Earthquakes, Jewels and Zombies

Last night’s earthquake (September 2011) was the strongest in Nepal since 1934.   The epicenter between eastern Nepal and Sikkim was 6.8 on the Richter scale.  I barely felt it.

As G and I came out of a tea shop into light rain, I felt momentarily as if I was a little drunk.  The ground felt a little bit unstable but it passed so quickly it didn’t really register.  A little later, the street filled with people clapping, shouting and cheerfully jostling all across the road.  Was there a huge wedding?   Surely it couldn’t be part of today’s ceremonial offerings to continue getting blessings from their tools by those who work with metal even though that now includes taxi drivers, kitchen workers and many others?  G asked.  There had been an earthquake and people thought there could be another one.

This morning’s newspaper says there was almost no physical damage but more than 60 people were hurt jumping out of buildings and three were killed when the very old brick wall round the British Embassy collapsed.  This was not the “massive earthquake” D’s teacher said is necessary (but far from sufficient) for Kathmandu to get a better than third world road, water supply, sewer, electrical grid and other infrastructure.

G and I walked today in another area where it’s likely no Westerner ever went before.  There’s no temple or historical site, just very poor villages that you get to via an hour-long walk through the “jungle”.

We stopped at a tea shop where locals gather.  The proprietor was excited to find an American in his shop.  He said: “America is the richest country in the world”  then proposed to sell me a jewel that he took from a naga, a snake deity that lives in rivers.  They produce one jewel from their body during their incalculably long life.  They use it to hunt for food at night because it casts intense light 21 feet in every direction.  You can keep it if you can take such a jewel when the naga is not looking, the man tells G, but if the naga sees you, it will bite and you will die instantly.  It will not be after one minute or one second, it will be instantaneous.  That’s why such jewels are so rare.

The man said he would show it to me if I would like to buy it but it would cost eighty thousand million rupees.  That’s a little over one billion dollars.  G said I did not have so much money in my pocket today.  The man said in that case he could not show us the jewel.  G told him he had read about these jewels but never imagined he would have the good fortune to meet someone who possessed one.  The tea the man’s wife prepared was exceptionally tasty but it had no magical properties as far as I can tell.

On the way back G said when he was studying philosophy and reading Socrates “and it was the time when I must decide who I am, I realized I am a citizen of the world”.  He also realized he could not say he is a devotee of any religion.  His wife, however, is Hindu.  She knows that while not everyone is Hindu, those who are not are either Muslim or Christian and since her husband is not Muslim or Christian, he must be Hindu.  That means he must do what a Hindu man should do.

Yesterday was a day when all Hindu men must get their hair cut.  G forgot.  Last night Mrs G was very concerned because she believes dead men will now start to follow him around.   G does not want her to be distressed, so he will get his hair cut this evening.  She is afraid that will not be effective because today is the wrong day.  G says she will relax after a couple of days when she sees no dead men following him .

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