Tuesday, August 25, 2009

been meaning to put these up for a while

These are the pics I took at the Bangkok airport on my way to Nepal. Enjoy!

haha. Giant sad face.


I'm back in Washington, DC. I started writing a follow up to the last blog weeks ago. It's about 6 pages long now and nothing I'd expect anyone to enjoy reading. So I've been holding off on another post, but I'll get something up here as a review of the summer soon.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Reply to Linda

July 26th

So if you happened to catch Linda’s blog (if you’re one of the lucky few invited to do so ;-) you’ve probably seen her comments about the Insider / Outsider dilemma and her reference to my post (see “the Observer” below). No offense taken, by the way, Linda. Linda has been fortunate enough to “pass.” Like a diligent transexual at prom, she can pull off the sequin ball gown in dim light without arousing suspicion (no offense Linda). I, on the other hand, am the Nepali equivalent of a low-rent pre-op street-walker who hasn’t shaved in three days (which I confess is a poor metaphor, because those actually exist in Thamel and, for the record, I shaved this morning).

I’m an outsider here and will be everywhere I do "development work" (in the States or abroad). This is a pretty simple anthropological fact: I am white, male, from a Western (“developed”) country, upper-middle class (and of much higher socioeconomic status compared to global standards), an English speaker (not much else), and did I mention white (it bears repeating). I’m pretty sure it’s my eyes that really make me stand out. They hypnotize people. Once I’m noticed I’m often stared at unapologetically (see Bunny above). But here’s the funny thing about that: it’s a huge privilege (stop looking at the Bunny now).

Case in point: When I travelled to the West Bank most of the Palestinian women I met covered their heads with Hijab. Women weren’t even allowed to sit in the same room with men while they discussed important village issues and drank tea… or discussed sports and drank tea… or discussed women… or just drank tea. Heck, Palestinian women couldn’t even enter the room to serve tea! But American women were perfectly welcome. Palestinian men referred to these (white) women as the “third gender” (which in South Asia has a TOTALLY different connotation -- see paragraph 1). I recognize that saying my privileges are equivalent to those of a women in the States, generally, would be inaccurate and unfair; however, in this particular context it is an apt comparison. My outsider status actually allows me to observe things that many Nepalis would be excluded from experiencing. The caste system is still alive and well in Nepal, even in many parts of Kathmandu. Technically I am of no caste, which would in some contexts label me “Untouchable.” But compare my experience of Nepal to that of a rural Madhesi. If given the opportunity, who do you think could learn more about the lives of Brahmin, Chhetri, and (in KTM) Newar people? (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nepalese_caste_system if you’re not sure).

That said, would I like to be an “insider–outsider both and neither”? To be honest, I think that is a totally overused band-aid of an identity. It is claimed in order to heighten the perceived authority and prestige of the researcher. Nanda Shrestha, who I’ve referred to many times on this blog, is not much of an academic in my opinion. His insider / outsider status biases his perception as much as it brings him particular insight (I’ll write a full review of his book in a few weeks). My point is that the expat or semi-passible researcher can trick herself into assuming false nativism. Often these researchers are as detached from their informants as I would be in the same context. Most development dilemmas reticulate every subject-position. There is no superior–inferior status dichotomy when it comes to epistemology. There is difference. Vital difference. There is overrepresentation / underrepresentation, but there is no superior identity, not in the sense of Truth or Morality. And I believe understanding that is far more vital to anthropology, development, and life generally than anything my eyes, sex or skin might say about me.

I continually struggle with the justification of my presence in Nepal (especially as someone “doing” “development work”). To be clear, I don’t struggle to justify my presence, that I will never fully take on, I struggle with the broader reasons for being here. There are so many white people doing what I’m doing. Development tourism maybe? And I start many conversations with Nepalis by saying, “I’d love to stay in Nepal, but what business do I have being here when there are so many well qualified locals who could do the same job.” But when does a local stop being a local? Most of the best qualified Nepalis are abroad, in the United States if they got what they dreamed of. Are those people more prepared to tell you about Nepal’s culture than I am? Mostly no. They are abroad and educated in Western schools now because they were rich, of high caste and deeply separated from the (thousands) of cultures surrounding them to begin with. I met a Newar man, a PhD candidate in biology at the University of Michigan, here doing research for the Summer. He hardly spoke Nepali. He told me if he had a chance he’d teach his kids Newari, but never Nepali. Consider inter-caste chauvinism. Consider nostalgia for a mythologized childhood. Consider the struggle of an identity seeking to lay claim to one culture (Nepal’s, which is actually many) in order to achieve prestige in another (Western -- if that can really be lumped together as such).

