I am sorry

I have received so many messages from so many of you, my dear readers, over the course of the past two years, wondering if I am alright and what is happening with The Roofs of Kathmandu. Well, I am sorry. Sorry to have been keeping you in the dark. The last two years have been, hmmm, a whirlwind of events in my life, the greatest of which was little Mr. A who made an appearance in this world bringing us the greatest joy ever! Also, not leaving me any time for blogging, or pretty much anything else (how do you, parents, do this???).

Another great change that happened is that we left Nepal. Yup, that chapter is now closed, for sometime at least. So, in some ways I suppose I felt there is no purpose of continuing blogging about Kathmandu when I am no longer there. That just made sense to me. However, as I am typing this, I am starting to get nostalgic, both about Kathmandu and blogging, so who knows, maybe I come back with some nostalgia-filled posts about Nepal. It is, without a doubt, a place that changed my life and me.

This is it, for now.

Ms. Z

What am I?

Sometimes I find myself tangled in my own thoughts trying to decipher what group of people in Nepal I belong to. I am not Nepali, clearly. My ghost-like skin always gives me away, though I do like to think of it as aristocratic. But I’m digressing. I am not a 100% expat either. I live in a Nepali household, with a Nepali family. Does that make me half-Nepali? No clue, but in the past year and a half I did move towards Nepali customs more than I expected I ever would.

Let’s examine the evidence:

Exhibit A
My horoscope sign is a Virgo. For all of you who are not familiar with horoscope, let’s just say Virgos are obsessive-compulsive. I also hold a strong opinion that characteristics of a Virgo were tailored according to me. It’s that precise. I cannot be late, or have anything be out of place, untidy, dirty… everything needs to be perfect. But I move to Nepal and what happens!? I start adjusting to Nepali time. In other words, no matter how hard I try, I seem to be late for everything! And the worst part? I’m not even phased by it. What is happening to me? Am I turning Nepali?

Exhibit B
I don’t want to make it sound like I’m bragging, but I’ve always been very polite. I would let people with less items jump in front of me at the cash register, I would let pedestrians cross the road even if I’m in a hurry and others behind me are honking, I would exercise perfect driving culture politely letting others merge into traffic in front of me and wave thankfully to the ones who do the same for me. But I move to Nepal and what happens!? I start driving like I am the only person on the road, pushing and shoving my way through heavy traffic, honking at others angrily and closing every little bit of space between me and the car in front of me so no one can cut in. I also only sometimes let pedestrian cross in front of me. Preposterous! What is happening to me? Am I turning Nepali?

Exhibit C
I am a huge dessert person. Sweets make me enter a state of consciousness unknown to modern science. When I look at, make or eat wonderful varieties of cakes and cookies, I am in bliss. Nepal disappoints in that area. Most of the cakes here are OK, but not very different from one another. There seems to be no creativity in that department. Maybe that’s the reason the most favorable dessert amongst Nepalis is vanilla ice cream. Yes, vanilla ice cream. The same one I at every summer when I was a child and swore I will never taste it again. Ice cream is even served at weddings! Say, what??? But I move to Nepal and what happens!? After being shocked by this discovery for almost a year, I now find myself ordering vanilla ice cream in all shapes and forms – with a brownie, with an apple pie, and I even eat it at weddings. Even in winter! Gasp. What is happening to me? Am I turning Nepali?

Exhibit D
This last exhibit is most probably the most shocking one, at least for me. When I feel under the weather, as if I’m catching a cold, I usually crave chamomile tea with honey and lemon and some soup. Maybe also porridge or something warm, liquidy and easy to digest. I stuck to that even here in Nepal for the past year and a half. And it usually made me feel better. But you know what happened the other day? I was feeling a bit down, sick-ish at work and all I could think of is how I’m going to rush home, warm up a plate-full of rice and daal and devour it. And so I did. And it felt good. Scary good. What is happening to me? Am I turning Nepali?

