Kim Hamlet – Amongst Trees
“I have a lot of problems with the academic queer community because it’s a community that exists completely removed from reality. Those kids who are selling their bodies on the West Side Highway, on Christopher Street, they don’t even know what the fuck queer theory is.” – Michael Quattlemore, Jr., aka Mykki Blanko.
I’m just going to start writing again. No fanfare, no parade, no decorated cavalry. Thinking about a lot of internal debates I’ve been having with myself, ethical issues I’ve been trying to resolve (or at least acknowledge.) Much of that conflict is crystallized in the above quotation from an interview with Mykki Blanko, about the academic community and the whole ivory tower thing. My (always tentative) thesis research will have to reckon with Mykki’s scathing and totally valid criticism of academia. How do I make myself accountable to communities, especially the ones affected by any research undertaken. More importantly, why do this research? I don’t mean to be fatalistic or self-defeating in asking that question; I just really have to recognize that whatever work I do will have limited reach in effecting any sort of change. How does this work in any way address the urgency of existing problems, how does it speak to the immediacy of what is wrong right now?
I get that these questions are not an exercise of highly original thinking on my part, nor are these dilemmas by any measure unique to myself or my work. That doesn’t mean I care any less. What can I do to avoid these things or at least minimize the harm? I was talking to a colleague the other day, and I was thinking about access to information within the academy, who is implicitly cast as audience (and who is correspondingly excluded from that community.) Is it enough to cast a wider net of access? I have some embryonic ideas for what on-the-ground, community-oriented or popular-education approaches might look like, but I need to think on it more. Until then, I have left you with Cass McCombs’s eloquent, pointed creative work “Everything Has to Be Just-So” to occupy your thoughts.
My trip to Ghyangphedi, in the Nuwakot district of Nepal with SASANE (the organization with which I volunteer) acts as easily the most meaningful, epiphanic and beautiful piece of my trip. It was also one of the most physically challenging and taxing aspects of my travel (hence the below titled section.)
Trip to Ghyangphedi Part 1: In Which I’ve Never Trekked / Sweat So Much in My Entire Life
Let me elaborate: for myriad reasons, that first day of the trip was the worst day of my life. Okay, I’m overstating the truth, but I think I have good reason to exaggerate. Let’s start at the very beginning: 5:45 am, I woke up to find I was sick and developed a sore, raw throat (I have a sneaking suspicion that it was due to screaming from this.) Another volunteer and I stumble exhausted toward a group of taxis to take us to the bus station, where we’re supposed to meet members of SASANE. At 6:30 we arrive at a chaotic bus stop called Balaju Machhapokhari, and the others were nowhere to be found. I should tell you that I was an extremely cranky puppy that morning, and I had zero patience for the screaming fruit vendors, the general confusion and stress of being alone in a crowded bus station 5 minutes before our bus was supposed to leave.
One of the first days I’d arrived here – I can’t remember exactly when – I decided I’d go exploring on my own. Everyone was still volunteering (either at their hospital, an orphanage, a Buddhist monk’s temple, a school, or a human right’s organization), and I hadn’t started my program yet. I was bored y’all! So I snatched up my camera and peaced out to wander around.
After having been pointed in the right direction by a seemingly kind shop owner in Thamel (who turned out to be a scary harassing grifter later in my travels – but that’s another story) I found myself turning in to a side entrance off Tridevi Marg and into this beautiful oasis located in the heart of the loud and dirty Thamel. Strangely that day I for the most part had the garden to myself – except I noticed a lot of Nepalis canoodling in shadowy corners of the grounds. I’d walk by and they would look over toward me with distrust and contempt. I only found out later that The Garden of Dreams is famously a hook-up spot for couples, realizing that, in hindsight, I was preventing like 10 people simultaneously from scoring. Happy to be a collective cockblock! Anyway.
From what I understand, Nepalis generally frown upon public displays of affection (“PDA”, for those of you who are under the age of 35), even hand-holding. In that way I liked the idea that The Garden of Dreams can act as reprieve from the social stigma, granted if you’re able to afford 200 Rupees for entry. Frank Ocean’s Nature Feels came to mind as I was walking through, feeling like a peeping tom spying on Nepalis making out. I would totally go again, but maybe next time with some friends and not alone like a pervert.
Til next time!
Part 1: Endless Rolling Hills
Hurtling forward through bleary-eyed pedestrians, past trash, underfed animals onward to the platforms of rice paddies, the tallest statue of Shiva, innumerable “mountain resorts” promising beautiful views of the hilltops (despite the rainy season contradicting such a promise with its accompanying fog.) We were on a bus, 6:08am, heading toward our adventure – swinging our bodies down through a canyon with nothing but ropes, elastic, some metal fastenings. The bus ride there would take 3 hours, they told us. My friends are sleeping but I don’t want to miss this ride, the small bits of Nepal beyond Kathmandu that I’d be seeing. I have seen children looking out the windows of worn, faded, crumbling brick houses. I’ve seen Ncell advertisements, its emblematic purple iconography, painted beautifully (in its own way) on the sides of small shanties. I have seen dark, lush green plants, my first exposure to these flowers, the trees. I have basked in their speckled shadows that bleed in through the bus windows. Houses built precariously on the edges of the earth.