Sunny Days, Cold Nights, and Kurthas…

In an effort to keep the blog more current this time around, I want to post just a few more (slightly random) things from our first few weeks. So… here we go!

It’s warm in Kathmandu. And it’s cold in Kathmandu. Well… it’s complicated.

It is, of course, winter here, and the daily temperatures range from the high 30’s to the low 70’s (fahrenheit). Yup, that’s right: 70 DEGREES FAHRENHEIT AND SUNNY. EVERY DAY. Amazing. IMG_1187

All you need to walk around during the day is a light sweater or jacket, and even that will leave you feeling a bit too toasty at times. And the upper 30’s/lower 40’s at night – that’s not so bad, either, right? I mean, hey – it beats temperatures in the 20’s (and even into single digits) like we were getting in Philadelphia last winter (and this winter too, I think?)…

But don’t get too jealous just yet. Did I mention that there is NO indoor heating and that Kathmandu’s homes, made mostly of cement, are VERY poorly insulated? Oh, right. The catch. There’s always a catch.

Combine that with showers that are only lukewarm, and well… you start to feel my pain.

This is steam coming off Drew’s wet head after just getting out of the shower – warm hair hitting the cold air in our LIVING ROOM. Umm. Yeah…

IMG_0098Once the mid-morning sun hits, all is well with the world. Like a lizard, I go out onto our balcony or into the streets so I can soak up the sun and warm my frozen bones. But come 4:00pm, the sun starts to drop below the surrounding buildings and boy, does that temperature plummet. I proceed to put on my down winter coat and go about my evening. (Note: I didn’t say go “out” for the evening – this coat is worn INSIDE the house)…

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Coats and hats inside the house are one way to keep warm. People have other ways, as well. At Sunil’s house we huddled together around the chulo, a briquette made of natural materials that doesn’t make any smoke when it burns…

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It doesn’t put out heat in a very large radius, but it sure is good for warming hands and feet!

The other way I see folks staying warm is with small bonfires. Strangely, Kathmandu homes are not equipped with fireplaces and chimneys (limited access to wood for burning, perhaps?), so all over the city, inside the gates of homes and apartment buildings, as well as on the side of the road, you’ll find groups of people huddled together around small bonfires that they’ve built. On one of our first few evenings here, Drew and I got to join in on one of these fires at Sunil’s house, with Sunil and his neighbors from the building. We warmed ourselves by the fire (fueled mostly by dried corn cobs), and listened to the young children of his building sing along to Nepali songs and quiz each other – half in Nepali, half in English – about the capital cities of various countries around the world. (Their answer for the USA? New York. Sorry, DC). It was a lovely, warm community moment, indeed. (Unfortunately, I didn’t have my camera on me at the time). As for the rest of these little bonfires I’ve witnessed, I haven’t yet worked up the courage to ask for a picture. They are such cozy moments – it feels intrusive to ask for a photo, and I hate to interrupt something that feels oddly private, even though it’s taking place in public.

There are other places to find fire, though. The cafe down the road from our house, Top of the World, has a wood-burning stove that keeps the joint nice and cozy. Consequently, we end up there quite a bit. And on one particularly chilly night, fed up with being cold and desperate to get warm, Drew and I shelled out more rupees than we would have liked just so we could eat at a posh restaurant with its many bonfires and gas heat lamps… (It was worth it).

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All this to say, winter in Kathmandu rocks (70 degrees and sunny, baby)… and then again, it doesn’t. Ah well, spring will be here soon!

Another note about the season: Because it is so clear and sunny during the day, it’s sometimes possible to see the distant Himalayan peaks from the city! (If the smog cooperates, that is). This was never possible the last time I was here during monsoon season. What a nice little surprise…

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In all the recent business of getting ourselves set up in the new apartment and adjusted to life in Kathmandu, we haven’t been able to do much exploring or sight-seeing just yet. But we did get a chance to spend an afternoon revisiting lovely, lovely BoudhanathIMG_1183    IMG_1200

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Now that we’re more or less settled in, explorations of the city (and the greater Kathmandu Valley) will begin in earnest – many pictures of our adventures to come!

I have had some time in these last few weeks to revisit old friends, though. I made my way back to Kasthamandap Art Studio, where I worked in residence during the summer of 2012. I found my way back down the same roads I took 2.5 years ago, using only my memory as a guide. I walked the path from my home in Jhamsikhel to the studio so many times that summer, it wasn’t difficult to remember, but like in Jhamsikhel, the areas along this route have gone through significant changes in the past few years. The roads have been widened and there are new sidewalks, new buildings are going up, my old landmark – The British School – has had a little make-over, a swanky gated high-rise has sprung up, and the building that was under construction just a few doors down from the studio is all finished…

IMG_0169         IMG_0365 IMG_0368 IMG_0190Some things remain the same, though. The North Korean and Norwegian Embassies are still there. (And I still can’t get over the fact that North Korea has an EMBASSY… well… anywhere!)…

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And one of my favorite little houses has held out against the recent tide of demolition and development…

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The studio building is just as I remember it, and although the puppy Kushi is no longer there inside the gate, his mother, Happy, is!

