Thursday, February 12, 2009

Love Ya.

I have reached home and this will be my final blog. These past two weeks I have left behind and been left behind by some of the most beautiful people that I know. My final day in Kathmandu was spent running all around town trying to see all of my friends one more time before I said goodbye, quite possibly forever. I went to Durbar Square and told two merchant friends of mine that I would be leaving and I wish them the best of luck. One said he would be back to India soon because his seizures have gotten worse and his family can help take care of him, then he said thanks for the luck. My other friend was an older woman with three little girls all under 10 and one baby boy. I have played with them for many months, spinning them and throwing them in the air, we had a lot of fun. As I was leaving, the mother handed me five purses that she would normally sell and insisted that I take them home for my family, despite my attempts to give them back. Moved by their act of kindness, I gave them my jacket to use for the rest of the winter months and then I headed on. Soon after, I ran into my little street friends playing on the sidewalk, but as I try to say goodbye to all of them I see one 11 year old start shoving this probably 19 year old around and then all of the other boys started to fight him. He throws a couple of them to the ground but then the boys start grabbing bricks and then they slowed down and began to talk. It was later resolved and I told them all to be careful and I will try to return soon. They all said goodbye and continued on with their day. Then I move toward Jamal to say goodbye to my street family. We talk and laugh with each other for a while and then I tell them that I must go; I give them a bag of rice and they give me two beautiful flowers. We hug and say goodbye, uncertain of our next meet, if ever. That night, we are lucky enough to have power until late. We drink and dance and eat good food and don't even think about tomorrow when it will all be over. As I leave the next day, I feel that I could solve all of Nepal's water shortages with my tears, even when I was sitting on the plane, still on the ground, there was an incredible drive to get off and go home, go home, go home, it was clear then that Kathmandu is home as much as Alaska is, my love for both is equal and I will do all that is in my power to go back and see my friends and family there.
Through a series of events I happen to make it home about a day earlier than expected. While I waited in Vancouver for my next flight I called Mom and let her know when she can pick me up.
"Hey can you come get me at 1:15 tonight?"
"Oh! sure but there is a problem."
"You can't come get me?"
"No I'll come pick you up come hell or high water but there is a problem."
"Well, I was going to say just get me some numbers from my cell and I am sure one of them, what do you mean a problem?"
"Your grandma is dying."
Grandma has been dying for years. Hell, technically we are all dying, she was just a bit closer to the exit, what did that mean? "Yeah?"
"Uncle Mike says she may not make it through the night."
I land, I sleep, I pack, I fly. When we get there, she is still alive but it is clear that it is not easy and it won't be long. My mother and I enter the room and it is an oven, heated by the warmth of brothers and sisters come to say goodbye to their mother. It is a bitter sweet reunion, excited to see everyone after such a long time, but never forgetting the circumstances. I hug and kiss everyone and then I see her, breathing like a puppy in the middle of a dream, I think about what she thinks about, but she is non-responsive: I will never hear her voice or see her eyes again. The next day is gorgeous, sunny and warm and with more family arriving, it becomes an even prettier day; this will be her last. As I sit, I look at all of my aunts and uncles gathered here and I am in awe of their strength, collectedness, and unity, their mother would be proud. Soon the nurse comes in and checks blood pressure.
"75 over 56..."
Then it echoes through the room.
"75 over 56?"
"What did she say?"
"75 over 56."
"75 over 56."
"75 over 56."
This is it. She now begins to gargle with every breath, the sound of water circling the drain as her life begins to slip. The nurse comes again and checks the pressure. It has gone back up, she was many things but she was never a quitter and we all appreciate the moment, revealing grandma in her true form: a woman of true strength and determination. However this does not last long, and soon her breaths become fewer, and then fewer, and then none at 7:25 p.m. Sunday February 8th. Her funeral was three days later on Wednesday and I have complete faith that it went exactly how grandma would have wanted it, her children knew her well. Looking around the church I see all of the lives that have been created and or touched by this one soul and I know that the world is now forever changed by her through all of us. The family is together now for the first time in a long time, we laugh we drink we eat we drink we cry we drink and we smile glad that grandma no longer suffers and truly thankful for what she has given us all. The next day Mom and I leave for the airport, but before we do, we make a stop at the graveyard to say goodbye to grandma, grandpa and dad. It was difficult, not just saying goodbye but also digging in the snow with my foot to find Dad's headstone.
toe toe toe toe HEEL toe toe toe HEEL. My foot was cold and soggy but I was happy. I am sorry if my spelling or structure is terrible but I am tired and am freestyling right now, so please forgive me. Well, this is it, I am done. I may keep writing in the blog but it will only be because I have grown fond of it and I believe that it will help me with my writing. I thank you all for everything that you have said to me for almost the past half year and I will never forget it. I love you all and I will talk with you later, Seth.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Not much to say but goodbye.

