Breaking the Ice

I keep starting blog post after blog post, trying to figure out exactly what I want to write, but I seriously don’t know where to start. So instead I’m just going to say that it’s been way to long since I posted last! I’m going to try and post a bit more for at least the next few months.

Partly because…we’re going back to Nepal for a month in July! I’m super excited to see friends and family and eat a TON of Nepali food while I’m there. Thinking about going back to Nepal is bitter sweet because I know that we’ll only be there for a few weeks, but alas such is life. Tri thinks that after our short visit, I’ll be ready to come home to Boston, and I kind of hope he’s right so that it’s not too painful to leave.

I can tell you a little bit about what I’ve been up to for the past however many months. Since last summer, I’ve been working at a learning center, mostly helping kids who have dyslexia. I’ve also been applying to and getting into grad school and taking classes that I needed to get out of the way before I start school in the fall. For the next two years, I’m going to be studying communication sciences and disorders so that I can become a speech language pathologist. As I’ve written about before, my interest in language and communication all started back in Nepal when I was first learning Nepali. In college, I became more interested in communication disorders when I got the chance to shadow a few speech language pathologists. While I was teaching in Kathmandu, I kept asking around to figure out if anyone knew of any speech language pathologists there. Although I did hear of people in Kathmandu hospitals who work with stroke patients on language skills, I don’t think that any of the schools in KTM have speech therapists. Anyway, I’m kind of hoping to do some more sleuthing while we’re there to see if I can meet a Nepali SLP.

For the month of June, I’ll be finishing up my last prerequisite classes and getting ready for our trip. I’m so excited to be posting again. I had forgotten how much fun it is to blog!

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Reactions to “Birth in Nepal”

Basanti and her family. Subina Shrestha is on the very left.

There’s an interesting documentary that I wanted to link to about birth in rural areas of Nepal. The movie (at the top of the page) is created and narrated by Subina Shrestha, a filmmaker and journalist. Although I try and veer away from movies/documentaries, etc. that are sad, I found this one really moving and wanted to share.

The film follows Basanti, a 31-year-old woman about to give birth to her sixth child. It documents the final week of her pregnancy and then her labor and delivery. Luckily she doesn’t face any major physical obstacles and gives birth to a healthy baby girl. But, as the movie documents, many women in remote areas of Nepal face much tougher deliveries.¬†Labor and delivery are often painful and difficult experiences for all women, but imagine not having a hospital to go to or a doctor on call to perform a c-section if things went wrong?

Although hearing about the physical challenges of labor and delivery in a rural and remote part of Nepal made me pause, it was the social pressure and expectations that Basanti faced that were hardest to watch. There’s a moment in the film after Basanti has her daughter when she calls her husband, who is working in India, to tell him the news. She’s only able to leave a message, but he never calls her back. She says it’s because he’s mad that she didn’t have a son. Another woman mentions that Basanti told her that if Basanti had known it was a girl, she would have aborted. The preference for sons in that community is overwhelming and one of the more difficult things for me to come to terms with as an outsider and foreigner.

A preference for male children is an aspect of culture in Asia that I’ve never gotten used to. But it’s definitely not uniform throughout Asia or Nepal. In the Sherpa/Tamang village I stayed in, I felt like a preference for sons wasn’t as prevalent. In general, women seemed to have more autonomy there than among other families I had lived with, and many people were okay with having daughters. For instance, my host sister had three daughters, and although she said that she would have liked a son, she was okay with her daughters and told me she probably wouldn’t have any more kids.

In Kathmandu, there’s also less of an overt preference for male kids. I never felt like people were overly concerned with having male children, but I did feel a subtler preference for sons. When people would reference future children I might have, they would say to me, “When you have sons,…” I never heard anyone say, “When you have daughters,…”

As I get into my twenties, and more and more people I known have started having kids, pregnancy and childbirth have become more of a real thing for me. I’m not thinking of having a kid anytime soon! But issues surrounding pregnancy and childbirth have become a bigger part of my consciousness if that makes any sense. I think that’s partly why I felt such a strong reaction when I saw this movie. Anyway, the director Subina Shrestha is speaking at the TEDx conference being held in Kathmandu on July 28th, so if you’re in Nepal, you should totally go see her speak!

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 ūüôā 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.

Having a Rough Time

Everything seems to be going wrong or breaking. The electricity is off for 10 hours a day, which doesn’t seem too bad except that I’m stuck at home at lot of time now that I’m on break, and it always seems to go off right when I need it.

