Kathmandu, migrant workers and the world

Living in Kathmandu is like living in a bubble. Immune to our surroundings, we hardly pay attention to the minute little details. That have such big impact on our world. You pass by a street child; it is nothing new. It’s just another common sight in Kathmandu. The garbage piled up high. All you do is cover your nose, may be cringe a little and move on. It seems no one has the time to stop, observe and take in.

May be that’s why living abroad lets you see things back home in an entirely fresh perspective.  You don’t realize until then what they really meant, when they put you in the bracket of a third world country citizen. It dawns on you the true gap between the rich and poor. Something that was limited to words, and something you thought you knew very well stands evidently distinct from you.  That’s when the questions arise. And they keep coming. You question the authority, the people, yourself, the whole system. It turns into this endless vicious cycle. You think you know the answer still it feels so out of reach and hard to fathom. You don’t know where to begin or even end. Then on, whatever follows – stays in the back of your head until you decide to peel it off one layer at a time.

One such issue that is symbolically connected to my arrival and departure from Kathmandu is the heart-wrenching picture of migrant workers lined up at the airport. If you are one of those people who have returned multiple times in Nepal after visiting the opulent abroad. You might have noticed the grimmest of the grim realities lie right at the gateway; at the departure unit of the Tribhuvan International airport.

You are surrounded by the future laborers donning the distinguished hat with their consultant group’s emblem affixed on the front-center. I am not sure if I can articulate it enough to describe how I feel.  But a part of me feels heavy. This sight raises many questions.  I wonder what’s happening to the country. I wonder if anything at all is happening in this place. But surprisingly, many of their faces exude a rather happy story. I guess the prospect of making money overshadows the hard days waiting ahead. I don’t know if they are aware of the dangers; the social, the political, and the emotional risks of working aboard.  Albeit the bitter fact they move on in hopes of a better future. Witnessing this naivety printed all over their faces makes me hate myself even more. Even though I may have all the solutions enlisted in a form of bullet points [I could even give you a fancy PowerPoint presentation]. I very well know, it is not as easy as how I’ve laid it out. Then, I quickly try to divert my attention. Look at the clock ticking and wait for the call.

Departure Unit | TIA | March 2010

Then it’s time to board the plane. I take the stairs – look back one last time, my Kathmandu- the place I was born. I wish the moment stayed still forever. I make my way in. Thereafter, everything that follows hits me like a tsunami all over again. I feel like a loser running away from the problems of this nation. This exact feeling replays every time I take off from Kathmandu. It’s not one of those pretty sites, like your family members waving you goodbye. It’s actually a reminder this place needs you. This is where you belong and you need to be back. I try my best to listen to these voices.  And I try to follow them. But I know no matter how pretty a picture I draw in my mind to the extent of overtly romanticizing this place. I know the monotony of everyday- Kathmandu life unfailingly continues, with or without me and slowly nothing seems to matter.

Eve Ensler on security

Eve Ensler is best known for her  play ‘The vagina monologues’ . Ever since I have discovered her work. I think I have found a different way of thinking. I’ve become more open to ideas and thoughts I probably would have never openly discussed. I have an immense respect for her and the kind of work she’s been doing. Below I share with you one of the TED Talks where she gave her take on security.

…I am very worried today about this notion, this word this prevailing kind of force of security. I see this word, hear this word, feel this word everywhere. Real security, security watch, security checks, security clearance. Why has all this security made me feel so much more insecure.

What does anyone mean when they are talking about real security. And why have we as Americans become particularly a nation that strive through security above all else. In fact I think that the security is elusive, it’s impossible. We all die, we all get old, we all get sick, people leave us, people change us. Nothing is secure and that’s actually the good news. This is unless of course your whole life is about being secure.

I think when that is the focus of your life. These are the things that happen. You can’t travel very far. Or venture too far outside a certain circle. You can’t allow too many conflicting ideas into your mind at a time. as they might confuse you or challenge you. You can’t open yourself to new experiences, new people, new ways of doing things as they might take you off course.  You can’t know who you are so you cling to hard matter identity. You become a Christian, Muslim, Jew, you’re an Indian, Egyptian, Italian, American, heterosexual or homosexual or you never have sex.  Or that’s what you say when you identify yourself.

You become a  part of us in order to be secure and against them. You cling to your land because it is your secure place you must fight anyone who encroaches upon it. You become your nation, you become your religion. You become whatever it is that will freeze you, numb you and protect you from doubt or change. But all this, does actually shut down your mind.

In reality it does not really make you safer. I was in Sri Lanka just three days after the Tsunami.I was standing on the beach and it was absolutely clear that in a matter of 5 minutes the 30-foot wave could rise up and desecrate a people population and lives. All this striving for security has in fact made you much more insecure. Because now you have to watch out all the time. There are people not like you. People who you call enemies. There are places you cannot go, thoughts you cannot think. World you can no longer inhabit. So you spend your days, fighting things off, defending your territory and becoming more entrenched in your fundamental thinking.

Your days become devoted to protecting yourself this becomes your mission and that is all you do. Ideas get shorter, they become sound bytes. There are evil doers and saints criminals and victim there are those that are not with us are against us. It gets easier to hurt people because you do not feel what’s inside them. It’s easier to lock them up. Force them to be naked. Humiliate them, occupy them, invade them kill them because they are only obstacles now to your security.

I have met women and men all over this planet, who through various circumstances: war, poverty, racism, multiple forms of violence have never known security. Or have had their illusion of security forever devastated….one of the most amazing things that I have discovered in my travel is that there is this emerging species..I’ve discovered these people in the V-day world that we call vagina warriors. These particular people rather than getting AK-47s or weapons of mass destruction or …the spirit of the warrior have gone into the center, the heart of pain of loss, they have grieved it, they have dived into it. And have allowed the poison to turn into medicine. They have used the fuel of that pain to begin to redirect that energy towards another mission and another trajectory. These warriors now devote themselves and their lives making sure what happened to them doesn’t happen to anyone else. There are thousands if not millions of them on the planet I venture there are many in this room.

They have fierceness and a freedom that I believe is the bedrock of a new paradigm. They have broken out the existing frame of the victim and the perpetrator. Their personal security is not their end goal. and because of that , rather than worry about security  because the transformation of the suffering is their end goal. I actually believe they are creating real safety and a whole new idea of security.

…..If your end goal is security and if that’s all you are focusing on what ends up happening is that you create not only more insecurity in other people. But you make youreself far more insecure. Real security is contemplating death not pretending it doesn’t exists. Not running from loss but entering grief, surrendering to sorrow. Real security is not knowing something when you don’t know it.

Real security is hungering for connection rather than power. It can not be bought or arranged or made with bombs it is deeper it is a process it is an acute awareness that we are all utterly interdependent; and by one action by one being in one tiny  town has consequences everywhere. Real security is not only being able to tolerate mystery,complexity, ambiguity, but hungering for them and only trusting a situation when they are present.

Something happened when we began traveling in the v-day years ago, I got lost. I remember being on a plane from Kenya to South Africa. And I had no idea where I was. Didn’t know where I was going where I had come from. And I panicked I had a total anxiety attack. Then I suddenly realized that it absolutely didn’t matter where I was going, where I had come from. Because we are all essentially permanently displaced people. All of us are refugees we come from somewhere and we are hopefully travelling all the time moving towards a new place.

Freedom means I may not be identified as only one group that I can visit and find myself in every group. It does not mean I don’t have values or beliefs but it does mean I am not hardened around them. I do not use them as weapons. In the shared future. It will be just that shared. End goal will become vulnerable realizing the place of our connection to one another. Rather than becoming secure in control and alone.