When I think of books I would like to make, I think about Nepal. Nepal has been a country of beauty, love, and sadness for me. But mostly love. How to capture all of this has always been elusive, but grows even more so as time goes on and so does the story....
Here's Narayan at the top of Mt. Everest!
I met Narayan (as mentioned in a previous post) in Tibet. Narayan had just climbed the north face of Mt. Everest with a Spanish expedition (1985). In Lhasa, Tibet, my friend Connie and I had begun arranging to rent a bus and driver to take us to the border of Nepal. We learned from other travellers to do this and to sell seats to other travellers to fill the bus and cover the high cost. Narayan says he fell in love with my name when he saw the notice at his guesthouse. Though I went by Catherine, he started telling everyone he was in love with "Cathy." And when he met me I was "Cathy" all the time and his crush grew stronger. He was hard to resist.
In Kathmandu, Narayan lived in a building with many people. The owners "house mother and father" and their family lived upstairs. Downstairs Narayan shared a small room (maybe 7' x 7') with another climber/trekking guide. In the next slightly larger room down the hall lived a family of three. In the matching tiny room across the hall lived Hom, Lalita (my Nepali sister) and their two children. Down the hall from them was someone else I don't remember anymore.
These are most of the building residents, including house mother and father to my right, 1985.
Here's Hom, generously cooking a meal to include me. Lalita was pregnant with the twins at this time. May 1987.
None of these renters had a stove other than a one burner camping style, and no refrigeration. So shopping and cooking happened everyday. With only one burner it took quite some time to cook rice, dal, and any vegetable as a separate dish. A single person just couldn't manage this and have a job. By the time I met Narayan, he was an adopted part of the family of Hom and Lalita. They cooked for him and in return he helped them out. It was the only reasonable way to live. When Narayan brought me home, I was adopted as well. This is how Lalita became my sister, and her family began to become so important to me.
I always called Lalita "didi" never Lalita. "Didi" means older sister and was the only respectful way to address her. It just wasn't very common back then to call women by their first name. Everyone was referred to by relationship. So there are separate words for an older or younger sister, older or younger brother, a brother's wife, your mother's sister and your father's sister, etc. Because I was a foreigner, I was also called "didi," though really I was about a year younger than Lalita, and therefore she should have called me "bahini" (younger sister), but the rules change for foreigners. I was called by them all - "Didi" in combination with Cathy. So my name was "Cathy Didi."
In Nepali there is no "th" sound like we would say in "Cathy." The "h" is softer and separated from the "t." So really my name sounded more like Cat-he. Unfortunately, this sounds like the Nepali word for "girl." Being "Cathy Didi" meant I was called something that translated into "girl-older sister." When I learned this, I found it hysterically and ironically funny. Ironic because I was so appalled initially at being so anonymous -- at the women having no names, but always being referred to by their relationship to you or someone else (men usually). It offended my feminist American identity laden ego. Hysterically funny for the same reasons, I can laugh at myself, and being called "girl sister" was pretty funny! Later, when I became so much more attached to them and cared so deeply about their lives, I was honored to be older sister, aunt, grandmother, brother's wife, all the names I have held. It meant I had become a part of their real lives, and not just a tourist visitor.
I was beautified each visit, Nepali style. This included a bindi on my brow, nail polishing, lots of bangles, and Nepali dress. I often felt like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz where she gets polished up to be presented to the Great Oz. They would always tell me how I looked just a like a Nepali girl. One visit I arrived with an earring post in my nose - ok, it was really held in by a magnet, but it was a great joke.
Over the years I have been back to Nepal 3 more times to visit my family. I have also introduced them to many friends who have carried gifts back and forth, and their lives have become woven in as well. Sadly, Narayan died back in 1988, and just a few years ago my Nepali sister Lalita died from a brain aneurysm. I miss them both.
For me, the smell of marigolds conjures up Nepal and Kathmandu. It was an association I didn't know I had until I planted a few dozen in the garden in 1999. Now I can't resist growing the more original marigolds from South America, they are tall and striking (and slug magnets).
They inspired my first subscription piece.
I have a lot of ideas for artist's books about Nepal. They are not so much about my life there, as the lives of the Nepalese whose country has changed so much in one generation. To make them I think I would have to go back to Kathmandu and stay for a while. Oh it is so noisy and crazy there now, I don't know if I can. . . .