Sujan walked me around Kathmandu for a few hours.
As we spent more time together, our chemistry grew and my walls started to drop, a little bit. We went to the monastery, where we spun prayer wheels and spoke of the mixture of Hinduism and Buddhism. Although in the U.S. we are taught the two religions are separate, here, as in many places in Asia, they have intermingled.
“Do not be afraid,” Sujan says when I hesitate to enter a temple. “Is touristic place.”
He shows me an array of butter lamps inside the temple. “Do you have someone to light one for? Good health, good thoughts? Prayers? Love?”
I light a lamp for Holly, and we return to the streets of Kathmandu.
We talked of the earthquake, of Nepali politics, and the fuel blockade which had strangled Kathmandu.
“What of the foreign aid money?” I asked. “Canada and the U.S. alone sent millions of dollars here. What happened to that money?”
Sujan laughed. “Into the pockets of the politicians!” he said, derisively. “We have very bad government here brother. They do not care for common people. Only themselves.”
This is a refrain I’d hear repeated time and time again, by all sorts of people from all walks of life, as I journeyed across this tiny, impoverished country.
As dusk begins to fall, Sujan has one more place he wants to show me. I resist. I want to return to my guesthouse before night falls. I especially don’t want to be in an unfamiliar part of the city at night, no matter how helpful Sujan has been during the day.
“You’re kind of an anxious guy, huh?” he asks me, expertly reading my body language.
I shrug. What is there to say, brother?
“Are you hungry?” he asks.
“Yeah,” I respond. “Can you show me some good Nepali food?” I ask. So far, what I’d eaten had consisted of American breakfast at Himalayan Java, the occasional Snickers bar, my odd dinner at Thamel House, and one meal of Japanese noodle soup, at a Japanese place.
“Have you had Thukpa yet?” Sujan asked me.
I shook my head.
“Thukpa is good. Is hearty. Filling. You will eat food like this if you go trekking.”
“Sounds good,” I say.
He begins steering us back to Thamel.
He casually brings up marijuana. I tell him marijuana is legal in Canada, I enjoy smoking it from time to time.
“Ah, I couldn’t tell,” he says with a sideways grin. “I can help you with that too, if you’d like.”
“Sure,” I say. After living in a ski town for the year previous, marijuana has become one of my most trusted coping mechanisms. I hadn’t touched the stuff since I started traveling, but if ever I needed it, it was now.
I was tired of waking up hungover from the cheap beers, anyways.
Sujan led me to a small alley on the outskirts of Thamel. I smelled the familiar sweet scent of marijuana drifting out of the alley. A couple of Australians called out to Sujan as we passed. “My man!” they yelled, as they handed a blunt around the circle.
He nodded and waved. He took me to a table in the very back of the alley. Someone came out of a door right next to our table and greeted Sujan warmly. The pair, clearly friends, exchanged a few words.
The newcomer left. Sujan took a pack of cigarettes out of his pocket. He emptied the tobacco from one into a glass ashtray which was sitting on the table. His friend returned with a bag of some brown substance. Sujan thanked him, and offered the baggie to me.
“Hindu Kush,” he said. “Very good, see?”
Being from Colorado, the “Amsterdam of the U.S.,” I could immediately see it wasn’t “very good.” The weed itself had an old, brownish color; there were stems and seeds visible, and the odor was barely perceptible. I had gotten better sacks in high school. Still, I was in no position to be picky. I handed the weed back to Sujan.
My guide took some nugs out and crushed them between his fingers. The fine pieces fell to the table, where they sat in a loose pile. The weed on the table looked rather indistinguishable from the tobacco in the ash tray, I thought. A dubious sign.
Sujan took out a business card and scraped the weed into a smaller pile. He lifted the empty cigarette to his lips, bent over the table, and sucked the weed into the empty cylinder, using the cigarette like a straw. After hoovering up most of the weed, he flipped the cig upside down. He managed to keep most of the material inside the cylinder. Using his hands, he gathered up the remnants and dropped them on top. Then he twisted off the top of the cigarette, and handed me a stout little joint.
“I’ve never seen anyone do it that way before,” I commented, bemused.
“Nepali style,” Sujan said with a confident smile.
He handed me a box of matches. “You know how to use matches?”
I laughed. “Yes,” I said. “Of course I know how to use matches.”
“The Chinese, they don’t know how to use matches at all,” he said, by way of explanation. “I did not know how it was in Canada.”
“The Chinese don’t know how to use matches?” I asked, incredulous.
He shook his head, smiling. “No. Only lighters,” he said.
“Crazy,” I muttered, striking a match and holding it to the cigarette in my mouth.
The matches, I noticed, weren’t made out of wood. The stick seemed to be some sort of paraffin wax. The longer I was here, the more it was becoming evident: they rarely make things to standard in Nepal.
Sujan sat and smoked in silence.
I felt the pleasant warm fuzziness of marijuana creep into my head. It felt like an old friend.
Food came for us, and I ate that in silence, too.
Pot can make me kind of antisocial. Smoking with a stranger down an alley in a foreign country, I didn’t exactly have a choice of strains, or a bud tender to talk to. So I took the effects I got, and ate my Thukpa. Even high, it was just OK.
As I finished up, I told Sujan: “If you have one of those for me to take home, there’s a little extra in it for you.”
He made me another cigarette joint. He handed it to me, along with a business card. “If you need more. Or any help with trekking permits, anything else,” he said.
I looked at the card. It had the name of a trekking agency, along with his personal contact info on it. I couldn’t use him for my trekking permits, since I’d lied about my name and nationality. It would make for an awkward conversation if I handed him a U.S. passport with a completely different name. But if I wanted to smoke again, I thought, here was a man I could use. I pocketed the card, and the joint.
Night had fallen by now, and I was eager to return to the Annapurna Guesthouse.
“Where are you staying? I can help you get back,” Sujan said.
“I know where to go,” I said. “Thank you.”
I handed him two crisp 1,000 rupee notes – probably more than necessary, for the services he provided – and walked out of the alley.
He was a good kid.
The crisp nighttime air felt refreshing as I strolled back to my guesthouse. I smiled, breathed as deep as the buff covering my face would allow, and tried to enjoy the moment. High, strolling through the foreign streets of Kathmandu at night, my destiny in my own hands.
I had sacrificed, yes. But many people would never in their whole lives make a memory like this.
I felt an immense wave of gratitude.