All these posts are thumbed on my iPod Touch - they are a reaction to the visits I make whilst filming abroad for different organisations and are a working traveller's view of the world. Bless up the organisations who helped me.
Wednesday, 28 September 2011
Over the hill...
It occurred to me as we stuttered our way out of central Kathmandu that maybe it is the constant presence of the mountains around that its the source of humility and belief for so many of the people in this area. This mix of Buddhist and Hindu fatalism and resignation to a destiny.
Something so much bigger and older than them is always there and that the human concerns, frailties and needs that blight our lives are nothing in comparison to them.
In effect we are are nothing. I am tiny, insignificant.
It had rained consistently since I arrived and I had not really seen the hills surrounding the city but I caught glimpses of them between the buildings and clouds as we climbed up out of the smog and disorder of the city. Small patches of green and trees appeared and the housing became less oppressive
Beyond the hills are even bigger mountains and I know beyond them are even bigger mountains still. Similarly, beyond my self is something bigger, and beyond that, bigger things still and beyond that things we will never know on this earth.
A four hour journey leads us to Dhading the eponymous district capital . We pull up to a school on a hill with a view over the terraced valleys around. Of course it is absurdly green everywhere with a rich red earth below the flora and plenty of water running down the steep hillsides, and all the way to the top of the neck achingly highest summit there are buildings - people live up there - how they get there I can't even imagine.
I am travelling with Restless Development who have received the Health award from STARS Foundation. They work with peer to peer education enrolling and training young volunteers to educate and pass on essential knowledge to young people. It has obvious advantages as young people are more willing to learn from their peers and the volunteers themselves often go on to become highly trained and employable.
A quiz has been organised - a fun way of learning about essential issues without forcing it. At the entrance of the school yard I am faced with a hundred yard double row of young applauding students of all ages. The first one places a beautiful garland of purple flowers around my neck, they look like clover flowers, but itch a little. I make my way through the snaking queue of eager faces having more and more fresh flower garlands laid over my neck, dozens of them all hand made. Bouquets are thrust into my hand and all the while I am trying to film. It becomes absurd as first my chin, mouth,nose and then finally eyes become covered by blooms. I can no longer see.
From within I have to shout enough and Kajal the project manager comes to my aid although she is in a similar state. By now I realised that the purple blooms (especially for Divali I am informed) are extremely irritating and I feel like I have been covered in stinging nettles. We make it to a table under a tree where the quiz is going to be held and it takes about five minutes to extract myself from the floral horror whilst trying to maintain respect for the work and thought behind the gift . Thankfully a man with his head stuck in a flower arrangement is universally funny and I can hear the muted laughter of kids as I disengage myself.
However even when down to just one garland of innocuous marigolds I feel like I have been attacked by ants and my neck is raw.
Hot, sweaty and itchy I proceed to film and interview the students of Durali school and two hours later we drive off down the hill to find our hotel in Dharding, I can't wait to get in a shower and wash my neck. I am relieved to find that Kageel feels the same but shocked when she decides we neet to eat first - I just wasn't hungry.
I still hadn't had a decent night's sleep since flying from UK but that night I was in bed by 8:30 and slept until 6 the next morning.
The need to film is a hunger that needs to be fed when you are in a new surroundings it gnaws at you and you are unable to relax until that desire to capture some moments and images is sated.
By the time I was walking the streets at 7, life was in full swing and the town was as busy as a midday market
.I have found that the people from some countries are much easier with being filmed than others and just as people in Nepal don't really acknowledge you if you let them pass or hold a door they don't care if you film them either - normally I ask if it's OK to film someone at a stall or in a doorway but here people seemed confused that I should ask and were virtually lining up to be filmed. Even the Police post were wanting to pose for me.
I went up onto the third floor terrace of the Guest house where we were staying that had a magnificent view of the area.It was a cloudy day but the atmosphere was clear - we were in the bottom of a deep valley surrounded by densely wooded slopes I gazed up at the houses and small communities scattered around .Even at the top there were houses of considerable size and I wondered about the people's lives up there- how they got them and their essentials up and down such an unreasonably high hill. I could not see a road so it must have been on foot. What a slog, and to think this country is full of foreigners paying a lot of money to walk these hills and these people do this every day and they're broke. No North Face, Berghaus, Saloman gear for them, it's flip flops and ragged jumpers.
Iit has been a belief of mine that if you lived at the top of a hill you would live a longer healthier life,the enforced walk every day would keep a level of fitness higher than those who lived at the bottom of the hill - but at that moment I realised that there may be a limit to my hypothesis but how would that day come when you could no longer make it up and down ? Do just stay at the top until you die or move down the hill?
I filmed from that viewpoint for a good while constantly finding details in the landscape that looked lovely through my lense. Women walking through thigh high Paddy fields carrying piles of cut grass on their backs. A purple temple concealed in the woods,children playing in the river, in the distance women breaking rocks down in to rubble by hand the sound making its way to me moments after saw the hammer hit ,life playing out in every direction a deity like overview on mankind's endeavours.
An hour later I am with Rob (a doctor) and Emma (an actress/english teacher) recently married and working with Restless as volunteers. Fantastic folks, young and wanting to do something worthwhile before settling down and having kids. We are walking with Kajal to a drama being played out at a local school, all part of Restless' work. We are crossing a river on a chain bridge the water churning below us furiously, the same river that through the years has made this deep valley we are in. Emma points almost vertically up and says "that's the school up there". I chuckle at her joke - I love a girl with a sense of humour."No serious" she says it will only take half an hour it's not as hard as it looks.
