Getting homesick is tough

It’s been two years since I’ve been home to Croatia, and the nostalgia is kicking in. Sure, I’ve traveled a lot outside of Nepal, but nothing really beats home when it comes to the petty cravings, right? French Evian might be super fancy, but Croatian tap water still tastes sweeter in my mouth. I don’t even want to think about what Nepali tap water would taste like (going in and coming out – oh that’s gross, sorry).

So in celebration of my (potential) trip home this summer, here are some things I am looking forward to:

  1. Water. I am really excited for that feeling when you just stand in the shower and let the water run over you. And you can even open your mouth and drink some! Or that feeling when you open the tap, fill a glass of water and down it, without thinking twice about purification methods. Also that feeling when you know there is no tank that you could potentially empty and then suffer without water for hours, or sometimes days. Or that feeling when you can run a washing machine, or dishwasher as many times a day as you want.
  2. Electricity. I am looking forward to this. I mean, does this really need any further explanation? Living without electricity is not easy. It’s like this: Oh I would love to have home-made lasagna for dinner tonight. Ok, let me see – I got all the ingredients, but the electricity only comes back at 7 pm, which means that the lasagna can only be done at 8 pm in best case scenario, which is kind of late for dinner. Oh well, maybe tomorrow. Or like this: My hair looks awful, and I really need to wash it. But wait, if I wash it tonight, I need to do it very late because the electricity only comes back at 11pm and I don’t want to be drying my hair that late. And tomorrow morning the electricity goes out at 6am, and I don’t want to be washing my hair at 5am. Oh well, maybe some other day.
  3. Bakery. As much as bakeries here try, they just cannot compare to bakeries in Europe. I don’t know what it is: the flour, the yeast, the altitude, the skill? No clue. But I do know that I eat it because I cannot live without bread, and not necessarily because I like it. I am so excited to meet my friends in Croatia, get a greasy, chocolaty something from the bakery and then sit down in a coffee shop for a cup of coffee. Oh what the heck, I will probably even get two or three greasy chocolaty things.
  4. Clean air. Kathmandu has been horrendous lately. I mean, the air quality has been so bad recently that I am just craving a piece of blue sky and clean air that I can breath deeply into my lungs to clear up all this gunk that has accumulated over the past few months.
  5. Physical exercise. Because of the aforementioned air pollution,  I hardly leave the house in Kathmandu. Yes, working out in the house is always an option, but sometimes it’s just so enjoyable to get out and admire the scenery while exercising. I am really looking forward to riding my bicycle when I go home. Here I always have a debate with myself: is it more unhealthy to not workout at all, or to work out and rapidly breath in a lot of polluted air!?
  6. And last but not least: Mom’s cooking. Who could resist that? Who could not miss that? My mom is an incredible cook. Her lunch spreads are just fantastic. It’s not that I don’t like daal-bhaat, it’s just that I get tired of it. It’s always the same thing. Different vegetables cooked in the same way. No matter what it is, it tastes the same. I like diversity in my food, and it’s something that’s always been heavily promoted in my house. So I cannot wait to forget about the rice for a bit and gorge on potatoes, meat, pies, soups and fresh salad! Oh, and the fish. How I miss the fish.

It’s time to go home. I think this post explains it all. Kathmandu, you’re great, but nothing beats home.

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Shocking discovery: it gets cold in winter

You might find it strange, but even in Kathmandu winter comes once a year. Amidst all the snow photos being posted on social media these day, I thought it’s only appropriate to talk about Nepali winter too. No snow here. But, wow, it’s cold. This winter has not been kind to Nepal. I know many of you’ll think I’m insane once I tell you that the average daily temperature is around 15C, but trust me – it’s cold.

