About Coconino County

About Coconino County

Encompassing 18,661 square miles, Coconino County, Arizona, is the second largest county in the U.S. but one of the least populated. Our county includes Grand Canyon National Park, the Navajo, Havasupai, Hualapai and Hopi Indian Reservations, and the largest contiguous ponderosa pine forest in the world. Elevations range from 2,000 feet above sea level along the Colorado River to 12,633 feet at the summit of Mt. Humphreys in Flagstaff.

May 8, 2010

Another Namaste

That word I can say: Namaste. Hello, welcome ... stuff like that. And you put your hands together like you're praying when you say it. Yep, I can pull that off just fine. But I may be hopeless when it comes to learning any more Nepali. I learn one word, say it, get laughed at, say it again, and they laugh even harder. Apparently, the word for "butter" is very close to the word for "shit." So I guess I asked for the wrong thing on my toast.

ANYhoo... back to the deep, serious stuff. Ready? Okay...

As I sat in the front room, waiting for Ingo, I felt like I was about to meet a celebrity. A hero more like. (Although, I'm well enough acquainted with him by now through emails and a documentary to know he would vehemently object to that description.) I was excited. Jith Magar turned on the overhead fan and offered me a bottle of water.

"Where IS Ingo?" I asked, and Jith motioned towards a closed door with a smile. Did I detect a little "be careful what you wish for" in that smile?

It was early afternoon, but this had already been a long day. I'd gotten up with the sun again in Kathmandu, my stomach growling at the fact it hadn't been fed since the previous morning To pass the time before breakfast, I went for a short walk outside the guest house gate, then returned to sit in the courtyard to read the newspaper, filled with articles about the nationwide, indefinite strike. Oh, and Sandra Bullock's impending divorce, of course. I was very happy to see Sabina, which meant I wouldn't have to be hungry for much longer.

After I enjoyed a large apple pancake with jam and butter and a pot of Masala tea with milk, Yolanda gave Sylvia and me our handwritten plane tickets for Pokhara. Sylvia was right; things did work out. Then I settled my bill just in time for Karna and Dikpal's arrival at 8:30 sharp. Again, they seemed reluctant to enter the hotel.

Despite my insistence that I could carry (and wheel and drag) all my own things however far we had to go--I can be a bit over-confident about stuff like that--the young men took my duffel bag and large suitcase. They tried to relieve Sylvia of her burden as well, but she insisted a bit more than I had and hoisted her very heavy backpack, instead handing Karna a much smaller, lighter knapsack. Then Karna and Dikpal led the two of us through the city on foot to the airport, past a Maoist demonstration and throngs of idle people out of work and school because of the strike, past street vendors apparently immune to that strike, past heaps of pungent garbage, past stupas, cows, chickens and mangy-looking dogs. We dodged an occasional, fast-moving ambulance or truck full of police, which gave a hint of what it's like for pedestrians when regular traffic is moving through the streets. (Yikes!)

After about an hour and a half, we arrived at the airport, and I bid Karna and Dikpal farewell. For now. They refused my offer to pay for their help.

The plane ride to Pokhara was short and fun, though thick clouds blocked our view of the countryside except for a brief time after takeoff and before landing. The stewardess (and I was surprised there was one on a flight this short and a plane this small) hunched over as she passed through the small cabin, offering a cup of water, a small candy, earplugs and a newspaper in either English or Nepali. The movement of the little prop plane made me feel a tad iffy, especially after a warm walk with the sweet smells of rotting garbage and who knows what else.

As soon as I arrived in Pokhara, I knew I would feel much more relaxed here. Besides, I wanted to be where Ingo was. That's where I need to be, at least for now.

As arranged between Karna and Ingo, I soon found Jith, Ingo's HRDSN assistant of 19 years, waiting for me just outside the airport gate. Jith took my luggage and immediately hired a couple of bicycle porters, though I never actually saw any money change hands. Perhaps Ingo would pay them when my bags were delivered, I figured, then had an "uh-oh" moment as the cyclists disappeared with my stuff. (Which did end up in my room, intact, I must add.)

Jith and I and another man from the rescue squad, whose name I didn't catch (no Bobs or Marys here!) began the long walk across town. In the humidity, I was dripping in no time, though my companions seemed unaffected.

Before actually coming to Nepal, I'd heard that it's one of the poorest countries on earth. Psshhh, I thought. Poor depends on who's talking. Just because they might not have big-screen HDTVs or brand new SUVs or the latest in anything--just because they may live a simple, subsistence lifestyle--doesn't mean they're poor. Right?

But okay, I give-- a lot of what I've seen here ... THIS is POOR. This is extreme beauty mixed with poverty. In some cases, I'd call it squalor. This is part of the spectrum of the human condition I've never really witnessed firsthand before, not even in areas of Mexico and Central America I'd thought were the poorest of poor. But I look at these people, sitting and walking amongst the garbage, cow patties and dog poop, washing dishes and clothing in dirty water (to put it mildly) in roadside ditches, and it seems that most have no idea how destitute they are. I see smiles and laughter in spite of it all. I've already received hospitality and generosity I would not have expected from people who have so little ... had I had any expectations to begin with. And I've tried really hard not to have any.

Here in Pokhara, conditions between the airport and Ingo's house (which is in the opposite direction of the touristy Lakeside area that I'll see tomorrow) are much like I'd seen in Kathmandu, and, though it's clearly a smaller city, there's trash all over and that same sickly sweet smell. But then, at the outskirts of town, things began to change as they became more rural. Small rice paddies and corn fields and what I think are big mounds of dried rice plants took the place of piles of trash and an often decrepit hodgepodge of buildings. It's still what you might call a hodgepodge out here, but in a more endearing sort of way. That doesn't mean all the trash is gone or that people are still washing in the roadside ditches, which run a milky white, but it's a peaceful, pretty area that calls to the wanderer in me. I'm looking forward to some roaming.

Suddenly, that closed door blew open and into the room burst Ingo Schnabel. And that's the only word I can think of to describe his entrance. With a booming, "Well, hel-LO, Deb!" he pulled me in for a hearty cheek-to-cheek greeting. I couldn't help but laugh and knew right away that the "strong personality" I'd heard about from others who've met this animated, passionate leader of Nepal's rescue squad is indeed very real. But it hasn't taken me long to feel certain that Ingo and I are going to get along just fine.

[P.S. I should be getting my little internet "stick" and SIM card tomorrow, now that the strike is over, so I should be able to upload some pics. I'm snappin' away!]


ReloMary said...

What a wonderful post. Ingo sent me here as we are connected on LinkedIn. I'm glad he did and I'm looking forward to reading more.

Unknown said...

Hi Deb
Ingo sent the link. Nice blog. Can't wait to read more. I was laughing at your Ghyu and Ghoo mix up.

Since you are in Pokhara, and if you have time, stop by Boomarang or Club Amsterdam. Look for Ramchandra Bhattari, he is a friend of mine and should treat you well.