Hey. Leah’s here now. See the photo above? Didn’t I tell you that it’s just different when she’s around? So basically I’ve been hanging around the area where we’re staying – Boudha – and the Bodhnath stupa. This morning was the first morning that Leah’s been here so I woke her up at 5am and we walked in the darkness to sit on the steps in front of one of the monasteries and have some chai.
A few days ago after making the rounds, I ordered chai from this woman who is setup just off the steps where I sit to watch all of the people praying while I hunt for shots. She’s the nicest, and she has the best chai – so I usually order like 5 small cups (at 10 rupees per (it’s about 70 rupees per dollar.))
So that’s basically been the schedule – wake up around 5am, gear up, walk to the stupa – shoot – make a few rounds, and then order a chai and sit on the steps of the monastery. Order more chai from my friend and keep looking for shots. Like this one.
Of course today was different because Leah’s here – and she always makes new friends.
This boy saw us and almost immediately sat down beside Leah. He didn’t really talk at first and we didn’t really get the feeling that he was just hanging out to get some money – so we hung out – and watched people walk by. He laughed at some of them and I of course took pictures of him – and then we eventually got him his own cup of chai.
And then yeah – some of his family came over to see what was going on – and to check out all of the photos Leah had on her phone (Droid!) – because we’ve kind of learned that when we travel abroad and meet new people – sometimes they’re interested in seeing photos of our life back home in the U.S.
After we finished our chai all three of us went up on the stupa and eventually Leah had a little dance party with our friend. Oh yes. Video later.
Today we also went over to some more touristy spots – did some shopping (Northface sleeping bags because it’s COLD in our guesthouse – and we’re going to be going up into the Himilayas in a few days.) Lots and lots and lots of good stuff to show you guys when we get back home. My original goal was to come back with a good amount of CONTENT. I’ve succeeded so far and we have a lot, a lot of both photos and video.
See you tomorrow.
Kathmandu. Nepal. Photos. Travel. Photography. Stupa. Bohdna. Bohdnath.
Even though I’m not primarily a ‘travel’ photographer – I at least know that if you really want to get the shots that the tourists won’t get, you have to wake up before dawn and get out there before even some of the locals start their day.
That’s a little difficult here since it seems like the Buddhists are out and about walking around the stupa at 4am – well, they’re at least out before 5am because on the first morning I got to the stupa at 6am – just as the sun was rising, and then the next day I got there an hour earlier at 5am because I wanted a little more time before daylight hit – and it was packed.
Now these are the shots most people won’t get because hey – it’s about 35 degrees in the mornings right now, and it means you had to wake up at 4:30am. Of course, every morning when I walk downstairs the ‘guard’ scares the hell out of me since he’s usually lying down somewhere in the darkness and just wakes up all of a sudden. I play it cool – but um yeah, it’s a really weird way to start every day. And then I walk through the pitch black alleys, trying not to trip – and trying to not be freaked out by the deep, rumble of people in the darkness around me, also walking to the stupa and reciting their prayers… it’s honestly kind of like walking next to zombies in the darkness – so I walk fast.
The first day I just kind of checked things out – since I was a good bit trigger shy. But after my 5 hour hike around the outskirts I got over that – and the next morning I was all about getting my shots. Of course – I’m not dumb and I generally avoided the targets that were obviously going to chase me down and try to make me pay them if I took their photo. Communicating with your subjects is key – or you know – shooting and then quickly walking away.
On a different note – it’s funny how along with the usual ‘I want to get good shots because I’m a photographer’ – I also kind of feel obligated to just totally rock while I’m here – for the Interns. One of the things I’ve said before is that everything I shoot, I shoot for practice. Whether it’s weddings, or family portraits, or events – it’s all practice for some unknown opportunity. Because one of the things I worry about the most is simply wasting a photographic opportunity because I wasn’t ready – because my skills weren’t where they should have been.
