Postcard from the Field #1

Richard Blum, our legendary Chairman, wrote a lovely memoir, An Accident of Geography. AHF was featured in the book, so his co-author, Thomas Hayes, interviewed and researched to learn about Nepal and AHF so he could write about those two threads that ran through Richard’s life. This spring, nine years later, Tom came with the AHF team. And we asked him to share his thoughts as someone who knew a lot about a country he had never set foot in. This is the first in a series about his adventures. - Erica Stone, President

In Kathmandu

Richard and I spent hours capturing stories from his adventures in the high Himalayas, and especially his deep connections with the Sherpa guides that launched AHF, when I first collaborated with him on his memoirs.

“You’ll have to go to Nepal,” he told me. “Of course,” I replied. But, until this April, I never had.

Now I am standing near the front of a spacious prayer room before wide-eyed statues of the Buddha, Tara, and Guru Rinpoche, each elevated behind a glass partition, nearly four feet tall and draped with khatas. Five elderly nuns just behind me and the tall abbot next to me are repeating a Tara prayer for safe journey. The slow deep-throated chanting, the lovely harmony, transported me.

A low tingling sensation welled up. “Serene escape for modern-world mind and body,” I thought. Closing my eyes, I tuned out, hearing only chanting and my breathing. After ten minutes, silence. Refreshed, refocused, we made our way out into the nunnery courtyard.

Young nuns with shaved heads in maroon robes and sandals laughed and played. Nearby we gave thanks and exchanged farewells amid a score of older nuns, the girls’ caregivers and teachers. By design or serendipity, the colorful, soft-soled shoes on their feet, just arrived from the Bay Area, delighted us.

Ancient rituals. Simple joys. I wondered, “What other surprises will Nepal have for me in the next two weeks? Will I be ready? Am I ready? Amazing to be here now. Welcome, at last, to Kathmandu.”

I knew something of the political struggles and cultural conflicts that persist in a country of thirty million people where the median household income is $1,500. In myriad ways, as Richard wrote in his memoirs, these forces have shaped the backdrop in which AHF has forged and deepened its mission for more than forty years.

I was dazzled by many people I met, from toddlers to elders; breathtaking mountain scenery, from horseback and the air; and routines of community life that, at least in Mustang’s small villages, have changed little in the past five hundred years.

So, then, a few postcards from the journey. 

- Tom Hayes

*An Accident of Geography: Compassion, Innovation, and the Fight Against Poverty, by Richard C. Blum with Thomas C. Hayes. Greenleaf Book Group Press, 2016.