In my opinion, if you came here from the outside, you’re an outsider, regardless of where you might have come from first. And if you lived here before you came to my home, you were probably an outsider before you left.


P.S. - you're silly for following that picture and expecting something else.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Look what we built!

the observer

July 15, 2009 -- Khaudena VDC, Sarlahi district, field observation of a survey interview.

Bauvnath, the field director, told me he would translate the survey interview. Not every word. That would be too distracting. Just key pieces of information. 

It was hot.

Actually, that doesn't begin to capture the sensation. Imagine a wet cut of leather, dusted with lye, then submerged in a bucket of canola oil before being stuck inside an oven to dry. Now image that's your skin.

This time of year it’s always hot in the Terai. But it’s also usually raining. The monsoon is so late now that people are beginning to wonder if it will come at all. To plant rice you need rain. And once you’ve got a small lot of paddy, you have to transplant it to a much larger field. You have to flood that field when you transplant the paddy. You have to do this without a system of irrigation. You have to flood your field with rain water. But the monsoon is late.

Where there would normally be giant stork-like birds tip-toeing through tall reeds, searching for tilapia among the paddy, empty fields stretched out for hectares, absorbing the heat, drying, and with the confluence of wind, kicking dust into our eyes.

We followed the survey interviewer to a cluster of homely dwellings at the edge of a pond. She walked through the open front room of one mud and dung brick hut, so direct in her approach (it seemed to me), but she was clearly welcomed without hesitation. Then the interviewed-to-be disappeared around the corner, to emerge moments later with two wooden chairs.

[They speak Maithil and Bhojpuri, and a combination of the two in Khaudena. My twenty or so words of Nepali were worthless. I was relieved when we were not offered tea (Ma dudh chiyaa pudina).]

The next thing I knew we were following this woman back to the shared courtyard of the community's dusty cul-de-sac. “Bosnus” (please sit), one word of Nepali. And I realized what was going to happen. The guest would be treated in proper fashion, shown courtesy with the greatest humility, elevated above the host. And I was the guest. She stepped around piles of mud and dung, turned over some insignificant piece of weight (the precise image has escaped my memory) and dragged out a large woven mat. I would sit with my male counterpart above the subject of research, observing the operation, and at once being observed.

By the time the interviewer and our host took their places on the mat, a crowd had gathered to watch the exhibition unfold. Not knowing the words spoken, I still know what was said next. “How old are you?” “How long have you been married?” … it would have eventually come to “What methods of contraception have you heard of?” “Are you using one presently?” “Why did you choose this method?” “Who in your household makes decisions about family planning?”

But it didn't come to that, not in front of me anyway. The field director stopped the interview after the first question. The survey interviewer had not properly introduced herself or read the preamble explaining confidentiality. And who could blame her? She was nervous. And confidentiality would have sounded like a joke. “We’ll keep the personal details between you and me, and also this white man and my boss, all of your neighbor’s children, your mother-in-law, your daughters and this buffalo.”

Having taken the same read of the situation, I turned to Bauvnath and said, “This isn’t going to work.”

“Yes,” he agreed. “Everyone is coming, so curious.”

“They want to know what this white man is doing in their village. We can’t achieve confidentiality when the observer is such a spectacle.”

“Yes,” he agreed.

The interviewer and the soon-to-be interviewed retreated into the privacy of a thatch-roof hut. And I... I simply retreated.

[This is the only photo I took in Kaudena. It's not generally appropriate to take pictures of people without their permission, in fact it's rather culturally insensitive if the subject of the photo is a woman. Women are often even discouraged from showing their faces to a man. Most little girls ran away if they caught sight of me pointing a camera in their direction, this one included. Photos are one thing, but if a woman is experiencing menstruation she’s not even supposed to stand on the same ground as a man. This fear of photography extends from that same patriarchal tradition, one meant to maintain the purity of men. Thus, I don’t feel bad about ignoring it. And before you chastise me, insisting that I didn’t consider how their community would react (I did) and saying that I may have put these girls in a vulnerable social position, allow me to reassure you that I got permission from the parents of many, and that nearly everyone else (see facebook) welcomed photos without hesitation. This young girl is an exception, but I strongly doubt anyone saw me take this picture through the window of our Jeep.]