I say this without boasting – but it takes some nerve and even skill to regularly get close to strangers, take their picture – and to walk away without getting yelled at – or to simply start a conversation that way. You’ll notice that my travel photography isn’t primarily lanscape photography – so all I have left are people. I know I’ve only been shooting for about a year and a half – but I’ve been practicing nearly every day since I picked up my dSLR back in August of 2009.
See you tomorrow.
Kathmandu. Nepal. Travel. Photos. Photography. Bodhnath. Stupa. LeahAndMark.com
It took me two hours of walking until I finally warmed up to photographing. I don’t know what it was – but I just wasn’t really feeling my shots. I wasn’t in the mood to pull out the camera and really work things. So I walked. And I kept walking. Uphill even.
First I went uphill and to the East, away from the Bodhnath Stupa – I didn’t know how far I would go, just that I would walk until I didn’t feel like walking uphill anymore. An hour later, I turned around. Of course I didn’t see another photographer and I definitely didn’t see anyone other than the people that live here. As I continued walking I’d wave hello to the shopkeepers, or the metal workers, or… the people lying down in the fields of dead grass and garbage. That was on the way up.
On the way back, I pulled out my camera and started looking for shots. While some photographers will tell you that they love their long, 300mm lenses when they travel because they can ‘catch’ people – I’ll tell you that I love my 35mm prime. Sure it’s a 50mm on my camera body – but that’s perfect. Because you don’t get shots like these from 40 feet back, and you can’t get them without having a technique to how you photograph. There’s no hiding when all you’ve got is a prime lens and you have to get within five feet of your subject – or closer.
With a 300mm lens – you’re rarely getting anyone looking right into your camera. And for me – if they’re not looking right down my lens then what’s the point? I want the connection between me and the subject – even if it’s just for 1/125 of a second and three frames.
See you tomorrow.
Kathmandu. Nepal. Photos. Bodhnath. Stupa. Bohda. Travel. Photography. LeahAndMark.com
I really like traveling. I like it so much that it’s embarrassing to think back to just a few years ago – when I was content to be stuck in America. I mean – I was literally trapped in the United States. See, I was originally born in the Philippines and then moved to the US when I was three. I never did get around to applying for US citizenship, and my Filipino passport expired. So it was either become a US citizen – or try to get a new Filipino passport. Since I apparently detest paperwork and government processes, I decided that hey, I’ll do nothing and just hangout in the US forever. It’s a big country – why leave.
(Sorry – I learned how to use the stabilizer about halfway through.)
Enter Leah. On our very first date she let me know – yes, let me know – that she was planning on moving to Nepal in six months. I wasn’t in the long term plan and at the time, that was alright with both of us. Fortunately, I’m awesome (ha!) and Leah decided to put off Nepal for a few years.
Since then, she graduated with her Master’s in Social Work, I finally got a Bachelor’s in business finance, she got hired at CARE, and now I’m a photographer. I’ll save you some of the nostalgia trip of the past year and try to get to the point (because if you’ve followed our blog for even just a few months, you’ll know that I like the story too much and I keep repeating it.) Still.
We’ve traveled more in the past year across the US than I did in the 30 years before then. This next year we’re flying from Maine, to Florida, to Michigan, over to California and a lot of spots in between. Even if I’m going to the middle of nowhere Missouri, or Alabama – I get excited for the trip. Leah left for Delhi, India last Saturday and I flew out of Atlanta on Monday. With a stop over in Doha, Qatar (8 hours) – and then finally landing in Kathmandu – this is the first time I’ve been so far away – alone.
It’s not that I’m sad and pathetic (well sometimes I am!) – it’s that I know this portion of the trip would be even more fun if I had friends (and Leah!)with me. In case you haven’t noticed – I surround myself with people. Aside from all of the marketing/business and logistical reasons for having our Interns – when it comes down to it, it’s really about me wanting to work and hangout with people that I… want to work and hangout with. I need partners in crime – because with them I’m motivated to do more… um, crime? Well, you know what I mean.