It's done. It was nuts getting it all together, but it's done. At the show I was asked a couple of times if I was a professional and I didn't know how to answer. I guess I am, now that I have had my first exhibition, but I am still uncertain as to what qualifies a professional photographer. My boss posted a sign saying "Photos for sale." and I asked him what he was doing, having no intention or desire of selling any photos. He said not to worry and that if anybody wanted a photo, we would put such a high price on them that the interested party would simply have to say no. "But I asked why." no response. One woman offered 7,000 Rps which is about 100 dollars but my boss said 10,000 and held firm, she didn't buy. I don't think I will ever understand business in Nepal. The documentary went very well and despite a couple of error reports that popped up in the middle of the movie, which we did not send, everyone loved it. The photos were equally admired, receiving comments such as: good collection, beautiful photos, they truly tell a story, great job capturing such delicate moments. Only one comment was without positive response but not necessarily negative either, "These only capture a part of what street life is, you should try the others, their better." People also seemed to respond well to my speech. It was five minutes long and with as flushed as I was, set me on fire. SAHARA's next step is to get quality display boards and take the exhibition and the documentary out to the rural areas where the street children generally come from. With this outreach program, we will be able to educate so many young people and discourage them from turning to the streets as their first solution to any problem that they may have. We will then be treating the problem and not the symptom that plagues Nepal and will truly have a chance at making a difference. The show itself was OK but as far as it's impact, I am skeptical. Some people networked their agencies around and some new ideas and bonds were developed that may not have been otherwise and some people may now be more sympathetic to the plight of street children. However, most of the people that came to the show are well aware of the problem already, so as I said some good came out of it of course, but I remain uncertain of it's effectiveness. In my last blog, I mentioned a baby named Mukti. And once again, much like the previous situation, my office was too slow to act. The baby is fine but her mother Sabitri has taken Mukti to live with her younger brother, where her future is brighter but still quite uncertain; so it goes. The show will be up for two more days and then that will be it. Nothing left to do now but say my goodbyes, to my street family, to my Nepali family, to my Nepali friends and coworkers, the sounds and smells and colors, the bartering, the rice and vegetables, the old movie posters pasted on brick walls 30 long and torn all across, and so many other countless little things. It will be very hard to say goodbye, and if my heart breaks, at least I know I used it. Any way, I will probably do one more post from Kathmandu and then I'll be home. Below I have put my speech you don't have to read it, it's OK I guess, but if you're curious it's there. I love you all and I will see you soon. Seth. Oh, and I tried to post some pictures of the exhibition and me in my new suit but it isn't working. I'll try again later. I got a lot of comments on how handsome I was.


