Chameleon Chapter 10 - How I ended up with a cowbell
Sara and I were walking through Bhaktapur, one of the three main towns in Kathmandu that is still all old buildings with barely any cars allowed. We got there before the shops opened so we had breakfast including our standard pot of milk coffee and then started to wander again as the city began to come to life. A tough part about being in Nepal post-earthquake is seeing all of the ancient structures that were destroyed or damaged and that are pending restoration. I’m not a big church/ temple/religious structure person, but these buildings had been around for so long and they were beautiful and still are in their current versions, but you can imagine what they used to look like and it’s simultaneously incredible and sad.
The city had been damaged, that was easy to absorb. But even the casual tourist could also see the efforts people had gone through to restore what they could and to keep moving forward. Bhaktapur Patan Square suffered some of the worst damage. This was evident everywhere. Toward the end of our wander, we stumbled upon a Buddhist temple with shops surrounding it. As we slowly walked I noticed a shop just absolutely filled with bells, chimes, figurines, jewelry, knickknacks, you name it, in all different types of metals. Literally, the shop was overflowing with them. I reached out as we walked by and cupped a cowbell in my hand with a casual compulsion. While I was still holding it lightly, a man came out of nowhere and placed it in my hand. Another man stood at the entrance – bald, thin, neutral-colored grey tracksuit and the biggest smile I’ve ever seen. I stood stupidly with the cowbell in my hand, Sara slowed and stopped as she turned to look up at him, and we both deliberately walked inside the store like we were under a spell - to clarify, this was a positive spell, not a creepy one. The inside of the shop was even more magical. There were just so many objects. We cautiously moved down the middle of the store through a narrow aisle into the back where there was just enough space for two people to stand next to each other. Our new friend set up two stools for us and then proceeded to hand us different types of bells and chimes and explain the purpose of each one. His English was really good, and he spoke with enthusiasm that matched his persistent smile. We learned about the purpose of the different bells – cows, horses, meditation, etc. as he handed us each different type while simultaneously asking about our lives with a disarming sense of curiosity, openness, and wonder. We were offered tea - which we politely declined – still regret that - and it was hard to tell how much time had passed. We each left with a purchased bell (I kept the same cowbell that was placed in my hand) and he also gave me a tiny meditation bell as a gift, which I knew instantly should go to my father.
It was an interaction with a vendor that left us feeling good as opposed to swindled. His energy was different – warm, nonthreatening, open, self-effacing, and jovial. He was a good salesman because he seemed to really take wonder in the objects he was selling. His store felt magical. Like after we walked out we could have turned around and it would have been gone. But when we did turn, he was standing in the doorway overcrowded with metal bells, chimes, and figures with a broad, toothy grin.