My Nepal Tribute
By Mark Sconce
Friends, today I speak from the heart—a broken heart. When I served in Peace Corps/Nepal from 1967 to ‘69 I never imagined that I would live amongst some of the nicest, most gentle people I had ever met. As my language ability improved, the walls almost disappeared, and I found myself talking to a gentleman half a world away, in his language, laughing at his tall tales or clearing up the misconception that he could walk to America just like he walked anywhere in landlocked Nepal. I treasure the name they gave me: Makur Bahadur Thapa—Brave Jupiter of the Thapa caste. Thapa—because I worked for His Majesty’s government. Only Brahmins were my betters.
I considered myself at the time and consider myself today, a very lucky man to have lived in Sindhuli Madhi, Nepal, about a three day trek from Kathmandu up and down Himalayan foothills as steep as our own high hills here in Ajijic. The people there were very kind and taught me more than I could ever teach them. I will always appreciate and thank the country of Nepal for allowing my colleagues and me to abide in the Kingdom for two plus years. Her people were gracious, gentle, amiable, patient, capable and very sturdy—think of the Sherpas and Gurkhas. The country itself is the most magnificent I have ever seen. The majestic Himalayan mountain range dwarfing the Alps or the Rockies, the green terraced paddy fields marching down the foot hills, the monstrous yet magnificent onset of the great Monsoon, the heart-stopping views and breathtaking sunsets as cooking fires were lit throughout the sub-continent, and that special evening with the Tibetan refugees watching the sun set on one side of Annapurna and the moon rising on the other…
Now much of Nepal is in ruins, thousands dead, tens of thousands wounded, hundreds of thousands homeless. Clean water, food, medicines and tents are in short supply as epidemic diseases loom. Ancient palaces and sacred places destroyed, pagoda temples, Hindu and Buddhist shrines—edifices I remember—well are now rubble, not to mention over a million homes.
I was relieved to find alive and uninjured my friend B.P. (Bell Prasaad) Shrestha, the former mayor of Dhulikhel, about two hours east of Kathmandu Valley up on the rim. The hospital in Dhulikhel that B.P. built is overflowing with the injured. Corpses were being stacked on one another. I can just imagine the funeral pyres alight today and tonight. It’s the way of both Hindus and Buddhists. My poem recounts the one I saw:
When looking out our window gap,
One cloudy afternoon,
We saw a body borne aloft
Before the great monsoon.
The grieving family bore the corpse
And placed it on a pyre,
Beside the rushing river shore,
And set their son on fire.
We watched the smoke ascend like shrouds
We watched the Hindu priest,
We watched the billows reach the clouds
And with them the deceased.
These memories oft return to me,
Both pleasant and profound,
When I sit down with Nepalese
On this my native ground.
What a terrible tragedy for a country with few resources to weather the ordeal. It’s the injured and homeless of course who will suffer most…Thank God for the Red Cross, CARE, OXFAM, Catholic Relief Services, UNICEF and other worthy organizations. These good people deserve our gratitude and assistance. To Nepalis I send hope and prayer and money.
(Ed. Note: Mark was eventually able to find out that his friend Bell Prasaad Shrestha was alive.)