In my hope to write every day about the trip five young people are on in Nepal, life broke in and tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Remember about making God Laugh? Throw your plans out the window and go to NYC”. So, two days later I did and I am now in NYC with my daughter Sasha. Hot. Loud. Crazy New York City. There is no other place like it…except maybe Kathmandu.
Each day I surf the moment and the time zones and field so many details of producing, from more ATM machines that are down or changes of plans, budget problems or little details that at the end of the day don’t amount to a hill of beans next to the depth of the journey for all of the Team in Nepal, representing AOMUSIC.
So, I will try to catch up and the only way to do that is to make this entry be all about the day in the life of our AO Ambassador, Rob Lenfestey who has shared a story with me. I will write more tomorrow about the last person on the Team. Our own Yoda. By now your curiosity is peeked, so look for new blog entry and a story you will not believe. It is all about navigating life by intuition and instinct, a skill we could all cultivate.
Enjoy Rob’s words:
“My dreams thus far have been potent down here in the humid Nepali Jungle: I asked in my dream “So what does happiness look like? And was shown some flashing scenes and images in my head. “What does clarity look like then?” and another image. “love?” “Friendship?” And on it went.
Then I asked “What does God look like?” and the door slammed open to my Guest House Room. “Rob”, came Josh’s voice through the glass pane, “Rhino!” And so it was; gracing the river bank below. The first wild example of its kind to grace our team with its presence. It even had the requisite black birds gracing its massive armor-like back and horn.
By 7am we had eaten our breakfast and loaded up into our transport with Raj and headed to two different impoverished villages full of kids to catch of glimpse of how they lived.
Before we even arrived in the first village, comprised of two long buildings that faced each other with a muddy courtyard in between, we were already being chased down by laughing barefooted children. The locals were amiable and smiled, clasping their hands in “namaste” to greet us. The kids, however, simply piled up on top of each other to get in front of us. Once Karan brought out the big film camera, the ensuing kid pile was hilarious to watch. Karan flipped the view-screen around and this delighted them the most; now they were watching themselves on the screen. The gestures and experiments that ensued as each kid eagerly pushed themselves within the field of the camera and watched themselves live was adorable and thoroughly entertaining.
We went to look into their living quarters, which were small rooms split from one long building that comprised an entire half of the small village. In these small 12×12 ft. rooms some 12 person families lived, cooked and slept. Each room was impeccably clean and the space outside in the courtyard, while muddy, was free of trash and filth typical to urban impoverished areas.
We went to their well where one of the mothers was cleaning cookware. This is where the ice broke between the myself and the Children. I was walking behind the well’s concrete platform and began to slip on the slick algae that grows there. I caught myself and didn’t fall, but instead turned it into a kind of gliding dance. The children laughed and so I kept dancing some more. Eventually this dance erupted from the well and culminated in me loping around chasing them through the village. As this play continued I was struck by a certain beautiful truth that brought a deeper gravity to this project and its importance.
At its roots, AOMusic is for the creation of world music. World music crosses cultures and brings them together, celebrating both our diversity and the immutable humanity we all share. And so it makes perfect sense that we should build the foundation of such work on that which binds us. And nothing exemplifies the unity of the human race than the faces, laughter and songs of the children.
It dawned on me that you can change the set and setting as drastically as you want; from Lower Manhattan to the rural jungles of Nepal and you will always find kids. Kids smiling, kids playing and chasing each other around whatever environment they find themselves in. And if you took any of those kids and transplanted them in the other place it would take barely seconds for new friendships to be forged and play to ensue. It is upon the pure essence of a child’s spirit that our “sameness” can be celebrated; and from this thread of unity we may truly celebrate that which makes us unique and different. I had known before that this was important work and for all these same reasons, yet now a deeper part of me understood. My bones understood and very muscle in my body understood. Understood and beamed in celebration of what was before me: Dozens of smiling faces and bright eyes beaming at us, still charged up and ready to flee if the loping beast decided to awaken once more. And it did.
As we prepared to leave I pulled Josh aside and whispered in his ear. We then broke out into a goofy, fun vocal improve performance for the kids, one last gesture of gratitude for the gift of their purity and the deepening awareness it had inspired inside of me.
On we ventured to the edge of Chitwan, over the river by canoe and into the government’s Elephant Breeding Center. The day was hot and muggy by this time, so we moved quickly over the open land towards the relative cover of the Breeding Center’s information booth. We read a little about elephants, the struggles of captive breeding and the economic importance to this region across generations. None of this, however prepared us for the elephants themselves. Under relatively small shade structures, tethered to a wooden post on a small mound of dirt stood each elephant. The front two feet were chained together tightly like those of a convict to prevent any kind of long strides. A brief look into these incredibly intelligent eyes was all I needed. Chained up like a convict, yet what was your crime? A dozen or so such elephants lined the center with perhaps six or seven babies in all. I felt uneasy being among the free humans walking along the railing gawking at them in their captivity. Just one look in the eyes of one of these elephants was all it took to see their depth of understanding and awareness. I turned to look at my team. Each and every one of us felt the same way. We did not linger in this place long. We made our way back out and across the river towards home.
The joy and celebration of the children was mingled with the sobering sadness and even wisps of anger around the treatment of such wise and beautiful creatures as these elephants. All of this, the full spectrum of our human experience, is beautiful. Asia brings this lesson home for me quite often. The best and the worst all mixed into one beautiful cacophony of human existence.”