Layers of Nepal – Kathmandu Chaos

The airport in Kathmandu is a microcosym of the world outside it, a calm prelude by comparison to what lies in store beyond its walls. There’s this buzz, people everywhere you look. Lots of waiting, not unlike any airport you’ve been to in your life, but here, there is a strange, noisy kind of patience. Layers and layers of people. The two baggage carousels are lined 5 and 6 deep with people and their trolleys. Chaos.

The road outside Kathmandu airport parking lot reminds me of a blog I wrote about Dr. Stephen Covey’s priority jar. The jar is supposed to be a physical representation of your time and how much of it you actually have. First, the jar is filled with stones. Pebbles fill the space between the stones, sand fills the space between the pebbles, water fills the space between the grains of sand. In Kathmandu, the roads are the jar, the stones, life and life seems to fill every square inch.

The roads are packed. Buses are packed. In between them, there are small bubble cars – taxis, personal vehicles, all packed. They are on motorcycles of 2 and 3, on bicycles. There are no traffic lights, no lanes. Occasionally, at a larger intersection, there is a police tower and an officer acting as a human traffic light – perhaps the way streets were managed in the 1950’s in the United States. Except that it’s 2016 in Kathmandu and there are endless lines of vehicles and people. The most amazing thing to watch in this is how everybody works together to get from point A to B. It’s slow, there’s a lot of dangerous driving, but they merge and exit and creep along together. Sometimes there are 3 lanes, sometimes 4, sometimes 2 – depending on who’s parked on the side of the road.

Many roads are scarcely more than a dirt alley. In those alleys, the laws of physics are defied. They are filled with people on foot despite the vehicles that still use them. The crowd parts barely wide enough for a car or motorcycle to pass by, and is only occasionally squeezed to the sides of the road when a delivery truck only slightly smaller than the roadway itself passes by. Occasionally, two vehicles too wide to possibly get by each other patiently perform this slow dance, a feat of cooperative quantum physics, seemingly bending to pass, without touching each other or injuring any pedestrians. No one is angry, no one loses their temper. They work together to get through each day.

It is crowded, chaotic. It is dusty from all the earthquake damage and the construction to lay plumbing lines (yay!) and widen roads. It is noisy, the air filled with a constant hum of poorly maintained engines and horns signifying “I’m here!!”

I am here.