Adjusting to Life in a “Developing” Nation

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.

17 thoughts on “Adjusting to Life in a “Developing” Nation

  1. I can so good understand you.
    Yes till now my longest stay in Nepal was 4 weeks ( most of that time in zhe mountains), but if I arrived the first time in Nepal, my thinking was like you.
    Before I was come my first time I was in India and there it’s so much more bad, so I was not so shoked about Nepal.
    After our married we want life in Nepal for some years. I know the first time will be hard, but I hope if we come to Germany back my approach to my life in Germany will get a change. Definite it will be.
    Do you know with you posts I learn so much, I m to benefit from the experiences which make you.
    OMG wash the hair with cold water in the winter time……….I know that. Its like frezzing the head.
    End of november I come to Nepal. In our flat in Basundhara/ Kathmandu there is no heater and warm water too.
    By the way, you wrote to beginning the post you was in europa with you parents. Where
    exactly did you was been? Maybe Germany too?
    You come from east cost in USA?
    Some years ago I was there………places like NY, Boston, Acadia NP, Maine, Washington DC, …….its a nice landscape there.

  2. I really admire you that you are living in Nepal when most of Nepalese want to run abroad. Being born and educated in west, , I can completely understand your shock of seeing situation in Nepal.

    I was born in Nepal and still I go through tough time whenever I visit Nepal. I was there only for 6 weeks in June and I experience everything you wrote, from load shedding to traffic. So many times, I told myself it is just for few weeks so I can adjust but I am not sure how would I have cope if I was going to be there for a long time.

    I want to come and retire in Nepal in future but sometimes reading about the political situation in Nepal force me to rethink if I would be able to live there again. My friends and family think I won’t survive more than few months but I still think I can but then there are times when I have my doubt. I have many friends who have move backed to Nepal after living here for decade and they seem to be doing fine.

    Hope things will get better in Nepal and life will be bit easier.

    • I’ve heard other Nepalis say they want to retire in Nepal. I don’t know about Australia, but in the US, retired life can be lonely. There’s no one to talk to or spend time with, and it’s hard to go out and meet people if you can’t drive. In Nepal, though, there are always people to visit, have tea with, etc. But I think it would be difficult to come back after so many years.

      • It is same in Australia as well, retire life is very lonely . I think in Nepal at least you will have more people to socialise with as you said than here for sure. I fell really sad when I see old lady walking by herself or pushing a trolley in supermarket. Life is not easy here when you get old.

    • God, how many people (young Nepalis who are living outside Nepal) dream of retiring in Nepal. I wonder if it really happens. How can you leave a country for 20, 30 or 40 years and go back and feel that it’s your own. I mean your parents will be old or dead, you won’t have no (or very few) friends, you will have a cultural difference, and all the problems you have now in Nepal will still be there. Even if you might have water and electricity in next 30 years, it will still have a pathetic infrastructure compared to Australia/USA/UK. Except that it will be cheaper to live in Nepal as a retiree, I don’t see any other reasons.

      • I know lots of my friend who wants to come back to Nepal at one stage. The day I left Nepal, I knew I will come back one day. My parents are the most important reason for me to come back but at the same time I know I will fit in there. I have few friends who had already made their move and despite all the hassles they have in their everyday life, they have settled well. All of them had started their own business and are doing well so far. So it is not just a dream, it is a plan. I don’t think I will wait till I become retired to come to Nepal but I am sure whenever I come back I will adjust well. I had spend more than decade in Nepal so I might complain how bad things are in Nepal but still I will be able to adjust into life where traffic is horrible and load shedding is normal.

  3. Your positivity is admirable. When you describe life in Nepal, I can imagine life in Sri lanka. I have never lived there for over 4 weeks… and I’ve not visited it anytime other than during July or August but going from Dubai, it seems pretty hard to adjust to life there forever. Even though its not too bad. But you’re not only adjusting to life there, you’re adjusting to the people, the food, the culture and adapting to all the difficulties that might pop up. I think its great. Its motivating. And at the end of the day, when you have the ones you love around you, you can get through any rough patch. All the best to you. Hope life gets easier and Im sure it will. 🙂

  4. The hospitals in Nepal scare me too. When we were there in 2009 P went to Bir Hospital for a medical check up by one of his friends who was then a doctor there. His friend met us at the emergency room entrance and the room we walked in to was scary. Everything looked so rudimentary. I had been to a hospital before in Kenya– and granted it was the fanciest hospital in the country, but in many ways the experience was almost like being in a western hospital. I don’t think that type of experience exists in Nepal, although maybe in India.

    When I watch documentaries about people climbing Everest I think about the people who come off the mountain with severe problems like frost bite, or worse, and then I think of Bir Hospital, and I wonder where these people wind up getting treated?

    P and I were hoping that we would move to Nepal soon. Unfortunately it looks like we won’t for another year or two. But had we had the opportunity to go this year we might have been there for about 3-5 years, a time frame where I might want to start thinking about children. While I think raising children in Nepal would be great with all the family support, the idea of giving birth in Nepal terrifies me (well, giving birth in general terrifies me in general), but when I think back to that hospital room, I get a few little shivers.

    It sounds like you are doing a really good job processing your cultural adjustment. Hang in there when the going gets tough. You and Tri make a good team 🙂

    • It’s such a mixed bag because some of the healthcare is really good in Nepal. Tri and his brother have always gone to this amazing, world renowned eye doctor. But then some of the facilities here are just awful.

      I would also be very afraid of being pregnant or giving birth in Nepal. Tri’s mom came down with Typhoid Fever when she was pregnant, and it ended up damaging her heart, which led to some of her later health problems. Some Nepalis also feel this way, and many have told me that if given the chance, they would have kids abroad.

  5. Oh poor Nepal!! What if we didn’t have to struggle with basic needs like electricity or water? It would be such a nice place to live. Is it so difficult to have these basic needs?

  6. Hey there,
    Just read half a dozen of your posts and am really enjoying your unbiased, content and wonderfully articulate writing style.
    Living in a ‘developing’ nation holds so many benefits that are not measured in $$ but in happiness and fulfilment. I love how thorough you are about sharing faction Nepal without weighing your blog down!!
    Posts like these make me so excited for the day that I will return to India and enjoy the enlightenment and struggles once more.
    Some of the most pure and fond memories of my life took place there. 🙂

    • Despite the struggles, my life is so rich here. I love how you say that you will return to India and “enjoy the enlightenment and struggles once more.” I think that characterizes Nepal too…things can get really hard but can also be inspirational, beautiful, and enlightening.

  7. I can definitely relate! It seems like things at my site in Indonesia are pretty similar in many respects. I also worry about/am frustrated by the poor infrastructure, dangerous transportation, daily inconveniences, dangerous food, questionable healthcare, etc. It’s definitely been an adjustment, and I’m glad that you’re feeling positive despite all the differences between living in Nepal and in the U.S. I’m also trying to remember how lucky I am to be here and have this opportunity…and some days it’s easier 🙂

    • I bet our experiences have been very similar 🙂 Yeah, it definitely helps to remember how lucky we are! But I think it’s okay to have those days when you’re like, “this sucks…”

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