Thursday, April 27, 2006

Watching Death

I saw someone die today, I will never know her name or age, but in front of my eyes she died and later today the youngest son will light a cremation fire under her.

This is a disturbing enough image to carry through a day but in context with the plight of the living here in Nepal, death may not come soon enough. However it is the image of a small girl in the window of my car that will haunt me far longer than that of an old woman dying.

We were coming back to the hotel after spending the afternoon in and around the Thamal District looking for anything that might constitute a potential build up of demonstrators, the story here has died to use a metaphor, peace and democracy is promised to the people, but the buts’ are too numerous and in reality, peace is never a news worthy story, if it was we would all have Bureaus in Tahiti and New Zealand and not in Baghdad.

I normally try to keep small notes in my pocket when I travel in cars so that if a beggar comes to the car I can give away my small notes, first a mother approached and I gave her about 40 Rupees (60 cents) then an old man carrying a woman on his back came up I gave my 50 Rupee note (80 cents) and then a small girl, dirty faced, wearing a red maybe ten years old not much more came up and held out her hand, I had one last note in my hand 20 Rupee (35 cents roughly) and I pushed the button to wind up the window, then I stopped the window going up in her face, and if time had stopped I realized what I was doing, this small girl was doing nothing more than asking, she has nothing, a poor street urchin.

In my wallet I had more money than her father could earn in two years, if she had a family. I do not know it is not something you ask a street child as you are closing a window on them, holding a note that means nothing to me in the big picture at all but to her it is a meal or medicine.

I see beggars around the world, I hear the grossly exaggerated stories told by fat tourists around bars at nights in five star hotels saying how all children gangs use and they get nothing. When you have something in life it is hard to comprehend what nothing is.

I wound down the window and gave her the note and she left, I did not see her face as she turned and darted back to the footpath. I did not look around but took the moment to reflect and it was not a proud moment in my life. Small things do matter and small children matter.

The woman who died in front of my eyes was an old woman taken out of a hospice down to the holy river at the sacred temple here in Katmandu. In death she had dignity and support her last moments had included holy water being poured in her mouth. It was not hard to watch her death; it was in fact watching life here in Nepal can be harder.

Katmandu – Bangkok (18 hours later)

Look you have to laugh, I can reflect back on how I felt at that moment but a scam stung us last night by a beggar, and to be honest I did not care. The aim is to hit a woman, in this case Yonat, our Producer. A girl in her young teens with a baby on her back comes up and first off says I do not want money, but could you buy me some milk for my baby. Now I was with Yonat and fell just as badly as she did, she was not asking for money but baby milk how could anyone say no. So the girl leads Yonat and I down the street. We get to a grocery store and spend twenty bucks or so on buying baby milk, she smiles and waves to us thanking for us and disappears back up the street.

Yonat and I feel good for the deed we have done, only to ask a friend Jill who works for Reuters later that night had this happened to her and lo and behold, hook line and sinker she had fallen for it and spent nearly $30 buying the same story. I had to laugh, there is a girl out there doing fine in Katmandu. She has no doubt returned the milk to the shop where she is in cahoots with the owner and gets a cut I just hope she gets a fair share.

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