Thursday, December 9, 2010

Hodge Podge, Lookie Loo, What The Heck?... It's Kathmandu! And I've Got It Good.

I live in a very strange place.  There is just really no other way to slice it.  As I was walking down the sidewalk, (if you can call it that...and anyone with a stroller wouldn't), I was trying to notice things around me.  I have learned after being here for this long, to tune things out.  It becomes overwhelming when you let all of Kathmandu in, and so I have mastered really trying to ignore a lot of what is going on around me in effort to cultivate a sense of peace while I plow my way through the city.  At any rate, today I let it in, and found that if I wasn't 'trapped' here (more on that to come), I would actually find the chaos around me utterly fascinating.  I mean it is downright freaky, wild, insane, other-worldly strange here, and I've been around the globe a fair number of times.

How to I explain this?  Where do I even begin?  There is just SO MUCH!  There is every kind of vendor sitting on the side of the street ON THE GROUND, IN THE DIRT selling every kind of imaginable thing you could possibly think of wanting, from a plastic comb to a pair of undies, watches, bras, games, nail clippers, shoes, pants, saris, hats, cigarettes, juice, sliced fruit, peanuts, popcorn, garden vegetables and cotton candy.  Why it is fascinating is not just the variety, but the presentation, the non-regulation of vendors, the feet of people, the dirt and trash that is so pervasive, the stench of urine that arises near a certain wall, or feces that wafts up from a little river of open sewage that rolls down the street like water on a rainy day only it's sunny.  The beggars crawl around in this filth and work in it for a living and the list of insanity goes on.  Besides the street vendors there is shop after shop of indiscernible genre; it takes time and effort here to figure out who sells what, and how to even notice who is selling what.   Cars fly by, vans, tuk-tuks, trucks and motorcycles honking incessantly with the occasional motorcycle coming onto the sidewalk to honk at you there as well.  It is a barrage of sound, sight and smell.

I see motorcycle accidents EVERY SINGLE DAY.  I'm not exaggerating, and I'm not kidding.  I have yet to see a really horrific one, but I see people go down, and hear the morbid sound of scraping across the concrete.  Then throngs of lookie-loos pour into the street to see what happened.  It's weird.  Like I said.

I do things here like GO TO THE MALL.  Why would I do something that I abhor in the States?  There are many good reasons... it is relatively quiet, I don't have to worry about myself or my son being blasted down by a speeding vehicle, there are always children's play areas,  I can usually find what I need, there are generally good ATM's, the lights are on for the most part (imagine!), and it feels familiar, in a strange and warped sort of way.

Nepal has NO sense of fashion by the way.  NONE.  I've never seen a country so completely clueless on what the word fashion even means.  I swear they get all the stuff that no one in any country has wanted for the past 20 years,  hodge podge it together and call their shop:  Fashion Central, and Serious Fashion.  If they would just stick to sari's and kurta's they'd be doing good... in this arena they are flawless, beautiful.  But when they move into the Western Fashion Circle they are probably about as helpless as we are when trying to wear a sari.  Utter failure.  

I walked into a mall today called Kathmandu Mall on my quest for long sleeved childrens t-shirts.  The stairs into the mall were covered in a layer of thick dirt, inside the mall there was part of the floor that was broken and left a gaping hole of about 12' x 12' and about a 10" drop down...that I nearly fell into as it was completely unmarked.  Someone thought it a good idea to cover the mall with a blue sunroof, so the whole mall had an eerie blue glow that made everything even stranger than it already was.  I quickly exited, it just felt all wrong.

Kids hang out at malls just like the States.  It's cool to be cool and look cool and wear cool western clothes (never mind they are rejects from the 80's and 90's), smoke cigarettes and wear sunglasses. Some things are the same.   Though I think cigarettes are out these days.  Side note:  How anyone could handle polluting their lungs any more than they are already being polluted here is just way beyond my comprehension. 

And here is something else that baffles me.  People drive without mirrors here.  I mean they have them, but they are all facing some strange direction, so the driver can either see himself, (this is the number one most common scenario) or see you.  The mirrors on the sides of vehicles have no visible purpose.  They face any direction they please and are never used as far as I can tell.  This is equally confusing as the fact that I have never seen the passenger of a motorcycle wearing a helmet.  Only the driver.  I watch for this, seek it out, and to this day, not a single passenger has EVER had one on.  Most passengers, by the way, are women, hair somehow not blowing in the wind (this is a good trick), and children... think about that one given all the facts I have just expounded on. 

Intermixed with all this is construction everywhere.  The women that work on construction sites fascinate me.  They work in Kurtas, with baskets strapped to their foreheads in flip flops, carrying gravel and doing hard labor from sunrise into the night.  I walk by in my clean clothes and feel simultaneously grateful and guilty.  What do I look like to them?  Here, in my poverty stricken, income-less condition, I am a rich woman.  Rich and privileged, and free.

 So about being trapped.  I can never recall, in my whole life, being utterly and totally trapped somewhere for any length of time that I completely, and totally did not want to be.  It is a helpless and frustrating feeling, especially for someone like me, who loves to take action.  I was thinking that maybe this was like being in jail:  Kathmandu Jail, like Alcatraz ... or remember that futuristic movie where all of Manhattan was a big prison?  But no, WAIT!  I signed up for this!  So this is more like being in the military, with a post in some heinous place, and I have 2 years to go in my tour-of-duty, and no idea how long they will keep me at this godforsaken post.  That's what this is.  And yes, at the mercy of our own Government.  They love us like they love our War Hero's that they tested drugs on and sprayed with poisonous gases.  Nice.


I have created what I call THE LOAF.  It is a rolled concoction of a few old sheets and a blanket and it fits neatly down the center of my bed so that my little bundle of love is unable to kick my ribs at night and/or continuously wake me up with his wiggling. It is brilliant and I highly recommend making your own loaf if you have a similar problem with anyone you love! :-)

So as I lay my beautiful child down tonight to sleep, and as he reached across the loaf to grab my hand and hold it tight (will she still be here in the morning, is this a dream, am I safe?), I listened to the drone of the generator outside, lighting our building while others go without, heating our building while just next door the construction girls sleep in dirty kurtas and bare feet without a shower, and thought about the fact that I live in an earthquake safe structure amidst so many unstable buildings ...and I said my thanks and had deep gratitude, cause I'll tell you what;  I've got it good.


  1. you dear sweet thing.

    I am thinking about you.

    Is there anything we can do about the calcium shortage?????? FedEx?

  2. My dear Bahini,
    I'm so glad you are grateful for what you are a richly gifted woman with a beautiful child and lots of friends and family who love you...Right On! Serve your tour of duty with dignity and grace because yes, you did sign up for all of it....and because you know there is a reason for everything...and then bring that lovely son of yours back to No. American where we all love both of you!
    Your Big Sister, Didi (the real