Time flies when you’re having fun

Today is a special day. An auspicious day, really. Today marks one year from the date I landed in Nepal with my one-way ticket. Is it possible that it’s ALREADY been one year? No, wait. Is it possible that it’s ONLY been one year? It feels much longer than a year, yet much shorter than a year at the same time. It’s completely confusing, I know. So many things happened in this one year, so many new people came into my life, so many new experiences challenged and enriched me. I faced emotional hurdles that I never even knew were possible. I leaped into the unknown with the confidence I never knew I had. I think I grew emotionally (waist-wise also) over the last year.

But, enough of the dramatic speech. What stuck with me mostly, you wonder? Here’s the breakdown.

1. I discovered I have a love-hate relationship with dogs. It’s only getting worse with time.

2. Driving on the right side does not necessarily get you into an accident.

3. Modern amenities, infrastructure and technology only hinder romance.

4. Think before you speak is not a common courtesy here, and I should learn to live with it.

5. Resourcefulness of people knows no boundaries.

My life in Nepal is interesting and different and exciting, yet crazy and stressful and annoying at the same time. I do think, though, that everyone should at some point experience life in a third-world country. It really puts things in perspective and values in order. It’s an eye-opening, nerve clenching experience.

I wonder what’s next for Mr.B and me – how the next year will go and where we will end up in terms of our careers, our relationship, our life together. Hopefully we walk together happily into the sunset.

That's us - walking into the sunset, I guess.

That’s us – walking into the sunset.

 

What to do when culture shock strikes

You would mistakenly think that culture shock is something that hits you in the first week of your stay at a new place. In fact, culture shock is a sneaky little devil that creeps up on you just as you start to relax. I have been in the first, and the best stage, Honeymoon stage, for quite a while. I liked everything; happily enjoyed all that Nepal had to offer. Then I slowly started easing into the Withdrawal stage. You see, in that particular stage you start finding things around you different, strange and frustrating. I went through a whole bunch of bad days (not to be negative and say weeks and months), and I thought I was finally over it. I thought I was surely making my way to the Adjustment stage which would offer me some relief from the frustration I was feeling.  Then my two trips to Croatia happened. They were lovely. No wait, that’s wrong. They were amazing! And also, they made me focus on the bad sides of Nepal again upon my return. And then back I am in the Withdrawal stage. Boy, it sucks.

I got good days; don’t get me wrong. I also got excellent days. I got days when I am in love with Nepal, Kathmandu, my family, my job,  my life. Then there are the bad days. There are days I don’t sleep because of heat, or dogs, or mosquitos, or all three combined. There are days I don’t understand why people drive like maniacs; why plumbers/carpenters/painters don’t actually know how to do their jobs; why sun is so strong that it’s killing my freshly planted tomatoes; why ground is uneven and I keep tripping. The last two are totally logical, right? Yup, such is the culture shock. And there’s nothing I can do to fight it. Only time promotes you to the next stage. I feel like I am half way there. Just the last small push and I will be Adjusted. After that, only the straight road ahead: onto the Enthusiasm stage where, apparently, only milk and honey flow.

This is, in fact, an outside wall of the bathroom, that needed no remodeling. Now it does. Joy.

This is, in fact, an outside wall of the bathroom, that needed no remodeling. Now it does. Joy.

Reflections

What a better time to reflect on one’s life than the New Year’s Day? Hence, here I am reflecting. The past year was exciting, to say the least. What with quitting the job, moving to Nepal and starting my newly married life with Mr.B. It was definitely not easy. It was emotional, and hard, and happy, and exciting, and crazy, and confusing, and scary, and amazing! The past year has brought so many changes to my life and left me breathless at times. I now look back at how my life changed in just several months and I can hardly believe it. But I am happy and satisfied. I live with my husband after so many years of distance. It might not be perfect. It might be difficult at times. It might be confusing and all sorts of crazy. But I get to go to bed with him every night and I’d say that’s pretty much what life is about – being with the one person who makes you complete. So here’s to even more love and happiness in 2014! Cheers my friends!

