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Nepal, April 29, 2010

On the Worship and Value of Red Bricks in Kathmandu, Nepal

Praying to red brick gods
Nepali red brick guardians
Bricks are of great value in Nepal. You know this even before you arrive, as brick kilns sprout like grass across the Kathmandu valley, conspicuous in their number as you approach KTM airport. They populate the countryside - more than houses or roads - producing millions of red bricks.

Do not be fooled into thinking that this means red bricks are common. No, even though you see them piled everywhere from street corners to back yards, they are very valuable.

Each single brick is hand carried, usually one at a time, from a truck to a brick pile. There they are stacked reverently, to await their destiny in Nepali construction. Bricks are not left unattended in these piles. They are jealously guarded.

Prayers and proximity to temples protect some bricks, while others have more earthy, canine protectors. Others seem to be so valuable that people place bricks in their homes, awaiting eventual usage.

No matter where they are stored, each brick has a place, and a value. Upon inquiry, I found I could not purchase a single brick - they are too treasured to be sold one-by-one. No, I would need to buy many, preferably a truck full or a $100 worth at a time. Unable to provide for so many bricks, I failed to procure a single one.

This may be for the better, as I did not want to rob Kathmandu of its bricks when they are so worshiped, or in such acute shortage. If people were so worried about brick availability that they bought bricks months, if not years in advance of construction, I would be doing the people, the country a disservice by taking even just one.

So I must now only covet the beautiful red bricks of Kathmandu from afar - in my memories and my photographs of brick usage in Nepal.

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