Interrogo Ergo Cogito

My recent trip to Nepal (March 2013) opened a Pandora’s box of questions. One question in particular got so deeply trapped in my mind that even though I have since found quite satisfactory answer to this question, or at least I believe I have, it got rooted in the back of my mind and just won’t let go off me.

How does a man get out of there? How does a man move on?

It all started on March 21 somewhere, perhaps on 100th kilometer of a 170 km long landslide-prone hilly Kathmandu-Pokhara highway.

With a bumper to bumper heavy vehicle traffic (97% buses and lorries) only few inches off some 500 m  long drop and spiced up with sparely guard-railed curves with Trishuli river more suitable for rafting than baby swim magisticaly raging underneath, hanging bridges, pedestrians, goats, kids in snow white uniforms waiting for school bus, water hydrants activities (morning grooming, laundry, dishes) and so much more made this barely 6-7 hour (there were no accidents ahead of us) express bus ride rather memorable. One could say.

The journey back was even more special. But it wasn’t the driving in the rain on the drop-side of the road that requires nerves of steel, margins on one’s side and lots of luck, which sadly not all of the lorry drivers had, that ‘made the trip’. I knew what was coming (not the rain) and I was prepared. It was something entirely different …..

Of course all those real adrenaline freaks on their suicide mission along old Yungas Road may somewhat disagree with me with regard to ‘on-the-scale’ danger of Kathmandu-Pokhara highway. I will not argue with them. What makes this highway so special, however, is its inhabitants.

How can anyone live in this most inhospitable of environments let alone bring up a family? Yet the road is heavily populated. For countless families this road is not only home but also a workplace. The only source of income. People live on the road and off the road selling refreshments and souvenirs to travelers.

The smallest stretch of land is inhabited. On few inches of land, some not larger than IKEA wardrobe, with a 500 m drop on one side and bumper to bumper traffic on other side small children are playing, most of them unsupervised. Every centimeter, every millimeter of land is somebody’s home. Majority of homes have no roof and/or walls. People and animals, mostly goats, live all together.

Even no-flat-land land is occupied. A nest built off the drop is then a home. Maybe 2 square meter platform with neither roof nor walls wrapped in a wire net protecting the inhabitants from falling. No furniture, no goats, no water hydrant. Lovely view and a couple of birds at pray flying above.

Then I saw some 6-7 people sitting in there. Like animals in the cage staring apathetically into nowhere. It was in this second, then and there, that everything went numb and my brain froze. I desperately needed an answer to one question.

This is the picture. And this is the question.

How does a man get out of there?

Understandably I found that picture very disturbing. The vision of humans living this way was pretty shocking and triggered all sort of existential questions that I began to ask myself. Is it a culture shock? Perhaps it is a natural way of life that the western world forgot about? Perhaps these people lived like that all their lives and don’t know any different? Or perhaps it is the fruit of poverty? What are their dreams? A goat? Water hydrant? Couple of brick walls on flat land? Or do they dream of something else? Big dreams? If so, what do they need to do to pursue the dream and get out of that cage?

The ‘epiphany’ wasn’t much of a scientific breakthrough, not even much of a philosophical discovery but rather basic and elementary ‘phenomena’ …. one needs to be curious to move forward. Yes, I rediscovered the wheel.

This ‘enlightening realization’ struck me while naively envisioning a young boy lying on that platform in the middle of the night watching beautifully sparkling stars above him wondering what they were. So he watched them the next night and the next. The more he observed them the more he wondered … until the day he he could no longer keep his curiosity to himself and asked a question. Then another question, and another.

Slowly, slowly he was educating himself. Then one day ……

That must be it. One must be curious and ask questions to get anywhere.

Observation, curiosity, questions Problem solved.

Or is it? Thanks to this experience I myself came to realization the turning point in human evolution must have been ‘the first question’ asked by our ancestors. Consequently I asked myself (courtesy Google) ‘who asked the first question’ … and found this …

Part I and II is not really suitable for an average man. Part III, however, is a must read. Most interesting.

“Interrogo Ergo Cogito” – “I ask questions, therefore I think” (“A question without curiosity cannot exist, although curiosity without a question is widespread among higher animals.”)

… and then they lived happily ever after.

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