Upcoming Shows

We've been named as a official selection in the Southern Circuit of Filmmakers Tour, March 17-24.

Shows are in Hapeville, GA 3/17, Madison, GA 3/20, Orangeburg, SC 3/22, Gainsville, GA 3/23, and Manteo, NC 3/24.
Learn more by going to the SouthArts blog.

View the theatrical trailer for A Gift for the Village

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Aslan and Aslan: Emerson on July 3rd

Well, this is an interesting experience! I haven't gotten to be a contributor the blog just yet, perhaps because everyone else seems to do such a good job. From mom's diligent chronicling of where we have been and her keen insights into what going there means to the youthful enthusiasm of the Hoffmans (if, in some cases, ie Reba, slightly immature enthusiasm), we seem to really have a good thing going here. Nevertheless, I wanted to share some of my thoughts as the sole male on this expedition.

This morning we left Kathmandu for Pokhara, but before we did, we came face to face one more time with someone who had been frustrating our team leaders and creeping on the young women in our group. This guy was from San Francisco, and had the entire Californian cliche down pat: the bleached blonde hair, the flip flops no matter what the weather, the lazily sexually aggressive surfer energy, and of course the liberalism that expresses itself not as a generous and benevolent desire to help others and build community but as a disturbingly self-centered, drug-addled narcissism. I went to school in California, and fortunately my peers were not really this sort of person, but you saw them, and really pitied them. But the average hypocritical surfer would have nothing on our friend, who incredibly was named (at least he claimed) Aslan. That's right, Aslan. The Lion from The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe. C.S. Lewis's representation of Christ. The thing Liam Neeson voices in the movies. His name was Aslan. What incredible irony.

He came stumbling drunk to our breakfast table around seven in the morning, if not earlier, which should tell you something about his personal habits and behavioral patterns. Anyway, a strong charge led by mom and Jenna (with some choice quotes that I will leave for them to relay), he wandered off (or rather, was driven as far away as he could get, which was several yards). The incident wasn't that big of a deal for me, because I was too tired to really pay much attention and because his energy was directed anywhere but me, since I was the only other guy around. But his intrusiveness, and even more so his somewhat pitiful demeanor and obvious lack of wisdom, did get me really thinking. Namely, what a difference between Aslan the spoiled drunk boy playing in a Nepali toy box and Aslan the lion who saves Edmund from his own folly and leads the charge against Jadis, The White Witch. What a tremendous difference, not just of situation (the real world versus the fantastical), but also a difference of character.

I thought about how this difference might relate to our trip in Nepal, trying to decide if my observations and armchair psycho and literary analysis were worth sharing. And I decided, with not a hint of self-regard, that they were. It began with wondering why C.S. Lewis chose to make the most heroic character in The Chronicles of Narnia, the Christ figure, a lion. I think partly it has to do with traditional Christian iconography (Christ being both lamb and lion), and partly it has to do with the lion being the traditional king of the jungle (just ask Simba!). But I think he also meant to convey that a powerful force for good in the world would be "lion hearted". Aslan the lion certainly is lion-hearted. Aslan the deadbeat, not so much. And I think that as important as being lion-hearted is to leading an army or even saving humanity (as Lewis would suggest), it is also important to be lion-hearted if you wish to travel to Nepal, in two ways.

First, in the negative sense. Nepal is really hard. For instance, we are in Pokhara right now, where the temperature was over 100 degrees before the sun rose all the way. It is hot, it is humid, and the air conditioning in the hotels (air conditioning that only comes in particularly luxurious rooms) randomly does or does not work depending it seems on nothing more than the whims of the Olympian gods. It's easy to get sick here, either from making poor food choices, not being hygenic, or (hopefully in my case) just by being unlucky. In Thamel in Kathmandu, people are constantly begging and trying to sell you things, often refusing to take no for an answer. I was asked if I wanted to buy hash about ten times a day. We flew today, and the airports are crowded and chaotic. Nowhere seems to have rules that exist as real enforceable rules; they rather seem to be based on whims, momentary decisions, and other ephemeral, untraceable criteria. Being in Nepal can be uncomfortable, it can be bad for your health, and it can be frustrating.

