Yesterday afternoon, on my way back home from the NIDS office, I met a boy whose name escaped my memory. He leaned towards me while walking in the same direction from Hotel Ambassador down the road to that big traffic juncture connecting the eastern end of Thamel with other parts of the city.
- “Hi, how are you?” he asked me.
- “Good, thanks,” I replied, sensing this was not the end of our conversation.
- “Where are you from?” he continued.
- “Czech Republic,” I answered.
- “Oh, I know! Capital Prague, right?”
- “Correct,” I mumbled.
- The incessant stream of questions followed: “How long have you been to Nepal?”; “How long will you stay?”; “Where are you going right now?” ; “What do you think about Nepal?”
Eased by finding out this was not one of the kids begging for money or looking out for a new family, I found it refreshing to chat with that young stranger. Interestingly enough, he turned out to be a rather clever and sensible boy. He told me about how his mother took him and his three other siblings out from rural Nepal to Kathmandu to earn some money to support their father, a farmer living in the countryside. We also talked about Nepal’s current problems (water, electricity, pollution) and how they could be solved (political parties need to find consensus on the present constitutional process). Given the boy’s age (13-14yrs max.), I was stunned by how much he knows about his country. I remember myself being at the onset of puberty - completely unaware of what’s going on in neither political nor economic scene, too much preoccupied with my personal wants and generally arrogant towards the more serious issues in life. Unlike me, the boy was keen on successfully finishing his education in one of Kathmandu’s governmental schools and then going out to find a part-time job to better serve his family.
After visiting the famous Sherpa outdoor store across the southern Royal Palace entrance, we set on heading back to where we had met and then northwards toward the British Embassy complex. Now, there was another element in our conversation. The boy asked if could buy for him one box of milk powder, ostensibly for his little sister Anita (that name I remember). Wondering for a moment, I agreed and, just because I was in no mood of finding any nearby supermarket, I offered to give him money instead. He refused, insisting that cash is no good for children because they soon become comfortable with it (later on, I realized that milk powder costs probably more than what I would have given to that kid as a pocket money - so, another smart thing from him to do). He convinced me to find a supermarket close to my area and so we were off to buy some nutritional stuff for his little sister.
On our way back, I learned the boy was really fascinated about geography - especially linking countries with their respective capitals. He told me I can ask for any country and that he would know what the name of its capital city is. So I started with Europe: “Iceland,” I asked.
- “Reykjavik,” he responded swiftly.
- “Belarus,” I continued.
- “Belarus.. that will be... Minsk!” he shouted victoriously.
- OK, now something tricky, I thought. “Paraguay!”
- “Asuncion!” he replied with no overt difficulty. Suddenly, I felt ashamed of myself having in mind Montevideo (the capital of Uruguay) as the right answer. Being in the dominant position of a milk-buyer, I could afford pretending to be dead certain about the correctness of the kid’s answer. By the time we reached the supermarket, the boy proved incredibly adept at locating countries’ capitals in many different parts of the world. With the exception of Turkmenistan (Ashgabat) - the only question from which I came out as a winner - there was no doubt about who is the master of geography there. Reminding myself of my elementary school years and my own obsession with getting to know capitals of all countries in the world, I really began to like that boy.
Our brief friendship lasted for only some forty to fifty minutes. After buying him the milk powder, some cookies and a small orange juice with a straw glued to the box’s surface, we waved each other good-bye and took on opposite directions. My next thoughts went to the dilemma of how to cross one of Kathmandu’s many wild and chaotic streets and get back home soon so that I can eat my daily portion of bhat, vegetables, and drink a glass of paani.