As per the caveat in the former post, this blog entry regards life mid-May onwards. However, instead of taking the tradition “dear diary, today we…” trajectory, let me begin with a little ‘survival guide’ to Nepal that I’ve accumulated in my notes.
The Nepali Survival Guide (or rather, Things to be Mindful of When in Nepal)
- Go with the flow/Nepali time: For example, when someone says the bus will depart at 13:30, be ready for the set time, but always bank for at least and extra 30 minutes to one hour of that set departure time. Further, being late isn’t the end of the world; far from it in fact: folks seem to just go with the flow, and let their activities melt with the passing time.
- Snot central/lugies: “Hcwhaaack puu”. Don’t know if it’s from all the dust in the air, but a rich lugie being hucked out into the big, wide world is fairly normal, and by no means nasty as it may be in some nooks and crannies of the world. To all those sensitive to ‘inappropriate’ sounds such as belching, farting, and all things booger-related, brace yourselves for a thick blend of saliva and snot being skillfully accumulated in the esophagus and fired out of the mouth with good aim. Nonetheless, however, practice your reflex when sitting behind a cab driver, as the wind my counter their lugie’s intended trajectory.
- Face masks: With dust in mind, you may want to conjure the surgeon-esque look with a chic face mask. You can find patterns ranging from tie-dye, to cute flower prints, to abstract and bold designs, and to simple one-coloured face masks in order to coordinate your garb with these dust-fighters and up your fashion game (if that’s a thing).
- Electricity and water: Both of these babies are scarce. In regards to the latter, use it precariously when washing dishes and/or taking a bucket shower. With the former, note that power cuts change day to day. You can download nifty applications to your Smartphone or Android device in order to plan for the day’s loadshedding schedule to ensure that you can boil water (in the event that you don’t have a gas stove; cold coffee doesn’t quite make the cut); charge any necessary electronics (jumped on the chain-smoking train after Smokey Robinson – my e-cigarette – couldn’t be charged); or need to have things cooled down (what can I say, the mushiness of warms apples and grapes just get to me).
- “Are you Nepali?”: for my fellow Caucasian-Asian hybrids, be prepared to be asked if your Nepali at least once a day. Not bothersome for myself at all; in fact – with by no means of consolidating the ‘science’ of eugenics – the blend of my pop’s ivory juice mixed with my mama’s mocha juice birthed a questionable Nepali broad (i.e., yours truly). Personally, I’ve found that the product of this mixing has resulted in a quasi comradeship with the locals that is only separated by the fact that I’m not actually Nepali.
- Head nod or neck stretch/dance?: Sure, what we know as a head nod – bobbing your head up and down – means yes here as well. But what is more common in Nepal (and I’m sure many other parts of the world) is a little dancing of the head side to side to denote “yes” (or, “ajer”). For myself, I initially found the latter a bit ambiguous: at first, it looks like the person is indicating a sense of uncertainty – kind of like an “eh, I don’t know”, or “your straight up crazy, but this is a subtle way of noting my feeling towards your question”. But increasingly, not only do you become accustomed to fact that this does indeed mean yes; but it’s a convenient way to loosen up the muscles in your neck, a groovy/funky way to respond to someone (I feel like I’m dancing at the clubs, hey), and it’s overall pretty contagious.
- Why are people always talking about China?: I’ll admit, I didn’t bother studying even the basics of Nepali before coming here. Because of this, I thought there was way too much conversation revolving around China (but then again, hell, who am I to say what people can/can’t talk about); or that too much attention was being brought to my ethnicity (I’m not Chinese for god’s sake!). About two weeks into my arrival, I found out that it means “no”. So, with that, “china, I’m not Chinese”.
- Dal bhat: Literally, lentils and rice. Every. Damn. Day. Two. Times. A. Day.
These are just the highlights of ‘survival tips’ that I’ve accumulated, and I hope that they can be of use to those traveling to Nepal, or spark are chuckle for fellow nomads who have encountered similar experiences.
Okay, so now to the classic “dear diary, today we…” post, with shenanigans organized on a weekly basis.
- Started a daily ritual of climbing up the Swayambhunath Stupa (or, the Monkey Temple) in order to ensure the intense definition of my legs (not). But seriously, the combination of monks chanting, spinning prayer wheels, and the lighting of candles to symbolically offer to the Triple Gem, makes this sweat-inducing climb of its 365 steps that much more of a meditative way to burn off all that dal bhat.
Monkey Temple, and of course, monkeys.
- Accompanied the national Hong Kong rugby team to Sukute Lower Secondary School aforementioned in the post before this, of which they’ve made substantial donations to. That weekend consisted white water rafting, watching Monica bungee jump, sleeping in tents near the Nepal-Tibet border, and overall, exercising our roles as representatives on behalf of the NGO we are volunteering for.
HKFC at Sukute Lower Secondary School.
- That same weekend, we took the kidlets bowling and to the HKFC vs. Team Nepal Friendship Rugby Tournament, in which monsoon-like conditions during the latter made for a rather soggy group of people watching an even more soggy and muddy bunch of competitors during the match.