The people you see today in these photos and in the film we are about to watch are my friends. Since I began this project almost 4 months ago, I have struggled with myself over this exhibition, not proud of what I felt would be making a spectacle of those who I have come to love and respect so greatly. However, I have come to terms with myself and have decided that their lives are too important not to show. One may think, “How important can the life of a beggar be?” but through their message, we can learn so much and fix what has been broken for far too long. I say these people are my friends and I mean that in every sense of the word: I trust them, I love them, and I admire them.
When I first started back in October, I went without my camera. I would walk around town and I would see the kids and they would see me and that was it, every day, until eventually they came over and said “Hello”. When I told them my name, “Seth”, the young boys couldn’t pronounce it, but it was fairly close to the word Sati meaning friend, and so my name on the street soon became Sati to most. As time went on, we both slowly lowered our guard and let the other in. Soon they invited me to come with them wherever they went and I started bringing my camera along. The more vulnerable we made ourselves to each other, the stronger our relationship grew and the more powerful the photos became. Soon, I started to trust my new friends more than any other person on the street and in turn they trusted me more as well.
For some, trust and street kids would seem to be a contradiction in terms, but they do have honor and a code: Do what you have to, to survive, but protect your own. Earning their trust I was accepted by the different groups and they began to look after me. When strangers would come up and start talking to me, which happened quite frequently due to my color, my friends would stand between me and the other person, never taking their eye’s off of them for a second, or they would simply signal me to be careful and not to trust this stranger. When they had food they shared it and if I lost money in a game of cards, they offered it back.
However, I do not mean to say that they acted righteously all the time or that every day was full of love and friendship. Some days were full of playful smacks to the groin or they would flash their genitals at me. Often, when I would give out bread or biscuits, if I let my guard down for a second, a boy would take it all and would maybe share with some, they would even grab from friends if they weren’t paying attention. When on the street, one should always remember that survival is number one and that camaraderie will always be second.
There were also several times when I would get into a disagreements that led to me or the others stomping off, only for us to come back the next day as if nothing had ever happened. Many times I would become physically as well as emotionally exhausted from the constant asking for more and more; it seemed like whatever I did, it was never enough. But I then realized that they will never stop asking, they are in a position of need and I am in a position to give and that is what they have always known; it was what simply came naturally to them and I could not hate them for it. And although their faults are many, I should make it very clear that I have never met a single person on the street that was innately bad or cruel.
Working in the streets for so long, I have grown to love everyone I have met. They have become family to me, each with their own special place in my hart. But it is exactly this love that makes this job so difficult and the need for success so great.
The possibility that I will outlive some if not many of my new street family, for me is something unacceptable. I have already seen many faces vanish without a trace, even their friends don’t know where they went and I refuse to watch and let this pattern continue any longer. This is what is broken and it is this that I wish to help fix.
The photos and film you are about to see are not meant to cause guilt or place blame, for such things only create insincere actions, upon which no good deeds can be founded. Nor is it to say that the people on the street are not at any fault for their current situation. SAHARA’s goal is to educate the most we possibly can, the best we can, so that others may make decisions for themselves and take positive actions of their own.
We have only scratched the surface with this exhibition. There are still so many other different issues in Nepal with many more people ready to tell their stories so that others may not suffer the same fate as they have. The purpose of our efforts tonight, is not merely a successful event, but so that from this exhibition, new and bold ideas will continue on through all of you in a hundred more different directions reaching all across this country: educating, saving, and supporting all those who are unable to do it themselves, until Nepal is an even greater nation that we all know it can be.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Eight more days.

The show is in eight more days. Every day up until yesterday I would look at my photos and make drastic editing alterations, but now the photos have been turned in and I can't change them anymore. I am very nervous. To save on the cost of printing for the human rights group I work for, I had to narrow down my original 30 to 26 photos and then we have to print "Photo Hollywood experience the difference." in the bottom corner of every picture. In America I would feel like a sellout but since we are in Nepal, where things such as money are seen differently, and since it isn't my money, I am pretty OK with it. We have just finished the final touches on the 20 min. documentary we made, and despite some last minute adjustments that I wanted that I guess were outside of my control, I feel that this movie is going to be great. I am also very excited to have a reason to officially wear my new suit as well. Things with the kids have been going alright. I have been unable to get any new subjects and so I just hope that what I have and what I will get in the next three weeks will be enough for the book. I have started collecting all of their names and talking with them a little more about quitting their lifestyle, they understand and shrug. The street woman I spoke of last time is doing OK. She decided that the six month program I offered was too long of a promise for training she didn't know if she would enjoy, but through another friend of hers, she is now working on becoming a field agent, warning the street kids about the dangers of their way of living and offering them options. But now Sabitri, the mother in Jamal has asked me to get her daughter Mukti (one year old) off the street. It's possible but much more difficult. It will either mean that Mukti goes to a shelter, if there is money and room, and is cared for until she is 18 and will be able to see her mother on scheduled visits once a month, or simply adoption. Both are a very delicate situation because when taking a child away from their mother, it is possible that the mother will change her mind or the kid will go back to the streets after their schooling, and thus is why we are uncertain of the actions we can take. Any way, I have been reading your messages and emails and I must say that I am overjoyed every time I hear from you, and am so glad that my blog is fun for you as well. I will let you all know how the show goes and what will happen with Mukti. I love you guys and I will talk with you later, Seth.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Happy New Year.

