Monday, March 16, 2009

My Alley Awakens

In January, I moved into a small flat with two Australian friends. We live in an alley the width of a sitting lawnmower. Like most alleys in Kathmandu, it has a small temple, a butcher and lots of dogs. I love being part of its living and breathing. I love my alley.

It starts with the ringing. The women of the alley roll out of bed, their eyes still puffy with sleep. Without peeing or eating, they walk, legs stiff with night, to the temple at the end of the lane. They brush their hands over its row of copper bells and leave coconut pieces and flower petals for Kumari, the Goddess that protects our alley. (One of 36 million Hindu Gods.)

The temple

The bells

The Goddess Kumari

“Its like someone’s hitting coke bottles together over and over,” a friend said after a night in our flat.

By 5:30 the bells stop. The women are back home – lighting stoves for tea, washing their mouths, and soaking the day’s lentils.

The white dog wakes up next. He licks the gnatted fur on his bony spine and yawns. He heads towards the corner momo stand, sniffing the gutter as he walks. He stops. Tucked in the edge where the stand meets the ground is a dark, greasy morsel the size of a domino. He chomps, swallows, then licks the spot until he’s scraped the cement for every last gristly molecule. He continues sniffing.

Next, around 7, the shopkeepers slide back the metal doors of their shops. Metal on metal; the sound of business starting. The sound of the hour. The shopkeepers’s wives tidy the entrances – sweeping banana peels and cigarette cartons into the gutter or onto the neighboring shop’s patch of alley. The man I buy bananas and laundry soap from polishes his foggy glass counter until the identity of the chewing gum and tampons underneath is unmistakable. This all goes on while I’m still horizontal, still drooling on my pillow.

When my alarm goes off at 8:35, the children are already in school, the shopkeeper’s milk is sold out and the women are cleaning copper pots that held the morning’s rice and tea. At 8:40 I stretch my arms up, pee, put on jeans, brush my teeth, check for keys, cell phone and computer charger and walk into the bright day.

First thing I see is the yarn. Just over the waist-high cement wall separating our compound from our neighbors, dozens of sheep’s-worth of newly-dyed yarn hangs to dry. Every day is a different hue – green, purple, red. Every day is brilliant. Next I walk under the canopy of softball-sized red flowers and out my creaking brown gate. I turn right.

The Yarn

The huge red flowers

The brown gate

First shop I come to is the butcher. Behind the counter a man in a white jacket hovers over yesterday’s parts – a leg, parts of an abdomen. I hold my breath and think of those red flowers. Across the alley a goat wobbles, his movement restricted by the 1-foot piece of twine tied around his neck. I bike on, try bring my mind back to the yarn.

The butcher's counter

Nearing the corner I ring my rusty bell. “Maaph garnu” I say as I weave between two groups – a cluster of men sipping tea from glass cups and old women with question mark-shaped backs buying bananas and lentils.

I turn right, out of the alley. Into the day.

1 comment:

Charlie Guthrie said...

That is a lovely post, Rosie. You make it very easy to imagine being there.