After a week in Kathmandu we headed down to the Clinic. It was much faster this year cause the driver decided to rally race down the mountains into the Tarai. The driver expertly swerved a few head on's with the old lorries ambling up in the opposite direction. Although he loved to pass on blind curves, he was very skilled, and his van was his pride and joy. I wasn't worried, Ecuador still sits firmly on my list of shittiest places to put your life in the hands of crazed bus drivers. I found dusty ole Meghauli a lot better off than last years visit. A few changes have occurred. The government has fenced off the airport(the major playground for the town), making it really difficult to fly your kite and in the aim of progress, a building at Tealauli Chok was torn down, changing the whole look of the place. A few new things have taken place at the Clinic as well- there is now a TV/DVD player in the reception area (that means no-stop hindi programs), and Hari has started a few bee hives, which means fresh honey for our tea. Brian and Milla went right to sorting out volunteer English teaching positions at the local schools. Milla now works at the Public school. And Brian teaches at the Private English Boarding school a few km's down the road. He has to wear a tie, looking rather hilarious with his borrowed clothes and tennis shoes. They are both enjoying there immersion into school life. I deposited the big bag of Medical supplies, and everyone was very gracious of Sheila's gifts. Many were sad she did not come with me. I ran into all my old bike riding buddies, and games of "throwing the rubber band" with all of my 8 year old friends began my second evening. I usually don't hang with too many 8 years olds normally, but this crew of young'uns have accepted me as a part of there group. I am honored, they even let me win sometimes.
One of my projects for the clinic is to train my friend (and Hari's nephew) Suman Paudel as a photographer. He has picked it up very fast, truly a natural. Hari and I sat up late at night trying to sort out solutions to some of his Major projects and how I can be of assistance. An idea that he has had for awhile was to help to poor around the clinic. You see the clinic is situated on County land. Along with the Clinic is a mixed array of slums, shanties built by refugees and the untouchables, a sort of land less people. He has thought long and hard about there situation, and he would like to make life a little easier for them somehow. Nepal has a caste system similar to India, and according to custom, these folks have zero opportunities. Most of the kids are sent out to beg, hardly any go to school. His first action was to build them a few latrines and a water hand pump, to improve health conditions. The families work the fields for other people, while some just forage in the surrounding woods for firewood or glean the fields for left over scrapes. Over the past year the Army has made it almost impossible for them to fish in the big river right next to them. Sadly two months ago one man was shot and killed by the Army to set an example for the rest of them not to go into the woods and to not cross the river(a major army post and national park). The man was the father of one of Hari's sponsored students. So the idea is to somehow give the families food in return for letting Hari send "all" of the children to the Private English Boarding school. A sort of "food for education" plan. This will not be a popular idea among the community, but Hari's reaction was, "well, we will start with 5 at first, and if we have to we keep at it, soon all will be helped" I asked how much this would cost. He laughed and then said to me "Pat I want you to take there pictures, and we can show the people all over and raise the money for them to go to school". Well there it was, I had my assignment. So Suman acting as my translator, and I have embarked on The Untouchables Photo book project (which will be printed here in Nepal, and sold world wide I hope)- meeting all of the families and documenting there daily life, while telling a little about how they came to be here. I only have two weeks to shoot this, and already this is one of the hardest shooting situations I have ever been in. The first two evenings I could not sleep thinking about the people I met. How best not to make just pretty pictures, but to show the way things really are. The stench, the flies, dirt in its purest form. Yesterday I made my walk through the Avenue as I call it, taking pictures here and there, letting the kids become bored with me so at some point they let up and start acting natural. I walked up to a boy I call Spanky. His Mom had committed suicide last year, and his father is gone. He now in the loose care of his often drunk and mentally challenged grandfather. He was waving a rag over his foot. Flies swarmed everywhere. Suman, said whoa "he is bleeding" I looked down and noticed he had a festering wound on his heel covered in flies. I took a few snaps, and slowly started to access the situation. Suman found a girl that said that Spanky went to the clinic a month before but now they have no money- the usual excuse. They all know the clinic is free for them, they are just too lazy to take him. We carried him back to the clinic. He was in need of serious wound cleaning, it was really a sight. Chumaya the nurse was all too familiar with this little guy, he walked right into the examine room like he owned the place and sat in the little chair, he has been there over the years for various burns and injuries. Supposedly he comes in beaten every once in awhile. That was only Day two of the project. And this is what the Clinic deals with on a daily basis.
My time in Nepal now is truly becoming a more cerebral experience. I find myself balancing the fine line between being a paparazzi of disparity and a teacher of how to steal glimpse's of peoples lives. The hardest part is making myself believe in it all. Its a callous act to stalk the poor. I understand the bigger picture, but that doesn't make it any easier. I am fortunate to be here at this point in my life. I am proud I am working with Hari, a true Saint. and his dedicated staff. There is a network of truly wonderful people working with the Clinic Nepal.