This trip so far? I flew from Atlanta to Washington D.C. to Doha, Qatar, and then Kathmandu, Nepal. Not including the 8 hour layover in Doha – something like 26 hours in the air. The thing with traveling – is that to get the most out of it, you really have to start talking to strangers. This is something that we as Americans rarely do when we’re traveling within our own country, nevermind when we go abroad (the relatively few Americans that do.) On past trips I’ve had it easy because Leah’s kind of magical in that area. She’s not afraid to attempt the language – and to keep attempting it. Of course – Leah trying the language is cute – me trying the language, is eh – let’s just say it isn’t the same as when Leah tries. But I’ve done my best so far and I’m taking photos and videos – because I need proof that I was social!
So. Kathmandu, Nepal. Yeah. It’s great here – and I’ll admit that while it’s tempting to only go for the poster, frame-worthy shots, but there is more here than just monks, and really old people with deep canyon wrinkles on their faces. Walking around – it’s a little overwhelming and while you can easily walk away with a hundred photos of something interesting – but nothing new. So I’m figuring it out and I have some ideas. Because sure, I can come back with a hard drive full of the same shots everyone else has made – or I can risk coming back without anything impressive because I tried for something new. Like we tell our Interns – aim for something different, even if you miss. (Alright we don’t really tell them that – but it sounds nicer than ‘you better get THE SHOT or else you’re cut.’)
See you tomorrow.
Nepal. Kathmandu. Travel. Photos. Photography. LeahAndMark.com
Bhutan. A small country, primarily known for its concept of Gross National Happiness, situated to the east of Nepal between India and Tibet. It’s a lovely country, but like any other nation, it has a not-so-lovely history. In the mid-1980s, Central and Northern Bhutanese, comprised largely of two ethnic groups in the hopes of forming a homogeneous society, began making life increasingly more difficult for the Southern Bhutanese or Lhotshampa people, many of whom had ethnic ties to Nepal. Lhotshampas spoke Nepali, dressed Nepali, and were Hindu. The Northern Bhutanese speak Dzongkha and practice Buddhism.
A census was conducted to determine whether the Lhotshampas were in Bhutan legally. Identity cards were issued. Laws were passed requiring all Bhutanese citizens to assume the cultural dress of the Northern Bhutanese. Lhotshampas were fined or jailed for dressing in Nepali clothing. The Nepali language was not allowed to be taught in schools. Many Lhotshampas were arrested, and after being released from jail, found their homes destroyed. By the late 1990s, around 80,000 Bhutanese refugees were living in refugee camps in Nepal. Northern Bhutanese have moved to the south and taken over the homes and land of the Lhotshampas. They have no home to return to.
So, many of the Bhutanese refugees are being resettled here. Right here in Atlanta, in fact! And I am lucky enough to know some of them. The IRC has a “Family Mentor” program that I volunteered with and they paired me with my family. Initially, it was 7 people. Devi is the mom, Tech Nath is the husband. They have two sons, Rajesh and Roses, ages 11 and 5. Tech Nath’s parents live with them, Tuka Maya the grandma and Shree Lal, the grandpa. And the grandparents raise Tech Nath’s niece, Malati. That was the original family. But they live in an apartment complex where members of their extended family also live, so I’ve met Tech Nath’s sister Lacchi, and her husband and two young children. And Beda and his wife Camala, and their adorable baby girl Bimala and Beda’s mom whose name I can’t remember. Beda is a cousin, I think.
Anyhow, there’s a large, loving Bhutanese family and they have welcomed me – and MY family – into the mix! Mark and I were invited to join them for a special puja on Sunday where the wives pray for their husbands. They put a red dot in my hairline and gave me a red beaded necklace to signify that I am married. They dressed me up in a gorgeous sari that Devi had brought over from Nepal, and first we visited the amazing Hindu temple in Lilburn (http://atlanta.baps.org/), where they made an offering to Ganesh and we had a mammoth photo session, and then we went to their community center for the puja and to hear a guru who had flown in from Nepal give a teaching.
