Showing posts with label getting lost.. Show all posts
Showing posts with label getting lost.. Show all posts

Sunday, 14 January 2018

A welcome in Kathmandu

The plan, in coming to Nepal, was to spend some quiet time recuperating from the events of last year. Maybe I should know better than to think life here could be quiet. So much has happened in this first week I can’t condense it into one post, and so I’ll give you snippets, and then more snippets when I get home.

The airport in Kathmandu no longer alarms me. To be fair, the airport itself has never alarmed me, and the computerised visa system now makes the arrivals process significantly easier and quicker. No, it is the landing, in the mountains, which had been a bit breath-holding. One minute you think you are several hundred feet above the ground and then, a quick circle with mountains crowding on all sides, and you’re down. (It’s still alarming if it’s windy!)

But I hadn’t expected all the Nepalis on the plane to stand up and put coats on. I’ve been here in January before, and know it can be chilly in the evening, but this time it was actually cold. Not England-cold, not the raw, bone-eating cold of home, but still cold. And cold enough for poor people without warm clothes to die in Nepal this winter. So, I tell myself, put your fleece back on and stop grumbling.

Besides, after the usual preliminaries at the hotel I was invited to join the group of young men cooking potatoes on a fire in the courtyard. We sat close enough to get hot knees. The flames fizzed and crackled, smoke wafted into the night sky, and the potatoes were delicious. Welcome, I thought, to Nepal.

I had just one full day in Kathmandu. I wandered out in the morning, armed with a map and the sun in the south. So how did I get so lost, so often? Yet each time I ended up on a street corner, clearly bewildered, someone took my trusty map and relocated me. Each time I’d set off again, with confidence, only to get lost again. (Once a lad was sent to run after me, as I’d taken the wrong turning within half a minute of leaving the man who had sorted me out!). 

I’m rarely fazed by being lost. And it matters not one jot in Kathmandu - the streets are teeming with people and motorbikes and cars, small shops spill their wares onto the pavements, the air is so thick with diesel you can taste it, icons at the roadside exude wafts of incense, there are potholes and storm drains and the occasional dog - but the Nepalese are unfailingly kind and generous. If I had to choose one city in the world to get lost in, it would be Kathmandu!

Thursday, 23 May 2013

What did you do in Venice?

What did you do in Venice?

I got lost.

What do you mean, lost?

Indeed - what do I mean, lost? As a child was taught that 'lost' is something terrible. It means someone nasty might take you away. That storms would rage and winds would howl and there'd be no gingerbread house for me, oh no, I'd be cold and wet and what's more nobody would love me.

But lost, I've learned, can be many things - rarely starkly good, or bad - rather it can be uncomfortable, or inconvenient, occasionally alarming. And it can also be an opportunity. Lost is the place where we find the unexepected. It is the place where we can look up and see the sky is a different blue, the buildings a strange shape, the people with smiles you don't recognise.

Some years ago I was Hue, in Vietnam, for the Chinese New Year. I was studying a map - useless, when all the street names were in a different script - when a man came and used his one sentence of English: What is your name? He led me to his home, to his frail parents and his gentle wife and his sister and three children who bounced around my knees. The children knew we didn't need words. I spent the day with them. I have no idea what was going on, what I ate, nor what sense they made of me. It was a wonderful, 'lost', opportunity.

I didn't meet unexpected families in Venice. But I wandered into a church and found a picture by Tintoretto. I was tempted by tiny passageways that led to a courtyard where the sun shone on flaking pink walls and tiny white flowers shimmered. And I sat in the sun, in my lostness, and watched tourists studying maps.