You might think I’m going to talk about Angelina and Brad and the terrible affliction of living life pursued by the paparazzi. But, alas, this is a different blog altogether….
For the majority of Nepalis, life takes place out in the open. Bathing, cooking, washing, grooming–all are a matter for public scrutiny. Hit the streets of Kathmandu and a Sunday afternoon’s wanderings will reveal all these activities and more to the casual observer.
First, there is a mother, squatting outside of her shack, cooking dinner over an open fire in a big, black iron pot. Everyone knows what her family is having for dinner tonight. Continue on and pass several women, sitting on the sidewalk, brushing and picking through each others’ hair, taking turns grooming each other. Next to them is a young girl, hunched over a bucket, doing laundry with water collected from the monsoon rains the previous night. Then, cross the bridge over the river–look down and there is someone standing below, relieving their bladder.
Next, it’s past the water tap set in the hill beside the road, within feet of passing buses, cars and motorbikes, where freely running water provides both young and old with a bath. The women are the most fascinating to watch–wrapped in sheets, carefully maneuvering and shifting both sheet and body so that every part gets washed, yet nothing is revealed. Their graceful ability to take an entire bath, without any accidental or “indecent” exposures is quite a feat.
Finally, arrive at Pashtaputinath, the holiest Hindu site in Nepal, where it soon becomes evident that not even funerals are exempt from the scrutiny of strangers. Observe a Hindu funeral and ritual cremation on the ghats beside the Bagmati river. Witness the carrying of the body, three times around the platform, the placement of the body on the awaiting pile of wood, and the lighting of the funeral pyre, with fire placed first in the mouth of the deceased. Hear the wailing and crying of the family, watch as relatives try and comfort a collapsing young woman, overcome by anguish.
It’s most uncomfortable, being in the role of a spectator at a stranger’s funeral. Look at your feet, look at the river, look anywhere but at the body and the grieving family. Look around and suddenly notice that there are hundreds of other observers, standing on the bridge or on the steps across the river, casually chatting and watching the unfolding ceremony, the grief and the billowing smoke.
All of this, as seen by one foreigner and countless others, on one Sunday afternoon in the capital of Nepal. Life is very public in Kathmandu.
Posted By Stacey Spivey (Nepal)
Posted Jul 6th, 2006