We've been in Kathmandu for a week now, and we're just beginning to get settled in at our place in Handigaon, which is near the Krishna Mandir, a small temple with a huge tree rooted above it. There are no specific addresses in Kathmandu, and even at the bank, we were required to draw a map of where we lived as part of our paperwork. There's an outdoor market every evening just around the corner from where we live, blankets and tarps set out with pomegranates, guavas, eggplant, tomatoes and greens.
Kathmandu is much more chaotic and crowded than I remember, but seven years ago I spent most my time in Asan Tole, Durbar Square, the older parts of town, as well as Thamel, the tourist district. Taxis, trucks, motorcycles and pedestrians all share the narrow roads, passing within a few inches of each other and kicking up clouds of dust. Our lungs are tight, our noses burn at the pollution, and the lushly forested hills all around the city seem an endless distance away.
I thought it would take a month or so to acclimate and ease into my project, but things have been moving quickly, giving me a strong feeling that I'm meant to be doing this. My first full day here, I stumbled into a courtyard and saw two young girls in blue school uniforms signing to each other. They joined a crowd of deaf students, and I follwed them into the courtyard of the Naxal School for the Deaf, one of my Fulbright affiliations. I saw an older western man and two Nepalis walking together, and I introduced myself. The westerner was a member of the first class of Fulbrights to go from Germany to the U.S. in 1965, and he has been doing volunteer work in Nepal for many years.
Within a few days, I'd met many of the Naxal students, visited the hostel where they lived, and went to a meeting for the Kathmandu Association for the Deaf, where more than fifty people were gathered in a small, dimly lit room, eager to meet me. Melissa and I went to a deaf performance in Kirtipur, a small town just outside Kathmandu, which still has the feel of an old Newari village. I was dragged onstage in front of a standing-room only crowd in a community center, introduced myself as best as I could, and met Raghav Bir Joshi of the CPN-United Party, the only deaf member of the Constitution Assembly and one of the few deaf politicians in the world. Melissa and I were taken backstage to join in a simple and delicious meal served in woven reed baskets. I already feel so accepted and comfortable in the deaf community here.
I'm picking up Nepali Sign Language quickly, much faster than the spoken language, and already I've seen so many stories. Most of the deaf I've talked to lost their hearing at a young age due to sickness. Some have not seen their hearing families in many years. One 17-year old student was a soldier in the Maoist army before he escaped and went to the deaf school in Kathmandu. He's going back to his home village in the border of Tibet for Dasain. He hasn't been back in four years, and he needs to get his papers in order so he can compete in Kathmandu's deaf karate association.
There are deaf people everywhere here-- we only need to follow the signs-- a Tibetan with long hair in Thamel who works outside a gem shop, a family enjoying the Indra Jatra festival in Basantapur Square, students in uniforms walking along the narrow footpath by the Naxal School. A simple introduction and soon we have new friends. The Nepali people have been warm, accepting, and inviting, the deaf community particularly so.