnomer, there are plenty of monkeys to be found. And rest assured, whether you can see them or not, if you have food, they can see you very, very well. On more than one occasion did we witness a little furry primate relieve a larger, less furry primate of their foodstuffs. Really makes you wonder who is the more evolved…

Image

 

Image

But the stupa itself and the surrounding monuments and temples are quite beautiful. The name “Swayambhu” can be translated or understood in a few different ways. Literally, for the Newari Buddhists, it means “self-arisen.” This hearkens back a story that is told about a lotus sitting peacefully on the surface of the lake that is now the Kathmandu Valley. Supposedly this lotus, and the hill that formed under its own power beneath it, now sit within the large stupa built on top of hill. This is a horrible butchering of the story, but self-arisen forms are quite common in Nepal, and they are particularly special for Buddhists. Another way to understand it, from a Tibetan translation and context, is as “sublime trees,” or essentially the hill where an abundance of trees thrive. This story is related to a god that established the area, and he sacrificed his hair to protect the site. So when he cut his hair off, it is said that each one of his strands of hair was planted and grew into a different tree. Now, I know nothing of trees or how to actually name them, but I can claim that there are many different looking trees in this area. So who knows? Oh, and there are also lots of prayer flags, as per usual. 

Image

Image

Image

Image

This is a surprisingly clear view of the valley from the top of the hill. 

Our visit to Swayambhu was one of many things we had to accomplish in our last week together. Among the other things were finalizing paperwork for our research, making contacts, finding housing, and packing up in our home stays. The latter of these was by far the most difficult for most of us. Although we were ready to go out on our own and have new and exciting experiences, it was hard leaving a family that had so generously taken us in for the semester and treated us like part of their family. I really do miss having a good, home cooked meal every night. Fortunately we will see them once more at a picnic in our last week. I will do my best to update more throughout my research, but as it is not particularly exciting for most, it might not be worth your time. Once again, thanks for reading. See you again soon!