A person accustomed to the good life would have a meltdown instantly. But even someone who has strength could easily find themselves questioning why they came or how they will ever be able to survive Nepal. But if you are lion-hearted, bold and courageous, you can meet the challenges of the heat, or the diarrhea, with swagger and smiles rather than moans and groans. Many, I think, would wilt in the face of the adversary of Nepal. Or, like our human Aslan, they would stay in the bosom of tourist luxury, drinking until all fears and hardships evaporated in an alcoholic, perhaps hashish as well, induced haze. But a lion-hearted person, like the lion Aslan, would face such hardships as route markers on the path to real reward and embrace them.

But I don't think that being lion-hearted only has to do with bravery and courage, even though that is what we often associate with lions. Certainly the character Aslan is admirable not just because he is courageous, but also because he is wise and merciful. Similarly, facing Nepal and staring down its bizarre, and often comically disturbing, idiosyncrasies is not enough to be lion-hearted. One must truly appreciate its good qualities. Aslan represents Jesus Christ in C.S. Lewis's Christian view of the world, and perhaps it might be good to relate to western audiences that bringing a Christ like presence is a good way to begin to be lion-hearted. That doesn't mean to evangelize, to grab poor Hindu boys off the street and yell at them that they must accept Jesus or face the fiery flames of Hell (a horrible and perverted misreading of a great faith that I actually witnessed my first night in Kathmandu). Far from it. Instead, it means that a visitor to Nepal should have the wisdom, and the compassion, to act as the prophet Abraham (Lincoln, not the Old Testament one), said, "with malice towards none, with charity towards all."

That means understanding that the Buddhist monk who wishes to bless you is as wise and as generous as the best people you know back home. It means understanding that the merchant trying so hard to rip you off does so not because of his own malice, but because of economic desperation. It means that witnessing the ritualistic slaughter of a goat, as I saw at the Hindu temple Dakshin Kahli, is not a barbaric practice of the past but rather a different culture's way of dialogging with the notions of transience and loss. It means recognizing that we bring immense privilege into Nepal by virtue of our American money belts brimming with dollars and rupees, and that we have a responsibility to act kindly towards those we meet, no matter how repugnant they might seem. I think a lion-hearted person would have the wisdom to see that when someone travels abroad, they are ambassadors from their country, and that they should act accordingly.

Nepal is wonderful, insane, difficult, challenging, and rewarding. There was a terrible movie made once called Crazy/Beautiful, but I think the title really captures what Nepal is all about. I hope that our team of people, from Jane my mom who has been to Nepal so many times to Mary and Ella Hoffman, who are seeing outside the United States for the first time, can be like Aslan. That we can be brave in facing hardship and magnanimous and generous in our actions. That we can avoid being like the other Aslan, hiding from our responsibilities and consuming Nepal in a fetishistic attempt to outrun our own demons.

I think our team, our project, those of you following at home, and even our United States of America would do well to have the spirit of the lion Aslan, and to shun those tendencies that turn us into the human Aslan. In so doing, perhaps we can appreciate another place with both strong pride and generous humility.

Maybe Aslan the lion does have a cure for mild fever and diarrhea? If so, I'd DEFINITELY like to be a bit more like him....


Garland said...

I am really enjoying all the posts. I especially appreciate the brush strokes of words to paint a picture of what you're seeing or to draw a map so we can visualize the trip. And I share your anxiety about the changes roads make, how they rip one away from the intimacy one has with the earth when it's traveled on foot. May your journey continue to be good, safe and memorable, and accomplish the mission you've undertaken!!! With Love Always, Garland Campbell

Tom Landon said...

And here's a comment from Andrea, that for some reason did not post:
Amazing writing, Emerson. I urge you to have this published as a larger travel writing piece in some great work that would reach many minds. Thank you for your smark understandings.
Lots of love,