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.

Knock, knock

There are some funny things to say about differences in culture. You know, all those small gestures and things people do that get a completely different meaning as soon as you step your foot on a soil of another country. Nepalis, as well as Indians I guess, do that side-to-side head gesture to confirm their agreement with whatever you’re saying or to answer positively to your question. Even though I know what it means, I get confused every time wondering whether this is a true “yes”, or they are confused, or is this maybe a “no”… It’s tough, man.

In the roads of Croatia flashing your high beam at someone would mean “sir, please do go in front of me after which I shall wait for you to park sideways on your fifth attempt”. Here, in Kathmandu it means something to the extent of “I am coming your way and not moving an inch for you even if it means I will die in this ridiculous quest – I am the king of the road”.

Some of these, often confusing differences, I experienced even before coming to Nepal. On one occasion Mr.B. and I visited Washington, DC with some of our friends. We got a rental car to drive over there, and I being a designated driver, was in charge of  parking. It was a tight parking spot so Mr.B. got out of the car to assist me. Suddenly I hear this knocking sound on the car and panic. Did I hit something? I look at my mirrors and see Mr.B. standing carelessly so I assumed all was ok. I continue with my parking quest when again he starts knocking on my car. I decide to ignore it since I have no idea what that means and I instead rely on the mirrors. Then the knocking gets faster, and then suddenly changes into two long knocks. So it was something like knock knock knock knock, knock……knock. That meant nothing to me so I kept backing up until I saw Mr.B.’s furious face next to my window yelling something about almost crushing him to death, and have I not heard him knocking. Oh yes, I heard you knocking alright, but I had no idea what the heck that meant! We had a long and exhausting argument about the knocking issue where he simply refused to believe I was not trying to kill him in the parking lot.

070812-knock-knock-whos-there

Should I open the door?

Only when I came to Nepal did I realize that this knocking on the car deal is common. Everyone here does it, and I suppose it is helpful, once you know what those signals mean. People knock on your car fast when there’s still room to go, and then a long knock or two when you’ve reach the perfect parking position.

A Croatian parking a car in the middle of DC with a Nepali giving knocking signals was not a good combination. Luckily car was intact and Mr.B. successfully evaded getting crushed. Look out for those cultural differences people; they can be deadly.

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.

Croatia is beautiful too

Ha! Look at me; I’m jealous. Nepal is getting all the attention with its beautiful sights and I thought it should only be fair for me to show off some of the beauties of my own country. I guess I can say I’m proud of all that my country has to offer. Croatia is very diverse, with the coast, beautiful sea, and a 1000 islands; some mountains (nowhere close to Himalayas though); lakes; and miles and miles of beautiful flat fields with picturesque towns and villages.

In the very south of the country there’s a staple of Croatian tourism, Dubrovnik, which is pretty much the only thing people mention to me when I say I’m from Croatia (except for, of course, certain soccer, basketball and tennis players). Dubrovnik is amazing with its city walls and all the great historical sites.

Dubrovnik

Dubrovnik

There’s a whole bunch of islands that are worth visiting, like Vis, Hvar, Brač or Cres (and many many others), and Istria is a place that shouldn’t be missed either. If you like the 4S: summer, sun, sea and swimming, then Adriatic sea is the place to be.

Opatija, so called Pearl of the Adriatic, is one of the oldest vacation spots in Croatia. Austro-hungarian emperors, back in the day, spent their winters in Opatija, enjoying the mild climate, sea views and a nice promenade. Some of the hotels from the 19th century are still up and running! If you ever decide to visit, make sure you go to Volosko and stay with my family, here and here. They’re awesome and they’ll pamper you!

Tell me you don't wanna go here - Volosko

Tell me you don’t wanna go here – Volosko

In the continental part of Croatia there is, obviously, Zagreb, as the capital of Croatia, and I find Zagreb charming. Especially the Upper town with a wonderful view and old cobblestone streets. Mr.B. and I got married in the Upper town and I loved it. It was romantic and it looked a little bit like a movie set (it so happened that on that exact day there was some sort of fair over there and there were people walking around in costumes from the early 20th century. Cute!).

Zagreb

Zagreb

Going east from Zagreb you can reach Slavonia and visit Osijek, Vinkovci and Vukovar as main attractions. North from Zagreb there are Varaždin and Čakovec, cities with wonderful people and amazing sites.

Somewhere in the heart of Croatia

Somewhere in the heart of Croatia

One thing that should definitely not be missed is Plitvice lakes. Amazing place with amazing scenery – very likable, in any season.

Plitvice lakes

Plitvice lakes

When Mr.B. was coming to Croatia for the first couple of times I couldn’t decide where to take him. I wanted him to see everything and be amazed. Every time he comes over to Croatia I try to take him to a different place and show him something new so he can go back to Nepal and talk about “this wonderful place called Croatia”. I’m not sure if he does that (probably not), but I do know he likes Croatia regardless. So I’m dedicating this post to Mr.B. And also wishing him a very happy Birthday!

Interracial and interfaith relationships

I grew up in a very racially homogenous country. I remember learning about other races in school but have not really seen a person of a different race up close until I went abroad when I was 14. Croatia is not homogenous only in terms of skin color of its population, but also in terms of religion. Despite that, I was always taught, both in school and at home, that humans are humans no matter the color of their skin, their origin, language, religion, education, social class…

When I went to US to study I never head a doubt in my mind that I should treat everyone with the same respect. I never chose people I hung out with by the way they look, but by their personality. And frankly, I don’t think I made any mistakes. One of my best friends is African (hello Alphonsine!), and I am married to an Asian. I am aware, though, of the fact that interracial and interfaith relationships, and even more so marriages, are a tabu in most societies. It’s easy to see a reason for something like that, ranging anywhere from different cultures, values, genes, and so on, but with the world becoming smaller by the day, and societies increasingly becoming racially heterogenous, it’s difficult to think of those reasons as valid ones any longer. I feel like the only reasons people have for not accepting those types of relationships are narrow-mindedness and ignorance.

Recently, I came across an article in The Economist discussing interracial and interfaith marriages stating that today, in the US 45% of all marriages are interfaith marriages. I wonder what that percentage would be for interracial marriages? And what it would be for European countries? What the article in The Economist states further is that the reason for such a high percentage of interfaith marriages lies in the fact that people get married later, after they have experienced an autonomous life, during which they fell out of family traditions. However, the bad news is that half of those kinds of marriages in US fall apart. It’s a worrying trend I believe. It seems like, when times get tough in a marriage, people turn to their religion for comfort, and the gap between the couple becomes even wider at that point.

At this particular moment in my marriage, I do not find race or religion to be an obstacle. I cannot claim it won’t become one in the future, but I always like to believe that with enough honesty and conversation, Mr.B. and I would be able to overcome it. I have not fooled myself into thinking that our marriage will be easy or simple, but at the same time I desperately hold on to what I have been taught my whole life – it’s what the inside that matters. I try to be respectful of his religion, culture, and traditions, and expect him to do the same in return, but would never consider trying to convert him, unless he specifically decides on that himself. I suppose problems in interfaith marriages could occur if one person would have too high expectations or would suddenly become too religious and would expect the other person to go along with it. Not agreeing to that could lead to a great abyss in values between the two, which in turn leads to decay of the relationship.

How do you feel about interfaith and interracial relationships? If you’re in one, what challenges are you faced with?