On the Road to Tibet

Every weekend Tri’s office goes for a hike somewhere in the hills around Kathmandu Valley or occasionally somewhere a few hours away. Sometimes we get the chance to go, and yesterday was one of those days. We went with about 10 other people from his office to a place called bahra bise, which means “twelve times twenty.” It’s apparently 240 km from somewhere, although we weren’t sure where. Bahra bise is along the road that leads from Kathmandu to the Tibet border. It took us about 4 hours to get there from Kathmandu, and apparently it would take another hour or so to reach Tibet. I’d love to go there someday. We were told that if we drove further along the road we were on, towards the mountains above, we’d make it to the border.

The bus came to pick us up at around 8am yesterday morning, and we reached bahra bise at almost noon. Then we started walking from the little town in the valley up a steep set of stone steps. However, before we got to the long path of stairs that we were about to embark on, a few kids started throwing water balloons at us from their roof. It seems the Holi festivities have begun.

The first part of the hike was quite shady, but soon the trees gave away to farmland, and we could see all around the valley. The hills were spotted with houses, some clustered together to make small villages, some spread out, each house on its own. As we walked along, we met villagers hanging out or heading somewhere, and shortly after starting, we met a woman with a feverish baby. She had gone to a hospital a few hours away in the base of the valley and was returning to her village in the hills. At the beginning of our hike, we were walking and talking with her, but I soon realized there was no way we were going to keep up. Even with a baby on her back and several bags to carry, she quickly outpaced us.

The views were incredible as we got higher, but the smells are what I loved the most. Rural areas and farms in Nepal (and I assume other places) have such particular and wonderful odors that are so completely different from the city. There’s wood smoke and a rich grassy smell, the smell of damp leaves and animals. I feel sort of weird to admit this, but my favorite smell comes from cow dung. It’s got this intense, earthy aroma that doesn’t remind me of poop, just of something organic. As we were passing one of the houses early on, I even picked up the sweet scent of local rakshi (alcohol).

Here are a few pictures we took on our way up the hill…

A view of the valley from above

A boy carrying branches

A woman in her home

A man making a straw mat

Tri and I have been on a few hikes around and outside of Kathmandu since we got to Nepal last summer including our two trips to Namo Buddha, our hike in Pokhara, and a trip to Ichangu Narayan. Although this hike wasn’t the longest, it was definitely the most difficult, mostly because of the trail’s steepness. It was almost straight up until we eventually found a flat road that curved around the hill. We took that for a while but soon found another steep trail to follow and went up that way. After about 3 or 4 hours of almost constant up up up, I couldn’t go any further and called it quits. Some of the guys had stopped before us and were resting in a little grassy area out of sight, and some of the seasoned hikers kept going onto the next hill top.

Tri and I decided to rest on a little ledge for a while. We couldn’t hear any voices, just the rustling of leaves. The sun was beginning to lower in the sky but was still shining brilliantly on the valley below us. My legs were aching but I felt more relaxed than I have in a long time, and with the wind blowing gently in my hair, I nearly fell asleep. Here I am on the ledge…

After enjoying those few minutes, we walked just a little bit further around a bend in the hill and sat there for a bit. Then one of the guys who had gone to a further hill met up with us on his way back. We walked downhill a ways, met up with more of the guys and finally started down towards the valley base. It took us another two hours to get down to the town where we relaxed and had dinner. On the ride back, we got stuck behind a stopped truck for a few minutes but other than that, there were no complications. I completely conked out on the way home, and we got back to the house around 10pm.

Tailoring Troubles

I’m not one of those people who particularly likes to shop. It can definitely be fun with friends or family, but in that case, I enjoy the company rather than the shopping. I don’t like shopping for clothing, in particular, because I find it immensely frustrating. Finding clothing that fits right, is comfortable, and is well-priced is always a challenge.

In theory, tailoring should fix some of the difficulties of shopping. You can completely bypass the melt down that comes with lugging 15 different pairs of pants into the dressing room only to discover that none of them fit. I love the idea of having my clothing made just for me. In an ideal situation, the clothing looks good and is comfortable. There are no parts that are too loose or too tight; nothing is too long or too short. But in reality, I’ve found that my tailored clothing hasn’t lived up to its reputation.

Fabric at a Nepali clothing shop

When I was here for study abroad, I was living outside of the city in an area that had a small town center. There were a few shops that sold fabric and tailored clothing. One of my friends had developed a relationship with one of the shops in the town center and suggested that I go there. I wanted to buy a kurta suruwal (a shirt and pants, the Nepali equivalent of the salweer kameez), so I picked out some fabric, got measured, and had the shop owner sew it for me. I thought I was getting a great deal. The whole thing, with fabric and tailoring, cost 500 rupees, about 7 dollars at the time. I got the kurta suruwal and started wearing it around sometimes. One time I wore it to meet Tri’s parents. When his mom saw me, she looked at me funny.

“What’s wrong?” I asked. She walked over to me and started yanking the bottom of the shirt, trying to straighten it out. But to no avail.

“The whole shirt is crooked,” she replied.

