The mornings are cold in Nepal. Wrapped in my sleeping bag I can feel the cold only on my face. Right outside our window Thamel, the tourist area of Kathmandu, is already awake with street-side chatter and vehicles honking. It is always hard to get out of bed but the noise helps me wake up. Today is the 8th, my Birthday… and our last day in Nepal, I think to myself. We pack up and then climb to the ‘Rooftop Restaurant’ of our guesthouse for breakfast. Amidst munching on eggs and toast, and sipping fresh squeezed orange juice and Nepali tea, we call a contact here and learn we won’t be able to meet today. Our morning is now open. There is no time to make plans with another contact so we move to plan B which is visiting the famed Monkey Temple or Swayambunath Stupa to get some religious footage. On our way to withdraw some money at an ATM and get a taxi we come across three women with little babies; they thrust empty bottles in our faces and ask us to buy milk for their little ones. We have been told about this act. It may be just an act, but is rakes at our hearts. We keep walking, they walk with us. We withdraw the money, they wait outside for us. We tell them no and so sorry.
After half heartedly haggling with the taxi driver over the fare we jump in his tin can of a car and grind our way up the mountain, or hill as they call it here. At the gate we are surprised to learn that a one hundred fifty Rupee fee is required for each to enter the temple, we pay it. Tourism has completely taken over here. Sellers of souvenirs babble for our attention as kaki monkeys watch us warily. Suit clad Nepalese businessmen pose in front of a statue for a photo. Westerners and Nepalese alike throw coins at a gilded statue of Buddha which sits on a pedestal in a shallow pool of water. As we move towards a broad stone staircase leading up to the main temple area I glimpse the ragged forms of three women sitting on the steps. Closer examination reveals a small baby cradled in each woman’s arms. I stall at the foot of the stairs. A white woman next to me swats a way a salesman like a fly; he quietly walks away. I notice a monkey nearby; I think he is staring at me. DAaaahhhh!! Whatever! OK! I will walk up the stairs.
Thankfully an old Nepalese couple is giving the ladies money as I walk by.
Atop the stairs I see more statues, more prayer wheals, more monkeys, and more white tourists. I think I am about ready to go. The old Nepalese couple are gently tossing rice at each little shrine and statue they pass by. The tourists look on, take pictures, and sniff back their winter colds.
“Let’s get out of here.” I tell Patrick. “I’ve seen enough.”
We climb back down the steps, only this time we are caught by the beggars’ gauntlet half way down. They greet us in both Nepalese and Tibetan motioning for food or money… mostly money. We try to ask them their names and if they are from Tibet. I am not really sure of their answer; mostly we get needy mumblings, suppressed smiles, and silence. After trying to talk with them a while we settle on giving them some of the granola bars we brought with us. They seem to realize that they won’t get much else out of us and quietly move on. Back down at the base we are now surrounded again by businessmen laughing, taking pictures, and tossing money to the gilded statue. This is so broken, I think to myself frustratedly. They are literally throwing money at an idol while the hungry and poor sit not paces away! Then it hits me: I do the same. We do the same.
How do I attend a $10 movie when a homeless man is freezing under a bridge? How can I spend over $400 for a gaming system for Christmas when my neighbor is being evicted? How do I pass up my hurting friend to catch the next episode of LOST? These are just as real and deceiving as a gilded statue. It is up to you how far you go with this analogy; but as for me, when I get the chance to choose between the idol of entertainment and the uncomfortable plight of the poor. I hope, by the help of Jesus, I choose the poor.
That morning was probably the most hopeless I felt during this entire trip. But what happened in the second half of the day was the sunlight after the storm. We were able to see that God was indeed at work through his Church and how beautifuly that played out in the lives of the cast aside. But that is for another post.
Caleb/convicted money thrower