By: Joseph Rich
Having brushed my teeth in the cold morning rooftop air, having looked out scanning the neighboring rooftops for activity, having scalded the soft palate of my mouth on morning tea, I felt a deep inner pulsing of contentment in Kathmandu. In the near distance, across the inner city, below, on a mountainside, sat Swayambhunath Buddhist Monastery—exposing to my view little monks scurrying about, on a wide clear rock terrace everyone in ruby red gowns, yellow trailing sashes and each shaved head contrasting against the early morning sky.
In the valley between us, people began emerging to the rooftops pulling large woven baskets full of washed clothing, soon to be hung alongside their Buddhist prayer flags, alongside TV antennas that seemed out of place and alongside kids following moms, kids not at all part of any monastic life.
In Nepal, generally a child from every family goes into the monastery life very early on, sometimes a boy child, other times a girl from each family. Each gender has its own distinct Monasteries, and someone is expected to go live in the monastery and learn to work on behalf of Buddha. Many of the local monasteries practiced celibacy some, locally and rurally, contained Monks with extended families populating the hillsides below, where cottage industries grew to the needs of the mother Monastery.
Each day they made their way up dirt paths to fulfill collective duties much like our going to work. This brisk morning, some 30 or 40 monks of every size, shape and age quickly populated the terrace likes ants, the elder monks washing up the kids getting them going, similar to any mom or dad back in America.
In the cascading hills of the valley between us, brown buildings of untold age filled my line of sight, as a mosaic of quilted woven life began budding in the mist, lazy fog still clinging in many scattered patches between the city streets. Brown Eagles marshaled the sky on the lookout for pigeons they preyed upon like Japanese Zeros over Pearl Harbor. The pigeons flew short distances in spurts swooping to cover, trying to keep that cover on all of them, seemingly resigned to losing a few as in every daily survival battle.
The ancient buildings were all old, hundreds of years old worn and repaired, most every wall slightly off center, some new antennas here and there, some new prayer flags scattered among those tattered and torn by constant Himalayan winds. No buildings appeared to be more than a few floors high due to the high risk and constant threat of earthquake. Perhaps that is why so many people meandered onto the rooftops at all hours of the day?
People do not stare directly, but everyone looks out across the rooftops. Surprisingly to me, my neighbors to my immediate left took rooftop baths in makeshift showers, naked as jaybirds; no one had a care if others might be looking. For such a modest, conservative society on street level, I found it interesting yet not surprisingly, I instantly found myself looking shyly away as my free love 70s tales seemed to fail me.
The morning air was cold enough to give a good nasal drip but not cold enough to make you go back inside. It was time for me to head to the village of Golphu to build a water well for the people. Living in our local community or abroad, pay attention and signs of God in the every day will make you smile and serve our brothers and sisters.