So here’s the deal: there is no indoor heating in Nepali houses. On top of that, houses are made of concrete, without any insulation whatsoever. Night time temperatures can go down to 1C, so you do the math. In short, getting out of bed in the morning is a task. And a huge one. I have a permanent layer of thermals on me since early December. Mr.B commented that he has not seen my skin since October. Which is fair enough – I have not taken off clothes since then. Showering is the worst. The water never seems to be hot enough, and the bathroom is freezing. My showers often turn into a dance party as I try to keep my blood flowing whilst applying soap. To be quite honest though, my showers are not as often as I’d like them to be, and probably not as often as it would be appropriate. But it’s ok. Others don’t shower often either, and it makes for a good lunch time conversation – who showered when and when will be a good day again to take a bath. I wish, though, it was that easy. There’s always a twist to things in Nepal. Current load shedding (power reductions) comes up to 13 hours a day. For women in particular that is a very important piece of information as the hair dryer might not be available when you would like it to be. Most of the time the perfect time for a shower, and the ability to blow dry your hair do not align. You can see me very often standing in front of the load shedding schedule on our fridge, with a weather forecast on the phone in my hand, trying to figure out the perfect time in the week to wash my hair. Something as simple as that takes a lot of planning. I bet you’ll never take your shower for granted ever again.

In Nepal during winter things are a bit goofy. When you get outside you take off your jacket and warm yourself up in the sun. Then you pop on your jacket as you get ready to go back inside. Even in the office I sit in my jacket. In fact, I have multiple layers of clothing, and sometimes that’s still not enough to keep me warm. My usual work outfit consist of: a thermal layer, 2 long-sleeved shirts, a sweater, winter jacket and a scarf. Sometimes, when it is too cold to wash hair, I wear a hat. I also have two pants, and ugg boots on my legs. OK, they’re not really uggs, but ugg look-alikes. Best clothing investment I have ever made.

I’m sure that you’re familiar with the frozen finger syndrom if you work on the computer often. In winter time, your finger tips become very cold while typing. Now imagine sitting in a 10C room and typing. Pretty soon you feel that if you accidentally hit your hand on the table, it will shatter in million pieces. To prevent that, I wear gloves. I’ll let you in on a secret: typing with gloves is nearly impossible. Even when they are fingerless gloves (you know the ones where the tips of your fingers are exposed). I had to resort to using gloves only when I am scrolling and clicking on the mouse (as demonstrated in the photo), and taking off the gloves when typing. Usually I only take out my index finger out of the glove to be able to scroll. Looks pretty comical, and a little sad too. But you got to do what you got to do.

IMG_7787.JPG

Tips for Nepali winter newbies:

  • layer up – you need to be able to take off clothes when outside and put them back on when you head inside
  • invest in thermals and good warm shoes
  • do not feel embarrassed of skipping showers – the chances are you’ll still be the best-smelling person in the crowd
  • hot water, hot water, hot water – it warms your body when you drink it, it warms your hands when you hold the mug
  • do your research: find places that have AC heating and spend your days there
  • do not miss shower opportunities on sunny days; you never when you’ll get that chance again

Kathmandu Roads vs. me

Happy New Year! It’s amazingly easy for me to forget about my blog these days, and each time I come to write something, I get surprised at how much time passed since my last post.

Today I have a treat for you all. This video I took back in August (hence the flip flops), but just never got around to editing and posting. These are Kathmandu roads on a public holiday. Otherwise you would see a lot more cars and a lot more people. Obviously, this was pre-petrol shortage era. As you can tell, there are no lines by the gas stations.

I know I get in the passenger seat at the beginning, but I am actually driving in the rest of the video. I didn’t really plan my filming sessions that well.

Enjoy!

 

All foreigners like rap, right?

One of my favorite holidays in Nepal is definitely Tihar. Holi – yeah – it’s fun but I don’t really enjoy running or being splattered with colors and water I don’t know origin of. Dasain – sure, the kites are nice, but I am not much of a goat meat eater so half of the fun is gone right there.