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year!

Namaste, Nepal!

Getting ready for this move has been a struggle in both emotional and physical ways. It was hard to say goodbye to everyone, especially my family, and it was almost impossible to pack my life in a couple of suitcases. But what needs to be done, needs to done, so I summoned my strength and did it.

My trip started with a car drive to an airport in Budapest where, as expected, I had issues with checking in extra luggage. I always have some kind of luggage issues when I travel – it’s like a curse. After accepting the fact that my luggage might not make it with me, and that I will probably end up paying an exorbitant fee for it, I set off on a Finnair flight to Helsinki. I had this vision that Finnair would be an amazing airline with clean, new and technologically advanced planes. Maybe I thought that because that’s what’s expected of northern Europeans to be like. I have to admit I was very disappointed when I realized the plane is old, shabby and poorly cleaned. I still hope the stuff I cleaned off the window was someone’s rice and curry splattered during turbulence, and not something else (let your imagination run wild here). Helsinki airport was also not the modern marvel I expected it to be. It was an awkwardly shaped small airport where everything in the departure terminal closed down at 7pm. I’m in no place to pass judgment considering the state of Zagreb airport, but I simply expected more from Finland. I guess it’s called prejudice and I should shake it off. I do have to commend Finnair and Helsinki airport for a great customer service. Lady at the transfer desk managed to resolve my luggage problem with one phone call and in a matter of seconds (thank you Hungarian lady for creating the problem in the first place, thank you!).

Landing in Delhi was, as always, a mixture of smell, color and heat. I don’t like that airport. It seems like the plane always stops at the furthest possible gate and then you are to walk for miles in a very warm (it was 32 degrees celsius when we landed at 5am!) terminal to reach an exit. But, alas, I reached it and was greeted by many employees at the transfer desk. Delhi airport is one of those places where there always seems to be more employees than passengers. Seven of them then started working on issuing my boarding pass for my flight to Kathmandu and I was ushered into a seat in the waiting area where I exchanged several lines and compassionate you’re-waiting-as-well smiles with a Chinese dude. 45 minutes later my boarding pass was ready (were they making the paper themselves?) and I was fighting my way through duty free shop to the gate. I was stopped probably five times and asked whether I am on the flight to London. Talk about prejudice and discrimination. Yes, I know I am very white, and yes, I did have a bag with a UK flag on it, but is that all it takes for someone to assume I am on a flight to London? I proudly said: No, I am going to Kathmandu. I like to believe that startled my interceptors and completely threw them off, though I am pretty sure they couldn’t care less.

Flight to Kathmandu was unusually uneventful. It might’ve been because I was too tired to even care. I sat there staring at nothing, since my entertainment system didn’t work, yet the flight seemed short. Before I realized it we were landing in Kathmandu and I saw all the tourists on the plane stretching their necks to see the mountains and the city. Clearly I didn’t consider myself to be a tourist, though I couldn’t pass for anything else. Only the last name in my passport gives a small hint of the reason for my staying in Nepal. Everything during arrival went smoothly: I filled out my paperwork and within minutes I got my visa glued in my passport. The immigration officer gave his colleagues a crash course in geography proudly explaining Croatia is in Yugoslavia. I nodded my head in agreement for I had no strength or willpower to recap recent historical events in Europe. I rushed downstairs to get the luggage which was, unbelievably, already doing rounds on a conveyor belt. I grabbed it, rushed past the customs officer not trying to stop at all and out I went eyes wide open, in search of my husband. Taxi drivers where approaching me saying taxi madame, but I felt like I was in one of those movie scenes where things are happening around you but you don’t see or hear anything. There’s music playing and you’re courageously and with determination making your way to your goal. Taxi drivers were just some vague voices fading away in the background. And then there he was. My husband. Waiting for me right outside the door with a huge smile on his face. I’ve made it. The Day finally came. Namaste, Nepal.

