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60 Things An American Learned From Living In Nepal

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The cultural wonderland, oceanless nation of Nepal has completely captivated me like no other country has before.

I express it quite a few times in several posts. It’s really got a hold on me–even with its faults. A beautiful country, but also dirty in some aspects. The citizens are friendly, although they like to save face and don’t always tell the whole truth. They may have zany superstitions that some locals will admit, holds them back from progressing, but I still love them for it. It’s gotta be the people, above all else that continues to compel me.

I’ve lived in Nepal (Sarangkot, Pokhara mostly) long enough, on and off over the span of three years. I now feel that I can give solid, personal opinions and facts about what I learned from living there.

60 of them to be exact, off the top of my head:

1. I noticed most Nepali will make a long ‘e’ sound in front of several nouns that begin with the letter ’s’. So instead of simply saying words such as star, spray, or school—many would instead pronounce it as “e-star”. “e-spray”, and “e-school”. Not sure why they do this but I told the students and teachers there to knock it off.

2. On the notion of spelling, Nepalese are HORRIBLE spellers when it comes to English. Take a walk around Kathmandu or Pokhara and I bet you will find a hundred misspellings across their signs, posters, menus, advertisements, etc. But…

3. They have the neatest, cleanest, most satisfying penmanship I have ever seen. They legit could be a new font family.

4. They literally have dal bhat (lentils, vegetables, and rice) for breakfast (or in their case lunch) and dinner, every day of their lives. Thankfully, it tastes amazing!

5. Arranged marriage is still a thing, but it’s not entirely enforced. Speaking of…

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6. It’s common to never have a girlfriend or boyfriend throughout their lives. Many just simply wait to get arranged to someone and then boom–three weeks later, they’re married…

7. …And then it’s custom for newlyweds to dip their feet in a bowl of water, which then immediate family members must come and take a sip from it. Ew! I went to a wedding once, worried I would have to do this. Amish informed me that only immediate family has to do it. Thank the Lord!

8. It’s typical for Nepalese to drink a tiny spoonful of cow urine when they are ill. They don’t do it often, but most of the locals have done it at least once or twice.

9. If you ever visit a village in Nepal, be prepared to have the most tea you’ve ever had in your lives. Usually either black or milk tea. Sometimes ginger tea as well.

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10. Snickers, Oreos, and Kit-Kats are all the rage to Nepalese children.

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11. Nepalese are super friendly, BUT they don’t always tell you the whole truth and I found much left important information out when I needed it.

12. They eat their dal bhat with their hands. It weirded me out at first, but then eventually I preferred using my hands. Weird. Strictly right hands only though. Their left hands are for poopy purposes…catch my drift?

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13. I’ve had many cakes over many different birthdays in Nepal and they all taste the same–damp, spongy, and bland as heck. I always tell them how much their cakes taste like shit compared to most Western countries, but they just have no idea. Most will never know. They look like they taste great, but they never do.

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14. The men (and some women) in Nepal are OBSESSED with Clash of Clans, an app for touchscreen phones. They also got me hooked on it, unfortunately.

15. Everyone has crappy Samsung phones that are always cracked and beaten up.

16. The electricity ALWAYS goes out unexpectedly and at the most inconvenient times.

17. Soon after puberty, boys have a special Bratabandha ceremony where they must completely shave their head, except for a small patch on the back, and essentially become men. This means they are now able to get married. I’ve attended three while I was there amongst all of their friends and families. It’s a huge deal.

18. Nepalese constantly wash their feet.

19. Transportation is always a nightmare. Traffic is congested. There’s always construction. There’s always dust. Many roads are unpaved. Since Nepal is a mountainous country, vehicles are constantly twisting and turning, sometimes just inches away from a cliff.

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20. Speaking of construction, constructing anything usually takes freaking FOREVER.

21. It is common for people to pass out sweets to all of their family and friends on their birthday. When my birthday rolled around, I had to pass out sweets to the entire school!

22. Red tikka on your forehead is a sign of a blessing and good luck. Red tikka and rice on your forehead is usually something extra special. Yellow tikka on your forehead means you are mourning the anniversary of the death of a loved one. Women may have a red mark at the top of their forehead which means they are married.

