Naagbahal; a place I’d never been to or ever heard about. The anticipation of working there was alien because I knew no one. But the void was exciting me to fill gaps, know places I never knew about or meet people I’d never had the opportunity to.
The first day of volunteering at Dhakwa House in Naagbahal for the first International Photography Exhibition by Photo Kathmandu was quite fascinating. I’d never expected the house and place to be so beautiful with passages within houses that looked like little caves opening to Naagbahal Chowk. I was amused, the first day of volunteering. The conversation with my team mates were filled with awkward silences and sometimes half smiles. That day, we cleaned up the spaces and left the work for the next day.
The next day, we met our team coordinator, and the second day, this group of strangers sharing awkward smiles and silences were sharing warm smile and friendly small talks. Silences became less awkward and filled with clashes of tools for work.
We met early in the morning and worked for installation; painting boards, tightening and loosening screws, hanging pictures, taking measurement, applying dendrite on photos and drying them in Naagbahal and Dhakwa House. During this time, small talks extended to conversations about each other where I realized two of our team members were alumni of my alma mater and one was a graduate of the university I’m studying in from the same faculty. And one was my classmate but we didn’t know each other well, so we definitely had a lot in common. Slowly, strangers were turning into friends finding commons.
The installation finally got over and the most awaited day was there!!! It was November 3rd, the exhibition day. It was to take place for a week. It was during the exhibition, the six members got separated into four.
The exhibition was probably the time short conversations turned into long ones teaching me about people, culture, politics, art, photography, life and history.
Naagbahal had been a family in just a week. The people came to know about us and we became habituated with each other. They were the most welcoming and friendly people. There were a lot of things I liked about the place from the way it was structured to the way they preserved their culture. I also came to know and see machines to weave shawls and mufflers and make silver ornaments that are probably 150 years old. I especially liked the fact that people had a lot of pet dogs. I find them absolutely adorable.
Naagbahal had been a home where I’d befriended the dogs especially, Dollar (a pug) and Chelsea (a Lhasa Apso) . Oh, and the pigeons too who sat on my hand when offered grains. I noticed pigeons have really soft feet. I had a little friend too, Arush, who called himself ‘Alush’ being only 2 and a half years old. He was the cutest and a mischievous kid. He loved it when we carried him and he stretched out his hands when we came and urged us to carry him. He called me ‘ iti didi’ instead of Reeti didi (sister). He mostly spoke Newari and I didn’t understand him but we somehow found ways to communicate and understand each other. It was like language barrier isn’t such a big deal. There would be some way out to understand.
The Dhakwa Family had also been a part of our lives as we were there from the very first day and we actually knew their history because we were supposed to tell the visitors about it. The daughter of the house and I were only a year apart and we became good friends. Moreover, we found commons. She and I had completed high school from the same one, so we got along pretty well.
Apart from people at Naagbahal, our team was reaching a comfort level with each other. I personally thought I would be left out, would feel awkward and not match up with other team members being the only girl in the team but I never felt so. Okay, may be sometimes during the first days but that’s the result of my presumptions. They were helpful and welcoming even though I screwed up a lot and didn’t know how to do certain things. But I was taught and I got to learn new things too. They were really nice to me even though I’m too clumsy and I messed things up.
It was such an amazing moment that I didn’t realize it had already been two week since we’d met and started working together. It was a little difficult to accept the reality that it was over and the next day I woke up, I didn’t have to rush through the alleys of Patan to reach Naagbahal or we would have mo:mo’s for lunch as always. The hangover still hasn’t ceased to make me feel all daisies and sunshine but I’m happy for the memories and experiences that I would be carrying along my next journey. And as always, I’m excited for the new journey that I still don’t know anything about.
The two weeks have taught me things as practical as tightening or loosening a screw, using a leveler, calculating inches, filling holes with fevicol and chalk powder (which will be pretty helpful), painting wall, teaching tools such as tester exists to things as subjective and dynamic as culture, art, photography, people, friendship, life and what not.
Two weeks of volunteering has taught me little about everything and a nudge to be excited for what’s stored for the next voyage in life. It has taught me about strangers into friends and probably tapping social skills to the girl with supposed social anxiety. The most important thing I learnt was from my little friend, ‘Alush’, to be happy and learn how to giggle and smile even when we fall, dusting little hands; trusting to be caught if fallen and never say no, even to the things you think you can never achieve.
PS.I also saw Benedict Cumberbatch during his shoot of Dr. Strange in Patan.