It's New Year's Eve today and I am feeling quite good. I found a Sitar for only $150 but I think I can talk the guy down, so I have been debating on whether I should get it. It's a fairly difficult instrument, but it seems it would be a lot of fun, plus it won't be cheaper anywhere else. Another reason I feel good is because today I received some very pleasing information. Last week a street friend of mine left her home to sleep near the public toilets because she was being beaten by her husband. When she left, he sold all of her things and so now she has nothing and no one will give her a job because she has no home now and is thus assumed to be a thief by many employers, but she can't afford a home without a job; quite the catch 22. But today a friend who I contacted about the situation told me that a new program is starting in Feb. and as long as she is clean and doesn't have HIV I can get her on the list. I just hope that my friend has the commitment to stick with the six month program. Christmas was great. Interns from all over the world and Nepali all coming together. My friend got me a righteous Iron Maiden T-shirt, I wore it for 4 days straight. I saw my first Baliwood film yesterday, "Ghaji". It was the movie "Memento" on every drug imaginable, only one word could describe the film, supercrazyoffthehookmaddinsane. All this and the fact that it is almost a new year is reason for my excitement. Work has slowed to almost a stop as far as photos are concerned. New shots are harder to find, but I still try every day, some days with more enthusiasm than others. The exhibition is Jan 22, 2009, so we have also been working to get that set up. I only have a little over a month left in Nepal and I have started writing all of the little details down so that I won't forget them, the list grows and grows every day. Any way, I love you all and hope you have a great New Year's Eve and an even better new year. Seth.

