Reflections of a Pitzer Alum on Nepal Fifteen Years Later
I was a student on the Pitzer Program in the fall of '95. I was at the Balkot program house off the road to Bhaktapur, and lived with a family in Sirutar. At the time, my Nepali brother that I lived with was in his late teens, the youngest of six children. Over the course of the last 15 years, I've returned to Nepal five times as a volunteer, working in tourism, teaching English, exploring, and most recently as a filmmaker. I even made an appearance as a goon in a Nepali film called Surakshya, which means "Protection."
Things have, of course, changed dramatically since 1995. In addition to the Royal Family being massacred and the country going through a civil war, my family has built a new four-story house in what used to be their rice paddy, and I communicate regularly with my Nepali brothers and sisters on Facebook and Skype. My brother is now the Nepal director for a Bangladeshi pharmaceutical company and when we Skype, I can hear the chaos of traffic and dogs barking from outside his New Road office. On each visit, I roll by the program house and throw a big namaste to the gurus - Shova, BB, Sadhna, and Surya, and it's great to gaph garne with the kitchen staff, all of whom are still there - Daphre, Tendi, Laal, Syla, Babukaji, and Bambahadur.
In 2009 I successfully pitched a series of stories to my local TV station connecting Seattle with Nepal. Working with a veteran local producer, we shot three stories that aired on the program City Stream.
One is about the resettlement of Bhutanese Refugees in my neighborhood in SE Seattle after 18 years of living in a UN refugee camp in Nepal. I followed a group on their charter plane to KTM, through cultural orientation and final medical screenings, and profiled a young man in his new job at a nursing home here in Seattle. Another story focuses on the work of a local NGO working to dispel the stigma of disability in Nepal. The third is about a Tibetan family from Seattle who sent their 5-year-old son to Nepal to be raised as a monk and a revered leader in the making, as a direct lineage holder of the Sakya tradition. Working on the stories was great. Kathmandu is about the most picturesque and engaging location to film in.
My Nepali language skills are still strong.I like to split firewood at home with my kukuri, eat achar with my dahl, and still love doing the head swivel to confirm I'm listening to people when talking to me. Also, I still use TP when at home in America.
If you've never made it back to Nepal since being a student there and always wanted to, I strongly encourage you to make it happen. Despite mad turmoil and continued total chaos, it remains a totally incredible place to visit.
Len Davis, Pitzer '97 is the owner of Pangealty Productions (www.pangealityproductions.com), a Seattle-based video production company specializing in serving socially conscious businesses and organizations. Len's work has been featured on ABC’s 20/20, PBS, BBC, Democracy Now!, The Travel Channel, The History Channel, ZDF German Television, MTV, in The New York Times, at The United Nations, on various other TV outlets in Europe and Africa, as well as at numerous trade conferences and film festivals around the world. He has worked as a cameraman, producer, interviewer, editor, teacher, floor director, researcher, and overall documentarian.
Samples of some of his documentaries on Nepal and South Asia can be found here:
http://vimeo.com/6972746 - Challenging the Stigma of Disability in Nepal
http://vimeo.com/6704235 - Young Lama & Future Tibetan Spiritual Leader, Asanga Sakya Rinpoche
http://vimeo.com/7260916 - Butanese Regugee Story - From Nepal to Seattle's Rainier Valley