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…

Load shedding. Say, whaaat?

Load shedding. Sounds like a big word. Like something from an engineering book you are unlikely to understand. But in simple laymen’s words it is: blackout. No electricity. Electricity company sheds the load off of the electricity grid. And how do they do that? It’s very simple – they shut off electricity to parts of the city. Such is life in Nepal. You know that talk about the right to basic infrastructure that’s often given in the West? Yeah, you can forget about that in Nepal. Here, the first thing you ought to do is buy some candles. Always, always have candles in the house. And matches. Or a lighter. Otherwise candles really don’t make any sense, now do they? Notice that candles will be your last resort when other lights fail to light-up your world. After that, stock up your house with a whole bunch of light-producing devices, either electrically charged or run by batteries. Always keep them charged. Keep your cellphone charged. Given it has a flash-light. If it doesn’t, buy a new cellphone that does. Your house should also have a big battery, popularly referred to as the inverter. This bad boy gets charged when there is electricity, and then happily provides you light when the electricity company decides to shed the load in your neighbourhood. Useful little things. Sometimes there is so much load shedding during the day that the inverter doesn’t get a chance to charge fully and dies on you just as you shampooed your hair and soaped your body. As you scramble for water and towel in the dark, think about installing solar panels on the roof, or a diesel generator. I’d never go for the generator as it is ruining the environment tremendously and adding to already unbelievable amount of pollution in Kathmandu. Be green, people.

Setting the mood in Nepali households since ... forever

Setting the mood in Nepali households since … forever

Maybe you’re wondering how I live my life without electricity. Or maybe you’re not wondering about it at all. I’ll tell you anyways.

First and foremost, I take many a romantic shower. Yes, I shower in the candlelight almost every night. And it would be romantic if it wasn’t a bit sad, actually. Also, not a good time to shave legs. I savour every minute at work. There is a generator that keeps the heat from the AC running, that charges my cellphone and powers the router for WiFi. Work seems like heaven. I read a lot. Also, I stare in the wall a lot. And play Candy Crush. There is nothing else to do when there is no light at home. At some point I give up and go to bed embarrassingly early, like 8:30 pm. I’ve learned to walk around the house in the dark. I feel like I am turning in a cat. You know, because they can see really well in the dark.

Sometimes I stay up really late just to plug in my laptop to charge when the electricity comes. When I say really late, I mean like 11pm. What? In Nepal, that’s really late. Sometimes I choose to live life without modern technologies. Until the weekend that is, when I am at home and can charge devices whenever the electricity comes. You see, this is the thing. Most of the time the electricity is gone in the morning, when you would reasonably want to wash your hair and dry it, or maybe make a toast. Then it comes back when you’re at work. Once you’re back from work the electricity is gone again. No reheating your dinner in the microwave, but hey, you get to be all romantic in the bathroom. So really, unless your office has a generator, you pretty much spend the whole day without electricity. As daunting as it may sound, it’s actually not that bad. One somehow gets used to it fairly quickly. Or maybe I’m just saying it to make myself feel better.

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.