Our inverter was also broken for a few weeks, so once my computer was out of charge and there was no electricity, then that was it. No more computer for quite a while. Thankfully the inverter is back from the repair shop and seems to be running smoothly. But now our internet has decided to stop working most of the time. We’ve been using this one company for the past several months, but they just haven’t been able to get our internet up to speed or to work at all. They say that the fog, which often visits us in the morning, is the reason for our bad connection. But we don’t want to pay for unreliable internet, so we’re thinking of getting rid of that service. We also have a portable modem from one of the big cell phone companies that sticks right into the USB port, but it’s also been unreliable lately (thankfully it’s working today). I don’t know what to do. If it’s the weather that’s causing our problems, then switching companies isn’t going to help.

Beyond little electricity and unreliable internet, there are also shortages of fuel. This week, all of the sudden, everything got much worse. The lines at the petrol pumps probably reach up to 30 or 40 cars/motorbikes at a time. Maybe more. The fuel dial on our car is getting dangerously close to empty, so we’re going to have to figure out something. Tri went over to the petrol pump this morning; however, they turned him away because they didn’t have any left. I heard that the reason for the fuel shortage is that the Indian suppliers have stopped shipping petrol into Nepal because the Nepal Oil Corporation isn’t paying its debts. I don’t know what we’re going to do when our fuel runs out (which will be by the end of the day). I think that Buwa knows somebody who own a petrol pump, so maybe we can contact him and see if he has extra gas that he’s willing to sell us.

The other thing is that I need to go to the doctor but can’t make it over there. Yesterday I had scheduled an appointment for 10am. This morning Tri and I walked downstairs and were ready to head out the door, but Tri’s brother informed us that there was a bhanda. I don’t know the exact details, but I heard that some of the Maoists who had not been given benefits had organized the bandha. We called the office where my appointment was to take place, and they confirmed that they were closed for the day, so we rescheduled for tomorrow. Luckily for the commuters, the bandha seemed to dissolve by midmorning. Cars, taxis, and motorbikes were back on the road. However, now I have no way to get to the doctor. I’m supposed to head over there tomorrow, but we won’t have any fuel left! And we live too far from the office to make it by bus. Maybe the taxis will have fuel and be running? But then they’re so expensive. I’m not sure what to do.

And on top of everything else, I’m freezing!! I miss my heated house. All of you Nepalis out there are probably like, “Yeah, yeah, get over it. We deal with this every year.” But it’s been difficult for me to adjust. I’m praying that this is just a bad period and hoping that everything will get easier soon…

City Living

Today Tri had the day off for Christmas, so we decided to go into the city. Tri’s uncle has a medicine shop near New Road, and we had to pick up some medicine, so we went to meet him. Tri and I parked the car in Tundikhel, which is a big open space in the center of Kathmandu that has both a place to park cars and a market.

Tundikhel

We crossed the foot bridge and were getting ready to turn onto a side street when Tri realized that the car keys weren’t in his pocket. We started to frantically search through both of our pockets and my purse, hoping that it was still somewhere on us, but we didn’t find it, so we rushed back to the car. Thankfully it was dangling from the ignition. Unfortunately we had dutifully locked all the doors before leaving the car! So there was no way to get to the key.

We called Tri’s brother to ask if he could bring the spare over. He agreed to but could only make it to Tundikhel in about two and half hours, so we had some time to kill. We decided we would go shopping on New Road and then head over to our uncle’s shop.

After a while, we reached the shop and picked up our medicine, but we still had lots of time before Tri’s brother was going to arrive, so Uncle invited us over to have tea at his house, which is right near Durbar Square.

As I’ve mentioned before, Tri and I live a ways out of the city, near farm fields and mooing cows. I guess you might find a few mooing cows near Durbar Square but definitely no farm fields! We live in a recently built concrete house, but our uncle lives in a very traditional Newar style house. It’s a lot of fun visiting him because I get to experience how the majority of Kathmandu dwellers might have lived in times past. Traditionally the Newars built their houses close together, often near fountains and around courtyards.

Here’s the view from our uncle’s window…

View from Our Uncle’s Window

The area in the middle is a small temple. A few months ago, I wrote a post about this type of public space, often used for worship. They’re very social places, where people gather and talk.

Neighbor

The great thing about living in a courtyard is the community that comes with it. People were hanging out in the center of the courtyard and on the porches in their houses, like this boy…

Having such close neighbors makes communication quite easy. If he wants to get someone’s attention, all he has to do is yell across the courtyard.

But living in a courtyard has its drawbacks including lack of personal space. Look at the house right across from our uncle’s…

It must be only 6 or 7 feet wide!

Another feature of traditional Newar style houses and buildings are intricate windows, and right before crossing the street to get to our uncle’s house we saw this one…

Uncle thought that it had been carved from one piece of wood.

I wasn’t happy that we locked the key in the car, but I didn’t mind our trip into the heart of the city.