Sweet ride to the terminal. I was pretty sure we were all going to die right there on the tarmac for the bus way jumping and jostling like a mountain goat.

Sweet ride to the terminal. I was pretty sure we were all going to die right there on the tarmac for the bus was jumping and jostling like a mountain goat.

No talking on the plane, please

Fly, fly away...

Fly, fly away…

The countdown is on – I am leaving for Nepal in couple of days and I have started thinking of my flights, checking on the weather, and wondering about who will be my fellow seat-sharer on the plane. With many international (and domestic) flights under my belt, I’ve had an opportunity to share a row with many different, and sometimes quite interesting, characters. Obviously, small children top the list of the most unwanted persons on a plane seat next to you. I’ve had some experience with that, but luckily it has not been too traumatic. Next on the list would probably be people with motion sickness. To all the motion-sickenss sufferers out there: please, do not get a middle seat, and for god sakes, take a pill. I beg of you! On my last trip to Nepal I sat next to a teenager who spent 3 hours (on a 4 hour flight) throwing up. I was in the window seat; he was in the middle. Take this moment to sympathize with me.

Third place on my worst traveling companion list goes to the talkers. I’m one of those people who does not like to spend my whole trip trying to lead senseless conversations with people I will never see again. Polite exchange of information or a compassionate smile in moments of misery are fine, but looking to resolve crises in the Middle East while flying over it is simply not my cup of tea. I’m a solo player. I roll on my own. I have my book, my phone, my water and my pretzels. On one of my flights to Boston, while Mr.B. lived there, I ended up sitting next to a guy who resolved to make me take a roadtrip to California. Before I even managed to say anything he pulled out a map of US and went on to show me the route I should take explaining in detail each and every sight I should visit on this trip. I lived in New York. It was one long route, and one very long flight. Once, while traveling back to Croatia from US, I ended up sitting next to a Romanian lady who decided I absolutely need to know everything about her life. As soon as she sat down she proceeded to talk about her son, in detail. I found out he played a guitar, went to college and had a girlfriend. Seeing that was not enough information shared, she then pulled out a family photo album to show me photos of her late husband and all of her relatives and family in Romania. I’ve never before met anyone with such a huge family. A totally separate group of talkers are the ones who only talk about themselves in superlatives: “I’m the best, I did this, I did that, I traveled here, I traveled there, I know this, I know the best, you better be grateful you’re sitting next to me”. That’s definitely a person you don’t want to be stuck with on a long flight.

However, nice people can be met on the plane. Once I met a lovely girl who travelled from California to Italy and we had an amazing conversation on relationships and traveling after which she fell asleep curled up on her seat. I’ve then decided I need to lose some weight (and possibly some height, though I don’t know how!?) since I couldn’t curl up on my seat, and she looked so comfortable.

I wonder who I’ll get to meet and talk to this time. Will it be someone normal? Will the person be so wacky I’ll have to come up with a new worst-traveller-companion category? Only time will tell.

What’s with you? Have you ever had an annoying traveling companion?

Saying goodbye to working life (for now)

It took me several days to finally get my emotions straight and to talk about leaving my work without my eyes getting all watery. Monday was the last day at my job. It was a bittersweet moment. I am happy to be going to Nepal and finally live with my husband, but I am sad to be unemployed, again. I am also sad for leaving the awesomest colleagues I had in a while. The job was OK too. But the colleagues were the best and as I fed them cake, sesame rolls and white wine, tears rolled down my cheeks. I couldn’t stop. At one point I thought maybe I’m exaggerating, I’m embarrassing myself, but as soon as someone would approach me with kind words, good luck, and a hug, the waterworks would start again.

Not once have I asked myself whether I’m doing the right thing; after all, it’s not easy to find a job these days and I was blessed with a secure and well-paid position. But on the other hand, a job itself does not make me happy. I still go to bed alone thinking of my husband on the other side of the world. So I suppose my decision is reasonable, and understandable. I like to think the majority of people would make the same decision. Somehow it makes me feel better.