- Monica and I surprised Darren (who popped over for the weekend to the Kathmandu District after a week of his rural school placement in the Sidapolchoke District) for his birthday with a cake at a restaurant in Thamel (which came before even ordering our food – perhaps due to the rarity of partaking in what is standard in ‘Western’ cultures?; that is, having a surprise cake in public eating places). To be sure, Darren’s birthday wasn’t until the week after, but since this would be the last weekend our trio would be together – as Monica was heading back to Canada in a few days – we decided to celebrate a tad early.
- The next day, we took a very authentic excursion to Kathmandu Fun Valley – one of Nepal’s leading water/amusement parks – ft. one of the kindest, humble and honest workers at the NGO. The day consisted of cheeky grins, the 2.5 gringos foolishly dancing around to the blaring club music, and later, attempting to hail trucks and buses to Sukute of the Sindhapolchoke District to spend one last night in a Three Muskateer fashion.
The posse ft. Mon downing some jhai muri.
- After finally catching a bus that was headed in the direction of Darren’s hut located at some beach resort, the three of us wined and dined with some workers at the resort itself and the adventure tour company it’s partnered with.
Looking hella candid in Sukute (especially Darren’s “do I need a tetanus shot?” face).
- Monica and Darren saying their final goodbyes were suitably situated against the backdrop of light rain and grey cloud. Us broads then headed home to Swayambhu.
- This weekend and the following day was comprised of a traditional farewell at the office (i.e., people giving mini speeches, applying of tikkas, and the continuous tying of scarves around the departing individual; so much, in fact, that Monica looked like a lass from mid-sixteenth century Europe sporting a ruff); as well as saying goodbye to the youth at the NGO’s childcare homes later that evening. Still fathoming the sentiment that Mon was going through during all this, I can only imagine how emotional these farewells were: not only did a tear or two crack during the office farewell, but while walking with my new gal pal to our home after saying goodbye that evening (during which the youth smothered her in hugs, kind words, and hand-made cards). It truly was a reminder of why the volunteers and employees are all really here, and the experiences and attachments we develop during our time.
- Oh yeah, and Monica got a tattoo of Swayambhu’s geographic coordinates to top it all off.
- However, counter to the influx of feelings of warmth and connectivity developed that evening, Monica was completely fucked over the following day at the airport. Only to arrive during the early hours of the morning, Mon found out that her flight from Nepal to India, and then India to Canada required her to get an Indian visa as her flight back home to Canada was a standby ticket. After dropping her off in Kim Dole Choke to fetch a cab to the airport and anticipating a lonely day at the office, to my surprise, a broad who looked an awful lot like Monica (i.e., Monica) was perched at the desk, madly searching alternative routes that allowed her to transit in their country on a standby flight, without requiring her to get a visa. Fortunately, she managed to find a route that would have her taking a arduous journey at 23:30 that night to Kuala Lumpur, to Hong Kong, to Vancouver, to Toronto, and finally, to Moncton. Bon voyage, Monica; I’ll be seeing you in Spain in August.
- In addition to the workshops held at the office for newly recruited fieldworkers, I had the pleasure of joining the guys and gals to the British School of Lalitpur, one of the NGO’s donors, who, in addition to their contributions, provides a day of sports and arts for the kiddos. The individuals presently living in the childcare homes were also accompanied by youth who have grown up in and out of the NGO’s facilities. Between the three of them and myself, we were in charge of chaperoning the event; being middle (wo)men to communicate with the staff at the office on how the day was panning out; and sorting out donations between the school and the NGO. Relative to my experience working as a camp counselor, this was by far less stressful, as – growing up in Nepal, a country which is fairly densely-populated in core areas, and therefore, crowded – locating one another was never a bother, and we always managed to find one another if separated.
- As Darren’s birthday was actually this week, some folks at the office, the kidlets and I coordinated a surprise fiesta for him at the boys’ home. After tricking him into thinking that Shyam Brother needed help moving furniture at the boys’ hau5, we all piled up into the main gathering room, which to Darren’s avail, was a celebration of his day of birth, rather than spending the day lifting heavy objects. We celebrated in style with bottles of Fanta and Sprite, and packets of assorted biscuits.
- Later that night, Darren and I continued this train of healthy eating with getting greasy-ass, delicious street grub on New Road. In addition to experiencing every flavour under the sun that can be deep fried, one of the most memorable things that came out of this night was a gentleman’s eagerness to ensure that we ate our food in comfort. While perching ourselves on a step just beside the main road, a man with an everlasting grin kept on giving us newspapers – not to read, but to place our food and asses on. Constantly putting his hands in prayer position to his forehead with a gentle bow, it was clear that he was doing this not for donations, but to genuinely ensure that we enjoyed our greasy goods. However, we’ve seemed to experience this intense generosity time and again, and when sharing our experience with other foreigners, there seems to be some sort of speculation of an unwritten rule to be polite to ‘white’ people (for example, in addition to this, we got priority in different queues throughout our time here). No matter how much you turn down the offer and/or present yourself to be treated as an equal, the unwritten rule (unfortunately?) tends to prevail.
Anyways, hombres, that wraps up the life and times of Gonzo for now. Coming at you from a futon from Swayambhu, and recovering from a food hangover, Gonzo OUT.
Blessings from the land of everything deep fried (hence the haggard mug shot).