August 31, 2011
Nepal has always stood in my mind as a mysterious land with soaring mountains. But, until planning for this trip, if you had asked me where it was on a map, i would only be able to point vaguely towards Asia. So let's clear that up first. Nepal is the tiny slice of cheese sandwiched by its big important neighbors India and China. It's that thing in dark blue.
Kathmandu is Nepal’s political and cultural capital. It is stunning. The tiny winding streets and passageways are littered with life—with people, mopeds, bicycles and cows competing for each inch of space. And in the heart of this only vaguely controlled chaos lies Durbar Square. It is here where the kings were once crowned and where they ruled. While the kings and elephant stables are no more, their spectacular legacy lives on through the Square’s brilliant architecture.
Now it's hard to imagine with this rich history that today Nepal is one of the poorest countries of the world, with over a quarter of its population living on less than $2 a day. But hidden behind the winding allies of Durbar Square is the key to change. We were led through the dark passageways by a representative of our local partner organization, Women’s Entrepreneur’s Association of Nepal or more simply WEAN (They are a group of woman doing amazing work to lift the status of of their "sisters" in Nepal). There are no names for the dark passageways, so a guide was essential! We took lefts then rights then rights and lefts, ducking the whole while until we arrived at a small courtyard where we were greeted by a smiling face.
This is Urmila. She and her husband Ratna come from a long line of jewelry makers. She is at least a fifth-generation jewelry artisan. We were honored to spend the afternoon with Urmila and her family learning both about the art of jewelry making and life in Nepal.
Urmila and Ratna have two sons. Their younger son Saurav was with us and watched eagerly as his parents explained the jewelry making process. We asked Urmila what was her dream for her children. She said, “My husband and I are the only ones who still carry on our family jewelry tradition. I would like my sons to continue the tradition, and my dream? My dream is for them to get a high education and to grow the business outside of this small room, to export outside of Nepal and see and learn the things that we can only image.” “But,” Urmila said with a brief moment of hesitation, "only if that is what my sons want to do.” I turned to Saurav saying, “So, is that what you want too?” He responded smiling shyly, “Yes, I will be proud to keep our traditions alive."
Urmila and her husband are hard at work creating pieces inspired by Nepal. We can’t wait to get them and share them with you!