I am traveling in just a little bit over three weeks and once I land in Kathmandu my new life begins. But also another job search. Some more resume sending, hoping, waiting, praying, crying… Hopefully a job comes along so Mr.B. and I can finally, truly start our life together. It’s been way too long since we’ve been waiting on this…

Packing my life in two suitcases

Phew, packing is strenuous! I’ve always wondered how people do it. How, in the world, do you pack your life in two suitcases? OK, I have done it before, but to be totally honest, I was packing a student life in two suitcases – that’s a bit different. Once you throw away all the notebooks and scribblings on piles of paper, you’re not left with much. Probably some clothes that has already gone shabby since you don’t have any money to renew your closet content; some dirty gym shoes; and a bunch of mugs you’ve received as birthday presents. That’s pretty easy to pack, considering the fact most of the clothes is given to Goodwill.

Now, after living a “grown-up life” for a little while, I found my belongings have significantly diversified and have grown heavier which makes them extremely unpackable. In other words, impossible to fit in two 23kg suitcases. I don’t think there is a suitcase that could possibly fit paintings or dishes or a coffee maker, and that’s driving me absolutely crazy. Shipping charges are outrageous (700EUR for a 25kg box, seriously!?), so I am pretty much left to work with my own packing skills on getting my stuff to Nepal.

I had a plan, a vision, a strategy. It sounded so good in my head; even on paper it looked doable and reasonable. Once the boxes came out, the whole plan took a downward spiral. Yes, I have too much stuff. And yes, my suitcases are too small. I have spent many a day lying on the couch in desperation hoping I don’t get lost among all the piles surrounding me. I’ve even considered throwing it all in trash and pretending I never owned all that stuff. Low and behold, it turns out it’s even more difficult to do that than to try and pack it.

Help me! I'm drowning…

Help me! I’m drowning…

So here I am right now, stuffing everything in my parents’ house, hoping there’s enough room and the house won’t burst by its seams. And the two suitcases I’m taking with me? Well, it seems like I can only fit my clothes and shoes, and maybe a present or two. And the rest of things – I’ll do my best to hold back my tears as I emotionally disconnect from them.

What’s in the name?

The first time I went to Nepal it was May and the days were already long, hot and rainy. During the day Nepalis were hurdled in houses, staying as far away from the sun as possible. Just like the majority of houses in Kathmandu, Mr.B.’s house has a flat roof that’s easily accessible. At night, when the heat would subside and clouds would disperse, we would go up to the roof with cups of masala tea and gaze at stars, talking longingly about our future together. I loved being on the roof, looking down on the neighborhood and wondering about the life people lead in houses around us.

Next time I visited Nepal it was December. The weather was much cooler and days were shorter making people long for every single ray of sun. Nepali houses do not have central heating installed so during winter time it gets pretty chilly inside. It seems like at that time life moves outside – in the streets, in front of the houses, in the sun and warmth. Roofs of Kathmandu then become the happening places. Every morning I would look out the window and would see roofs full of people, seemingly undisturbed by gazes of others, going about their everyday chores. Kids would brush their teeth, women would wash their hair, clothes would be washed and dried, children would be bathed and fed… Older people would slowly climb up metal stairs leading to the roof, draped in many warm layers of clothing soaking every sun ray, warming up their bones before the sun, all too soon, disappears behind Himalayas.

Life led on the roofs of Kathmandu seems to be of a completely different dimension than the one led on the streets. The roof life is laid back, slow, and private yet public. It’s quiet and peaceful, tucked away from the chaos and hustle and bustle of the roads. I like this, often unnoticed, living on the roof. I even find it a little mystic, and it makes me wonder what other surprises Kathmandu is hiding behind its pandemonium.

Hidden life on top of Kathmandu inspired me to give it tribute through the name of my blog. I am excited to become a part of “the roof life” and share my fascination with all the new things I discover about Kathmandu.