Wednesday, April 30, 2008

In Kirtipur

Kirtipur, south of Kathmandu and sitting on a hill still in the valley but rising as it approaches the rim, was something of a disappointment. Workers were laying down new paving stones throughout much of the old town, so walking was a slalom of gravel piles, bags of unmixed concrete from India, and stacks of irregular, flat, sedimentary stone. The triple-tiered Uma Maheshwar Temple, the most visible structure in town,was covered in bamboo scaffolding, new carvings for the braces haphazardly piled nearby. In the main square the back side of the towering temple was painted and scored by graffiti, and on Naya Bajaar in the newer and poorer part of town--the parts built outside the old wall after the city was conquered in the 1700s by Prithvi Narayan Shah, who ordered the noses and lips of all the city's men cut off for resisting his siege--a storekeeper tried to cheat me out of 50 rupees.

But at Chilanchu Vihara, as I wandered and took pictures, a man came up the long stairway from the rural valley below and began asking me questions: Where are you from?, First time in Nepal?, the standard questions you expect after only a couple of days here. These questions often end in a demand for chocolates or one rupee--when from children--or the attempted sale of trinkets or a guided tour, so I half-heartedly prepared myself to let the man down.

He spoke English, however, much better than the typical Nepali, and asked further questions: Where in California was I from?, What did I do for work?, What was I doing in Nepal? In return, he told me a little about Kirtipur, when the new Thai Buddhist temple was built, that the villagers spoke Newari instead of Nepali, that the only restaurant I had seen was also the only restaurant worth eating at.

He told me a little bit about himself as well, that he had no job, that he spoke Newari and Nepali and English, and some French and Italian. He had done a little exterior housepainting and cooking, but now those jobs were over.

When I asked him what he would do if he could get any job in the Valley, and he said he would do any job that would pay him and was regular, it struck me that in his heart of hearts he was looking not to sell me trinkets but was hoping for me to give him a job. A porter, a Nepali tutor, a didi, whatever: a job.

And I could have. 1,000 rupees per month is a decent wage, enough to live on with a little extra, and is 200 dollars--per year. I am unaccustomed to being this wealthy, to be able to throw money at people because the amounts are so insignificant, to have a man in a blue pullover and lighter blue pants ask me, roundabout, for a job, any job, and justifiably.

When there was a lull in the conversation I wandered away, then waited the man out. I am not proud.

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