Monday, July 13, 2009

The streets belong to the dogs

July 13th 2009

At night in Thamel, the streets belong to the dogs. The pushers, the pimps, the transsexual whores, the children and the prostitutes (all the same), and the wayward tourists (in body and mind). They stalk the streets for meat. Gangs and loners suckling at the hemlock of modernity; dying in the refuse of the Holy Bagmati. Sweeping their ashes into the air and the water, so that in death they can join wholly the pollution that surrounded them in life.

At night in DC, the streets belong to the dogs. The belligerent white bar hoppers, the bastards of diplomats, the lawyers suckling on mellifluous smoke, plucking oral pyres from their cedar cigar boxes... on the West side. And the pushers, the pimps, the gangster and welfare mothers (all the same), the crack heads, the deaf kids (from concert and school), the transsexual whores and the white kids wondering what compelled them to move here... on the East side. And to the Southwest, whiteness and a river for drowning. And to the Southeast, blackness drowning in a white river.

At night in Lalitpur, the streets belong to the dogs. But lets leave the metaphor for a moment. Should you find yourself walking through the low lit corridors of this ancient kingdom at night, you will be alone and at once accompanied by a choir. I don’t know how the kids here sneak out at night. Every corner is claimed by our 10,000-year-old watchmen -- the dogs, who have secured our hearth since we named it. You don’t need to be quiet to hear the moment. The warnings undulate and refract around every slab of cement. Stop. Go back. Turn away for your life.

And as I find myself stepping through these dog-filled streets, I’m reminded that their inhabitants smell fear. So I turn the corner brazen, solemn, sincere, saying in a language understood throughout animality, “I am going to cross and you are not going to fuck with me.”

You want to survive? Pick a street, how about Wall Street? How about Willow Creek? How about Haight? How about H? How about Pennsylvania?

At night, in your city, the streets belong to the dogs.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

laundry day

July 11, 2009

Today is the first day in many weeks that I made a conscious decision to not go on any adventures. There are those of you who no doubt question the wisdom of such apparent lethargy. Indeed, what greater folly than to discard opportunities for excitement in an exotic land?

Yeah, there’s that. And then again, I did finally get my laundry done, and let’s not minimize that pithy accomplishment. I mean, just look at my laundry room:

You got it right. My washing machine is a combination of that bucket, and these guns:

Oh yeah.

Your Nepali lesson for the day is the word “Didi.” It literally means older sister, but it’s also commonly used to refer to a domestic helper. Now, when I first learned the word it was in reference to Vishnu, my “land lord.” Moreover, it’s a common sign of respect to refer to anyone you meet here as Didi, Bahini, Daai or Bhaai (Sister: older, younger; Brother: older, younger respectively). It didn’t occur to me until weeks after I learned the term that it could also be used, somewhat informally, as an occupational title. Westerners will often refer to “my didi” as the person who cooks, cleans and cares for their general domestic needs. That is not the way Vishnu rolls. Matter of fact, I’m coming to get the impression that this family is pretty well off by Nepali standards and it would hardly be appropriate (or imaginable if you knew her) for Vishnudidi to work as a domestic. Don’t get me wrong, she feeds me occasionally (mostly Raksi and Chang), but she ain’t about to be doing my laundry.

I could fold this into some social commentary––domestic labor is a legit source of income and to withhold such employment when you have the means to afford it would be regarded as greedy––but I know you’re already getting bored. Point is this, I may not have gone out today, I may not have seen the temple at Swayambhu, ventured to the royal palace museum, played tennis in Fort Durbar or braved the streets of Thamel, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t accomplish anything.

Boo Ya!

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Jelu at load shedding

Load shedding is what they call a brown out here. It happens daily. I'm told that during the winter they got down to only 4 hours a days with power.

It's an inconvenience one adapts to quickly. It honestly has almost no negative impact on my life, except for occasionally interrupting an online chat. It also affords particular opportunities. For example, I never would have thought to take these pictures if the power hadn't gone out.

