Writing Memories

Spilled Ink Issue 98 Aug, 2010

There’s a fellow in Wisconsin (USA) with an autobiographical memory, a condition called ‘hyperthymestic syndrome’. It means ‘excessive memory’ from the Greek hyper + thymesis, remembering. Give him a date in his lifetime and he’ll tell you what he was doing on that day, and some of what else was going on in the world. According to the experts, he’s one of only a few people known to have this uncanny ability. “It’s just there,” he says when asked about his incredible gift of memory.

I don’t know anybody who is hyperthymestic. Certainly, I’m not. Most of us have trouble enough remembering what we did yesterday or last week, let alone what happened years ago. But, I’m asking you to give it a try. Yes, YOU the reader. Whether expatriate or Nepalese: Tell us your first (or an early) memory of Nepal. I am gathering autobiographical material from writers and readers like you, memories that reflect or recollect early and uniquely Nepalese experience. Fully-fledged essays or articles are not necessary. A vignette, anecdote, snippet, or ‘slice of life’ bit of memoir will do. As they come together, I’ll edit and craft an article from them, and put them to print. You are invited to contribute and join the fun.

My premise is that each of us, whether new to Nepal or born here, has a storehouse of early recollections about things that are uniquely Nepalese. First impressions are always strong. For some they come from childhood, out of what the novelist Julian Barnes calls “the instinctive tourism of infancy” (in his book Arthur and George, 2005). For others, they reflect our first exposure to a place as recalled later in life. In either case, we have all come to Nepal for the first time like tourists and, like tourists, we all have first impressions or mental images. Some are like snapshots or postcards; others are much more in-depth. It’s the deeper memories that we seek.

If you are an Expat: Tell me your first impressions of Kathmandu. Or the first time attended a Nepalese bojh (feast) or a mela (festival). Or rode an elephant/saw a tiger in Chitwan. Or watched a porter weighted down with a heavy load on a mountain trail. Or... (you name it!) Perhaps it was the first time you met a Nepalese. And so forth; the possibilities are endless.

If you are Nepalese: Tell me what comes to mind when you reflect on your childhood. Was it your mother preparing a special Nepalese treat? Or, your grandfather in traditional dress and topi taking you by the hand into a busy bazaar or a magical temple? Or the first time you saw a foreigner in your town or village?

Send me your memory story―it doesn’t have to be Pulitzer or Booker Prize winning prose. We’ll do the job of morphing it into a story of ‘First Memories’. There’s no deadline, except soon.

One of my own earliest Nepal memories is of writing letters home to Alaska from my Peace Corps village in the central hills of Lamjung District. Nowadays corresponding with home is easy and quick by Email or Skype, over the Internet. (Have you penned and posted a letter recently? Probably not.) But, in those days (over four decades ago) I wrote letters in cramped little print on greenish colored aerogrammes. Each was a thin sheet of paper that folded up to the size of a small envelope. It came with the postage already printed on it. Fortunately, my family and friends saved them all, so I have a good record of some very naïve observations made during my first few days, weeks, months in the country. Writing home from ‘the village’ was a weekly event, usually by the dim glow of a little tuki, a kerosene wick lamp.

Give it some thought. Jot down your first or early memory of Nepal, and send it along. Don’t worry if you aren’t ‘a writer’. Most of us aren’t.

Of course, if you were ‘hyperthymestic’, all I’d have to do is suggest a date and you’d fill in all the details.
Good writing!.

Our first ‘memories’ articles was published in the premier 100th issue of ECS Nepal (December 2009), written by some of our staff and freelance writers, collected by the editor, and whipped into shape by writer Neale Bates. The result was very successful, so we are now asking for first memories from a wider audience, so we can do it again one day. When you send your contribution, write ‘Nepal Memory’ on the subject line. If you want anonymity, say so. Send it to Don Messerschmidt at don.editor@gmail.com.