Nepali Christmas Hath Come Early

Tri’s family are all very good cooks. His brother (I’ll call him ‘M’) manages a restaurant in Kathmandu and knows how to cook some amazing dishes. Tri’s step mom and dad also make absolutely delish Nepali food. During “Nepali Christmas” (aka the big Nepali Hindu holiday Dashain) people return home, visit relatives, get tikka (red vermillion powder mixed with rice placed on the forehead as a blessing), and eat eat eat tons of homemade food. Here in our home it feels like Dashain has come early because of all the amazing food we’ve had. Here are a few pics of the some of the great eats we’ve been enjoying:

From top left going clockwise: blackening tomatoes over the stove, fried chicken, chicken curry (i.e., chickenko rus), golbedhako achaar (tomato pickle/sauce/flavoring), chop (a mixture of spices.

I’ll admit that there have been a few arguments in the kitchen over how to make each specific dish because everyone has their own way of doing it (me included!). Honestly, though? It’s been great family bonding time 🙂

Up with the Morning Sun

Tri and I come from families of early risers. Both of our dads get up by 5 or 6 and have usually done a ton of things by the time Tri or I groggily saunter out of our rooms. My mom’s side of the family isn’t that different. Whenever I’m at a family gathering, if I get up by 7:30, the house is already bustling with activity. People have eaten, are dressed, and are ready to go out for the day.

I used to be an early riser too.

For most of middle school and high school I had to be up by at least 6:30 to get ready for school, but in high school, it wasn’t uncommon for me to be up by 5 or 5:30am. I loved the quiet and peace of the morning, and it was an ideal time to do homework. Then college hit. In the beginning I thought that I’d keep it up. When I told a professor about my plans, she laughed at me! (in a kind-hearted way), and I soon realized she was right. Late nights took precedence over early mornings, and I could no longer hope to be up by 5:30am.

When I studied abroad, I was able to get back into the habit of getting up early and remembered how much I love it. Getting up early has always been easier for me in Nepal because it’s so bright in the mornings there. There’s also somewhat of a morning culture, especially in rural areas, that makes getting up a bit easier. I miss waking up to a rooster’s crow or the sound of people calling to each other across the courtyard. If you’re really tired in the mornings, the rooster crow does get old, but for the most part, it’s not a bad way to wake up. And after you do, you get to look forward to a steaming cup of Nepali chiya (tea) and biscuits.

In high school I was waking up at 5 O’clock with the help of an alarm, but while living in a Nepali village, I was up on my own by 5:30am. While trekking, as well, I remember waking up early on my own. One morning while camping, I woke up right before the sunrise. After I got up, I walked down to the bank of the thunderous river we had slept next to the night before and sat down to write in my journal and enjoy this beautiful, rocky spot.

I’ve thought about getting up that early again and wondered if I could hack it without an alarm clock, but I’m worried it wouldn’t happen in the US. In the village, I was going to bed by 7pm. We did have electricity at night, but I had nothing to do. My host family was in bed by that time, so I had no one to talk to, and there were no computers, phones, or internet either. I did have some reading material, but there were only so many times I could read the one book I had brought or go over my class notes from the day, so 7pm became my default bedtime.

In the US, going to bed at 7pm would be crazy and impossible for me, so getting up on my own at 5:30am is not very likely to happen. However, I am trying to get up earlier with the help of an alarm clock.

Tri left early Tuesday morning for a business trip and was away until Wednesday, so I was on my own Tuesday night. He’s not very enthusiastic about getting up early, so I decided to get up with the morning sun on the day he was away. I have to get up at 6:30 anyway to get ready for work in the morning, but I realized it’s been way too long since I’ve seen the sunrise, so I set my alarm for 6. You can see the view from our apartment is not a very good one! But at least I got to see a bit of the morning sun as it peaked above the buildings 🙂

Any other early risers or trying-to-be early risers out there? What are you tips for getting yourself to wake up early?

A Trip to the Kathmandu Zoo

I was surprised to hear that Kathmandu has a zoo. I guess my surprise comes from wondering how the animals are taken care of when the electricity goes out or there’s a water shortage, but they seem to being doing pretty well.

One Sunday afternoon Tri and I drove over to have a look. Like usual, I had to pay the bideshi (foreigner) price, five times more pricey that the local price. I was a little ticked off at first but accepted my fate.

Inside the zoo, the combination of people was a bit strange. When we first got in, it looked like mostly families with kids, but as I took a closer look, I realized there were a number of couples canoodling around the edges of the zoo, mostly on benches. It reminded me of a park I visited in India. When my family and I went to India a few years ago, we visited this park in Delhi with some ruins of what I think was an old temple. It turned out to be a meetup place for illicit couples trying to get away from prying eyes. That was kind of awkward for my family, but with the wider range of people at the zoo, I didn’t feel so out of place this time.

