Saturday, August 31, 2013

Pictures + Finally at the homestay

Kanchan, me, Smita.

Smita and Rajan (her husband) at dinner.

Kanchan and Smita on the roof.

Making momos.
Big Buddha on the way to Kali mandir.

Extra powder at Kali mandir.

Giant spider proof.

View from our hotel in Dhulikel.

Puja (prayer)

Large, unknown vegetable. I forgot what the shop lady said it was called.

Walking around Dhulikel, we stumbled across many mandirs,  including this
one which had some function going on.

Program center in Kathmandu.

Singhe (Lion), doing his "Namaste" trick.

Nice garden.

Smells like a grapefruit. Found it growing on tree at the program center.


Today I met my homestay family. There is a grandfather (hajurbhuaa), father (bhuaa), mother (aamaa), sister (about my age), a helper (who I will call didi or, 'older sister'), a German shepherd, and a 2 month old puppy.

The house is super nice. It is bigger than our house in Albuquerque and has running water. I have my own room and there is internet. It is a nice retreat from Kathmandu because it is clean and I can pet the dogs without worrying about rabies or mange etc. It is north of the palace, a little south of the US Embassy, and about a 30 minute walk from school.
The food is really good and the family likes to teach me Nepali. I have not talked to the didi very much yet because she is mostly in the kitchen, and I'm not allowed in there while I'm on my period. Hajurbuwa and buwa speak English pretty well, my sister is really fluent, and my aamaa speaks very little. My sister is really great. I think we will try to train the puppy.

Oh also our last night in Dhulikel, there was an earthquake! I have never felt one. It was a 6.0 with the epicenter somewhere on the Nepali-China border. It was pretty cool! I was half awake and noticed my bed shaking. Somehow I figured out it was an earthquake. I'm pretty surprised I figured that out because earthquakes are not something I usually think about. I wrote it off as a dream until it was a big topic at breakfast.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Orientation - an extremely wordy post

Day 1
I am in a village east of Kathmandu called Dhulikel. Kanchan says it is on the way to Balephi. We are acclimating to the new country by staying in a hotel and learning the language for 4 days before moving in with our homestays and starting school.

The first day here we walked down to a mandir (temple) and did a puja (prayer). We got tikkas (the dot on your forehead) and learned that you can not get one if you are on your period.

Then, we had a safety and security briefing where they told us all the things that can go wrong and how to deal with it. For example, don't go to Thamel, it's a "seedy pit of dispair." It's the touristy district where there are bars, American restaurants (a good pizza restaurant), and scammers.

"Thamel boys" were mentioned. They're young men who hang out in Thamel who look to have sex with white/foreign women because they believe they are easy. This is probably from all the movies Hollywood spits out where one night stands are common.

We were told not to buy hashish because the vendor might turn you in to a corrupt police officer, and the officer will try to get you to offer him a bribe which he shares with the dealer. Ending up in the Nepali legal system also sounds bad. Foreigners can stay in jail for a few years.

If a bad situation goes down, we're instructed to get out. For example a truck might hit a motor bike, but will hit the bike again to "finish the job" because it is cheaper to pay for a funeral than for the medical bills. Then, the villagers get enraged and start harassing the bus driver and even the passengers. Our director also told us about a hospital a couple weeks ago where someone died in an appendectomy. All the doctors in the hospital fled because they were afraid of the the village's potential violent reaction.

Bad stuff aside, we got cell phones. Foreign countries can text and call us for free (on their bill) and we can call/text them for pretty cheap.

We had our first language lesson. The Nepali language is so cool. Gender is not an issue and conjugating doesn't happen. Hallelujah. It is a little hard wrapping my brain around the Subject Object Verb structure (as opposed to SVO in English). I'll get used to it. Everyone was given a Nepali name because the American ones are too confusing. They just gave me Durga because it's already my middle name. Others got names that sound like theirs: Leah => Lina, Jacob => Jiwan.

Immediately after our first lesson, they divided us up into groups of 3 and kicked us out into the village. We had to find a given place and some objects by asking locals, and some groups used their haggling skills. It was really fun. My group had to find Kali Mandir. We discovered that it was the temple way at the top of the hill. We hiked up a few hundred stairs, and came across a 30 foot, golden Buddha. Unfortunately this was not the mandir, so we had to keep heading up a few hundred more steep stairs. There was a great view at the top that was worth the sweat. We thought it was interesting that the mandir (hindu) and the Buddha (buddhism) were grouped in the same area.

There are large spiders here with large webs that are chillin everywhere. I haven't seen one in my room yet knock on wood.

After our adventure, we learned about more Nepali customs/ how to not offend people. Pointing your feet at people is bad because feet are dirty. This means when you sit on the floor with your legs straight out in front of you, they shouldn't be facing anyone. Also, feet should not touch, kick, or step over people and text books. Even if it was an accident, you must apologize profusely.

Whistling is bad. It brings out the snakes and tree demons.

Juto is basically cooties. There is no double dipping or getting your germs in other people's food.
We eat our dal bhat with our fingers. To avoid juto, we must wash our hands after eating so that we don't accidentally contaminate the table or other body parts like arms, heads and other people.

Day 2
It feels like it has been a week, but it has only been 2 days. We have learned much more vocab and had 2 lectures. The lectures were great. The lecturer was a nationally ranked athlete in 3 sports, owns a theater group, is an Ashoka fellow, and does all kinds of great stuff for Nepal. He's all about hydropower beccause Nepal is the prime place to harvest this type of energy. I figured dad would be into that. There is a huge altitude decrease from the northern part of the country (the Himalayas) to the southern part (the plains). The rivers are strong because they cut right through the Himalayas and carry an incredible amount of water. Also, there are 6,000 rivers draining from Nepal into India.