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23. Many children in Pokhara sway back and forth when they are studying. I asked them why they do this but none of them gave me an understandable reason. Some weren’t even aware that they do it. They just do.

24. Most of my sarcasm flew right over their heads. Only the ones that knew me best eventually learned the art of sarcasm.

25. From personal experience, I never worried about any locals mugging me or stealing any of my possessions. As a matter of fact, whenever I lost something, they returned it to me promptly. I didn’t realize I lost my wallet one day until a student ran to my home after school and told me he found it on the road. And there was so much money in there. Very trustworthy people when it comes to personal belongings.

26. Nepalese are generally peaceful people. They usually do their best to avoid any confrontation.

27. I’m friends with a shit ton of Nepalese on Facebook and 80% of them don’t use their real names or their own profile picture. I’m always confused as to who messages me. Also, they always tag me in photos that I’m not even in. My friends at home let me know that they are constantly seeing photos of Nepalese people on their newsfeed because they are always tagging me in them.

28. Flies are an issue during the warmer months, but it didn’t bother anyone as much as it bothered me. So pesky! There were spiders everywhere too, but they were harmless.

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29. Nepalese are ridiculously superstitious. I was once told I couldn’t bring a group of students back home from a trip on a certain day because it was bad luck. I was informed this AS I was already bringing them back home. I brought them back anyway.

30. I’ve noticed that the education isn’t as engaging as many developed countries. A good amount of it is simply just copying and memorizing everything word-for-word.

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31. The Nepalese-English alphabet song is almost identical to the American one, except they repeat the letters “l-m-n-o-p” and “x-y-z” twice throughout the song. I’m still baffled as to why.

32. Everyone always refers to the uncles on their father’s side of the family as “paternal uncle” and the uncles on their mother’s side as just “uncle”. Whereas we in the US refer to both sides as simply “uncle”.

33. They have sooo many holidays/festivals, with Dashain being one of the most auspicious ones. Around 40 of them, with some lasting for several days! They celebrate evvverrrything.

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34. It is super common for Nepali to find “deep” random quotes pertaining to life, in English somewhere from the internet, and then post a photo of themselves on Facebook with that quote as their caption. They all do it. Some prime examples:

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35. Nepal CANNOT do desserts properly. On a side note, there is NOTHING German about their so-called “German Bakeries”. Actual Germans would consider them a true disgrace to their own famous bread bakeries.

36. Teaching a Nepali kid from the mountains how to swim is like teaching a rock how to fly. This requires tons of patience. They are mountaineers, not swimmers.

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37. If a Nepalese considers you a brother or sister in their country, then they usually mean it for life and will make an effort to keep in touch, no matter the distance.

38. Many of the students have long hikes up and down the mountain to get to school six days a week, yet you won’t ever hear them complain about it.

39. Eating off of someone else’s plate is not a thing here and is considered unclean. I once accidentally flicked a single grain of rice from my plate onto little Aakash’s plate and he was completely disgusted and pushed his plate aside.

40. Although many taxi drivers have meters in their cars, most of them will say, “it’s broken” and then you must negotiate a more expensive price than what it should be.

41. It’s fairly common to see babies and toddlers in Nepal with a black dot on their forehead. A black dot on their “third eye” is for protection against evil spirits.

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42. Everyone has really amazing teeth.

43. Normally when I want to show a single photo on my phone to a local, they always proceed to casually take the phone from me and then start going through ALL my photos. Always.

44. Unless you go to a western style accommodation, the shower is never separate from the rest of the bathroom. Thus, when you take a shower, the whole bathroom gets completely soaked.

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45. Nepalese never end a phone conversation properly. They just hang up. No “bye” or “Talk to ya soon”. Just “click”. At least with all of the phone calls I’ve had with them.

46. Many of the students don’t know their birth dates. That’s because they only know it according to their own Hindu calendar that they share with India and not the Gregorian calendar that is widely used internationally. As of this post, it is the year 2074 in Nepal.

