More on Dhampush

We set out on a Wednesday from Kathmandu and drove until we made it to Dhampush in the late afternoon. The village is above Pokhara along a trekking route that leads to the Annapurna Range.

The View from Dhampush

It was a relief to be outside of the pollution of Kathmandu for a little while.

Dhampush was absolutely beautiful especially when it wasn’t raining. One morning, after getting up at 6:30, we walked outside to this…

The people there were very welcoming, and we got to know one of the women who lives in Dhampush with her son…

Tara and Her Son

She told me that she had had an inter-cast love marriage. She’s Chhetri, and her husband is Rai. Although his parents approved of their marriage, hers didn’t, so she has little contact with them now.

All the rain and wet brought lots of leeches. While growing up, I always thought of these blood-suckers as big, but the ones in Dhampush were very small. They still left a big bite though.

A Leech Bite

In all, I got about 6 leech bites. One of the aunties on the trip told me that leech bites are actually good, that they drain out the cancerous cells, a piece of information that pacified me a bit.

Kupri the Monkey

There was another animal on the trip doing some biting as well…the lodge owners’ pet monkey. She could do a few tricks and one of the local women put the monkey on her daughter’s head to pick the lice out. Kupri was incredibly cute, but it was difficult to see her chained up all the time.

We also got to eat some local food including sukuti and makaiko chiuraa. Sukuti is dried meat that is then fried with peppers and other spices. It’s very chewy. The other treat is flattened and fried corn. The lodge owners cooked some up for us on our second to last day.

The Lodge Owner Cooking Makaiko Chiura

Because it had rained so much the day before we left, the road back to Pokhara was in bad condition, but we set out anyway on the bus. Along the rocky road, the wheel got caught, and came off its joint. We had to walk down to the nearest tea shop and wait a few hours for it to be fixed. Here is me and my friend in the pouring rain, making it down the mountain.

Walking Down the Mountain in the Rain

Eventually they got the tire back in place and we went on our way. To pass the time, we sang both Nepali and American songs in the bus…

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Are You Nepali?

Tapaai Nepali ho? (Are you Nepali?) I was asked this question twice recently, which came as quite a surprise; I guess my language skills are getting better? Some people say my big nose makes me look baun, or “brahman,” but my light skin and hair will always give me away.

In the US it’s considered rude to stare, but in Nepal, the rules aren’t the same. Staring, while not necessarily polite, is completely acceptable, and I’ve been stared at quite a bit. There are plenty of other foreigners in Kathmandu, but most are visiting as tourists, hanging out in the touristy areas. If I went to Thamel a lot, the tourist district, I might not get as many stares, but hanging out with a Nepali family, frequenting the non-tourist sections brings quite a few looks. I’ve been putting up with it well enough, but I won’t deny that I’m getting a little sick of it. Even if I live here for the rest of my life, people will stare at me, wonder what I’m doing here. No matter how good my Nepali gets, I will always stand out. This brings some benefits; foreigners are often treated well here, but it can be exhausting and makes integrating into a new culture very hard.

Although I don’t look Nepali, I did recently have someone tell my I have a Nepali soul. During my trip to Dhampush, I got close to the other women on the trip. I live in a house with four men, so it was a nice break to spend some time with women. At one point an Auntie was explaining reincarnation to me, and she said that god gave me an American body but a Nepali soul. There are things about Nepali culture that feel very natural to me, but there are plenty of things that have been hard to swallow. I don’t know if I believe in souls, but I do know that having an open mind and and appreciation for Nepali language and culture has gotten me far. Some Nepalis I meet have very particular notions about Americans, that they marry and divorce easily, that they are loud and rude. It’s not easy to get close to others who have so many ideas about who you are before you meet, but the quickest way I have broken down those barriers is through speaking Nepali. Talking with those in their own language is an easy way to win them over. It’s also an incredible learning experience. What can be said in Nepali cannot always be said in English and vice-versa. That Auntie told me I have a Nepali soul, but really I just want to listen to and learn from the new people I meet.

Although I’m a little sick of the staring, with time, I’ll learn to deal with it. Maybe I’ll dye my hair black sometime, and I’m seriously considering getting a nose piercing (mom–please don’t be mad!) This certainly will make me look more Nepali. I wonder if I’ll ever get past the guards at Pashupatinath…

Back from Dhampush

Sorry I’ve been away so long! I was in Dhampush, a village above Pokhara, and we didn’t have any internet. I want to write a proper post about the trip, so I’m going to wait for the weekend when I have time. But here’s a teaser…

A picture of a mountain called machapuchare (literally "fish's tail") from Dhampush

Remembering Mamu

As many of you know, Tri’s family must remain in mourning for a year. He cannot celebrate holidays, go to weddings, or do anything religious. Last week, Tri and I were invited to the wedding of one of his high school classmates, and we were hoping to go to the non-religious part of the celebration. Tri’s dad said that even that is not allowed, that they probably wouldn’t want Tri to be there because it’s bad luck.

