A woman ducks into a small doorway, a flash of bright lilac trailing behind her. On the front steps a dog is slumped down, and it flicks it eyes up as I pass. I’m in Kirtipur, an old city just a little way from Kathmandu. The doorways here are fairly low, both to better suit the height of the Newari (an ethnic group in Nepal) people who live here, and because everyone is supposed to bow their head when going in and out. Some of the frames have pictures of what looked like Hindu gods on them, and a few featured characters and numbers. Each door differed in design, age, grain, density, texture, and size. The variance in color alone was astounding. It seemed like every stroke of paint had faded at its own pace, resulting in a wide spectrum of baby blues, cream whites, earthy oranges, and more.
Doorways are fascinating objects. They serve as both an entryway to welcome you home and a barrier to protect you and your family from the outside world. Each one I saw seemed to have a story to tell. Like a pair of leather shoes, they probably started their life in manufactured spotlessness, untouched but unremarkable. At first you obsess over keeping them clean in a futile attempt to preserve their newness. Eventually wrinkles start to show, and dirt begins to collect in the crevices. The corners get scuffed from the times you played a little too rough, or worked a little too hard. After a few years it gets stretched out in some places and shrunk down in others, so that it fits only you and no one else. It becomes not just comfortable, but comforting.
It occurred to me that from these doorways, parents must have watched their kids leave for the last time, families must have fled during the earthquake, and children must have ran out with excitement on their first day of school. Of course I was only a passerby, and I can't pretend to glean in a second what those doors have seen over decades. I can only appreciate their rugged beauty and speculate on their history. Still, some ask why more people from countries like Nepal, countries with more problems to count and enough stories of injustice to fill several entire encyclopedias, don’t just get up and leave. Would you?
Walking through the neighborhood I encountered many old women, some sitting down with friends, others carrying baskets of bricks, and still others sewing clothes in their homes. I saw a woman filling a red bucket with water from a spout in the wall and approached her. “Namaste” I said, putting my hands together and bowing slightly. She smiled at me, her face both warm and slightly amused. “Do you mind if I take a picture?” I asked, raising my iPhone. She nodded and I two quick shots before moving on, nodding to her in appreciation as I passed. I’ll admit I still feel awkward sometimes taking photos of people when I walk around. Maybe it's the lost sense of anonymity, which was probably false anyway.
Everyone we encountered was friendly. Adults smiled and returned our "namaste", while kids looked up at us with curiosity, some of them waving. The experience was quite peaceful, and a refreshing change from the bustling city streets of Kathmandu.
On the ride home the streets were filled with people, all milling about as though waiting for an event to begin. David, our program instructor, mentioned that a death had occurred earlier that day and that the crowds were likely there for a ceremony. Everyone from old men and women to little toddlers were out, replacing the calmness of the morning with a slight tension.