Settling In

I’ve been here for over two weeks now, but it seems much longer. I suppose I feel this way because I’ve seen and experienced so many new things in this short time. It feels good, this process of adaptation/acclimation – I am beginning to feel settled and the culture shock is wearing off.

I am not nearly as nervous while walking or riding on the roads now, and I’ve even taken a few trips on the backs of motorcycles/scooters (something I would probably never let myself do in the States)!

From the back of bike

From the back of Pramila’s scooter…

 

Drew and I have slipped into a nice routine of studio time for me and field research for him during the day, then convening in the evenings to cook or go out for dinner followed by reading or watching movies. ‘Nightlife’ is pretty much non-existent here outside the tourist district (most Nepalis typically rise just after dawn), so our nights are pretty quiet.

I am adjusting to the missing comforts of life in the US, like hot water (and tap water that is CLEAN for that matter), consistent supply of electricity, and machine-washed laundry.

The power grid is unable to handle the amount of electricity needed in Kathmandu, so there are scheduled power outages throughout the city (determined by ‘zones’), usually twice every day for three hours or so each time. When you take a look at the power lines on the streets here, the reason for this is not hard to comprehend…

Power lines

It makes you very conscious of the battery life of all your electronic gadgets, that’s for sure!

It’s been a bit of an adjustment figuring out how and what to cook here, but we’ve managed pretty well. Unfortunately, the power is often out when we’re preparing dinner, so there’s a lot of cooking in the dark (this was kind of fun the first few times, but now it’s just a bit annoying, to be honest)…

Cooking in the dark

Cooking in the dark

(I do have to say, though, that I enjoy the small moments of celebration when the power returns. Drew and I always give a little “Hooray!” when the lights come back on, and I’ve seen my Nepali studio mates do this too, even though they’ve been dealing with these outages for years and years. What can I say? Electricity, imperfect as it is for our environment, is kind of awesome).

We found some pesto at a small store here within the first few days of my arrival, so we’ve been eating that as well as other veggie pasta dishes. We’ve also had the pleasure of eating some comfort food, like ‘breakfast for dinner’ (pancakes and eggs) – one of my most favorite dinner meals since childhood, my mother can attest.

Drew is determined to become a master at cooking Nepali cuisine, so he’s tried his hand at dhal bhat and curried vegetables a few times. Here he is, proud of his first home-cooked Nepali-style meal…

Proud chef

The first try was pretty good, but the spices weren’t quite right. We found out a few days later that he used (way too much of) a spice that wasn’t supposed to go in at all. Trial and error, live and learn! His next shot was MUCH better and I think he’s well on his way to getting it right – I’m so happy he’s motivated to do this because dhal bhat really is so delicious. Tonight he will try again with an eggplant curry this time… yuummmm!

It’s mango season here, and men with large baskets attached to their bicycles filled to the brim with this yummy fruit are everywhere. We binged on mangoes for the first few days, and have had to take a small break so we don’t tire of them completely (although writing about them makes me want more!)…

Mangoes

Speaking of our kitchen, we have a little friend living there…

Edward in kitchen

Edward

We’ve named him Edward. Although, I haven’t seen him for the past day or so – I fear he may have moved out. Too bad. It was nice finding him there in the mornings, hanging out on the wall with his adorable little feet.

When I first arrived, I was quite neurotic about the tap water, Drew will tell you. In fact, you could say that I still am, BUT I’ve gotten much better.  It took me a few days, but I’m no longer scared of showering, so that’s a start!  It’s been a very strange transition, thinking of water as a sort of threat. And it has also been jarring to go from despising bottled water because of its awful impact on the environment to depending on it so fully. Unfortunately, considering all the flights, bottled water, and virtual inability to recycle here, I fear my ‘carbon footprint’ has gotten much, much bigger.

Laundry is a challenge, as just about everybody washes their clothes by hand here. That would be no problem except that I am (apparently) terrible at doing this! Here I am giving it a go…

Laundry

 

laundry hanging

I’ve tried various soaps and tricks gleaned from Nepali friends and neighbors, but my clothes still smell pretty awful after they’ve dried. I think it’s mostly the lingering aroma of the soap and tap water (which have very distinctive, unpleasant smells) that leave my clothes not so fresh. We’ve been sending most of our laundry out to a service in the tourist district that is expensive, but worth it. Of course, this won’t work for my items that will be ruined if put in the dryer, so those are left to my pitiful hand-washing skills. Although I am loving it here and am already plotting my return, I have to say that this is one thing about Nepal that I will not miss!

The currency has taken a little getting used to, but it’s been a pretty easy transition. At first, it was jarring to see a bill for dinner that had 1,000 at the bottom – but of course Nepali Rupees and US dollars are two very different things!

The bills themselves are gorgeous, each with some sort of animal – tiger, elephant, rhino, mountain goat, etc. Each bill comes in a slightly different color, which is not only aesthetically pleasing, but also quite useful when you need to find a specific amount in your wallet….