Some huge deer

They seemed to mostly have animals from South Asia and South East Asia, which was interesting for me because I’m not as familiar with the animals here. One was a giant deer. I don’t know if you can tell from the picture, but they was about the size of moose. There were also some beautiful birds. Unfortunately my camera ran out of charge at the bird cages, but I did take one of this red, black, and white feathered beauty…

There was also a hyena. We saw that the zoo was building something near the cage and had put up poles that looked like the beginning of a bigger fence. At that point we realized how disturbingly low the current fence was! And proceeded to back away slowly.

Water buffalo on a mound

 

 

There were the “typical” zoo animals as well like a hippo, chimpanzees, snakes, foxes, etc. And a funny water buffalo who was just hanging out on a small mound doing nothing for quite some time. I think the funniest part of the trip was walking past the rhinoceros enclosure and watching a man point to the baby rhinoceros and ask his family if it was a pig. 🙂 hmm….

Overall the animals looked pretty healthy and happy. Here are some more pics…

"What if you were in their place? Don't harass the animals"

Degrees of Separation: Nepali Style

As I’ve mentioned before, Kathmandu Valley is a pretty small place. There are millions of people who live here, but I swear, sometimes I feel like I know at least half of them. Part of it is because people here often have large families and are highly connected. These types of connections carry over to Nepali communities in other countries as well. I’ve had many experiences in the US where I’ll be surprised to find that a new Nepali I meet is somehow related to or closely connected with another of my Nepali friends. I’ve met a number of people through Nepali connections and coincidences (like americanepali 🙂 ). Every. single. time. it gets me when I find out that someone I know is somehow connected with someone else I’ve just met. And what happened today really brought home those Nepali connections.

I’ve been wanting to post more this week but have been busy at work and too tired to write anything afterwards because my school has been preparing for a mela (“fair”) put on to celebrate the school’s 20th anniversary. There were a ton of people there today, not only students, teachers, and staff but alums, parents, and others as well.

The first coincidence happened about midday. I was walking around with my friend who teaches fifth grade with me, and we stopped at one of the stalls to check it out. She started to talking to a woman whose daughter was apparently in my friend’s class last year. The woman looked vaguely familiar, and she said, “Namaste, Zoe.” I was really trying to place her face, and then she reminded me that she was the wife of one of coordinators of my study abroad program. I haven’t seen any of the coordinators since I came here for study abroad, and I was so surprised to hear that her daughter attends the school I teach at.

Then a while later, I walked over to the food area with my friends and saw both of the coordinators of my study abroad program! I’ve been meaning to meet up with them for months but it just never worked out. It was so good to see them 🙂

Then we sat down to rest for a while with some of the other teachers. Another of the fifth grade teachers (call her “N”) had invited her parents to the mela, and we started talking to them. I got to talking with “N”s dad (call him “R”) about how I’m married to a Nepali and was telling them Tri’s name and his dad’s name. And then R said that he knows my father-in-law and is a cousin of Buwa’s business partner (who is also a very close family friend). It wasn’t a huge shock to me that he knows my father-in-law. Buwa seems to know everybody! But meeting “R” started the ball rolling for another chance meeting.

There were a few Nepalis besides Tri who attended the college I went to, and there was one in my year (call her “S”). She also went to the school I teach at now. The fifth grade teacher, “N” (who is the daughter of “R”) had told me before that she is a cousin of “S”s. I was talking to “R” about how I know “S,” and he turned around, pointed to another part of the outdoor area where we were sitting and said, “She’s right over there!”

I followed his gaze and lo and behold! There was “S.” I had forgotten that Tri had told me she’s in Nepal for her brother’s wedding. I ran over to hug and say hi. And then, finally, the last coincidence of the day came when one of my students’ parents walked up and started talking to “S.” Apparently they’re first cousins!

All of the coincidences really do make Kathmandu feel small. Nepalis are used to it, but that’s not how things work where I’m from. So I’m always surprised. The highly connected nature of Nepali life is surprising to a foreginer like me but reassuring too; it makes me feel like I’m part of one big family.

That’s One Big Shiva

A few weeks ago, the Chinese Prime Minister came to Nepal. In Nepal, when someone big comes to visit, the government closes off the roads and puts everything on lock down, much to my irritation. Although most of the Nepalis I know just shrugged their shoulders.

That day I really wanted to go do something in the city, but alas, no access! So Tri and I decided to head in the other direction, past Bhaktapur, towards Dhulikel, a big dusty field on the outskirts of Kathmandu Valley. We wanted to stop by Sanga, the location of South Asia’s biggest statue of Shiva.

Although we took a few wrong turns here and there, we were able to backtrack and get up the hill to Sanga just fine. It was 100 rupees to get in, a price which included a free cup of tea.