I think he's one of our permanent lecturers so that is good. He knows everything about Nepal. It was good to listen to him after all the crazy stuff we were told about the day before. Nepal has lots to offer and is not as helpless as the rest of the world thinks. They might be super poor, but you have to put it in perspective. He used this example:

-A farmer harvests the wheat
-A mill buys the wheat and for 2$ to make it into flour.
-The flour is sold for 5$ to the baker who makes bread.
-The bread is sold to a restaurant for 10$
-The restaurant sells the bread with a meal for 12$.

However in Nepal, this process is not as prevalent as it is in wealthier countries. In Nepal, families do all the steps above. Cash is not used as often, so people do not need to make as much money. So they might poor by Western standards, but that does not mean they are starving or even need money to make a living.

Also, there are about 1,800 INGOs and 40,000-80,000 NGOs. The number of zero's is correct.

The same lecturer did a great geography lesson that was super interesting where we were looking at maps and had to find different cities and rivers and look at distance. It put everything in perspective. If something is 60km away as the crow flies, it does not mean you can just drive lah-dee-dah and get to where you're going in a couple hours. The mountains and hills add extra time, plus roads are scarce once you're outside of the more densely populated areas.

Whew! that is it. I will balance all the words out with pictures in a few days where I can get better internet.

Some Nepali:
"My name is ___ "= Mero naam ___ ho.
table = tabul
dog = kukur

Monday, August 26, 2013

Nepal #1

Hopped on a plane to Nepal and here I am!

Immigration was super slow. It made me about an hour late getting out of the airport. Some of the people processing my passport were confused as to why I had the middle name, "Durga," listed Nepal as my birthplace, but could not understand Nepali. I had to whip out my Nepali one-liner that I'm sure I will use more often, "Ma-lai nepali bhulna aldena," which means, "I don't speak any Nepali." "Ah, so you're a foreigner?" was the reply.

I got to Nepal 1 day earlier than the program starts, so I arranged to stay the night with my birth family. This is well-timed so I don't have to juggle meeting my program and also meeting up with the family on the same day.

My birth family was waiting outside: Prem, Smita (sister #3), Sommaya (sister#2), Sommaya's husband, and her daughter came to pick me up. we drove to where Kanchan is currently staying - at a brother of Ashis'. For reference, I am sister #6.

I noticed some things driving to the house. People drive on the left side of the road, but only when there is on-coming traffic. I realized that I will not be running or biking on Kathmandu roads because there is no space or safe area. I am hoping my homestay will be about a 15-20 minute walk from school so I'm forced to  figure out how to be a pedestrian and get some exercise.

One pedestrian we passed had a shirt that read "Hey girl I want French kiss." I'm betting he doesn't know what his shirt says. I thought it was funny.

Then, I saw a car pulled over with a policewoman talking to the driver. I can't imagine what he'd be pulled over for because there are no rules for the road. Maybe he didn't honk his horn enough when making a left turn or cutting off some pedestrians.

Finally, there seem to be very few large-road intersections. I noticed this because at the 2 intersections we passed through, there was a uniformed man on a raised platform directing traffic. At the second intersection, there was no platform. The man was just stopping cars with his body and waving others through.

On the way to the house, Prem noticed my ganglion cyst on my wrist. Everyone was fascinated. They wanted to make sure it didn't hurt before they felt it and tested how hard it was.

At the house, I met up with Kanchan (sister #4), Janaki (sister #1), Janaki's son, and 2 aunts. They were very generous. First they brought out about 5 scarves and people put them around my neck saying "welcome to Nepal." Then they brought out a cake they had made and put a huge candle on it, which turned out to be a mini firework.

More food followed with a lassi (milky drink), bread, and fruit.  Kanchan gave me a shirt. I feel bad taking all this stuff! There was some conversation, some was...awkward. Only Smita and Kanchan could speak English. Prem said I looked thin. Then he noted my ankles were large, like Americans. An honest man. I was also eating the bread with my left hand until he showed me that food goes in the right hand and drink goes in the left. Curse of the lefties: accidentally using the dirty hand. They asked about Maya, my parents, and Kyle ("is his name....Sky?").

We then took lots of pictures before Prem left to go back to the village.

A good candid one

Aunt, Aunt, Prem, me, Sommaya, Sommaya's husband.
Kanchan, Smita, Janaki.

Looking for similarities in our feet.
Me and Prem
Janaki, Sommaya, Smita, me, Kanchan. Notice who is the tallest.

Prem was done taking pictures.

That's it for now. I'm going to dinner with Kanchan, Smita, and Smita's husband. Smita was married a few years ago. We thought she just had a boyfriend. Whoops...

Sunday, August 25, 2013


6:00 Am flight from Minneapolis to Chicago.
  • Highlights: trip passed quickly because I passed out.
Flight at noon from Chicago to Seoul (13 hours).
  • Highlights: Pretty decent Korean food for lunch, free wine. However, I passed on the wine to avoid going to the bathroom. Success. As I was getting off the plane, I noticed my shoes were tighter because they were swollen from sitting for so long.
I have an overnight layover in Seoul, so I'm staying in a transit hotel in the airport. Here it is:

There are free showers in the airport that look pretty nice. I opted not to use these in favor of the one attached to my room.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Pre Departure

The plan: Go to Nepal for a semester.

I will take a class about the history of Nepal, do an independent research project, and learn the national language, Swahili. Just kidding, it's actually Nepali. I plan to practice it on the locals, including my birth family. I will be staying with a family in Kathmandu who will put me up for most of the semester. This will hopefully expedite the Nepali learning process.

Here is a link to the program description:

It is the night before I leave and I just had my last American dinner for a few months at Pete and Anne's: homemade pizza and Eton mess for dessert. Gonna miss all the dairy.

Future posts will hopefully be more interesting.