In the foreign service, flag day means the day that you are handed a national flag representing the country of your first post. Here is Nepal, on our second assignment…in meant something quite different….
There are lots of nice trails around Namobuddha. You can walk to the stupa itself, or head in the opposite direction to the monastery, or even combine them both in a 3-4 hour loop. We decided to head out towards the monastery, and explored some of the woods and trails on our way. The views were still fantastic, even as the sun got higher in the sky. One side of the valley was still blanketed in cloud and the other side was completely exposed. We sat on the edge of a terrace and looked down across the rice fields.
The trails winded along the hill, passing small farms, kids playing and farmers working in the fields. It was a beautiful spot and everyone made their hard lives look tranquil. Sometimes its easy to forget how difficult their really are.
As we moved into the forest, the flags started. Prayer flags were stretched across the landscape from tree to tree, blowing in the wind. As we walked on, the strings of them grew thicker and thicker. There were new colourful flags, fading ones, and some that had obviously been around for a long time. Robert couldn’t figure out why no one picked up the old ones, and why they were left lying around like more of the garbage we have seen strewn around Nepal. My instinct was that the old flags weren’t the same kind of problem as garbage in this country, where no one seems to care about throwing plastic, glass or trash down on the side of the road. Perhaps they were representative of someone’s prayers or dreams and shouldn’t be removed ? I resolved to research it once I returned to my computer.
It turns out that I wasn’t quite right about the symbolism, but I was right that symbolism is involved. The prayer flags are added to the environment as a way of promoting peace. The wind blows over the prayers printed on the flags and spreads their message through the air, purifying it. The flags become permanent fixtures of the environment, aging just as with all life, and new flags go up alongside, symbolizing change and renewal. All of which, is a much more understandable approach that the thoughtlessness of the garbage-tosser.