March 20, 2010

Kathmandu Musings

Sonnia J. Karlsson
BMKF Founder/Executive Director

I’m writing from Kathmandu in between power shortages and internet interruptions. On this my fourth visit to Nepal, my feelings alternate between awe at the natural beauty of the rural countryside, gratitude to the old and new friends who have welcomed me, and sadness and trepidation over the poverty and hardship I have witnessed. Each time I come here, no matter how prepared I think I am the poverty, chaos and pollution of Kathmandu stuns me. The beauty of rural Nepal is incomparable but even there the poverty is painfully palpable, albeit softened by Nature’s beauty.

When we think of Nepal, the mind conjures up visions of towering snow-capped mountains, peaceful and beautiful countryside, and the kindness, warmth and deep spirituality of its people. Nepal is certainly all of that, but it is also one of the poorest countries on Earth. Nepal has nine of the highest peaks of the world within its territory – including Everest, the world’s highest mountain, and its mere name brings to mind majestic views of mythical proportions, and rightfully so. But it is also a land divided by ethnicity and caste and engulfed by an immense poverty hard to fathom. The mind’s eye recollects afternoons when my travel companion and I witnessed women of all ages in colorful saris doing the back-breaking job of tending to the rice paddies for hours on end. At another time Ellen thought children were playing with bricks at a construction site. It was hard to tell her that what we were witnessing was indeed, child labor in progress – only one of the many societal ills of this otherwise beautiful country that I love so much.

I’m in awe of the patience, endurance and fortitude of the Nepalese people and I am personally grateful for their warm welcome and all that’s being done by old and new friends, to insure that my stay in their country is safe, constructive and, enjoyable. I would especially like to thank Bindu Shrestha, our first scholarship graduate, for her invaluable assistance as language interpreter and city guide. Heartfelt thanks to Nirdosh Shahi and the entire staff of the Dwarika’s Hotel, for overseeing every detail of our luncheon meeting with BMKF scholars and Nepali advisors and for making us feel very welcomed and at home. Meeting with our Scholarship recipients, some of them for the first time have been undoubtedly the high point of my visit. What a remarkable group of young women they are!

My special gratitude goes to Ellen Moos of Silver Fox Productions, a dear friend and unofficial photographer and to Murari Sharma, Deha Shrestha, Hem Ratna Sakya and Rajman Bajracharya, for their continuous assistance and over-flowing compassion.