The first few days
The day starts before the sun - 5am, earlier these last few mornings with jetlag. I wake up bundled in three thick blankets, one wrapped around my head (per Guru Ama’s instruction). Splash my face with water, brush my teeth, and head downstairs to join community yoga. Old ladies snug in blankets and shawls, young men in fleece and beanies, sitting sleepily, each breath steaming in the cold.
At 5:15 we start: first we chant, and then the music - a loud, fast-tempo trance track - as we start to jog and jump in place, warming ourselves up and waking up our bodies. The same song repeats multiple times as we jump, step, swing, shake, shedding layers as we build body heat. I think about the others still in bed, being woken up to this blaring music - such a contrast to the tranquil mornings I’m used to.
As the sun rises, we move into Surya Namaskar, flowing rapidly through the sequence ten or so times, each set followed by chanting. It’s done faster than I’m used to, and I slip sometimes in trying to keep up. After Surya Namaskar we throw our arms out and SHOUT, yelling with each breath, moving our energy and feeling the wonderful aliveness. Then (my favorite part) we all laugh, deep hearty laughter, from the belly and from the soul. Smiling, we sit for more asanas and pranayama for about 20 minutes.
And then people break off, to work or home to cook. I go upstairs for tea, joining the table with Guru Ama’s husband and another visiting guru, and watch as Guru Ama prepares food for the day. She shows me around the kitchen and her pantry, giving me spices to taste and explaining the healing value of each ingredient. Her family has been vegetarian for eight generations, and her cooking is delicious. Each time I step into the dining room I’m hit with a wave of complex, mouthwatering aroma: fresh mushrooms harvested this morning; roasted garlic with cauliflower and potato; thick, bubbling, sweet teas.
I shower and sit in the sun with Aasi and Aadi, Guru Ama’s sons, as they massage the visiting guru, who is much older and is like a grandfather to them. We soak in the warmth and listen as the grandfather tells stories. At 10:00 we have lunch - the big meal of the day - heaping plates of daalbhat (rice and lentils) with curries and pickled veggies. The whole family sits together and eats, laughing and discussing the day ahead. I feel deeply welcomed, nourished, a part of their home and family.
With a full belly, I head off for the bus into town. For me, finding the right bus and getting off at the right stop is an ordeal, a major accomplishment, and takes the help of multiple friendly locals, all eager to point me on track. Packed in, as the chaos unfolds around me, I’ve met some characters. The burping grandma: small, unassuming, angry at the man beside her who pushes her accidentally, she lets off a series of “urps”; soft at first, then leading up to a loud “uuurp” before quiet for a few moments. I don’t dare to look - preferring to keep the image separate from the noise - as she continues faithfully every few minutes to burp throughout the 20 minute ride. And the boy model: showing me photos of his family during our ride together, of him modeling, his travels and studies.
I arrive, step out into the dust, and walk through the mouth of Kathmandu into the great belly. Letting myself get lost in tall alleys and bustling crowds, stumbling upon ancient, sacred spaces that the city has grown around over centuries, like a tree that gradually wraps itself around metal there before. In these spaces I find refuge from the noise and speed of the hectic streets, able to breathe deeply, momentarily existing in the same anachronous realm as the shrines and statues built centuries ago.
In the evening we sing, five or ten of us being led by Guru Ama or her sons. We bang drums and play a hand organ, tambourines and bells. I do not know the words nor the meaning but feel carried by the joy in the room. I recognize one of the melodies from a Jewish song we sing at home on Shabbat. Afterwards the sons start singing “Home” by Edward Sharpe, a song I love and haven’t heard in a few years. This is certainly not the context I expected to hear this song again, and it felt so good and so right to be singing it with them.
So much openness and friendliness, so much warmth and wonder. The nonverbal connections, eye contact and a smile, the recognition that you’re human and I’m human and we’re all doing this strange human dance together. Each day, each moment, I feel more settled, more comfortable, more at peace. Learning to ride the madness in stillness, speaking and listening from the heart, what it means to be a human, the wants and needs and values we share across all cultures.