And it was, but I hadn’t noticed until she pointed it out. Later, when I wanted to get another kurta suruwal sewn, I tried going to other little shop in the town center. Unfortunately, they made the armpits too small, and when I took the shirt back to have it resewn, they must not have understood me because they ended up making the waist area larger. The whole thing looked ridiculous on me, and I threw it out.

A woman wearing a kurta suruwal

When I was here before, I was living in rural areas and was washing my clothing by hand, so I wanted to wear comfortable and easy-to-wash kurta suruwals. But now that I’m in the city most of the time, I wear western clothing. However, I’ve tried to get some kurtas, Nepali shirts, made. I’ve had several shirts sewn at a place in the city, a supposedly fancier place than the shops I frequented before, but, again, I’ve had bad experiences. Both of the shirts were way to small in the shoulders. I had to take them back to the tailor to have them resewn. Even then, though, they didn’t do a great job. The fabric on one of those shirts bunches up in the middle and the other one is unwearable because the shoulders are still too small.

What is it? Am I a really weird shape or something? I think I’m a bit taller than the average Nepal woman, but with tailoring, size shouldn’t matter!

Last week I decided to try again. A few months ago, someone gave me the fabric for a kurta suruwal as a present, and I decided to get it sewn at a tailor that my friend recommended. We’ll see what happens…

Have any other women who have had things tailored experienced something similar? I love the idea of tailoring, but I’m feeling pretty negative about it right now. Is there a particular way I should be going about it? Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated!

Say It Like It Is

Anthropologists and Sociologists make a distinction between cultures that use an indirect style of communication and ones that use a direct style of communication. I like the way that this website explains the difference, so I’m going to quote them:

Direct communication is when the meaning of the message is communicated mainly via words.

Indirect communication is when meaning is not only in the words, but mainly in the surrounding context of a conversation. In other words, somebody who is indirect will leave it up to the listener to fill in the blanks and make out the meaning by correctly reading the contextual clues (e.g. non-verbal communication, status and/or age of people involved in the conversation, attire, etc.).

Before I spent time in Nepali, I thought of it as being a very indirect place. And from what I’ve heard about Asia as a whole, most cultures here supposedly employ indirect communication styles.

To an extent, it is true that things in Nepal are said in an indirect way. For instance, it’s rude to say no to something outright unless you have a very good reason. I have a good example of this. The organization that our friend works for was organizing a community cleanup the other day, and she and the other members went door-to-door around the neighborhood asking people if they would like to help. She was lamenting to us at lunch yesterday that although everyone would agree to help out when she met them face-to-face, she knew they weren’t going to come for the clean up, and very few of them did.

When I first visited Nepal in 2009, I thought almost everything would be expressed in an indirect way, in a style similar to the one mentioned in the example above. However, people can be surprisingly open and direct about certain things.

Weight is one of them. It’s pretty rude in the US to talk to people about their weight, except with close friends or family. Even then, it can be a touchy subject. But here, it’s completely the opposite. Everyone is always talking about how someone has lost or gained a few pounds. People talk about it with each other and say it directly to the person whose weight is being discussed. It can be strange or even offensive to people who aren’t used to discussing something that may seem so personal, but weight is not considered to be such a personal thing in Nepal. Discussing someone’s weight is also a way to show that you care about them. You might be concerned that they’ve lost some weight, maybe they’re sick or stressed out at work, and you show that concern by commenting on it.

I’ve gotten used to people commenting on weight, but I still find other, very direct comments pretty off-putting.

The other night, we were at dinner with some family we see very rarely. We were talking about water problems and how it’s important to treat or filter the water that comes from the tap. Buwa was asking two of the people (a mother and daugher-in-law) if they brush with the untreated water from their house tap, and they said yes.

“You can’t do that,” Buwa said. And then he added, while pointing to their teeth, “duijannako dant bigriyo,” translated as, “Both of you have damaged teeth.”

Their teeth did look kind of black, but I could never imagine pointing that out to them. Of course, Buwa’s relationship with them is very different than my relationship with them. He’s much closer to them than I am. But to me, that comment sounded so very direct! I don’t think I’ve ever heard someone say something similar in English. I could imagine someone trying to torment another person by turning it into a gibe, but never could I see it said in good faith. Buwa was definitely saying it in good faith.

Another direct comment took me by surprise today. I had to go to the asthma doctor to get my medicine adjusted. I don’t know this man personally; I had never even met this guy before today (although he does know Tri). As I was getting up on the examination table, he asked, “How long have you two been married?” Tri exagerated a bit, answering with, “almost a year” (even though it’s only been about eight months).

The doctor replied by saying, “In Nepal, if you’ve been married a year and are not pregnant, people start asking questions.” He proceeded to give me an awkward eyebrow raise.

I think I turned bright red on the exam table. I’ve had other people ask me if I’m planning to have kids, but they’ve been very close to me and it has always happened in a private setting, not in a public exam room with about 10 other people in it! I guess he could have been more direct by saying, “Why aren’t you pregnant already?” Maybe I should thank him for his indirectness.

