Mozart in the Himalayas

By Crooked Trails traveler Alison Schafer

We shoved oboes into duffel bags. Slid recorders next to hiking socks and zipped up carry-on bags. Nestled a clarinet next to a rain jacket. Stuffed harmonicas in small spaces between boots. One person showed up at the Seattle airport with a guitar, no packing or protection, and was told just to check it and cross her fingers that it would arrive in Kathmandu intact. 

We were carrying musical instruments donated by friends, offered by neighbors, bought on eBay, halfway around the world to something called Maiti Nepal.

Some of the instruments were donated from the Golden Globe winning tv show ‘Mozart in the Jungle’!

We were nine women, all from the United States, old friends or friends of friends, new to Nepal.  We’d come to go trekking on the Annapurna circuit, but we were also interested in the country, in women’s issues, and in development.  One of us works for the World Bank, another is focused on social entrepreneurs, another works for non-profits in the States—and one of our first stops, clutching our well-traveled instruments, was Maiti Nepal.

Maiti Nepal is impressive. Founded by Anuradha Koirala, Maiti Nepal rescues Nepali girls and women from abuse, domestic violence, sex trafficking, prostitution, and child labor. Its particular focus is on stopping sex trafficking, and to that end, it also runs programs and shelters for women and their children.  We went to the headquarters in Kathmandu, which not only contained administrative offices but classrooms and living space. There were hundreds of children there, ranging from babies to teenagers, and many mothers in the crowd.

We were donating our instruments for new music classes at Maiti Nepal, and in return for our donation, the organization’s leaders had agreed to let us stop by—briefly—to drop them off and see the campus. We understood that we were disruptive; it is hard to run a busy charity with do-gooders constantly poking their noses in the door and demanding attention.

What we got was certainly more than we expected.

Inside Maiti Nepal’s doors was a busy world of boys and girls—some heartbreakingly young, all dressed in uniforms, fresh from classes.  The kids acted like kids, despite their histories, their mothers’ stories, their memories; it was the end of the day, and they were lively and ready for dance class and dinner. 

Dance class took place in Maiti Nepal’s large courtyard. A dance teacher led six girls in costume out on a small stage. They faced standing rows of their classmates and some women, and nine chairs graciously put out for us lazy Westerners.  We sat. The music started. The girls on stage began dancing, a mix of exuberant jumping and some more subtle steps.  The kids in the courtyard began dancing, too, following the moves on stage. We sat. And then we didn’t.

Annie, part of our trekking group, impulsively gestured to one of Maiti Nepal’s staffers standing nears us. Annie is not shy. After a quick exchange, she leapt from her seat and began to jump around to the beat, with a mixture of ‘80s aerobic moves and genuine dancing. (But mostly ‘80s aerobic moves). A few more of us busted out our moves, and soon all of us—and everyone in the courtyard– were dancing along with the girls on stage. Every now and then the kids in the courtyard would throw us an amused glance—imagine dancing with your dorkiest aunt—but shame didn’t slow us down.

After 20 minutes of (somewhat inept) dancing fever, the music ended, we presented our instruments to the administrators at Maiti Nepal, and we left to let everyone get on with their lives.

Crooked Trails travelers delivering donated instruments to Maiti Nepal staff

And that guitar, the one thrown into the baggage bay at Sea/Tac airport, bundled from one jumbo plane to another in Dubai, offloaded in Kathmandu? Well, it got to Maiti Nepal without a scratch, ready for its next life in music class in Kathmandu.

Alison Schafer went to Nepal in November 2018 with a group of trekking friends on a Crooked Trails travel program. They had a wonderful trip, and learned a great deal. She lives in Washington DC.


If you would like to support the musical program at Maiti Nepal, including helping with the cost of an instructor, please consider making a donation here. You can also support Maiti Nepal’s work through the purchase of Gossamer Zen’s Rangoli or Snow Leopard active yoga shirts – thanks to this group of travelers, Gossamer Zen will be donating 5% of the proceeds on those 2 shirts to Maiti Nepal.

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