Namaste! Its been just over two weeks in Kathmandu, and has already been filled with many of the mental and physical extremes that one can hope for on an adventure.
The Sunday after I arrived, I woke up in horrid pain. Every muscle in my body was aching and my stomach was tender. Resting on my back, I spent the morning layered in clothing and shivered underneath the bed covers. I didn’t know if it was soreness from my joyful then terrifying ridge run the day before, severe jet-lag, or something far worse like a parasite or virus. Luckily, I was able to roll myself out of bed and visit the Boudhanath Stupa — one of the largest stupas in the world. It was an incredible view with the all-seeing eyes of the Buddha against the backdrop of dark and ominous rain clouds.
The next morning, I woke up feeling worlds better, but my head was still throbbing. Beneath PURNAA, is Baskin Robins (I don’t know how they made it out here) and a “pharmacy.” The pharmacy is more like an open air shopfront with pretty much anything you can think of available without prescription. I explained to the pharmacist that my head hurt and hoped for some ibuprofen. What he gave me was 5 horse size pills cut from a blister pack that looked more appropriate for someone who had been hit by a car. Silly me, I should have known not to expect little blue gel caps. Needless to say, I decided to just keep chugging water.
As days go by, I am becoming more accustomed to, being accustomed to, the nuances of Nepali life. I schedule the charging of various electronics around the load shedding schedule which is about 6-8 hours a day, soak my fruits and veggies in an iodine bath, and have learned to love the taste of toothpaste because its risky to brush with the tap. The fear of Giardia keeps my habits nice and clean.
I stay at a guest house in Latipur, a suburb of Kathmandu. The house is occupied by teachers who work at a private school near by. I have been fortunate to make friends with one of the teachers here; a wonderful professor of French named Elizabeth. Elizabeth and I have enjoyed running around exploring different parts of the city together.
The most impactful experience over the last few weeks was going to a Nepali woman’s home for lunch. She lives in the back edges of a horticulture center with her mother, sister-in-law, and nephew. As we ate a delicious home cooked meal of dal bhat (rice and lentils), seasoned potatoes with mushroom, and insanely spicy, pickled, radishes, I had a chance to really take in my surroundings and the very different world in which these people live.
There, M lives with her mother, sister-in-law, and nephew. They live together in a single, mud & brick, room that is about 10ft x 10ft, with two beds creating an L shape. A photo of M’s daughter and a certificate of excellence given to her mother, proudly hang in broken frames on the wall. They have a tiny fan, a television that looks like it came from the 1960’s, and a ceiling that sags and leaks during the monsoon season. They have no running water, and their toilet is a squatty potty, about a 5 minute walk away. Their kitchen is a windowless, chimney-less, light less room that is about 3ft x 4ft. Lunch was served at a table that looked like it doubled for a bed next to their garden where the dishes were cleaned. Elizabeth and I sat outside and enjoyed our tasty home cooked meal while they watched and kept conversation.
M’s mother works at the horticulture center to support her daughter-in-law and nephew. M’s father died early in marriage, and her brother went off with another woman leaving the family with very little income to live off of. Understanding the financial situation that her family is in, the horticulture center allows them to live there. M is fortunate to have a part time job at the school and a husband who sends money back home from Qatar. Unfortunately she only gets to see him once a year.
I have seen people in periodicals and documentaries living in these conditions, but I have never had the rich and humbling experience of living in it. As we talked, I learned a bit about their background and in keeping with other stories that I have heard- this is not uncommon.
After lunch, we took a cab to Swayambhunath where we climbed a gigantic staircase to view the stupa and drunk in the sights of brightly colored prayer flags and a view of Kathmandu. It was a hot and humid, and by the time we were finished, I was very ripe for a shower.
As we drove home, all I could think about was how I get to go back to the guest house, to my private room, and wash my sticky body in a hot shower; and how M would go back to a single room hut with a cloth for a door, a dusty cement floor, and no running water.
During my morning jogs through the streets, I see men on bent bicycles offering to pick up rubbish, plastic, and cardboard, people carrying loads twice the size of their bodies, and people sitting in cramped and dark rooms selling their goods. I constantly stare at the ground trying to avoid rolling an ankle in a pot hole, or stepping in a heaping pile of excriment — and I try not to get frustrated; because at the end of all of this, I get to go home.
More about Nepal’s migrant workers:
In Qatar, one of the richest countries in the world, an average of one Nepali person dies everyday while building the 2022 World Cup stadium. It is estimated that 4,000 workers could die by the time the finals take place.
It is not uncommon to see wooden coffins arriving at Tribhuvan Airport. Since her arrival in mid-August, Elizabeth has met four women who have lost their husbands in Qatar.