47. Nepal and India share a love/hate sibling rivalry type of relationship, very similar to the USA and Canada.

48. It is common for the youngest male child to never leave home, in which they take over once the parents have passed. The daughters traditionally always move into the homes of their new husbands to help tend to the daily housework and taking care of their husbands’ parents. It’s kind of a crappy deal for the women, but its been tradition in Nepal for a long time now. Slowly, that tradition is becoming less of a thing as younger generations continue to break the mold.

49. I am considered a god in Nepal. Guests and visitors to Nepali homes are treated as such.

50. Get used to local prices vs tourist prices, just like many other countries. However, the differences aren’t as ridiculous as they are in India.

51. Nepali “like” EVERYTHING on Facebook. You can post a blurry photo of your armpit and they’ll “like” it.

52. The major touristy parts of Kathmandu and Pokhara are full of cover bands. You’re likely to hear a multitude of bands play the same freaking songs, night after night after night. I don’t ever want to hear “Hotel California” or another Red Hot Chili Peppers song again! Bob Marley gets a pass.

53. Fast wi-fi is not a thing in Nepal.

54. Nepali bob their head sideways when they mean to convey ‘yes’. This confused me for the longest, as I interpreted it as an “Eh…”. Kind of like a shrug. Their side to side head tilt signifies more of an ‘okay’  than a sure-fire ‘yes’. I found myself tilting my head whenever I said yes even after leaving Nepal.

55. I found that Nepali women are generally uncomfortable with shaking the hands of men and to an extent, hugs. Whenever I go for a hug to one of my host mothers, it really is the most awkward thing ever. So now I don’t hug anyone anymore.

56. Nepali kids love Charlie Chaplin and Mr. Bean.

57. Nepali dancing is similar to India’s Bollywood dancing, except a lot more twirling and arm-flailing. My buddy Caesar and his sister Bindu below!

58. If a local Nepali calls a tourist “fat”, it usually is a good thing. It means you eat well. They don’t mean any disrespect.

59. Cows are their holy God, but the many cows roaming (and sitting) in the streets of Nepal are malnourished and always eating out of the trash on the side of the road. You would think if they were so holy, they would be taken care of a little better… Plus, it’s difficult, for me at least, to tell the difference between their buffalo from their cows.

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60. Apparently, many different songs are played on the local buses, but they all sound exactly the same with what sounds like the same lady or dude singing in each of them. I challenge any foreigner to try to spot the difference.

If anyone, especially anyone from Nepal, would like to add some insight or combat me on any of these, feel free to let me know.

Nepal is far from being the perfect country…

…but it’s perfect to me.

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Angering the God of Education

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I’ve spent the past eleven months, hopping all over the world. I’ve been having fun, but…

I hit a wall right around Ukraine and haven’t fully recovered to form. I’m mentally exhausted. You would think, walking across an entire country (Spain) would give me time to return back to my adventurous flair, but it wasn’t enough. If anything, it made me antsy to return home. But not home home, but rather to Pokhara, Nepal. I can’t say it enough—Nepal has occupied a giant chunk of my heart. That’s why I felt the desire to go back there for a while, before I continue on this quest to the seven continents.

Once I arrived in Kathmandu, my people in Sarangkot were messaging me like crazy! I swear I only told a couple of individuals that I was coming back, but it just goes to show how fast word spreads in the villages of Sarangkot Hill. I took a bus the next day to Pokhara where I was greeted by my “son” Samir and his fellow classmate Bishal. They came all the way down the mountain just to welcome me. I’ve trained them well.

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To celebrate, I took them out for milkshakes and then to my local favorite reggae restaurant, Buzz Cafe. Later on, one of my Nepali brothers, UK, came down to welcome me. It’s only been three months since I last saw them, but as soon as I did, I knew I made the right decision in returning. I felt at home.

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I taxi’d up the always-horrible roads up to Pandeli, one of the many villages in Sarangkot. It was now the rainy season and the roads were more beat up and muddier than before. Nearly impossible to drive through. My driver had to drop me off about half a kilometer early, because it was impossible to drive any further. As I walked down with my bags in tow, a little boy shouted out from a distance, “Give me sweet!”. I cringed. I recognized the boy from the school in Pandeli I taught at before. He’s the same kid who always and only asks me for sweets and nothing else. Not even a single polite ‘namaste’. I take a little blame for that. I may have bribed the younger classes a little too much with sweets in order to get them to calm the heck down. But I swear that one day, I will give him that “sweet” he consistently demands from me, except I’ll wrap a piece of cow poop in a candy wrapper and give it to him. If that doesn’t stop him from asking me, then I don’t know what will.