This is my dear friend Jelu, during load shedding, at dusk, during monsoon.

catching up very slowly

June 30, 2009

There is a spiral shaped burn on the floor of my bedroom. It is beautiful. The way the coil rounds: black dug into the oceanic green of the carpet, like a thin serpent chasing its tail in still water. But when I rub my fingers against it, they find a sculpture in relief. Not a snake, but a crevasse. Then I imagine myself a millimeter tall, staring out across this beautiful, mysterious cannon. “What is this?” my miniature American mind ponders. “A ritual marking? An artistic branding?” What, you may wonder, might this mean?

I did something stupid.

Months ago, back in DC, my roommate Gorky informed me of this magical incense they have in India (and so much about India was magical or seemed to be when Gorky spoke of it). This incense, he said, has the power to force mosquitoes to ascend mindlessly to the ceiling, where they flutter about and die, their poisoned bodies tumbling lightly to the floor like discarded miniature parachutes. And I hardly believed him––I’m ashamed of my faithlessness. They exist here in Nepal! But they’re not as good at offending mosquitoes as they are at offending landlords… the type of people who prefer not to see cannons left by spring shaped incense / insect repellent.

That’s why I haven’t shown it to them yet.

I figure we can build report over the next few weeks and then, once I’m universally beloved, I’ll tell them the hilarious story of how I left the fan on high and it knocked the incense over, onto the floor, and I didn’t notice it burning until it had exhausted every micron of fiber, extinguishing itself, in natural unemployment, on their carpet.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Nick and his lady friend Casey just left for India today and he won't be back will late july / early august. So I'm flying solo now. But I'm making friends and staying plenty busy. I've also learned just enough Nepali to buy food now, so at least I won't starve. I have a new co-worker, another intern from the States (Montana). She's a Brown graduate in Sociology, so a kindred spirit. And since I'm basically the only person she knows, we're cool to hang. Yay for friends by default! Other than that, I'm going on a rafting trip this weekend with a bunch of volunteers from Mennonite Central Commttee, plus my AU pal Eka. Should be a good time (great pictures of that forthcoming).

For now, look at this one, it was taken at a party we went to at the home of a French ex-pat cheese maker:
He's preparing to pack a pipe with an herb thought to have been smoked in great quantities by the god Shiva. Yep, it's exactly what you're thinking. You can't make this stuff up.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

I think I'm losing weight

Pretty sure of it actually.

Sorry I haven't written in a while. So much has happened that I haven't known where to start. But I'll get a proper post up sometime this week.

Monday, June 15, 2009

June 14th - Pashupathinath

June 14th - Pashupatinath

Perhaps development means getting everything wrong, but in a new way.
Yesterday Nick and I visited Pashupatinath temple, the largest Hindu temple in Kathmandu. Anil, a Nepali friend of Nick’s, and his friend Sharwan guided us. The place was crawling with monkeys, Sadhus (Hindu holy men) and mourning families. The river that runs through the temple grounds, the Holy Bagmati, has served as a final resting place for millennia. We watched as a family carried the cadaver of their relative to the riverbank, washed his feet in the sanctified and polluted water, peeled back the brightly colored cloth that wrapped him and shaved his head. They adorned the corpse with orange flowers and placed it on a pyre. We did not see them burn the body, but it took no skill of imagination to envision. There were no less than four pyre ablaze from the moment we stepped onto the temple grounds.

This was a place Nepalis came to die, and tourists came to take pictures.

Near the grand temple there is a rare and curious sight. Our friends described it as a consequence of modernization, Western values and behaviors seeping into Nepalese culture: a retirement home. Not the type of sterile asylum where we store our fermenting elders in the States, this place had the feel of something ancient and yet, fully remade. The building itself must have been very old, recently refurbished for its modern function. We walked the grounds during a ceremony in which older women were pasting red globs of some floral substance on the foreheads of men. A ceremony and a party, with dancing and chanting and food, this is the way in Nepal. There seemed to be nothing extraordinary about it, especially for the participants. But I was captivated.