Monday, December 22, 2008

7:30 am. I open my eyes and listen to the merchants and beggars outside my window shouting their services or crying their needs, always in the same escalating tone every morning, "pariGANHO!" or something like that. I still lie in bed fully dressed and wrapped in my sleeping bag because there is no indoor heating in Kathmandu. I eventually rise to go outside and the air is crisp and sweet, I have many times read the description of sweet air in books but always thought it was some sort of poetic statement for literature's sake. Despite the lack of white around me and the grinning cinnamon faces unconcerned with a holiday such as mine, it still feels like Christmas. Didi (big sister in Nepali) calls me to breakfast. A hard boiled egg, bread with jam and some milk tea. She apologizes, as she does every morning, for sleeping in and thus why the meager breakfast. I say that it is alright, hiding my disappointment, knowing on days when she does get up early enough, it's French toast.
On my two to three mile trek to my office, a.k.a. downtown Kathmandu, I daydream of unimportant things and then try to remember that I am in Nepal and should not simply admire the sidewalk with my gaze. Along the sidewalk I run into some friends of mine, six to twelve years old, running into traffic to sell postcards and posters to tourists and generous Nepali, (money is more immediately important than school). They stop me and we shake hands; they ask when is Christmas and I tell them just a few days more. "And then sweets!?" "Yes, and then sweets." I say good by and head further into Thamel. The boys here are much more aggressive with their questions and demands than the kids working the traffic. You can imagine them, six sometimes more, huddled close to me, feeling my pockets, touching my camera and occasionally playfully trying to hit me in the groin. Soon they all settle down with a communal cigarette and begin to tell me that the local police have told them to leave, that they can't sleep here anymore. "This is our Territory, where will we go?" their eyes cry at me. I tell them I will bring them the number of a person who can help. They say "Tomorrow?" I respond and go on my way.
Upon my walk, a man sitting on the side yells out, "Sir I like your shoes, please may I ask how much?" I have been approached many times like this, although never about the shoes, sometimes it's my camera or my jacket, but either way I sluggishly walk over to him knowing what is to come and try to express my impatience. "I don't know this brand what is it?" referring to my Nike's. "It is the same as your jacket." I reply, with a cunning tone letting him know I am on to him. After the niceties are through he begins to tell me of how he would like to chat over some tea just as a friendly Nepali gesture, I tell him no thank you, knowing that he owns a jewelry store and is looking for business. He responds as if I have been rude, "You have no time for me?" and I want to say, "No I don't have time for you. I don't have time for Liars and Looters, Scoundrels and schemes. It is you sir who give Nepal a bad name and I will not burden my soul with your scummy presence." But all I manage is, "I am very busy."
As I continue on, I soak everything in. The old woman smoking on the stupa watching her peppers and the potential buyer walk past. To the left are mounds of intestines and ox jaws on a table, of which I have no idea for their use. And amongst all of this: beads, blankets, pots and shoes all with their corresponding sales person shouting out their bargains. The prices all sound so good, but I know as a white, I will pay double. I find more of my friends further down than from their normal hang out. No marbles today, just some glue, some talk and some tag. The group is too big to approach and will only cause a scene if I enter, so I turn around an walk away, but one of the boys spots me and yells, "SATI!" (friend). I turn and am swarmed by a cloud of arms, hands questions and eyes all begging for my attention and affection. One boy starts to nibble on my arm like a dog playing with his master, (I have come to recognize this as a form of love generally only shown when huffing glue) while another boy slides next to me and looks through my camera. Then another friend comes up and says, "No condom, no ramro." (no condom, no good) confirming the lesson from the other day of HIV and the risk of syringes and unprotected sex. One boy understanding my distress amongst so many kids, pulls them away and says "Goodbye Sati." I thank him and go on my way.
After this I begin my three mile walk home and mentally beat myself up over not having the courage to take some photos that I see pass me by due to the embarrassment of explaining myself or apologizing if the party becomes upset. I tell myself I will do better tomorrow and move forward. Soon after, I make eye contact with a very beautiful woman; it was only a moment but things like this have a tendency to feel a whole lot longer, she brakes contact and begins to stare in another direction but at nothing in particular, passively giving me permission to admire. I thank her with my eyes and sweep by as if the whole thing never happened.
I have one more stop before I get home; it's with a street family, whom I care for very much and have come to call the Jamal Family, (Jamal being the location in Kathmandu). they aren't there today and so I talk a little with the local watch mender, a woman with a lovely face, large proportion and a look that would make any police officer freeze. I then again start for home and think of Christmas day. The gifts I have bought for my family and friends and the smiles they will bring, and me getting out of a cab on Christmas day with a large garbage bag filled with things for my less fortunate friends, much like a Garbage Santa. In the sack will be over twenty empty plastic bottles for the Jamal Family, they can get ten Rupees a piece for them. My old hat, belt, and shirts that no longer fit me since I began this Nepali diet. And chocolates and photographs for all the rest, giving a smile and a memory to them all.
I hope you enjoyed my day as much as I did. Please know that on this Christmas there isn't a single one of you that escapes my thoughts. For this new year I hope all the best for your plans, and may you enjoy your time wherever you find yourself as much as I have here. I love you all and will talk with you later, Seth.