I walked down the muddy paths into Pandeli, with kids and random villagers saying hello and wishing me welcome upon my return. I walked half of the way basically in a small stream. This exact path was completely dry just three months ago! Not only that, this mountain was a lot more jungly. So wet. So humid. So muddy. Everything, taken over by green. Below, Phewa Lake was larger and darker than before. This version of Sarangkot felt more alive. It was a welcoming sight.

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I normally stay with Aatma and his family, but this time I opted to stay with his brother Yam and his family; just for a little change, even though they are just a seven-minute walk from each other. Bindu, Yam’s wife, came to welcome me along with my other Nepali brother, DJ. Yam came a little later and helped settle me in. I then explained my prospects to them.

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Yam and his wife, Bindu.

I usually come to Nepal with an agenda. The first time, almost three years ago, I came as a naive volunteer to help teach English at a primary school. The second time, in January 2017, I came back to fulfill a promise I made to the older classes. That promise was to take them on a field trip that they wouldn’t have to pay for. We did that and we had a lot of fun. This time however, I came with the purpose of just absorbing the culture even more and of course helping out at the school. Only I vowed I wouldn’t do anymore field trips. I took the students on a boatload of big and little trips last time, which my bank account showed for. Not this time.

Soon after settling in, I went down to Aatma’s to visit and noticed he expanded his place even more! He’s now built another kitchen and he made my old room even bigger! Where is he getting the funds to do all of this? The whole family was there: Aatma, Mina, Amish, and little Aakash. All except for Aatma’s teenage daughter, Amisha. “Where’s Amisha?” I asked. “She’s staying down with our uncle because she’s menstruating,” said Amish.

Oh, let me explain this.

So, if you’re a female on your period in Nepal, you are considered “unclean” and must be away from the rest of your family members. You can’t touch them, can’t even be more than a few meters away at all times. It’s especially worse when it’s their first time on their period. They are cast aside, essentially locked inside another room, far away from where the family resides. Like in a shed or something. They can’t even read or study while menstruating or otherwise they will upset the god of education among their many, many other gods. It’s totally superstitious, just like many other zany Nepali superstitions I’ve encountered here over the years. I’ve heard about this the very first time I came to Nepal, but I’ve never witness it happen, until now.

I visited Aatma’s neighbor, the home of Abishek, one of the class ten boys who lives just a couple minutes away.

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Abishek and his classmate, Bhuvan.

As usual, I was greeted warmly and with black tea by his family. Normally Abishek’s mother or sister are the ones who serve me tea, but since they were on their menstrual cycle, they weren’t allowed to be anywhere near the kitchen. I found it amusing and rolled with it as Abishek did all the kitchen handling while the females kept their distance. Amused by what was happening, I casually began to whistle random tunes without thinking, and as I did, the two women of the household began speaking to him in Nepalese. I could tell they were speaking something about me.

“Dan, they are saying not to whistle,” Abishek told me.

“Why?”

He just smiled and it seemed like he couldn’t explain. That’s when I remembered someone telling me that whistling attracts ghosts or something like that.

“Oh, the ghosts,” I said, with a slight hint of mockery.

I began to whistle even more, just to see how they would react. All they did was attack me with smiles and laughs whenever I did.

Abishek lived just below my good friend, and fellow teacher, Shree Krishna (Caesar). I wanted to pay him a visit. As a matter of fact I would have seen him by now, but he’s been MIA. According to some of the talk of the villagers, the reason I haven’t seen Caesar yet is because of a plague of bad fortunes, accidentally committed by his mother and sister-in-law.

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Shree Krishna (Caesar) and me during my birthday celebration last February.

“Did you hear, [Caesar’s] mother and sister crashed their car into a cow some days ago?” they would tell me.

“Ummm no?” I said

“It’s very bad.”

