To recap – we had eventually found the fabled purveyor of passport photos, but in the process I had fallen into a ditch and injured my shoulder.
They put us in a room and pulled out an ancient camera. I tried to smile and keep my shoulders up as the shutter clicked, but my face was twisted grimace.
And then we waited for the printing process to complete. It would only take ten minutes.
We soon learned that the phrase ‘ten minutes’ has more of a symbolic than literal meaning in Nepal. It refers to some unspecified future, when all of the stars have aligned and prophets foretold, a day of great rejoicing, when there shall be dancing on the streets and the prodigal shall return.
In the meantime, the young mechanic had stopped tweaking and had apparently gone off to source fuel. It would only take a short time for him to accomplish this, apparently about 10 minutes.
As the hours crawled by we questioned the owner whether we couldn’t return early the next day to pick up the photographs. No, he suggested, obviously fearing that we would happen across another vendor and do him out of his fee. It wouldn’t be much longer now, just ten minutes.
At length, the mechanic returned with a jerry can of fuel, and primed the equipment. The ancient beast coughed into life, spewing smoke like a buck’s night. The printer woke from its slumber.
Even so, the wheels of commerce turned slow. The machine warmed up while the proprietor made adjustments, feeding it paper and probably blood in order to coax it into co-operation. Eventually its rollers produced four passport sized photos each.
But the proprietor wasn’t pleased. He and the mechanic spoke rapidly to each other in Nepali, waving and pointing. He showed us the photographs, which were imperfect by any standard and not likely to impress a picky immigration agent. The colours were strange, bleeding into each other, like we’d commissioned Monet for the job.
They had fed the photo paper into the machine upside down. That wouldn’t be so bad, but the machine had now shut down again, and would need more coaxing to revive it. Would we mind waiting a bit longer, maybe 10 minutes.
I spent the ample time trying to rotate my shoulder, hoping that the movement would keep it warm, or loosen the joint, or something biologically helpful. I had already decided that I would not be seeing a doctor in Nepal – the pain was significant but bearable, at least at this stage. I would wait till I returned home, but in the meantime I would try to retain as much flexibility as possible.
It was as I was wheeling my arm around that I felt a sudden disturbing grinding inside the joint, like two knuckles of broken glass grating over each other inside the innermost circle of hell. After a second that felt like an eternity, I felt the pieces clunk into place like lost lovers. I realised that I had dislocated my shoulder in the fall, but that now the joint had re-located itself. It was still very painful, perhaps more so, but I was confident in my recovery.
Of course we continued to wait, but eventually the proprietor had to concede that the films would not be ready that night. Could we come back in the morning? It would only take a short time, maybe ten…
We went out into the darkness and started the long walk back to the guesthouse, no further advanced logistically for the trip to India. I was a little preoccupied with my shoulder, and not altogether enthusiastic about any further journeys.
We picked our way back through the rubble, this time I was keeping an eye out for roadworks. Unfortunately, this blinded me to other forms of obstacles, and before I had travelled 200 metres I found myself dropping into a chasm of a different kind. As before, the ground fell away beneath me, this time only to a depth of 50cm, and I was able to retain my feet.
The difference was that this hole was not empty. It was an open sewer. A full flowing open sewer. No doubt it was left this way so that proper sanitation could eventually be installed, and it was only a temporary measure, but this was of cold comfort.
I went in up to the shin.
(Next week- the conclusion)