Tihar (or Diwali, or Deepavali) is something else. First of all, let’s talk about sel. Sel is a thin donut-shaped sweet rice flour dough fried in lots of oil. It is so bad for you, but so good. On the day I knew sel was being made at home, I rushed from work already salivating at the mere thought.  Pretty quickly I lost count of how many I ate that day. When they get cold you are supposed to reheat them as they become pretty tough. I suggest you do that. I broke my tooth this year on one of the cold ones. Yet, that didn’t stop me from continuing to eat them. Good stuff.  Honestly, why don’t people make this more often?

Another reason I love Tihar the most are the lights. There is something so special about the lights all over the house, and small candles lit up. It’s festive, and it reminds me of Christmas. For me, it’s kind of the beginning of the Christmas season, when Tihar comes. Oh the joys of living in an inter-religious marriage!

During several days of Tihar, children go around the neighborhood and sing songs for money. They’re pretty pushy about it too. If you don’t open your gate for them, they throw firecrackers at the house. That incident happened to us last year, but this year we were ready and opened up the gate for all the singing groups that came. I understand zero of the songs they sing, but I was told that they pretty much give blessings to your house, family, and so on and on. So it’s very festive and in some ways religious I suppose. The first group that came to our house consisted of 7-ish boys. They were pretty high-tech. They had a CD player, a speaker, and a microphone, and Mr.B helped them hook everything up. Finally, after an extensive set up, they began their song. They were not very tuned, or actually not good at all, but at least they were trying. I was listening and watching from the top floor window, and later I decided to join Mr.B outside. Once the kids saw me, they were so flustered. They didn’t expect a foreigner. Their Nepali blessings song ended abruptly, and after lots of whispering (“English, English”), they settled on a new song. What seemed to be a leader of the group took the mic, the song was ready to go on the cell phone (CD player stopped working), and two boys were ready to dance. I thought to myself:”This will be good.” And I wasn’t wrong. Well, maybe I was. It wasn’t good in a literal sense, but it did give me and Mr.B laughing material for the evening.

The song started and to my utter shock it was an English rap song going something like: we just wanna smoke weed, we just wanna have fun… The two “dancers” were doing breakdance which included all kinds of stunts, like head spins, and even flips. I was mortified. Mortified because of the lyrics of the song on such a wonderful festive occasion. Mortified because I thought those boys were going to break their limbs or fracture their skulls right in front of our door. The whole performance went on and on and finally I whispered to Mr.B: “I think this is enough.” He stopped them by shoving the money in their hands and had them pack up and leave. I was laughing all along not at the boys, but at their potential thought process: “Oh, a foreigner, she definitely must like rap. Let’s rap and do breakdance for her; she will be impressed for sure.” It was really sweet, yet terribly terrifying at the same time.

Nepal, you never cease to amaze me.

Ever wondered what it feels like to be a king? Come on in…

At the end of the most iconic street in Kathmandu (and I call it iconic because it houses the greatest icons of modern age: Adidas, Nike, Benetton, KFC and Pizza Hut), sits a Royal Palace. As you might deduct on your own, the Royal Palace is the home of the royal family. Duh. Or at least it used to be. Now Nepal is “an independent, indivisible, sovereign, secular, inclusive democratic, socialism-oriented federal democratic republican state.” No mention of monarchy, so that’s definitely out of the equation. After the royal family left the premises, the palace has been turned into a museum. Not a very well promoted one though. Most of the people don’t even know they can go in there and get a tour. I, however, read Tripadvisor on occasion, and therefore knew this is the place to visit.

Two friends in tow, and off I went to the museum slash former palace. The entrance fee is Rs.200 for foreigners and Rs.100 for Nepalis and residents. A steal. After buying our tickets, we were asked to deposit our bags in a locker room. Say what? You want us to leave our bags with all our money and our phones in a poorly-guarded locker room? I peeked in there – there are no lockers in there, just a row of shady looking shelves. We got into a huge debate with the guards not understanding why in the world we are not allowed to bring anything with us. After lots and lots of back and forth, we understood that in essence we are not allowed to bring our phones with cameras with us. Oh, this must be good! We left our phones, and took our wallets with us, and off we went on the most unusual museum tour ever.

