68 JUNE 2017 MARIN
watched Tibetan monks wander the circular world — clockwise, of
course — their maroon robes catching on the wind.
I SLEPT FOR FIVE hours before meeting my driver in the
dark of the morning. We were bound for Nargakot, a vista where
onlookers can witness the sun rising over the Himalayas. While
we jerked haphazardly up the mountainside, he complained of the
government’s negligence in filling potholes and improving road
conditions, while I wondered aloud how the ’90s-era Toyota sedan
eluded flat tires. We sipped milky coffee while the light blanketed
the hazy mountain range, Everest a pinprick in the distance.
But it was Bhaktapur that forced me awake. Located on the
fringes of Kathmandu, the medieval city-state is its own world
entirely, and nowhere in the valley was the damage of the earthquake so present. Piles of rubble did their best to imitate the
neighboring temples and shrines, reaching sky ward. And while
men were every where — sitting, standing, playing games, selling
goods — the women were inside and, to my eyes, invisible. Also
invisible were the nagas, the serpent spirits who live in Siddha
Pokhari, a rectangular, walled pond outside of Bhaktapur’s gates.
The spirits are said to control the rain. I tossed the fish some rice
and prayed for sun.
“ARE YOU WITH ALL HANDS?”
I looked up from my work boots and the path they were following for the first time in what seemed like hours, my face red and
streaked with sweat. The words had been spoken in unbroken
English, punctuated by an accent that could have been British. Or
South African. Or Australian. I was really tired.
A terrifying three-hour bus ride, wheels skimming the edges
of mountain roads, had been made bearable by Ana, a bubbly girl
from Mexico. She was returning to All Hands’ Nuwakot base for her
third stint of volunteering, and her anticipation took to the air, con-
tagious, as she talked about the cement pour that would take place
that day at Prithvi Secondary School. But Ana had disembarked at
the work site, while I had been instructed to check in at base. And
though the bus driver had assured me that the middle-of-the-road
pause he took before turning around was “my stop,” I soon learned
other wise, and I began walking in the general direction of nowhere.
The speaker hung casually from the back of a pickup truck,
which idled in the dirt road, awaiting my response.
“Yes! I mean, yeah.”
“Well, you’re going the right way!”
I hitched my pack up and pushed the errant hair out of my eyes,
elated. They were going to give me a ride! No more walking, no
more asking Nepalese children for directions, pointing idiotically
at pictures on my cell phone screen.
ALL HANDS IS a U. S.-based volunteer outfit that helps
rebuild areas affected by natural disasters. The nonprofit organization was founded by David Campbell, who, after spontaneously
making for Thailand in the wake of the 2004 Indian Ocean
earthquake and tsunami, discovered that the best way to aid in
reestablishing a community is to get on the ground and work with
the locals. The group makes it its mission to determine immediate
and long-term solutions, establishing bases near work sites should
a project require a lot of time and energy. After the 2015 quake,
All Hands Nepal decided to build seven schools, and by the time I
arrived Prithvi Secondary School — the second of the seven — was
just two months from completion.
After hobbling up and checking in, I wandered around base,
a converted Pepto-pink guesthouse in the Trishuli colony of
Destinations / JOURNEY