The Journey

What a difference a week can make – It has been 8 days since my last entry, and my how things have changed! It is my fourth full day in Kathmandu, and I finally feel ready to sit still for a moment and write a bit about my experiences thus far.

But before I dive in to my first impressions of this fascinating and surprising city, I’ll start with the journey here. Although it’s difficult to determine exactly without making calculations for all the various time zones, I think it’s safe to say that it took me a total of about 51 hours to make it across the globe.

I left Philadelphia early on July 3rd, catching a shuttle bus to NYC for my first flight (5.5 hours, possibly the longest trip to NY from Philly ever! It usually takes about 2 hours). Although the shuttle bus was mostly uneventful, I appreciated the mild-mannered Lebanese driver who kept the radio at a respectably low level throughout most of the trip until the disco hit “We Are Family” by Sister Sledge began to play. At this point, he unexpectedly cranked it up, and although his enjoyment was only perceptible by the slight tapping of his fingers on the steering wheel, you could tell he was really ‘feeling it’ on the inside. As many of you know, I am a huge disco fan (say what you will, I’m not ashamed!)… Needless to say, this little incident with the driver brought  a much-needed smile and moment of levity to an otherwise anxiety-filled day.

We arrived at JFK where I was met by another little in-transit surprise…

 

JFK Birds      JFK Birds 2

 

Not quite sure how they got in, but there they were just singing and flying about my gate eliciting another much-needed smile…. (I hope they were able to find their way out safely, though).

I was also comforted by a woman on my flight who looked like a cross between one of my best buddies, Ana, and my cousin, Anna-Marie. It was nice to see a ‘familiar’ face of sorts – and it reminded me how I take you all with me on this journey.

My first flight to Ireland was about 6 hours overnight on an Irish airline, Aer Lingus. A beautiful full moon followed me and the shamrock throughout most of the night…

 

Shamrock Moon

 

We arrived early in the morning to Dublin, and, as one expects of Ireland, it was misty, rainy, and grey, but, of course, still green. I couldn’t pass up this opportunity to snap a quick shot of the ‘motherland’ for the Murphy clan:

 

Ireland from above

 

After a short layover and a quick hop, skip, and jump across the English Channel, I landed in Paris…

 

Paris from above

I had about 12 hours to kill there, and for reasons too boring to mention, I had ALL of my luggage with me, so I sat and dozed in and out of consciousness for a good eight hours before being able to move to my gate. This was what I stared at for hours and hours on end…. (at least the color palette is appealing, right?)

 

Paris layover view

 

In Paris, I met two people whom I adored. First, Jean-Henri from Guadeloupe, a thirteen year old boy I encountered while waiting in line to check into my next flight to Abu Dhabi. He was incredibly sweet and open to the people around him – he became curious about me once he realized that I don’t speak much French. He spoke very little English and seemed eager to practice what he knew with me. So we sat together and spoke in a mixture of my broken French and his broken English – we taught each other numbers in our respective languages, which was surprisingly fun. He had beautiful bright eyes and a warm smile – I wish I had taken his picture.

At the gate to my flight, I met Bindu, a Nepali mother of two who was on her way back to Pokhara (Nepal’s second largest city) after visiting her sister in Arizona. Like Jean-Henri, she was remarkably friendly, warm, and open. We talked for a long time about her trip to Arizona and life in Nepal. She told me about her family, her work as a wholesaler of imported wine, beer, and spirits, various Nepali festivals/holidays, and the significance of jewelry to Nepali women of certain castes (like how some of the women from older generations will refuse to accept water from a woman who does not have bangles on her right wrist, an indication that she is not married). We traveled all the way to Kathmandu from Paris together, running into each other from time to time in various airports. She gave me her contact information, and I can now say that I have a friend in Pokhara.

Although it felt like an eternity and I was completely jet-lagged, I enjoyed my 12 hours in Paris because it gave me my first opportunity to really practice my French in many years. And although I cannot manage an entire conversation just yet, I was able to use the bits that I know to communicate successfully. That feels like an accomplishment in and of itself. At least for now…

I also discovered a new favorite snack food in Paris, “Trois Chatons” (Three Kittens)… These little cookies are spongy and light and taste a lot like Fig Newtons (sometimes it’s the little things that keep you afloat in times like these)…

 

Trois Chatons

 

After a 7 hour flight on Etihad Airways, the United Arab Emirates official airline, I arrived in Abu Dhabi early in the morning. (By the way, if you ever have the chance to fly Etihad, do it! Not to sound too much like an advertisement, but their service is really great and they give you REAL silverware to use when eating their surprisingly delicious meals. Hooray!) Flying in to the UAE was surreal… There was nothing below us but sand dunes – vast and seemingly never-ending. I’ve seen nothing like it before…

 

UAE from above

I had about 6 hours to kill in Abu Dhabi, which was spent sleeping, reading, and walking around this shopping mall of an airport. I ate at McDonald’s for the first time in many, many years, which somehow seemed appropriate in this strangely Westernized part of the Middle East (I stuck with a traditional cheeseburger, and didn’t go for the “McArabia” chicken sandwich offered on the menu – yet another smile-inducing surprise encountered on my journey).

I spent a lot of time staring at the beautifully tiled domed ceiling, thinking how funny it was that the chartreuse and dark blue color scheme from my Paris view followed me all the way to Abu Dhabi…

 

Abu Dhabi ceiling   Abu Dhabi ceiling 2

I also spent some time chuckling at how much the airport and surrounding landscape resembled Tatooine, Luke Skywalker’s home planet (yes, yes, insert Star Wars nerd joke here)…

 

Tatooine

 

I also found it quite ironic that in the middle of the desert, I was FREEZING the entire time. The AC was cranked up so high, I found it impossible to get warm. Go figure…

Once it was time to leave Abu Dhabi, I was exhausted and ready to arrive in Nepal. After a 4.5 hour flight, and a beautiful sunset…

 

Nepal Sunset

 

… I finally arrived in Kathmandu. The airport is nothing like those in New York, Dublin, Paris, or Abu Dhabi, and has a distinctly different feel. It is small, the ceilings are low, the interior is mostly wooden, and beautifully carved mirrors hang throughout the corridors. With that said, it feels run-down and out of date. I was happy to find immigration and customs relatively easy processes. In fact, I was completely waved through customs while others (mostly Nepalis, I noticed) had to stand in line to have their bags x-rayed – an advantage of being a non-scrupulous looking foreigner, I am beginning to learn.

When I left the airport, Drew was there waiting for me with a taxi already arranged. Walking from the airport doors to our taxi in the parking lot was a blur of wet pavement (it’s monsoon season after all), heavy luggage, and a barrage of Nepali taxi drivers soliciting our business. The taxi, like all taxis here, was a small white Suzuki hatchback, that zigged and zagged through Kathmandu’s insane and relatively lawless streets (more on that later). We arrived at our apartment in the quite neighborhood of Jhamsikel, Lalitpur and I managed to stay up until about midnight, setting myself very quickly on Nepal time.

As this post is already twice as long as I originally anticipated, I will leave it at that for now. (What can I say? I’m a visual artist, not a writer!) I will post again soon with photos of the city and our adorable apartment. Until then…. Namaste!

(Namaste is the word used to greet and bid farewell to others in Nepal. It literally translates to “I bow to you” and carries the connotation of “Be Well.”)

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