Pretty grand

Pretty grand

The palace is exactly what you would expect from a museum – a place where time stopped. However, the difference here is that when time stopped in this one, it also seems the cleaning ladies stopped coming in. Dust everywhere. And carpets. Carpets full of dust. Not a place for asthmatics. We moved from one room to another fascinated by the furniture and trinkets the royal family owned. An elephant leg turned into a side table? Wow, that’s a first. Several hours later and we’ve explored all the rooms, seen multiple photos of world leaders who visited Nepal, admired the crowning room, and wondered why the royal couple’s room was as tiny as it was. We moved on outside to the garden, only to discover that the building where the family actually lived was flattened. Gone. Only the foundation remains. This was the building where the infamous royal massacre took place back in 2001. I wonder what kind of nasty secrets this place hid that it needed to be completely demolished. It was a bit creepy back there looking at the remaining foundation and a map explaining where each of the bodies was found after the massacre. Yikes.

The garden of the Royal Palace Museum is huge. One of the largest green spaces I have seen in Kathmandu so far. Sadly, it is not kept up well at all. At all. We wandered through for a bit, but all we could see was weeds and trash, so we cut the walk short. Maybe a gardener could be one of the foreign donations to Nepal. Just throwing an idea out there.

The most bizarre part of this museum is that everything looks like it was abandoned in 1970, where in reality, people actually lived there since 2005! Nothing was ever updated. Even the phones looked like something that was taken from the set of The Brady Bunch. I couldn’t wrap my head around the fact that it has only been 10 years since someone lived there.

If you get a chance, go and visit, just don’t forget to leave your phone at home. And don’t even think about bringing the camera with you, though I am still not sure why they keep everything such a secret. There was absolutely nothing in there that would make me understand why photos were not allowed.

Feeling bored? Nepal to the rescue!

Monotony – a word without a practical meaning in Nepal. You will never get to use this word to describe life in Nepal. Nepal and monotony simply don’t go hand in hand. In fact, I believe that Nepal should be used as an antonym for monotony. That’s how far apart they are.

I have been in Nepal for a bit over two years now, and I can tell you there has not been a boring moment this whole time. I don’t mean that I’ve been having a crazy party-animal time all along. It’s nothing like that – most definitely nothing like that.

It’s like this: there is always something happening in Nepal that makes life entertaining, exciting, frustrating, difficult and edgy. Let me explain this by using some real-life examples. Since I came here two years and 3 months ago there have been:

  1. More than 20 days of bandh. Bandh is not just a regular strike. During bandh, no vehicles are allowed to ply, and the ones that dare are often vandalized. Same goes for the shops. Often times, shops that open get vandalized. This means that people either need to stay at home and use annual leave, or walk to work. Most walk. You would get no vacation days left at all if you use your annual leave each time there is a bandh in Nepal. Kathmandu is not as bad, but in some places in Nepal bandhs can last weeks at a time. The longest one I’ve experienced so far in Kathmandu was 10 days at the time of parliamentary elections. Talk about inconvenience (and exercise)!
  2. Constitution has been almost reached and then the deadline extended 2 times. Each of these times involved a large number of protests, bandhs, gas shortages, and other annoying disturbances.
  3. SAARC meeting meant closing of the main roads in Kathmandu for several days, and traffic regulation on an odd-even licence plate system. Although, in retrospect, this was kind of nice. Not much traffic, and a very clean city.
  4. Earthquake. No elaborating needed.
  5. Constitution promulgation which, the same as no.2, invited a large number of protests, traffic jams and congestion, bandhs and even some violence. Although, it didn’t end there. Months of protesting and political unrest (read: difficulties in finding common language with Indian minority and politicians) have caused one of the largest inconveniences so far. There is no fuel in the country. No fuel means the following: extremely long lines at gas stations (up for a 15-hour wait, anyone? and you only get 10 liters of gas per week); scarce public transport (because everyone is in the gas station line) resulting in overcrowded buses and people treacherously riding on the roofs; no water as the water tankers cannot reach houses without petrol (bye, bye flushing); food supplies in stores running out (and people running to shop and stock up); airlines cutting down on flights as there’s no aviation fuel… and the list goes on and on. It’s crazy how dependent we are on the fuel. One thing affects the other and the other and so on. Currently, Nepal is a perfect example of what the world will look like when it runs out of oil. Although the world will probably be a lot more chaotic than this. Nepalis are so cool about the whole situation. Me – not so much.