Meeting Samrat Upadhyay and Looking Beyond Grades

Kathmandu is a small place. Even though there are millions of people living here, it sometimes seems like I’m living in a village and everybody knows everybody else somehow or another. The great thing about this is that I often get to see and meet a lot of influential Nepalis. I’ve also found that a lot of influential Nepalis don’t seem to mind meeting others, talking with them, and sharing about the things they do.

The school that I work at often invites over speakers from different disciplines to talk to students, and today they invited over the award-winning author Samrat Upadhyay, who wrote the book¬†Arresting God in Kathmandu. I didn’t think I would get to have a chance to see him speak, but his lecture fell during my lunch period, so I rushed right over after my class ended.

Mr. Upadhyay was born and raised in Nepal but now lives in the US and teaches creative writing at Indiana University. His¬†book is a collection of stories written in English about people living in Kathmandu. I’ve heard Nepalis describe it as both “good” and “weird,” and I’ve always had an interest in reading it but never got around to it. It’s definitely on my list of books to read over my winter break, which started today.

I wasn’t able to stay for all of his talk, but I really enjoyed the 45 minutes that I did sit in on. He discussed the ways that living in Kathmandu and then in the US changed and shaped him and how he started to¬†perceive¬†his mother culture in a new and different way after moving to the US. I’ve been thinking about issues related to migration and immigration and how they shape our understanding of who we are. Marrying a foreigner and becoming one myself make thinking about these things almost inevitable.

He also discussed his life before becoming a writer and his years attending school in Kathmandu. Before giving the talk today, he said that he told his mother to look for some of his old work and report cards, and he brought one along with him to the talk. I’m not sure what year the report card was from, but he read us some of his grades. His highest score was in something called Moral Science, and his lowest, ironically, in English, getting 55 out of 100.

It’s always important to remember that success in school does not necessarily equal success after school or in life in general. I’m lucky enough to have parents who demanded that I try my best but reminded me of this truth. Now that I’m a teacher, even though I’m always trying to get my students to do better and try for higher scores, I must also remind them that there are things beyond grades and school, that good grades do not guarantee or reflect success or creativity or lots of other important things.

Shutting Down Kathmandu

On Saturday, while Tri and I were at home, we heard news that there was a bandha¬†in Kathmandu. Bandha¬†literally means “closed.” The streets had been shut down so that no cars, motorcycles, buses, or vehicles of any kind could drive on them. Thankfully the bandha¬†didn’t affect us much because we had planned to stay at home most of the day anyway.

But it did affect our neighbors’ family. Their daughter lives in another part of the city with her husband and daughter, and they decided that despite the bandha, they were going to come over and visit. They took their car out and drove down the streets. When they reached one of the major junctions on the way to their parents’ house, people started coming at their car, hitting it with rocks. The woman’s husband is some kind of reporter, so he had a press pass. Once he showed it, they stopped hitting the car and let them go by. Their daughter was telling me that there were even police there, but they didn’t lift a finger to stop the attack.

Bandhas are not enforced by the government as a whole but are usually started by a group of people or a political party that wants to take a stand on something. Last week, there was a bandha in the district in which I work because someone had been tied up and murdered in a jewelry shop. I’m not sure who organized that bandha, but it was held to protest the murder of this innocent man. And in that example, you can see where calling for a¬†bandha¬†doesn’t really solve any problems. Obviously people were angered and frustrated by this murder, but¬†making everyone suffer by shutting down schools, offices, and shops isn’t going to help.

On Saturday my family explained to me exactly why they had shut down the city. Apparently a politician in Chitwan (a city in Southern Nepal) affiliated with the Nepali Congress political party was thrown in jail on charges of murder. Some people involved with the Unified Marxist-Leninist Party beat him up while he was in jail. The politician was in critical condition and although he was brought to a hospital, he died shortly after being transferred. The Nepali Congress party called the bandha on Saturday as a way of protesting his death.

Only Monday, they called another one, and this one did affect me and Tri because we had to stay home from work. The leaders in the Nepal Congress say that they want the charges against that politician to be dropped, and they want the man to be declared a martyr.

The¬†protesters¬†calling for the bandha¬†on Monday were really serious about it. One guy from Tri’s office tried to come into work by car early in the morning, around 6am.¬†Protesters¬†smashed his car and beat him up. He had to get three stitches.

Bandhas seem to come in waves. For a few months, they’ll happen pretty frequently and then stop for a while. Before I came to Nepal in July, I heard that people were starting to disobey the bandhas because they were so sick of them, and I hope the people of Kathmandu who don’t want to put up with this kind of thing can continue to feel empowered to fight against them.