Very bad indeed. A cow is considered their sacred god…and they rammed into one that was standing on the road (which is actually pretty normal in this country)! From what I gathered, a string of bad luck was on its way to the family of those involved…which meant Caesar himself. Caesar’s brother, Arjun, took a motorbike to Kathmandu to follow respected Hindu figures…or something like that, to relieve their family of guilt, perhaps? Since then, Caesar’s mother has been suffering greatly from a serious lung cancer and since he is the only available one in the family, he has been escorting her back and forth to the most capable doctors all around the central lands of Nepal. After a couple weeks, I finally met up with Caesar at his home, which is about a fifteen-minute walk from Yam’s. But unfortunately, it was brief. While I was there, he received a phone call from Kathmandu telling him that his brother Arjun and his wife were involved in a near-fatal motorbike crash. Caesar, who JUST got back home to settle, had to rush all the way back to Kathmandu, to tend to his brother and his wife. While at the same time, Caesar’s mother still had pending operations where she needed Caesar to escort her. She was too old and fragile of doing it on her own.

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Caesar constantly traveled back and forth about six hours each time between Pokhara and Kathmandu to tend to his brother and mother. Photo courtesy of Caesar.

I’m not superstitious in the slightest, but it is all a bit strange how all of these unfortunate events are happening right after they hit that cow in the street. By the way, Caesar’s family extends into Yam’s. Bindu is Caesar’s and Arjun’s sister, which means my brothers, UK and DJ, are their nephews. I don’t expect anyone reading this to actually follow the family trees of this village. It’s mostly for my own admission. Poor Caesar couldn’t catch a break. He had to leave his position at Bal Prativa Boarding School in order to support his ailing family.

Caesar was the maths and science teacher at the school. He also spoke English the best out of all the teachers. Sarmila, the usual English teacher I followed, was on maternity leave. It seems I came at a time where there were many gaps to fill at the school until Aatma could replace their two most qualified teachers.

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A photo of most of the staff at Bal Prativa Boarding School, the school I help out at, taken last February. Three of the teachers have left, leaving a major hole in the student’s education.

I always enjoy having my own classes, but sometimes it can be a bit overbearing with the language barrier. The students generally understand me when I speak slowly enough, but then there was always a handful of students, forever lost in the cosmos. Also, I’m calling them out right now, Bal Prativa is full of sneaky little cheaters! It’s examination time (again) and it’s my role to act as a class officer to make sure everyone keeps quiet and doesn’t cheat. It’s way more difficult than it sounds. I had to pretend to record them on my phone and show it to principal Aatma if they continued talking.

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I came to the conclusion that the majority of these students cheat, some more than others, and there was very little I could do to stop it. The other teachers weren’t too persistent about it. Once I came to that realization, I just let them be. It’s Nepal.

I didn’t realize how daunting the school situation was going to be this time around. Class ten will be studying for their major exams soon and they were without three of their teachers. The third one took up a job in South Korea doing God knows what. Aatma and Ashok (another teacher) relied heavily on me to continue where they left off from their books, not just with class ten but also with class nine, eight, seven, six, and sometimes five, four, and three, teaching English and Social Studies mostly. Then sometimes they’ll have me dabble in Science and Accounting. What the heck would they have done if I decided not to come back to Nepal so soon?! I gave it my all.

At this point, I still have not seen Amisha nor Caesar, though I have been in contact with Caesar at least. He has been busy, staying bedside at the hospital in Kathmandu, taking care of his brother and sister-in-law, because they were unable to do so themselves. They couldn’t even walk! That’s how bad it was, but Caesar remained diligent in handling the tasks between them and his ailing mother.

Whoever this “god of education” was, he or she put a massive workload on me, which I wasn’t expecting. Now, I don’t believe in any of this stuff but while in Nepal, I roll with it out of respect to everyone there. When I brought it up in class, one student told me that maybe the god of education sent me to Nepal to help while there are no other teachers.

“Maybe…”, I began. “But I think it’s just pure luck.” 

She along with others began to snicker and say things to each other I couldn’t comprehend. It’s no secret to them that I don’t practice Hinduism, like most foreigners who visit this country, but it’s important for me to remain respectful and go along with it.

If anything, the god of education and all the lore that goes with it certainly does make life in Nepal interesting for me. Even the cattle have gone mad.

For better or for worse…