“These people have been abandoned by their families. In America you think taking care of your parents is a burden, but here it is a tradition, a responsibility.” - Anil

“It is common for us to live with our parents until we are much older and we take care of our parents when they are old.” - Sharwan

“This is the effect of modernization. Your culture has created places like these.” -Anil
I’ve been having several conversations lately regarding the nature of development in Nepal. Nanda R. Shrestha, those book I’m reading (In the Name of Development, 1997), takes a pretty hard stance. He thinks, or at least thought in 1997, that international development agencies should be counted high on the list of things to blame for the problems currently faced by this country. I think that’s pushing it, but I see his point. International aid has fostered dependence and whatever lip service may be given to words such as “sustainability” there’s a long way to go before many institutions and programs will become self-sustaining. Meanwhile, the impact of globalization is spreading Western values and marginalizing those unprepared or unwilling to adapt to new economic realities.

But 12 years have past since Shrestha wrote. The 10-year-long Maoist insurgency had just begun when his book went to print. Today there’s a global drought in the donor pool for international aid. Even the head of Oxfam recently stated that the organization is struggling to cobble together finances for vital projects. Likewise, Piush, my supervisor at CEDPA, tells me that the number of INGOs in Nepal is heading for a steep drop. In the early 1990s there were something in the neighborhood of 50 INGOs in Nepal, presently there are over 300. And Piush predicts that the bubble is about to burst. Money is one thing, but donors are now also more concerned with results than they had been in years passed. They are demanding that progress, sustainability, empowerment and a hundred other catchphrases grow some teeth.

There’s also some consensus among those I’ve spoken with that the shape of international development has changed a good bit in recent years––USAID and the World Bank seem to be learning and adapting. The Obama administration is giving people in the field hope that their work may actually represent, with some degree of sincerity, the new face of US foreign policy. But the new face of the Peace Corp has been around the block more than once. President Obama recently announced the nomination Aaron Williams, a career International Development specialist from RTI and USAID, to head the Peace Corp. Williams is certainly qualified, but Obama’s commitment to changing US international development policy is yet unproven.

On the motorcycle ride back home, Sharwan gave me some of his take on development:

––Whenever society changes there are winners and losers. You can try to fight it, but you’re only hurting yourself in the end, and it’s not as though everything about “development” (here meaning modernization) is bad.

“If it weren’t for development, we’d still be living in caves.”

––We cannot stop globalization, we cannot stop the inequality it spreads, we cannot prevent traditions from changing, but we can work to manage and minimize these negative consequences.

[This entry has been revised to include information on Aaron Williams]

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

June 8, 2009 - Bacterial Dysentery

The other night we went to a little hole-in-the-wall Newari restaurant where I had Bhara (spelling phonetic) for the first time. Bhara is a traditional Newari dish, essentially an egg fried over a pancake. I should say too that this little restaurant is not what we’d expect of a lower-end joint in the states. Most of the restaurants in Patan that cater to locals are very simple: one small room (maybe 10x6’), a couple small tables with benches, a little desk. This one was no exception. In the heart of tarkari bazar (the market near our house) you could easily walk past it not even recognizing that it was a restaurant and thereby completely overlooking the unique cultural experience that awaits you inside. By which, of course, I mean bacterial dysentery. 

This is my second day spent in bed or the bathroom and trust me it’s a good sign that I have the strength to type. As a matter of fact I’m feeling much better today. I slept for about 12 hours and I had the most surreal and dreams, the joys of fever, but I won’t go into that. There’s a lot I haven’t had the chance to write about and I’m going to take this opportunity to do so.

Nick and I live in an apartment building in Patan, which is southern Kathmandu. You should know that Nepal used to be (prior to 1743) a constellation of mini states. The Kathmandu valley was three kingdoms: Kathmandu, Bhadgaun (Bhaktapur), and Patan (Lalitpur). Prithivi Narayan Shah consolidated the nation and set the capital in Kathmandu, thus beginning the centuries long autocratic rule of the monarch that ended only last year (I think that’s right at least, my heads no totally in the game today). 

Patan is also chief residence of the Newari, the largest ethnic group in the ktm valley. My first word, as you might remember, was actually a Newari word (gata!). Our landlords are Newari and most of the people I’ve been meeting here are as well. On the day of my arrival, the Bhand (general strike) was being carried out by the Maoists with the support of the Newari. The specifics of what they were agitating for are still somewhat unclear to me, but all of the educated Nepalis I’ve spoken to about it found the goals somewhat laughable. On the one hand, this group of Newar were requesting independence as a state (or the Nepali equivalent to a state), while the Maoists were protesting a law that they themselves had passed before walking out of parliament in protest. So that’s why the taxis and busses were shut down and why I had to pay 700 rupees for a rickshaw (which I’ve been told since was actually a pretty good deal, for Bhand). We read about one taxi that was set on fire for operating and a messenger bike that had its tires flattened. Since the Bhand on my first day there’s been at least one other and the Maoists are calling for general strikes through the 14th of June. 