Nepali Rupees

Nepali Rupees

Nepali Rupees

The air pollution is dense and the roads are dusty – this makes traveling through the city tough on the lungs. Because of this, many people here where face masks that cover their mouths and noses. I’ve even bought my own for when things get really bad…

Duck mask

Of course, I feel a bit silly wearing it, as these masks are not so socially acceptable in the States, but here it’s commonplace, so I try to remind myself of that. (I still can’t help feeling a bit like a duck when I wear it, though!)

Taxi rides are slightly less terrifying for me now, and I’m constantly entertained by how various taxi drivers adorn their ‘workplace’….

che

Ché is everywhere here – in taxis, on t-shirts, in graffiti…  

Taxi garden

By far my most favorite taxi ‘decoration’ so far…

 

The view from the Bagmati River Bridge into central Kathmandu is beautiful when the mountains peak through the monsoon clouds…

bridge view

bridge view 2

bridge view 3

And here are the abandoned / destroyed camps of the “landless” that I mentioned before (see “First Impressions” post)…

"landless" camps

I love the “Thanks” you get as you leave Patan for central Kathmandu… so funny.

Thanks

Another thing I am loving about Kathmandu: bamboo scaffolding!

Bamboo scaffolding

Kathmandu has a thing or two to teach Philadelphia about vacant lots. They are all lush, green, and just gorgeous…

 vacant lot 1

vacant lot 2

vacant lot 3

If Kathmandu had a soundtrack, it would include the cries of crows and warbling of pigeons, honking car/motorcycle horns, dogs barking, and men hawking up phlegm (this happens a lot here and is not considered impolite). These are the noises that catch my ear most often, some more pleasing than others!

There are aspects of the culture that have been a bit hard for me to absorb because the power of habit is so strong. For example, you drive on the left side of the road here, so it is customary to move to the left side of a person when you are walking past them on the street – not to the right like in the States. Of course these aren’t hard and fast rules, just like at home, but I’ve had many confused (and annoyed) looks as I am passing someone and we both move to our right, and end up headed straight for each other.

I also have a hard time remembering not to use my left hand for eating or handing something to someone, like money. Here the left hand is used for cleaning oneself after using the bathroom, so of course it is considered unclean. I never realized how much, as a right-handed person, I still use my left hand for all kinds of things. It makes me feel very bad for all of you lefty’s out there – it would be an even harder habit for you to break! Luckily, as a foreigner (“bideshi”), I often get a ‘pass’ on these things.

Just like getting to skip customs inspection when I arrived at the airport, foreigners seems to get all kinds of ‘passes’ here, in fact. One evening, on the way home from drinks in the tourist district, our taxi was stopped at a standard police checkpoint. While other drivers on the road were stopped and being asked for their documents, we were waved on with a quick flashlight to our faces and a comment from the officer, “La, la, la – bideshi.” This seems to be the general attitude here in Kathmandu – foreigners are pretty much left to do as they please. I won’t lie, this can be quite convenient (I mean, who wants to stand in line at customs and have their bags pulled apart and searched?), but it also feels …what’s the word?… icky. It seems that, even if you tried, escaping your privileged status would be quite difficult – and with that comes a certain amount of guilt. At least for me.

Some days are hard, and I feel alienated – a foreigner in a foreign land. On days like this, it feels like every honked horn on the road seems to say, “Get out of the way, stupid bideshi!” And it becomes difficult to handle being stared at by somebody just about everywhere you go, even in my neighborhood where there are many foreigners. (Random side-note: I often find people looking at my shoes, which I don’t quite understand. Nothing about them seems that interesting or scandalous compared to what Nepalis are wearing, but it’s happened enough at this point, that I know I’m not imagining it!)…

Shoes

Of course, all these feelings of alienation are mostly projection on my part. The vast majority of the time, people are not hostile or even that concerned with me and what I’m doing. I guess feeling this way from time to time is just a natural part of being in a place where you feel like you don’t quite ‘fit in,’ physically or culturally.

With that said, I have other days where I feel surprisingly comfortable here – especially within my neighborhood and on my route to the studio. Sometimes I feel so at ease in my surroundings that it takes me a minute to remember that I am in NEPAL, on the other side of the world! The other day, it took me a few minutes of walking behind my fellow “bideshi” to register what I was looking at…

fellow Philly

I caught up to him and we spoke for a few minutes – turns out this fellow Philadelphian is a ‘Third Culture Kid,’ having grown up partly in Nepal (he attended the British School I walk past every day) and partly in Lancaster County, PA. It’s a small world, indeed!

I think that’s about all I’ll say for now. Stay tuned for posts with a series of my favorite photographs, a collection of strange and wonderful “Beware of Dog!” signs, pictures from some more Kathmandu sites, and a visit to an International Preschool!

Namaste!

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