by Fabrizio Fiorenzano
Nepal is still a Country where to get adequate and satisfying health cares is not so easy as a western person can believe. In the highest Country of the world, where the wonderful Himalayan peaks dominate the entire nation and divide it from Tibet, and where tourists climb the mountains all around the Kathmandu Valley, many calamities such as the children?s malnutrition and other serious diseases: Leprosy, HIV, Tuberculosis, are very diffused and only if you have the fortune to be enough rich to afford good medical treatments, is possible to hope to live a proper life. It was the month of September of the year 2001 and moved to Nepal to work to another reportage. I was based in Kathmandu and one day I asked to the taxi driver to bring me out of the city because I knew that there was something interesting to see at the near city of Pashupatinath.
This is a city known for the hindu cremations, but here, not so far from the capital, there is a little complex of temples where Mother Teresa’s order of nuns started off a recruiting centre for sick and old people affected and suffering by different forms of diseases. Here, 15 nuns two days a week come to assure comfort and assistance to this people. Many of them are simply old or alone in the life. Nowhere to go, nowhere to sleep, no family, no relatives. When I arrived and came down from the taxi, immediately a boy came to me offering his contribution to guide me in the tour of the city. I told him that I wanted take a look to this institute and so he kindly showed me the way.
The mostly of the tourists, as not Hindus are not allowed to visit the complex.
In this leprosarium, my first impression was to stay in a quite and clean place, and it did not seem so depressing as I thought, but unfortunately this sensation changed very soon.
The first thing I noticed was the human dignity. It surprised me very much, especially in the eyes of women there was a so great haughty bearing and a so incredible pride. Also if in their visible poorness and humility, they took great care over how they dressed, to care themselves, their hair, their hands. Usually women prepare the food, especially spices, rice and other kind of vegetables and wash the clothes in a common yard using old pails and running water.
For a moment I felt like an intruder in their world, but I didn’t understand if I was appreciated or not, this because they seemed don’t care about my presence.
All around, there was many monkeys quickly climbing the walls of the complex and walking over them. In Nepal, monkeys are considered sacred animals. My guide told me kindly to refrain to look them directly in the eyes because they can interpret this act as an act of challenge and there is the concrete risk to make them became very aggressive.
Nepal is full of monkeys but also full of people wounded from them.
Paying attention to these not so friendly creatures and refraining to watch their pupils, the exploration of the place brought me in another section of the complex; the hospitalisation wards.
The sense of sadness and solitude now started assault me. Everywhere, men and women alone and stretched on unrehearsed beds, almost all in a forced status of darkness without artificial lights, but only few and slim sun light rays came inside from the external.
This made me understand how backward can be the health assistance level in this Country, much more than any statistics could explain, and how sad could be to stay and to live in a place like that living in a terrible and depressing solitude.
In this part of the complex was not allowed to take photos but my curiosity and my desire to bring back with me the testimony of what I was seeing, prevailed!
My guide suggested me to give to a woman few rupee to be allowed to shoot photographs, so I did. As photographer I should always take all my pictures without any form of fear or moral brakes, but in some cases I remember to be a human being and at the top of my target I have respect for the most weak people.
The most nice thing was to see their incredible will to communicate with me and their will to know something more about myself and about my nationality.
Thanks to my approach and especially thanks to my personal guide, was possible to share with these unfortunate people some friendly and intense moments. I ate some food with them and they seemed to be so surprised to see me staying there with them for a couple of hours. They was so friendly and their food was so delicious. Generally, when a tourist arrives in a place like this he will not remain for long time, usually no more than few minutes, just the time to take some snapshots to the monuments and then to leave the place quietly but in a hurry.
The time passed very quickly for me and I had the chance to understand how long I spent there only when I saw that the sun was coming down and the temperature started to became a bit colder.
First to leave the complex I overviewed around me one more time and I had the way to notice that nothing was changed. Many small groups of people was still seated on the ground and many of them was only shades in the darkness and very similar to a troop of silent ghosts. The only things changed was located into myself.
Leaving this place the main feelings I felt was, at the same time, a mix of happiness and sadness. Happy, because I felt much more richer inside myself, I lived a unique and unforgettable experience that changed deeply my intimacy. Sad because the awareness to be so lucky to have a family and woman that was waiting for me from the other side of the world, I also knew that I never could say or to think the same words addressed to that people known in the complex of Pashupatinath.