Living in Patan affords me several opportunities. Most of them extending from the personality and popularity of Nick. Nick’s grasp of Nepali is highly impressive. Everyone we meet for the first time complements him on it. He’s a charming fellow to begin with, but a white man speaking Nepali to people in Kathmandu, I mean, people offer him their daughters on a daily basis. Ok, that’s an exaggeration, but it has happened!

I’ve started taking lessons in Nepali and am confident that I will be at least able to get around with some degree of comfort by the end of my time here. The best thing about living where I do is the family, our “landlords”, give me ample opportunity to practice and  learn the language. I’ve landed a pretty sweet deal here. I’ll try to post more pictures, check my facebook if you don’t see many here. 

Oh and we went to an awesome party (see pic of some cute kids).

June 6, 2009

I had my first day of work at CEDPA on Thursday. Nothing much to report really. My supervisor is very nice, but he doesn’t seem to know what to do with me. I get the impression that I’ve arrived here somewhat early and now they’re scrambling to find things for me to do. It occurs to me that in the original terms of reference this internship was scheduled to stat in July. I sort of wish someone would just say, “hey, we don’t really need you around at the moment, so if you want to find another way to entertain yourself, feel free.” But I think they’re used to interns who don’t have any connection to Nepal and are totally lost apart from the organization. I have lots of friends here and I’m making new ones everyday. Not to brag. Ha, who am I kidding, I’m simply basking in Nick’s reflected popularity.

So I went to work on Thursday and then did not go to work on Friday. I “worked at home”. And I did get some work done, but really I spent the day hanging out with Nick and our dear friends Dawa and Kashish. It took the better part of a week, but the three of us finally got together. I’ll post a picture or two. 

Thursday, June 4, 2009

spinning wheels


life in Patan

The Arrival

June 2, 2009

Note to self: Next time I want a visa for Nepal I’m going to bring my own passport size photo.

Being ripped off is par for the course when traveling (period). This is even more true in the case of a developing country. When locals see a white man they assume that he is rich and that he will spend his money lavishly. But “rip-offs” or “out-of-towner’s taxes” (I prefer the later) aren’t just an ad hoc project. Case in point: Since I didn’t have my own tiny photo for the visa I had to take a picture at the airport. Since I didn’t have any rupees, having just stepped off the plane, I had to exchange money at a desk specifically set up for the convenience. The scheme was clear. If you are not aware of the appropriate protocol you will be fined for your ignorance.

I don’t want you to think that I’m disparaging this activity, I’m not. It is very annoying, of course, but it is also a fairly ethical form taxation. This is not true in all cases, certainly I do not look forward to shake-downs by Maoists rebels, but an individual or institution squeezing a little extra cash out of a foreigner, punishing him for his ignorance, is fine by me. My ignorance is really laziness. If I had taken the time to be informed, I would have known I needed a picture taken. Likewise, if I knew at least some of the language, was better informed about the culture, had studied up on ways to get bargains or at least the prices of common products and services, all of which I could have done prior to leaving, I’d save money. Of course there will always be some things you can only learn on the ground and I can’t change the fact that I’m white. But when we travel in this type of comfortable ignorance, we travel with wealth and privilege as our shield. Part of me wants to thank people who rip me off for teaching me of my own hubris.


Going through customs is often like navigating a maze. Marching through the narrow warm orange corridors of the Kathmandu airport, I was aware of the way the space had been intentionally separated. I squinted through a long window. It obscured my view of the room beyond it with the reflected white of daylight, but I could see that the room was full of people. Nepalis mostly, my guess. It was such a contrast to the relatively tiny group that disembarked from our boeing 777. We were outside, coming in, and they were the others.

