Stages of discovering leeches in the shower

1. Shock: happily getting in the hot shower and realizing there are small black wiggly animals in it. Proceeding to inspect them a bit closer and concluding it’s leeches. Stare at them in shock.

2. Petrification: continuing to stare at the shower unable to move with fear of them jumping on you.

3. Escape: wrapping yourself in a towel and standing outside the bathroom door.

4. Denial: convincing yourself you must’ve seen it wrong and those could not possibly be leeches in your shower. Where would they even come from!?

5. False bravery: going back in the bathroom for closer inspection. Realizing those, indeed, are leeches, and running out again.

6. Desperation: curling yourself in a ball on the bed unable to process this new development.

7. Cry for help: calling your husband and terrifying him by saying: I have a huge problem.

8. Panic: since your husband can’t help you with this over the phone, running out of the house calling for didi then leading her in the bathroom wide-eyed and terrified.

9. Admiration: lying on the bed admiring didi for her bravery as she swiftly kills and washes away little pests.

10. Fear: being unable to get your feet off the bed imagining how these little creatures crawled out of the bathroom and went straight for your bedroom. Deciding never to shower again – it’s not good for the skin anyways to shower this often.

11. Caution: realizing you stink and definitely need a shower, proceeding to the bathroom with caution inspecting each and every nook and cranny. Giving a shower an additional clean-up even though didi most definitely got rid of everything that was in there.

12. Determination: telling yourself you can do this; you are not a crybaby and stepping in the shower. Wearing your flip flops just in case. You never know.

13. Express shower: showering as fast as you possibly can. Probably breaking a world record in fast showering (if such thing exists).

14. Victory dance: feeling proud of yourself and doing a small victory dance, which is really just twisting and turning to inspect all parts of your body for possible unwanted guests.

True story.

The tales of the illness

I actually cannot believe I lasted this long. Most of the people get really sick in their first month of their stay in Nepal; some even in their first week. For me, it took a year. I was proud of myself for avoiding it for so long, but when it finally happened, it hit hard and dirty. Like, below the waist. And so to the hospital I went. As I was going through the grueling torture of a hospital stay, people were telling me: there’s something you can write about on your blog. I would reply saying I most definitely will not, as this is the experience I do not want to remember. But in retrospective, it was quite comical at times, and so I figured I’d share a laugh with my readers anyways.

I’ll spare you the details of the sickness, but let me talk to you a bit about the hospital. I was staying in a government hospital, which meant no luxury at all. No private room. I was sharing mine with a post-op male patient. No western-style toilet in the bathroom. I am going to go ahead and say that was probably the biggest challenge in this whole sickness thing. Nurses don’t do much for you – they change your IV and measure your blood pressure, but other than that, you need to have a helper with you who will do everything: run and get the medicine (including IV fluids), bring you water and food, take you to the toilet, and whatever else the sick person might need. Luckily, Mr.B was a male nurse of first class, and helped me with everything. Without him, I have no clue how the whole thing would’ve gone down.

One interesting thing about Nepal is the sense of community people have here. Whenever something happens people come together to help each other, offer support and encouragement. It’s not different when someone ends up in the hospital. Apart from my family members who came to see me, I had friends come over too. And neighbors. Neighbors even sent the soup, and I was in the hospital for one day only! Definitely the strangest thing for me was the visit time. People just show up, sit on a chair and look at you lie in the bed. I am sure it’s not that awkward when you speak Nepali, because you can actually make conversation. I couldn’t, so I was just lying there feeling very much on display, fighting the urge to jump out of bed, offer snacks and start entertaining. Speaking of snacks, here’s a tip for you: if you ever end up in a hospital, make sure that you buy some snacks on the way in, as it’s customary to offer them to people who come and visit you. That blew my mind. However, having visitors was really nice – seeing that people care about me and that I have someone to rely on, really made the whole experience easier.

As I was in the government hospital, a  bit far from the touristy/expat areas, I was, most likely, the only white person in the hospital. And I was the main attraction. By now, after a year in Nepal, I learned not to pay attention to people staring at me out in the street. And I continued with that in the hospital. Everyone was looking at me curiously, with some concern, and lots of sympathy. Some even asked what was wrong, whereas others tried to find out out what’s going on without asking. I was lying on the bed and the doctor was talking to me when suddenly a random guy appears next to him, starts peering in the paperwork and listening in on the conversation. I was a bit perplexed, but when the doctor didn’t react, I just assumed he was another doctor, or an expert of some kind. Not even close. He was just a random guy, on his way to the toilet, who noticed me and the doctor, and was wondering what was going on. When he heard enough and was satisfied with the newly-gained knowledge of my health issue, he leisurely walked over to use the bathroom. Not matter how sick you are, it’s kind of hard not to laugh at something like that, don’t you think?


The help

DIDI दीदी (n., f.) = an older sister, commonly used term to address women in one’s generation

Adding “didi” to someone’s name is very common in Nepal. For instance, someone younger to me, or of my age, might call me Zeljka didi. Sometimes people even do. However, what’s more common, especially among foreigners, is to address their house helper as “didi”. You see, it’s a completely normal thing to have a house helper in Nepal. No, let me rephrase that. It’s totally necessary for most of the people to have a house helper.

Our house helper is called Shanti and she is awesome. Seriously, she makes our lives so much easier. Shanti takes care of the house for us. She cleans (which in Kathmandu is a daily necessity because of all the dust), she does the laundry, goes to the market, preps fruit and veggies for us, and makes sure we always have water in the tank, cooking gas and drinking water in the house. Without her, we would be lost and miserable.

Shanti and I do not communicate much simply because she does not speak English and I do not speak Nepali. We have developed this half sign, half smile language, and we move around each other predicting what the other one’s move will be. I like to believe we are comfortable enough with each other. When there is no way to avoid the conversation, it makes for quite a comical sight. It usually ends in total confusion on both sides. Like that one time I was trying to replant a flower in a larger pot. I needed her to find me a bigger pot, so I brought her to another plant that was in the pot of the size that I needed. I was pointing at it trying to explain what I need. She was smiling, nodding her head, seemingly understanding what I need, confirming it by saying “Hajur, maisab, hajur” (yes, madam, yes). I was proud of myself, I have to admit, until I came back and realized that, instead of bringing me a larger pot, she simply switched the places of the plants. Or, like the other day when I wanted to make yogurt so I asked her to go to the shop and bring me one liter of milk in a green package. She came back with half a liter of milk in a blue package. And a huge smile on her face. I couldn’t break her heart by telling her that’s not what I wanted so instead I said “Perfect, thank you!” and used the milk she brought. Joys of miscommunication.

On days Shanti and I stay at home alone, I am convinced she becomes a ninja. I assume, in an effort not to disturb me, she moves around the house without any noise. Like none. I do not hear when she walks, I do not hear when she does the dishes or folds the laundry. I would walk into a room just to find her there doing something. It usually gives me a heart attack. I have no clue how she can move around so quietly. I would be ironing in the room and suddenly, she would pop her head in the room saying “Maisab, tea, chyaa?”. I try to look calm and totally not surprised, but in reality, I am completely flustered and my heart is beating fast. Ah, my ninja didi. I love her.

I often think about the future and a life back in the West where a house helper is a luxury only selected few can afford. It will be interesting to see how I will go back to cleaning my own bathroom, dishes, and doing the laundry. I predict a challenge ahead of me…