And we ate roti and drank chai and it was a fantastic day.
I was impressed by how large the Bhutanese community is, and also how welcoming. So many people said hello to me, complimented my sari, offered me food and drinks. No one acted as if I was an intruder or an imposter, imposing my White Woman-ness on their holy day. They just pulled me in to the circle of praying women, pushed my hands together, and smiled. No, I’m not Hindu. No, I don’t speak Nepali – at least not well enough to know what was being said in the prayers – but I was still invited into the circle of the women and made to feel welcome. I was called “Didi” (Auntie) by all of the children. I was asked again and again to join people in pictures.
It’s a pretty special thing to be invited into a family, a culture, a community and to be treated so warmly and so well.
For those of you who have helped out so generously by donating items my family needed, thank you. They send their thanks, as well. I am happy to report that Devi has a job now, so both she and her husband are working, which definitely helps their financial situation. They are still on a very tight budget, but they are becoming self-sufficient. Tech Nath recently passed the test for his driver’s license, so the family is trying to save up for a car. All of the kids are doing GREAT in school, and Devi was recognized at her job for outstanding performance. (Lacchi is looking for part-time work now, so if anyone has job leads, please let me know! She speaks English fluently and has also learned some Spanish. She is looking for a morning shift, since she needs to be home with her kids in the afternoon. She needs more help in computer skills, but would do fine in retail or hospitality.)
Bhutanese. Refugees. Atlanta. Nepali. Nepal. Bhutan. Photos. Photography. Hindi. Festival. LeahAndMark.com
Slumdog Millionaire, the movie Mark mentioned below… it brought back a lot for me. A lot I had forgotten. About the children in India and Nepal. Not forgotten intellectually… no, images of ragged, dirt-caked children missing a foot or an eye do not easily leave one’s mind… but the visceral emotional experience of maneuvering the chaotic streets of Delhi, Bodh Gaya, or Kathmandu with not one…never just one… but two or three or sometimes four children pulling on my shirt, my hand, my bag, whatever they could grab, and begging for money. Sometimes food. Sometimes a pen. Mostly, money.
(Photo courtesy of chancefornepal.org)
I spent two months in India. A month and a half in Nepal. Not a long time of my life, but enough time to get below the surface layer of the culture and see what daily life is like. Enough time to get to know a couple of these street children, these kids who have no parents and are sent out every day to beg for money from the wealthy. And if you can afford to eat food each day and to be dressed in intact, relatively clean pieces of fabric, then you are wealthy.
The kids I befriended were a little better off… they didn’t have any adults forcing them to beg…at least not yet. They were a group of three, two girls and a boy, that stuck together and somehow managed on their own. They were Nepali children who hung around the big Boudhanath stupa, which is a primarily Tibetan area with a lot of tourists. I never gave them money, but they would find me most days, making my kora around the stupa. We would walk up to the top of the stupa and sit down, and I would get out a pad of paper and a pen and we would practice English. They spoke a surprising amount of English already… they had been in school for a while. They wanted to learn words that would help them approach tourists, help them beg. Sometimes a nice Tibetan lady who owned a nearby restaurant would give them food and let them sleep inside after hours.
I can’t remember their names. I can’t remember their ages. But I do remember how enthusiastically they greeted me, even after they learned I wouldn’t be giving them any money. How quickly they learned new words. How the sun felt when it would hit my face as I sat on the stupa, looking out over the rooftops of Kathmandu, with three young children pressed up against me, so desperate for the slightest bit of attention. I wanted to take them with me. To give them a home, a shower, enroll them in school. I knew the statistics for street kids… their likelihood to be victims of child prostitution, disease, drug addiction. I was 22. I knew I couldn’t save all the kids I encountered. But why couldn’t I save these three? It tore my heart.
And then I left Asia and I began forgetting, throwing piles of laundry and new friends and new jobs and new loves over that little rip in my heart.
I miss those kids.