If you ever wondered what it feels like to live an adventurous life on the other side of the world, do consider coming to Nepal. It will not disappoint. I cannot promise you will find spirituality and inner peace, though. You’re more likely to discover ulcers.

Oye, you over there, snap that wire!

Sometimes (read: always) the sequence of events in Nepal is downright bizarre. There is this festival in Patan (a part of Kathmandu) called Rato Machhendranath Rath Jatra. It’s a mouthful, I know. During this festival an enormous (like 20 meter tall – not long – tall) chariot is built from wood and a bunch of other materials I couldn’t recognize from a distance, set on wheels and then wheeled through the narrow streets of Patan. Pulled by people, of course. It’s terrifying. I mean, this thing is 20 meters tall, it’s swaying left and right, and the whole set up doesn’t really seem safe. Not to mention, there are people hanging off from the top of it. Usually, it doesn’t cause much havoc out on the main roads, other than attracting attention from passers-by. However, and it turns out this year is the lucky year, every 12 years this bad boy is wheeled by a longer route for several days. The longer route includes main, more traffic-prone roads. And as the luck would have it, those are the roads I travel each day.

So there you have it. Doesn't look safe, now does it?

So there you have it. Doesn’t look safe, now does it?

Day 1: a warning comes through saying that the chariot will pass that way and the roads will be blocked for the rest of the day. I rush out to get out of the way and beat the traffic home only to be surprised by the sight of men on ladders all along the street. They were taking down electricity wires. It makes sense: a 20m monstrosity is about to be wheeled through. If you’ve ever seen photos of Nepal, you know that there is definitely no lack of wires in the streets, so this was a huge task. So much so, that they didn’t even get to a lot of the wires in time so when the chariot came through, people walking ahead of it would simply snap the wires in half, or the chariot would run through and take the wires down. Traffic was already heavy, but I made it out on time. Later, from the comforts of home, I admired the photos of the chariot posted on Facebook by my friends who live in that area. I felt a tiny bit bummed out I missed it. Quickly forgot about it though, and slept like a baby.

Day 2: got in the car and made my way to the aforementioned chariot-affected area. Never even though that the chariot would make my commute a very very long one. As I got closer to my destination, the traffic got heavier. I silently wondered why: has there been an accident? My question was answered pretty soon: a gigantic chariot was right in front of me, and there I was, in my car inching past it shocked that they even allow traffic to go by this leaning tower. Happy that it didn’t topple over right as I was by it, I continued driving. I have to admit though – it’s pretty fascinating and quite amazing, this chariot. Anyhow, even after passing the chariot, the traffic continued to be heavy. As I was sitting in a jam, annoyed by the guy behind me honking non-stop (what’s your point, buddy? no one’s going anywhere), I realize the reason for backed-up traffic were again the guys on ladders, now hooking the wires back together. And then, suddenly, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing! Wait, is that…what…that cannot be… oh my god, it’s an elephant! In the midst of the heaviest traffic I have ever seen in Kathmandu, there was a Zoo elephant on it’s morning walk just strolling down the road, chewing on leaves hanging from it’s back, not caring about a single thing, especially not about the honking motorcade behind it.

If that’s not bizarre, I don’t know what is.