After making it up the steep inclines, we got to the gate, bought our tickets and went inside. I was getting ready to take some pictures when I noticed my camera had lots of dust on it, so I blew on the lens to try and clear the particles away. And then this happened…

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dear god, I can be stupid sometimes!

I thought it was permanent, but thankfully, after a few minutes in the sun, the condensation evaporated and I could take some better pictures…

The god's foot

Me in front of Shiva

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We were wondering how they assembled the statue. I guess the builders must have hauled it up in pieces and stuck them together at the site. Or maybe they helicoptered them in? It’s hard to imagine the pieces properly fitting on trucks and being driven up the narrow, uneven roads on the hill.

There were a few people doing puja and getting tika at one of the mundirs (temples). Actually, the whole place was packed with people checking out the statue and taking pictures in front of a nice little waterfall to the side of it. There were also kids jumping all over the playground in the park and people eating at the restaurant. I was very surprised to see no other foreigners there. (I guess there could have been some other South Asian-not form Nepal-tourists, but it didn’t look like it). I would expect something like that to be a big attraction for tourists, but maybe it’s just too out-of-the-way to be popular.

The site also had a spa, and there was a billboard advertising some of their services. Here’s one I found kind of interesting…

I don’t know what Colon Hydro Therapy is, but it must be intense! because three people need to be present to perform it 🙂

 

 

 

 

After we had meandered around the compound for a while, we looked to our right and saw some stunning mountain peaks…

The Himalayas

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The statue and park were pretty nice. Not awe-inspiring but definitely worth visiting on a beautiful day.

Protests, Paperwork, and Finally, the GRE

I set out for the GRE two days before I actually took it. We just moved into a new house, and at the beginning of this week, the stairs still hadn’t been polished, so we had to get out of the house on Tuesday when that was set to happen. That’s why Tri and I left to stay at Mama’s house on Monday night. The plan was that we would stay there, and I would go with Mama and Maijiu to their office on Tuesday. Then we would stay at Mama’s again on Tuesday night and Tri would take me to my test on Wednesday morning before he went to work. Then we would return home on Wednesday evening.

The plan was a little complicated from the start but it got even more so. On Monday night, after getting to Mama’s, we found out that a number of student unions had scheduled a bandha for Wednesday. Streets would be closed and no cars allowed to travel. At that point, I was freaking out a bit. How was I going to get to my GRE? But then Tri figured that we might be able to stay with someone close to the center where the GRE was being held. In the morning, we could just walk over to the center. We ran through our list of relatives and friends and realized that one of Tri’s close family friends lives 15 minutes from the testing center. So we called her up and asked to stay over there on Tuesday night. She said yes. I went to work with Mama and Maijiu on Tuesday and tried to get some last minute studying done, although I was kind of all-studied-out. In the evening, I returned with Mama and Maijiu to their house and Tri came over from work to pick me up. Then we left right away for J-Auntie and R-Uncle’s house.

When we got there, we ate buff momo (water buffalo dumplings), which are pretty much forbidden at our house because Buwa doesn’t eat water buffalo. Most of the Hindus I know avoid beef, but some of them also don’t like to eat water buffalo. I don’t normally eat buff either, but I didn’t actually realize it was buff when I ate it, and those momo were delicious, so no complaints from me. We went to bed on Tuesday and woke up to the alarm Wednesday morning. After a breakfast of cake and eggs, Tri walked me over to the testing center and waited until they let me in. Then he left for work, which is only a 10-15 minute walk from the center.

My mom asked me to tell her what it was like taking the GRE in Nepal. Honestly, I think it it’s probably very similar to taking it in the US. The whole thing was very regimented. The building in which the test took place was outfitted with cameras and a handheld metal detector, which was all a little bit intense. But the thing that made me uncomfortable was that the test proctor kept walking up and down the middle aisle in the testing room every half hour or so. I guess she was doing it to make sure we were actually taking the test so not a huge deal.

The thing that really tripped me up, though, happened before the test. In the form I had to fill out, there was a section with a statement that we had to copy. The statement affirmed that I was actually who I said I was and had something in it about agreeing to not cheat. That’s all fine, but it required that I write it in cursive! I ended my cursive days long ago in elementary school when I put that arcane script to rest in the third grade. I get all the way through middle school, high school, and college without having anything to do with it and then, unexpectadbly, cursive rears its ugly head. The other two people taking the test with me nonchalantly started copying in perfect little loops, but not me. When I finally started writing out the statement, I first tried to be neat and orderly but ended up with some kind of pseudo-cursive that turned into chicken scratch and slowly morphed into print. When I handed the proctor my paperwork, he scanned it and stopped near the bottom. I thought he had seen my sorry attempts and was going to make me rewrite it, but it turned out I had just forgotten to check a box about my country of citizenship. Phew! I was off the hook.

Despite that little snafu, everything else was pretty smooth sailing and it looks I won’t need to retake it. Thank gods! 🙂