Would a doctor have said something like that to me in the US? I don’t think so. I’ve heard of women in the US being asked when they’re going to have kids, but only by other women they know.

This type of directness really catches me off guard sometimes. Will I ever get used to it?

Shiva’s Birthday

Today was god Shiva’s birthday. We stayed at Mama’s house last night, and this morning, during breakfast, I asked how old Shiva is today. Everybody laughed. So I guess he’s too old to count. But that hasn’t lessened the intensity of the celebration of his birth, at least not in Kathmandu.

People have been warning me this past week that Maha Shivaratri can be a crazy holiday. Hindus living in Kathmandu and many Indian Hindus come into Nepal to visit Pashupatinath, one of the holiest Hindu temples in Nepal and even in South Asia. I wanted to go there and check out the crowd, but Tri said that there would be way too many people and that it would be impossible to get anywhere near the action.

Kids stopping us on the road

Because we had the day off, though, we did get to see some of the festivities. During Shivaratri, kids gather in groups in the street to ask for money. In the morning, when we left Mama’s house, some kids stopped us on the road with a rope. A few drivers were obviously irritated by the kids and were just driving right over the rope, ignoring the poor kids’ plees for money. But we stopped, paid the toll of a few rupees and kept on going.

The parachuting man is beyond the prayer flags

We had to make a quick trip to the doctor this morning, and after we got out of his office, we looked up at the sky to see people floating down with colorful parachutes trailing behind them. Tri was so excited and spent about ten minutes staring at them. It has been six years since he’s seen this, so I understand his excitement 🙂 Apparently, the men in the sky were all soldiers. Shivaratri is a big holiday not only for Pashupathi goers but for the army as well. Last week, I saw tanks assembling in Tundikhel (a big field in the middle of Kathmandu) and soldiers preparing for the festivities.

Another thing that people do on this day is eat bhang, a marijuana derivative. A lot of people, even those who wouldn’t normally touch the stuff, have a little bit of bhang on Shivaratri, and the Nepali government legalizes it for just one day. Shiva is/was a lover of marijuana, so eating it honors him in a way. Tri was saying that we had to be especially careful on the roads today because accidents on Shivaratri are common. In fact, a few years ago, one of his teachers from high school died after riding his motorbike while high. If you’re going to eat this stuff, please don’t drive!

There are aparently two types of bhang, one that doesn’t make a peson high and one that does. The first kind is added to achaar. I guess as a flavoring? The kind that does have an effect is often added to some kind of milk drink. I still haven’t seen anyone stumbling around the streets yet, but I’m keeping my eyes peeled.

For more information on Maha Shivaratri, check out nepaliaustralian’s blog.

The Valentine’s Day Break In

Before I explain, let me tell you how our typical day works. We leave the house at 7:45am so that I can get to school by 8:15. After Tri drops me off, he heads over to his office. In the afternoon, after school is out, I take the school bus over to Tri’s work. Most of the teachers just ride the bus home, but since we live outside of Ring Road, the school bus doesn’t travel that far; that’s why I go to Tri’s place. I sit there working on my computer until around 6pm, and then Tri and I go home together in our car.

But there were a few kinks in our routine today. At 6pm, when we were ready to leave, Tri started rooting around in his backpack for the keys. Unfortunately, they’re weren’t showing up. So he said, “Um, Zo? I think I may have left the keys in the car.”

damn! “Okay, I’ll go to the car and see if they’re in there and report back,” I replied.

I walked over to the parking lot, peered in through the window and sure enough, there they were, dangling just out of reach. I walked back over to where Tri was, and we started to  plan. We have a spare set of keys that saved us on this day and were hoping that someone would be able to bring them to us. But after calling Buwa, we found out he was in a meeting and wouldn’t be able to drive them over. Tri’s brother was busy as well.

Buwa suggested that we take a taxi home, and I figured that’s what we’d do, but Tri had other ideas. He went to look for the drivers who work at his office to see if they new anything about opening a locked car. After discussing the problem with them for a minute, one of them pulled out a long metal ruler, and we walked back to the car.

I was getting kind of excited at that point, thinking it would be just like in the movies, where someone slides the ruler down a small slit on the side of the window, pokes around for a few seconds, and the lock pops open. But it wasn’t that easy…

First the driver and Tri had to remove a line of rubber along the base of the window to access the slot to the side of the window. That took about half an hour. And then they took turns jabbing the ruler up and down, hoping to catch something on the side of the door that would unlock it. But dusk was steadily turning into dark, and nothing was progressing. At one point, another guy brought out a long metal rod, the end of which he had bent into a hook. That seemed promising for a bit, but I was getting too fed up with the whole thing to wait it out. I needed a break, so I went inside Tri’s office building to use the bathroom. I told him to call me with good news.

As I was walking back out, I heard my phone ring and picked up the call optimistically. “We did it.” Tri said. Wohoo!

So we ended up breaking into our own car on Valentine’s Day. Not the most romantic evening but kind of interesting.

Anyway, Happy Valentine’s Day everybody! May we always love and appreciate the ones close to us who can solve life’s irritating problems 🙂