When I was in Kathmandu last summer, I received a call from a Nepali friend late one afternoon, asking if I would be interested in joining him in Durbar Square, where he would be volunteering with a local NGO. I had never heard of Curry Without Worry, but I quickly said “Yes!” to Dorji’s invitation to head for the heart of old town of Kathmandu and an evening of serving a Tuesday evening meal to some 350 of the city’s homeless.
I checked my camera gear, hailed a peddle taxi, and was off to Durbar Square. Kathmandu is a maze of narrow winding streets full of all sorts of traffic, everyone competing for space. As my driver peddled along, we narrowly missed colliding with several cars and pedestrians, in an adrenaline-filled journey across town.
In Durbar Square
The taxi dropped me off in the midst of temples, shrines, vendors selling butter lamps, candles flowers and other offerings. It was a photographer’s dream. I was tempted to linger and photograph all of this, but there wasn’t time. My destination–an open-air soup kitchen in the middle of this ancient square–was already being set up.
Curry Without Worry in Kathmandu is an extension of a charity in San Francisco with the same name, founded in 2006. Shrawan Nepali, an immigrant to the United States, who spent his childhood in an orphanage in Kathmandu, sold a successful restaurant to finance an organization to feed the hungry in San Francisco. Mr. Nepali opened the Kathmandu operation in 2010. The food is prepared by volunteers and paid for mostly by local families.
As with Classrooms in the Clouds and the Sky Memorial Foundation, two other NGOs I worked with last year, Curry Without Worry is by and for Nepalis. I find this quite admirable, because these donors and volunteers are taking responsibility for the well-being of their countrymen.
Dinnertime at Durbar Square
The truck bringing food from the preparation kitchen was delayed in traffic, which allowed me some time among the guests. As everyone waited patiently for their meal, they willingly let me take their portraits. I began with the women and children at the front of the serving line, and very soon, realized how many unaccompanied children were among the crowd. Then it was time to photograph the men, and I wondered what their stories were.
When the truck arrived, volunteers hurried to set large pots of rice and vegetable curry, stacks of flat bread and bowls of spicy chutney. By the time guests were filing past to have their disposable plate (it was made of a pressed banana leaf) filled, the atmosphere was somewhat like that of my school cafeteria in small-town Minnesota. There were differences, though: this meal was served outside, and without silverware. In Nepal, as in many Asian countries, eating with your hands is common. One of the volunteers filled several plates for guests who were unable to walk and carry their own.
If I was surprised at the number of unattended children the dinner of Kathmandu’s Curry Without Worry, I was equally impressed at the turnout of local volunteers for the regular Tuesday offering of food for the homeless.
Here is a short video from my evening with Curry Without Worry (Facebook). If you are in Kathmandu and want to donate, or volunteer to help prepare and serve a Tuesday night meal at Durbar Square, call 9841344067.
Cooking for a crowd can be quite a production. This video from Volunteer Nepal (5:53) shows us how it’s done.
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I was in Nepal for two months in 2013. In addition to my time with Curry Without Worry, Classrooms in the Clouds and the Sky Memorial Foundation, I had the opportunity to support the work of Sherpa Outdoor Orphanage Home and Restoration Works International.