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Hat In Hand

Whoa here I am in Nepal 31 years after my last visit!  For reals. At first I was excited about rediscovering a country and people I loved that first time.  How would I see it differently so many years later?  Then as we drove at night from Kathmandu airport to Bhaktapur, I wondered aloud “What have we gotten ourselves into by spontaneously deciding to join this adventure?”  Piles of tragic rubble spilled into the road from the giant earthquakes 28 months ago blocking our way, wild dogs still plied the streets owning the darkness, and our room was 4 ladders plus one roof and a crawl down another hatch into a hot humid loft. Oh my.

But those jitters melted like a sweet pot of hot ghee the next morning as dawn broke over ancient temples, hundreds of mystic prayer bells gonged with each prayer sent aloft, and well dressed Nepali worshippers joined their Fathers Day rituals outside our 500 year old carved windows.  The land of magic still holds its timeless sway despite the in-your-face inconveniences. Soon the infectious, giant Nepali smiles and mischievous humor reminded me of what I loved most here along with the traditions and the Himalayas. Whereas my visit in my 20s was marked by task focus and mountain myopia, this first day in Nepal was all about chatting and inquiry and those giant full bodied grins at the right moments of Namaste or levity.

Uncharacteristically, as sun set over the magnificent Bahktapur temples,  I decided I needed one of those venerable, old man Nepali hats. Actually it was an excuse for an interaction, but one can always use a Nepali man hat right?  We spotted a hat store in a box with thousands of hats for sale. I asked please for a raamro hat cha & suddenly a small crowd of older Nepali hat wearers appeared to help out.

“It has to be really big” I pantomimed. Haha like your head is a exploding monster head, laughed one man with big hands surrounding his noggin. Caucasian heads are huge compared with svelte Nepali heads. This is a real problem for funny looking foreigners donning tiny caps perched uncooly on top. Another helped me fold it properly up top, which turns out to be a key skill. Another shows me his color prefs wherein pink and orange are great (unlike my instincts). “Pucka?”, I asked a toothless elderly codger looking me over.  Yes he laughed and nodded encouragingly at my suggestion that my current hat attempt was cool/rich looking.  I tried several hats with the observers tossing in Nepali instructions about fit, style, and sporting tips. The proprietor shoes me the top quality label and how it was 100% made in Nepal. His wife showed endless options. The whole scene was so engaging, so spontaneous, and so warm. Much of it was by body language with snatches of English and Nepali. Deep communication happens so many ways and it’s so satisfying when I’m story and communion together even if over small things in life. I think I must have learned more about this in the last 30 years by slow travel and life experience.

In the end I happily forked over $3 for the perfect Nepali hat, danyabad’ed everyone’s thanks, and posed for a ‘team photo’ with the great Bahktapur hat man in a box and his side kick. With winning Nepali smiles all around, we parted ways into the dusk and I enjoyed the well meaning sniggers and grins of passers by who were amused by an older American guy wandering home wearing a cool cap that’s mostly out of style here nowadays. And I gotta say it’s way more fun to wear than my old baseball cap!

Welcome to artisans and ashrams, to Nepal, and to the great magic of human to human  (patient) engagement. I’m so glad to be here.