That word “developing,” when used in the context of countries, has always sounded a bit off to me. All nations and countries are changing and evolving, so it’s silly to call some “developed” and others “developing.” It also implies that the “developing” nations need to aspire to become “developed.” Maybe it would be better for them to take a completely different trajectory than those “developed” nations did. But there are big differences between Nepal and the US, and that word “developing” is sometimes useful in describing and identifying those differences.
It’s been almost four months since we moved to Nepal. Although some things have gotten easier, others never will.
I grew up in a quiet suburb on the East Coast with good public schools and friendly neighbors. As a kid, in certain ways, I was pretty aware that not everyone lived exactly like us because my parents tried hard to expand my horizons. We went to the city often, and they took us on trips around the country and to Europe. However, my entire education, from what my parents taught me, to what I learned in school, to how I was taught was very Western-centric.
I remember arriving in Nepal for the first time. I walked out of Tribhuvan International Airport, and my mind stopped. On the way to my study abroad program house, I remember dumbly staring out the window at the masses of people and cars. In the days that followed, after accepting that I really had made it to Nepal, my fellow study abroad students and I began to explore our new environment. The first time I walked along the streets in the city, I reveled in the smells of exhaust and frying sweets, of sewage and sweat. I loved it and hated it at the same time. It was so intense and new and different. Those first few months in Nepal, I was in shock, pretty much all the time. Not only was I in a new environment, but I was also surrounded by a foreign tongue that felt impossible to decode.
This time things are quite different. I’m not a student but a resident, I guess an immigrant, although that word can mean many different things. When I lived here before, if life got difficult, I always told myself that I would be going back to the US at the end of the semester. But now, although we have a general idea of when we will be heading back west, it’s very much up in the air. I’m also here for much longer this time around. When things get uncomfortable or hard, I can’t just put off dealing with them. I have to confront the problems head on, learn to accept certain things, and sometimes change myself in order to survive.
One of the most difficult things to adapt to is the lack of basic infrastructure. The streets are constantly in need of repair, the public transportation often unsafe, and the electricity irregular. My father-in-law and brother-in-law moved right before Tri and I arrived in Nepal. Although their old house had a solar panel on the roof that would power the lights during load shedding, our new house doesn’t have one yet. So we’re pretty much stuck with trying to read by flashlight or if the flashlights are lost or not working, by candle.
I mentioned in my post about Butwal that we had to make a trip to the emergency room while staying there. Tri got a bad stomachache on our way down south, so we went to the hospital. When we walked in, I immediately noticed the crumbling, dirty walls and cobweb-filled corners. Patients were lying on the floors in the crowded waiting room. Inside the main treatment area, even though hospital beds lined the walls, Tri has no where to lie down. Family members of the sick also had little room to wait. One family of four had gathered on their relative’s hospital bed to eat dinner. Although the doctors and nurses were obviously overwhelmed with the load of patients, we were lucky to be seen quickly. After describing his symptoms, Tri was immediately diagnosed with food poisoning, given a shot of pain killer, and sent home.
We didn’t have to spend too much time there, and Tri’s condition was not that bad. But what if something much worse had happened and we needed better care? Even in Kathmandu, some of the health care is very limited, and I dread the day when one of us comes down with something much more serious.
In Nepal, more time has to be spent doing basic things. With few washing machines and no driers, all clothing has to be hand-washed and hung to dry. This is a problem sometimes in the summer because of the frequent Monsoon rains and in the cloudy, cold winter days, your clothes may take a couple of days to dry. Pre-made meals are also not an option, and eating out is expensive. With two full meals to cook every day, time spent in the kitchen can really add up. We are very lucky to have someone who helps with cooking, cleaning, and washing clothing. Without him, life would be much more difficult, but I still end up spending more time doing these things than I would have in the US.
Even washing my hair takes more effort and time. The area in which we live has very hard water, and when we first moved here, my hair was falling out in droves. Now I use bottled water (the kind that comes in those big plastic jugs found in offices) to wash my hair. It takes much longer than a quick scrub and rinse in the shower would and can only be done a few times a week. Without heating in our house, it gets pretty cold in the morning and night. The prospect of washing my hair with that cold water is just not appealing, so I try to wash it during the warmer hours in midday. Of course, I’m at work during the day, so I only get to wash my hair a couple of times a week. I’m complaining about it, but I am really lucky to have what I have. Most people here live much tougher lives than I do. Some don’t have running water at all and must bathe in the rivers. I don’t know how they manage during the winter.
Because there aren’t many government regulations concerning food production, we have to be very careful about what we eat. On the TV recently, the news-readers have been reporting on restaurants and companies selling inedible food products. Police recently shut down a famous sweet shop and a water-bottling plant. Tri also just told me about a dairy in India caught for adding poisonous chemicals to their milk. Although nothing has been reported like that in Nepal, I wouldn’t be surprised if it happens in the dairies here too. Even some local, independent farmers are known to add unsafe chemicals to their vegetables to boost their size and increase profits.
I just reread what I wrote, and it really makes me sound like a complainer. I admit it. I am sometimes exhausted by living in Nepal, and I needed to vent. I’m also dealing with cultural and linguistic barriers, and my struggle with those may be clouding other aspects of my experience.
However, I can say that although I sometimes feel exhausted by life here, I’m also succeeding at adjusting. My Nepali is getting better, and I have a much better understanding of Nepali culture than I used to.
Today I came home from work kind of tired and worn out. It’s 6:30pm, and Tri won’t be home for at least another two hours, but when I got into the house, I thought about just how happy I am. In college, I struggled with depression during sophomore year. I’ve been thinking about that time and what it was like. My life has its ups and downs now, but I can’t see myself ever being depressed in Nepal. There are moments in every day where I smile and laugh, look out the window at the Himalayas and appreciate how lucky I am, and it makes living here worth it.