I was getting nervous. Stupid me for not better planning my arrival. I didn’t even have Kashish’s phone number. What if he’s not there when I step out of the baggage claim? What if there’s no internet? How will I know if he’s coming? How will I remind him of my arrival? What about a hotel? I so did not want to pay for a hotel, but what if that was my only option? Nick is a crazy person, remember Cuba? What possessed me to to rely on this guy and our two Nepalese friends from college?

I escaped the maze of customs only to be lost again. I had read about how stepping out of the airport in KTM is an experience of sensory overload for most first time travelers. That is not what happened to me. In fact, the place was clearly subdued, relatively quiet, almost calm: the Bandh. Still, I was immediately surrounded by three men reaching for my bags, offering to take me to “my” hotel, offering to find me a taxi, offering to help me make a local phone call.

––You need taxi? ––Which hotel you are going to?

––No hotel. I don’t need a taxi, thank you. My friend is picking me up.

––Where you from? California?

––Wow, that’s a good guess, yes I’m from California, but I live in Washington, DC.

––You volunteer here?

––That’s right again actually, wow.

––With NGO yes? Which NGO?

––The center for development and population activities, CEDPA.

––Oh, CEDPA, yes. Ok, you stand over here, you are safe. You are safe. If you need to make a phone call, we can do that too. Welcome to Nepal.

And so I stood in a tourists’ corral along with 50 or so other people, looking lost, bewildered and wondering where my ride was going to come from.


The first word I learned in Nepal was “gata”. It is a Newari word that means “enough.” As in, “I can’t eat any more” or “I’m drunk already.” Gata, gata, gata! –– enough, enough, enough! The second word that I learned in Nepal was “pugyo,” which is a Nepali word. It also means “enough.” Such is the hospitality of the people of Nepal. The guest is God, and any guest here will undoubtedly have to learn these words and learn them quickly. Otherwise one would die of an exploded stomach.


I paced the tourists’ corral; poked my head around red cement pillars; scouted busses, the few there were; scanned the faces of the crowd for Kashish and Dawa. Nothing. Had it been so long that I wouldn’t recognize them? No. They were not there. They did not come. I dragged my bags out of the corral and stood on the other side of the rope separating the human cattle from their rustlers. I turned to walk away and a twenty-something white man passed me. I paused. He walked to the edge of the corral, his eyes darting from face to face.

––Looking for someone? I asked

And, Nick, the dear friend I hadn’t seen in years, greeted me with a hug.

Patan - Neighborhood in Nepal

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

June 1 / May 31 -- depending where you are -- Bangkok Airport

June 1 / May 31 -- depending where you are.

Today I discovered that airport food in Thailand is about the same as airport food anywhere. It’s weird, rubbery and over priced. The beer is nice though. Singha. Unfortunately I can already feel its effects on my exhausted mind and a comfortable place to sleep is going to be hard to come by here.

The flights were nicer than I expected and I got a little bit of rest, but not nearly enough. Now, after a 2 hour stop in Taipei, I’m on the big layover in Bangkok (9 hours total).

The Bangkok airport is quite nice. High ceilings, modern architecture -- cement, exposed ducts, beveled sheet-metal offset by faux mahogany. I don’t check in for my next flight for another––hmm, need to change the time on this computer––five and a half hours. So I’m trying to decide how to occupy my time. Normally I’d just drink, but I’m not too sure about the exchange rate here or extra charges for using my debit card, so I want to take it easy. Plus, I want to have some kind of head on my shoulders when I land in Nepal.

So far everything’s gone smoothly. But the real test will come upon landing in Kathmandu. There’s supposed to be a Bandhs or general strike today. This is apparently enough cause for concern that Dale, the director of the CEDPA office in KTM, notified me in advance via email, with a tone of urgent concern. Kashish (the friend who is supposed to be picking me up at the airport) said it “shouldn’t be a problem” but I lack his confidence. I also lack his phone number or any way of reaching him should we have trouble finding each other at the airport.

The next thing I need to do is find an internet connection. (man, this food is gross). Once I get connected I can send Kashish an email with my plan. It goes like this: There are shuttles that will take travelers to popular hotels when a Bandh is in progress. If I can’t find Kashish I’ll hop on one of these busses, get a hotel room and wait it out. Should be a piece of cake. If it gets later in the day, I should be able to contact Nick on his cell. He’s getting back into ktm the same day I am, but in the evening. Alright. got the plan, time to execute.

Rickshaw Ride, Bandh