Letter from Kasia

Pietro and I have been to Mustang only once, but it was all it took to fall in love with the place, its culture, and its people…. I never would have thought I’d come back 8 years later, without him and with a daughter, to build a school! Pietro, was the one who started it all. One day he came back home shouting, “Let’s go to Nepal”. It was one of his crazy ideas; I don’t know why, maybe out of curiosity, or because he read a book or an article -perhaps on National Geographic- about the ancient kingdom of Mustang and this made him decide to go. Pietro was like that; he was guided by pure instinct, curious like a kid and filled with a crazy desire to do things immediately. He also managed to find a person that had been to Mustang more than once, who had lived and worked there and talked about it with great enthusiasm. We were very curious to get to know him, to better understand what he was talking about and in the end, we decided to meet him.

His name was Alberto and he would also have remained in our lives for a long time. Soon after we meet him, we left for our trip; it was late July. We had all the indications necessary places where to sleep, what to see and what not to eat…. 8 years ago, Kathmandu was a place out of the grid, a total chaos. And I must admit that not much has changed over the past years. There is a crowd of people, as well as many cars moving disorderly in the city, with a logic very far from our street code; the horns do not stop honking; monkeys and cows stalling intersections; a mix of strong odors among which incense, flowers, gas, animals’ blood which are slaughtered on the street; butter candles; in short an explosion of sensations and a venture for the senses not comparable to anything I have experienced elsewhere. All this paired to people’s smiles and a perceptible peacefulness at every corner. Hard to believe for those like us who come from a world where everything is in perfect order, under control, and sterile. After a few days, we left for the Mustang. Two planes and a night spent in Pochara (mandatory stop on the way). There are two ways to enter the Kingdom. One from North-Tibet, the other from South-Nepal. I’ll never forget my arrival at Jomson. And every time I go there it’s probably my favorite part of the trip. A dive. A flight. Because the small plane that leads from Pochara to Jomson looks like a hornet that passes through a group of giants, 8 thousand meters high. The mountains that surround the entire area are called Giants and their presence is inevitably very perceivable. When the plane lands on Jomson’s tiny runway, one feels to be flying again. The feeling to be flying never leaves me when I’m the Mustang. And it’s the thing I like best. Also Pietro, was overwhelmed by the beauty of those mountains. I remember him sitting on the horse with his arms spread out pretending to fly. At the time there was no road, the only way to tour around was by foot or on horseback. We had clearly chosen the second option. Tenzin, came to pick us up at Jomson, he was nineteen, and had recently married Pema a few years older than him. Tenzin and Pema were Alberto’s friends and now over the years their home also has become my home, our daughters have slept together and thanks to a special ritual I have become Pema’s “spirit sister”. At the time though we were completely lost. It’s hard to explain, but an indefinite period, time froze. We were completely inebriated by the beauty of the landscapes, the kindness of the inhabitants, the mysticism of the rituals and the pure joy that surrounded us. But we were also shocked from the total poverty. We spent almost a month in Mustang hosted by the Tenzin’s and Pema’s family who did not want anything from us, not even a penny. I remember our first goodbye, it was dawn, I gave Pema the only thing I had with me that I was very fond of, a little cross, nothing much, but I saw tears fall from my friend’s eyes and I knew she understood the value the object had for me. I also knew that I would not be seeing her again soon. Pietro, who had been strangely silent the days before leaving, did nothing else but talk all the way (this time by foot, a 6 hours journey) to Jomson airport. He kept saying that we had to do something, we are privileged with the work we do, so we had to do something. He said that the Mustangi culture is too precious and if it would disappear it would also be our fault because we did nothing to prevent this from happening. He had a thousand ideas and we promised to come back as soon as possible. Life is strange. I think nothing happens by chance and maybe it wasn’t the right time to “do something”. I got pregnant a short time later, the baby was too small to travel, then work, home, work again and so our dream remained a dream. But in the meantime news came from Pema and Tenzin. We have always kept in touch. A few weeks after Pietro’s death Alberto called me, he said the sad news reached Tenzin and so he had come to Jomson to make the phone call and let me know that in the village they did the Puggia (a prayer made by Tibetan monks for special occasions, a ritual that can last even a whole day) for Pietro’s spirit. With that I realized that it was time the right time to return there and “do something”. Eight years later, with a daughter, and a friend – Alberto, I returned to Tenzin’s and Pema’s house with a strong motivation, but without a precise idea. I realized that our initial idea today has turned into urgency. I made four more trips plus a trek to Lo Mantang and even further to the Chinese border, with a group of acupuncturist doctors to learn more about the culture, traditions and language of the Mustang. I observed and dwelled. Trying to look with the heart and not to be too blinded by the search for “something”. After a year and a half I realized that the right thing to do was to build a school. The project directly involved Alberto, Tenzin, Pema, and Tenzin’s whole family, the whole community of the Ghemi village, Kunzom (a Mustangi girl, a 20 years old friend of Alberto’s who lived 10 years in America and decided to come back to work at this project in first person), Shyam and Hari (Nepalese friends who are now Romans) and my friends and…. above all Pietro’s friends who help me every day in the realization of our dream.

Rome February 20th, 2012

Kasia Smutniak,