No it was harder, the heat, the weight of my bag that I had to carry Sherpa style with the strap over my forehead, and the slippery slope made it an intense climb. I get to the top and what do I see?
Another row of eager gorgeous children with hand fulls of garlands to drape round mysweat soaked neck, I just made a dash for it smiling and indicating they should give them to the people behind me.
The drama was genuinely funny even though I couldn't understand a word, a couple of the young actors were outstanding. In every group there is always a “natural” and slapstick is universally funny and crosses all cultural boundaries. Adults gathered to watch the play about the dangers of listening to Witch Doctors' advice and were laughing as much as the children. All gathered in a narrow school yard on the ridge of a hill with views either side of more hill tops and deep valleys.
Next morning we are due to go up a what the locals call a big hill (that in my mind must be a mountain) to see a Chepang community that have been given a water supply. Chepang are marginalised, they end up in the hardest place to live in Nepal because they own no land. Before they had to walk 3 hours to get water and then three more hours to bring it back, mostly the women and young girls of course, unthinkable in our culture where we don't do anything for three hours apart from,drink dance gurn.
Luckily we don't have time to walk and have hired a four wheel drive to get us as far up the mountain as we can. We arrive at the point where we are to meet the vehicle and above us is just hill I see no sign of the top just clouds, birds and neck ache.
An ancient Landcruiser arrives in a cloud of black smoke and ten of us squeeze into it We set off up what appears to be a river bed, Cecile from STARS said it was a frightening drive this and true to her word it was not the kind of journey that you sat back and looked at the view because you were actually looking at your potential killer. The standard stuff three point turns on hairpin bends with vertical drops behind and a complete lack of traction under the wheel and a track in front that doesn't look passable. The young woman sat next to who works with Restless and is pale and gripping my thigh for security or stability I 'm not sure which but she's not happy.
I fee quite buoyant and resolved to a tumble dryer death but certain that I am going to reach the top of this hill and that my death will be a lot less exciting at another time. We pass houses so beautiful and idyllic it makes me gasp, almost Alpine in their wooden appearance with animals living below wooden balconies and hay and wood stacked up the sides. Families gather to stare at our passing, children point and dogs bark. We pass adults and children picking their way up the track. Many times we lurched to such an angle that surely no car was designed to be at incredible that the vehicle can make it. The driver remains calm whenever we run aground in a rut and occasionally has to get out and pour water on the windscreen and manually work the one wiper over it so he can see. On his dashboard he has a small Buddha that he vaguely resembles with his beatific smile and pot belly hanging over the steering wheel,I have to keep checking to see if he is sitting lotus on his seat.
Smells drift into my conscientiousness, green growth,foliage,dung, moist warm air reminiscent of summer meadows ,shit and earth, blossoms and ganja.
Ganja - growing free and wild there for the picking, the taking, bushes the size of a dealer,mad , Why are we not buying fair trade weed from these people? A sustainable income at a fair price that it can be regulated, taxed,Get rid of the dangerous psychosis inducing manufactured weed that is consumed by our youth who will never know the meaning of old school irie.
After an hour we reach as far as is possible in a vehicle and start walking. A fifteen minute walk takes me to a hut and a woman waiting to greet us, she is the health worker in the village and I set to and shoot an interview with her, the most stunning backdrop to an interview that I have ever filmed.
I walk up to the water supply at the summit of the hill, there is a 360 degree drop all around me I have never been so high, everything is below me, but in the distance are mountains still higher and again I get the feeling of being nothing in the face of it all. That these people survived up here without a regular water supply is unthinkable, it is stunningly beautiful but in my terms uninhabitable a three hour treck just to get what we take for granted. They are so strong, so fit, so adapted I may as well be underwater or encased in cement in terms of being in my element, they make the trip to the valley floor regularly and the kids have to come half way down the mountain just to go to school When does a child become old enough to make that journey down and back ? Maybe they do it in stages? Such a strange existence marooned by altitude, but such a rarefied one, to be away from the mechanised world completely, to be back in time where the elements prevail and gravity is king.
This is the place to come on a retreat although there are maybe a hundred people living here the houses are separated by terraces and trees each house completely isolated, they are two story ,with a wide eve providing shelter on the ground floor. Goats ,chickens and ducks share the same space as humans.I film, I interview, I marvel and I understand that although I connect with this beauty ,(who wouldn't ?) I am just passing through here, a privileged visitor transient and meaningless. Up here you can see for miles but you can also see that you are only where you stand and to get anywhere else takes immense effort, the hills and the mountains signify a greater power than ourselves, obstacles that need to be overcome but ultimately they remain while we perish.
Moksha manifest ?
Hills – in the west we pay a premium to live on them, here you are at a disadvantage when you live up one, but we from the more comfortable countries come and compete against ourselves climbing up them – the challenge, because it's there,man against adversity, what must these people make of it ?
Back down on the valley floor Four men carry a body on a makeshift stretcher An old woman, I don't know if she is dead, her mouth is open and her body is motionless but her eyes are wide open, focused on infinity as if she knows where she is going, has seen beyond the furthest mountain, and knows her destination that none of us will see, until our time comes.