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It was wonderful seeing my old friends Erina, Asha, Binod, Pramila, and Bhairaj again. They are just as I remember them. We talked about our lives over the past few years, art, Nepali politics and culture… it was great catching up with them! Stupidly, I forget to get a picture with these friends during my visit, so here’s one of us from 2012 (read more about my time at KAS here and here)…

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We did manage to get a shot of me with the art I made for them as a parting gift last time, now hanging in their meeting area…

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I also had the opportunity to visit my new artist residency, the Kathmandu Contemporary Arts Centre, which will begin in just a few days at the beginning of February…

The residency is inside the Patan Museum, which is located in lovely Patan Durbar Square. I’m so excited to have a reason to go here every day!

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And it gets better! I got a quick tour of my new digs, and the studio is so very lovely…

IMG_0227 IMG_0228It’s on the top floor of the building where there’s lots of sunlight and a lovely rooftop patio with a gorgeous view of the museum’s gardens and pagodas…

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I can’t wait to get started – 6 months working in residence HERE? Yes, please!

After leaving the studio, I found myself in Mangal Bazar – a shopping district near Patan Durbar Square. I peeked my head into a tiny kurtha shop and was immediately asked to sit on the small woven stools they have there. The shop owner did not speak any English, but luckily her assistant, Roshni, did. Without her, discussing which fabric to use and taking my measurements would have been nearly impossible!

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The shop owner’s assistant, Roshni, and the shop owner (middle) with some other customers…

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It was an interesting cultural experience, indeed! We haggled over price (I’m still trying to get used to that), and the shop owner insisted that I stay seated at all times (every time I stood up, even just to point at some fabric, she would impatiently motion for me to sit). The shop owner got a little ‘fresh’ while she took my measurements for the neckline, all the while chatting rapidly in Nepali and laughing at me. (I don’t want to get too graphic here on the blog, so let it suffice to say that this wasn’t a typical place to be touched by a seamstress/tailor – at least not in my experience, anyway!)…

There was a lot of smiling and laughing at the silly bideshi throughout the whole experience, in fact. It’s okay. I’m quickly realizing that this sort of thing will happen a lot while I’m here, and luckily, I don’t have much trouble laughing at myself along with them.

I ended up ordering two kurthas – one for a wedding that we’ll be attending soon and another for every day wear…

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Unfortunately, they’re a bit big and need to be brought back to the shop for adjustments. I sense more haggling in my future… Ah well. So it goes.

I’m still not quite sure how I feel about foreigners wearing kurthas, actually. In some ways, it seems appropriate and respectful, just like speaking (or attempting to speak) the native language. But in other ways, it feels sort of insincere – like maybe you’re just ‘trying too hard.’ Sometimes it seems like the kurtha-wearing foreigner is a bit desperate to fit in. BUT the problem is, I love kurthas! I think they’re incredibly beautiful and so very comfortable. (It’s hard for me to pass up the opportunity to escape the tyranny of jeans!) And of course, there are plenty of Nepali women and girls wearing Western-style clothing, and I don’t bat an eye at that. I don’t think of them as ‘desperate’ to look European or American. Is their appropriation of Western clothing any different than me wearing a kurtha? Is it all just cultural exchange – “We are the world,” and all that? I’ve asked a few Nepali women their feelings about foreigners wearing traditional styles of dress, and they are unanimously positive and supportive. But maybe they’re just being polite? Hard to say. And who am I worried about offending/annoying by choosing to wear a kurtha? Nepalis? Or other foreigners who might have the same judgmental thoughts that I expressed above? Both, I guess.

Perhaps I’m over-thinking it? Living in Kathmandu has me questioning (and yes, over-thinking) all kinds of things.

Anyway, I suppose I’ll stop there with that little bit of food for thought. Just one last thing before I wrap it up: There seem to be a million blogs written by foreigners living in Nepal. Boy, do I feel like a cliché. Yes, it’s a bit disappointing to feel like just another one of the herd, but these blogs certainly are useful! Have a question about whether or not your didi will be offended by your dirty underwear in the laundry pile? Ask the blog-o-sphere, et voilà! Answers! (More on laundry and didis later).

I’ve found several such blogs that I plan to read through soon, gleaning as much useful information as possible. If you’re interested in hearing about Nepal/Kathmandu from different perspectives, check them out:

 The Roofs of Kathmandu

The Kathmanduo

Mr. Smith Goes to Kathmandu

Nepal Ramblings

Paul in Nepal

Thanks so much for reading! Back with more soon… Namaste!

4 thoughts on “Sunny Days, Cold Nights, and Kurthas…

  1. Thanks for sharing your adventures with us. I take the computer into Mom’s room and read to her and she is amazed, as am I. She especially loved the pictures of you in your kurthas and wondered if she should have made some for you with her sewing machine! We look forward to more of Brenna’s Blogs. You are loved and prayed for every day.
    Blessings,
    The other Aunt “B”

    • Thank you SO MUCH for sharing this, Barbara… I love the image I have of you and Grandma reading the blog together. :- ) And I would have loved a homemade kurtha from Grandma’s sewing machine. Ha ha… She’s so cute! Sending all of my love to you both-
      Brenna

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