(written June 13, 2010) We’ve been in Kathmandu for one week and I’m feeling much better about my place in the city (and where I am located in the world). While I fully enjoyed the orientation week, I’m ready to start focusing my time on the research that I set out to do. I’ve moved in with my host family and tomorrow I’ll formally begin my research with INHURED representatives as my advisors.
The meetings that we’ve had have been instrumental in bringing our semester’s-worth of readings to life. We saw the wonderful city through the helping eyes of knowledgeable tour guides - showing us the many details that will help us navigate and better enjoy the city (the many internal courtyards of Kathmandu, which were traditionally the front of the houses; or telling the point of the compass based on the hand positions of Buddha) - and we have seen the political debate come to life through a sometimes rowdy meeting with two politicians.
Tomorrow I’ll be headed to City Hall for a meeting of Human Rights organizations and government officials. There will be victims groups attending and speaking, but I’m not entirely sure the premise of the meeting. Being flexible was something that Ashok had instructed us to be, and I’m looking forward to showing up and seeing what happens. Thanks to NIDS there will be an interpreter who can help me decipher what’s going on as well.
This afternoon I moved in with my host family, a very nice couple in a nice part of town. I’m staying in Jhamsikhel (which I’m having a lot of trouble remembering for some reason), and its located not in Kathmandu Valley, but in Lalitpur. What that means exactly, I’ll need a better map to tell you. (Flexible. Patience. And not really caring what part of the city/or other city you’re living in… I’m doing well so far.) This is apparently the “New Thamel” and therefore frequently described or called “Jhamel” (get it? Thamel… Jhamel….). This is mostly because this is the new district where all the UN and other IOs have headquartered. (I walked by the North Korean Embassy. We’re not in Kansas anymore!!!!)
My family is made up of a husband, Uncle (Nepalis, I’ve been told multiple times, are bad with first names because they so frequently use the familial titles that they forget the given names, so I’m going with that too), who is retired from working in an administrative position in various Ministries of the government, his latest position was in the Ministry of Planning. And Auntie, who is a dedicated housewife. They have three grown daughters, one living and working at the Africa Desk of the UN in NY with her husband and one daughter; another daughter is working and living with her husband and son in Sydney, Australia; and the third is working and living with her husband here in Nepal. Another grandson is moving with his mother to New York on Friday (I think that this grandson is a nephew, because his mother is Auntie’s sister). Many of their daughters friends, Uncle told me, have left Nepal - for the US, Australia, Canada.
When arriving in Nepal, initially I was jarred a bit by our first walk, but I’ve gotten used to the semi-congested, unpaved and potholed roads - which are for driving and cycling, never for walking (even if the pedestrians cover the road). I’ve gotten used to (but with some difficulty) to the hotel staff that smiled incessantly and stood over you while you drink your tea. I was expecting more beggars, more trash, and dirt (as in dirty, not dirt as in dust -- of that there has been PLENTY). The heat hasn’t been that bad either, and we haven’t had any rain really yet (although last night was the first. and it was HUGE!!!!! Biggest claps of thunder I‘ve heard in a long time!!) Based on the conversations with people from the previous year, I was geared up for something more dire. Maybe having been in Mumbai (de)sensitized me? Maybe I was prepared for this unknowingly? Maybe its because I’ve only been in very nice areas (ding! ding! ding!)? But, so far, nothing yet has hit me with more than I can handle (besides the food poisoning the other day….).
Now at the house, I had a little time to interact today with my family. Like I said, they’re a very sweet couple. When I arrived at first though, I had no idea what to expect. Again, based on conversations with people from last year, I was expecting something that in the end made my inferences of what was happening, totally false - and although I didn’t say any of them outloud, I really would have made a mess had I done so… International crises averted (and general saving of face successful).
We arrived, with a bit of confusion as to the actual location of the house - “So where exactly are you in relation to ‘The Learning Center’? hmm. And the Arun Thapa sculpture? Oh. Ok, turn back around,s again.” Once here I wasn’t really sure when I should speak up, or ask a question. My inference led me to believe that this was because it was a patriarchal society and so I wasn’t being asked anything to talk about. No…. apparently I just didn’t speak up. I didn’t speak up though because I really didn’t know what was going on. I couldn’t even tell if I was being talked about. I had trouble figuring out the layout of the house, and who the other person in the other room was…. I still don’t know who the other person was, but the other room turns out to be the family room.
I’ve been asked a number of questions in terms of technical support on the desktop computer that they have. I’ve been sufficiently and completely useless at any and all of these questions. So much so that the password for Uncle’s skype was deleted and he had to call someone else to get it. So, we moved on to other things.
I watched Auntie while she did some laundry. She doesn’t speak any English and my Nepali is oh so so poor. And as David Sedaris said (paraphrasing), “I hate those babies who have it so easy! With everyone pointing and repeating the same word over and over.” I have no idea what she is trying to say to me. But at some point “Grandson” or she shows me toothpaste. And we understand. She has a grandson. I don’t need toothpaste, I brought my own.
The other bad inference came with dinner. After sending a quick email (dial up is connected from 7pm to 8am), it was time for dinner. I gave them the cd - “There is music with an accordion.” “An aquarium? Fishes?” …. hand motion accordion… “Oh. no. Hm. Music. Ok.” - which they liked the gift but the speakers on the computer don’t work and there is no CD player (so… basically…. yea… next time a book?) .. I’ll find something else for a parting gift. So after that, there was a small table brought for me in the family room. Uncle sat on one of mats (it’s a sofa, but foam mat is more descriptive - very comfortable) and Auntie brought us food. Surprisingly, I didn’t get mountains and mountains of anything. It was more than I’ve been eating generally, but it was great food so I didn’t mind! But Auntie never joined us. I was, again, convinced that this was something to do with the patriarchicical society. But no. Auntie doesn’t like soccer and would prefer to watch her Indian soap opera in the other room. OBVIOUSLY!
While in the family room, I was looking at the photos hanging up. Many of them of family and religious figures. Then in one frame was a collage of the most recent King and some members of the royal family. I was jumping to conclusions left and right. Uncle asked me what my project was, and I tried to find a way to say “Democracy” without making a complete mess of the relationship that we just created and being kicked to the curb. Apparently, this is totally fine. I knew it was, but still. Framed photo of the King… Democracy…. Didn’t add up directly. But it works. He was quite interested in what I was studying and is very smart, quoting many different forms and history of government. “There are many illiterate people who do not know their rights, but with the media and TV this is changing.” (Thanks to many of the journalists that I know!!) And he said also that “The monarchy exists in many other countries still because people do not know their rights as citizens.” I definitely didn’t expect that comment with the former King looking down on me from the other wall.
Tomorrow will start with a fun ride on a scooter from near here (the British School -- this is JUST like La Lucila!! With Northlands and everything!) to City Hall for the meeting. I need to get a scarf to cover my face MUCH sooner than later. (Mom, by the time you read this, I will have been there and back safe and sound J ) For now, sleep and contemplation on how to stop making so many wrong assumptions!