There’s an interesting Newar festival going on today called Gai Jatra that addresses death and loss. Those who have lost a loved one in the last year must lead a cow in a procession around the city. It’s also a time when people dress in costume, tease, joke, and laugh. It was started by a Newar king when his wife couldn’t move past the death of their son. Tri told me that the king then ordered those in mourning to process around the city to show the queen that she was not alone in her grief, but Wikipedia says that the king also promised to reward anyone who could make her laugh. Either way, both the tradition of processing and laughing are still practiced today. Not only does this holiday remind those who are grieving that they are not alone, but it also promotes them to forget their troubles for a while by joining in the joking. Tri’s family is not Newar, so they aren’t going to the Gai Jatra celebrations, but I really like the idea behind this holiday.

Before I left for Nepal, my family and I were talking about this year-long period of mourning, and how, although it’s limitations are frustrating, they are also good for the mourners. This year is set aside to mourn and remember the person who died, but after the year is up, you have to move on. Anyway, I’ve been really thinking about Mamu (what we called Tri’s mom) lately. I was looking through some old photo albums and found some pictures of her as a young woman…

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Learning to Make Paratha

Last week, a family friend brought over some absolutely delicious aloo parathas for us. Tri and I were wondering what to eat for lunch today, and I was feeling a little sick of white rice, so we decided to try out this type of Indian roti.

Kathmandu Valley dwellers often eat daalbhat for their morning and evening meal. This consists of bhat (rice), daal (lentils), tarkari (some kind of vegetable or meat dish), and maybe some achaar (pickle). They occasionally eat roti instead of rice, and because it’s often made with whole wheat flour, doctors recommend it to people who have diabetes.

Neither of us knew how to make this type of roti with potato stuffing, so we turned to Manjula’s Kitchen, a blog that publishes some great South Asian food recipes.

I started with the pitho (flour) and gradually added water to make it into dough. Meanwhile, Tri boiled some potatoes, mashed them, and added khursani (hot pepper) and jeera (cumin).

The recipe also called for cilantro, which would have added lots of flavor, but we didn’t have any around. Tri rolled the mashed potatoes into little balls. Then I separated the dough into about 10 parts and flattened each one. We put the potato ball in the middle of the flattened dough and then folded up the sides.

I rolled out each one, and we started cooking…

This pan is called a tawa and is commonly used for making roti

Although I made some salsa to eat with the roti, we quickly reverted to maha (honey) and ghiu (clarified butter, the equivalent of Indian ghee) as our topping. Potatoes, butter, and honey are a surprisingly tasty combination. The paratha we made weren’t as good as the ones our friend brought us last week, partly because they were a little too dry, but they hit the spot.

Our New Car Speaks Chinese

Tri and I realized pretty quickly that we would need a car to get around Kathmandu and drive to work. After looking in a few car dealerships, we decided on a 2009 Hyundai Santro. Back in the US, we had a pretty bulky sedan that we liked alright, but I’m happy to have a smaller car this time around.

Cars are expensive in Nepal because the government considers them “luxury items” and accordingly taxes them at at 200-300%. Because this one is used, however, it was a bit cheaper, and we’re hoping to get most of the money back when we sell it.

The stick shift driving will take some getting used to, but Tri remembers a bit from when he started driving in Nepal six years ago, and I’m excited to finally learn.

The only slightly strange thing about the car is the loud computer voice that yells at you when you open the door. Unfortunately we don’t know what it’s saying because it’s set to Chinese. 🙂

Opportunity in Nepal

Before I left for Nepal, I told my dad that I felt there are more opportunities here than in the US. I started looking for work about a year ago back home and hadn’t found anything by the time graduation rolled around. I probably would have gotten a job eventually, although not necessarily in a field I am all that interested in. However, within about two weeks of coming to Nepal, I found grant writing work in an INGO. I’ll be doing something I’m really excited about and working for an organization I believe in. Finding work requires a certain set of search and interview skills, but honestly knowing the right people makes all the difference. The connections we have here definitely helped me find a job, but I would still say that the opportunities here for young college grads are more abundant than in the US.

Things feel more vibrant in Nepal. People are implementing interesting, creative ideas, opening restaurants, shops, and starting businesses of all kinds. Tri and I are super excited to be witnessing and hopefully participating in this economic growth. Yesterday my dad sent me an article about emerging markets, “The Case for Going Global is Stronger than Ever.” Admittedly I don’t understand much of the economic jargon, but one major thing I get from the article is that developing nations are good places to invest because of this emerging economic growth, like the type we’re experiencing here.

Many of Tri’s friends from high school have come back from abroad to put their ideas into action. One friend of ours is thinking about growing artificial sweetener and exporting it to Russia; another acquaintance is opening a chain of bubble tea restaurants. It’s incredibly exciting to be around so many new ideas and so much economic growth, and I can’t wait to see what’s to come.