Friday, December 12, 2008

New photos

I am sorry it took so long but I finally put up some new photos. All of these photos were taken the first two weeks I was here so they have been sitting for some time now. I also apologize that they are so small and that there are none with me in them, next time though. Work is hard, finding new subjects and locations has been very difficult, I hope I will have enough when I come back home. Every day I go out and stroll Kathmandu, looking for new friends as well as old. Sometimes I will sit for an hour or two hanging out and other times it is merely a high and by deal, but every time I see them, a grin shoots across their faces and I am lifted up beyond my exhaustion and heartache and frustration. I love the friends I have made on the streets and it pains me very much to see what they have to deal with, mostly with the adults. The children are given the opportunities needed to pick themselves up from this mess, however the older generation of the streets are labeled as no good thieves and addicts, who can't be trusted and it only be the fool who gives them a chance. The faces of my friends and their difficulties here will be forever left in my mind, always in my thoughts; I just don't know what to do. It will be hard when I come home.
I usually walk the same way through Kathmandu everyday, and thus certain characters have come to recognize me and we say hello every time we pass, (crazy Angie with the cucumber being one of them). But on my walk every day, I pass this security guard; he looks to be about 50 years old, 5'10" with a grey mustache and a nice security cap. Well, one night I was walking home from work and I stop to salute him and say goodnight as usual and then to my surprise and completely unprovoked, he gives me a hug. That afternoon hadn't been a particularly horrible day, but even good days on the street have a tendency to be emotionally overwhelming in one way or another, and this hug fixed all that was broken. I believe it was one of the best hugs I have ever had in my life. He simply hugged me snug and long, not shy about others around us, not letting go until his point was made. He seemed to know all my worries and then just took them away with his care, saying without actually saying, "You are good, this is a lot to deal with, and you won't fail." To those who have finals around now, I wish you the best of luck, to those without finals, I hope all is well. I hope you like the photos, I love you and will talk to you later, Seth.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

I bought myself some class.

Well, I know that some of you will be very pleased to know that I went out the other day and bought me a bit of some class. I was discussing with a fellow intern how cheap everything is here and it struck me that there would be no better place to by a tailored suit than in Kathmandu where it's 80 Rupees to the dollar. So my friend and I went out and found a tailor, and it was actually pretty fun, acting all high society picking out colors and materials. I bought some of the best material in the store with a very nice dark charcoal color, solid, no pattern. I am pretty excited to get the suit. With the fitting and the cost of the material, the suit cost me $130. I don't think that's bad, I assume it would be more in the states, maybe I'm wrong, that and I have never had a suit, especially one for all occasions. My wardrobe consists only of clothing I still have from high school, some which I bought at the Salvation Army, and free shirts that I have acquired through any of many charitable events, so to have clothes that will fit my body as they probably should will be an interesting change. Maybe I'll even let some of you try on the jacket... oh wait, I can't, it was tailored just for me, sorry. I then went out an got a shave and a haircut for about $1.25, boy did I feel sharp.
On a different note, work has been of mixed enthusiasm lately. I have all and more of the photos necessary for the exhibition for the human rights group and now I just need to edit the 25 we have selected and I'm done. Which is nice I guess because I feel I have photographed most of what I can with the children I have gotten to know and it may be time to move on. For two months I have been walking the streets of Kathmandu, playing with them, talking with them a little with my very broken Nepali, and photographing them. I have begun to feel like that guy from "Never Cry Wolf" or Jane Goodall. I haven't seen some of the boys for a couple of weeks now, I know that they rotate groups pending on resource availability or disagreements with others in the gang but I can't find them. Sometimes they just go off and when I try to follow they insist that I stay because where they are going is too far. New boys have come into the groups recently and they seem to like me just fine. Sometimes I will just sit with them and watch foot traffic go by and they will start stroking my beard, roughing my hair, and rubbing the fuzz on my arms while others inspect each other for mites. They just want affection, but they also don't want rules, so how does one help them. I have decided that even though the photographs are done and the show is in Jan. I am going to continue my work in Kathmandu. I am going to try to build an even stronger body of work to bring back to the states and do all that is in my power to publish a book. This means starting all over again, finding new locations with different kids and even trying to get some street girls as well. I am not certain of my success, but every time I go out and see my friends, it gives me new strength. In the last blog, I mentioned Baby Mukti. For two months I have watched this girl growing up with her family on the streets, only able to sit up and smile. Today she was standing under own strength, putting away a bucket of noodles. She is why I won't stop. Today I have decided that I love telling stories with my photos and I love Nepal. Thanks for reading, I love you and will talk to you later, Seth.