Learning to appreciate what I have, the Nepali version

I have been in Nepal for 3 weeks now, not very long by any standard. Some days it feels like I got here yesterday and other times I could swear I’ve been here for a year. One way in which it feels like eternity is in the lessons I have learned about the way I live my life. Things I will no longer take for granted, after experiences in Nepal-

1. My home
Any home, I have had or will have. In the United States I know that no matter the size or location of my home, it will be a good home. The floors will not be made of dirt. The bathroom will not be a  hole in the ground, located out the door, down the steps, and around the corner. My walls will not be made of mud, with scarves and blankets serving as sufficient patchwork for the areas that have given away. My roof will be insulated, and not a thin sheet of metal who’s strength is not always a match against regular weather forces. Spiders, rats, mice, muskrats, flies, and lizards will not be able to come and go as they please, treating my house as their own. My walls and my roof will be built in a way that keeps the outside, outside. In the United States, we worry so much about the size of our home, the style of couches, the chicness of the decorations, and they currentness of our technology. I have come to find that a good home does not require many, or any, of these things.

2. Language
Oh my! The day I can walk down the street or into a shop or anywhere, and understand what the heck the people around me are saying, will be joyous. I take for granted that I speak the most universally spoken language in the world, and man do I realize how fantastic that is now. I sit at my health post and can only discern what is wrong with any of the patients based on actions. Is it a cold or is constipation? Sure would be nice if I could understand them. On the street, villagers stop to make conversation and no matter how hard I try to listen I almost always end up nodding my head in hopeful agreement or expressing my regretful lack of understanding. How nice it would be to chat with a passerby! At my home, Auma and Baba have heartfelt and humorous conversations over dinner, what I wouldn’t give to participate! From experience, I know these are two kind and caring people but I know if I could understand their words I would appreciate their personalities so much more! And everywhere, people talk about me. I’m sure they say nice words and they say not so nice words. But I don’t know who says what. Friends come to visit the house, I hear “america” and I know they are talking about me but that is all I know. Patients at the health post ask the workers about “volunteer”. People in shops and on the road stare or point and speak about anyone foreign. I will be a better listener when I come home and I will be more patient with those who don’t speak my language.

3. Toilet Paper
Such a simple, but necessary luxury! It does not exist in this country. It is BYOT nationwide, and bring your way to dispose of it while you’re at it. Nepalis use water to clean themselves. It’s not like I can ask for a demonstration so I don’t really know how it works. But my appreciation for toilet paper as never been so great until now. Many Nepalis literally don’t know even what toilet paper is. To think, I will someday be back in a place where toilet paper not only exists, but is available everywhere. What a commodity!  

4. Electricity
The entire country looses electricity multiple times a day without warning. It just happens and its just part of life. Sometimes, while you are cooking- the kitchen becomes dark. Other times, when you are reading a book before bed it becomes no longer an option. My cell phone is dead and I have no electricity to charge it, the inconvenience! I have learned to have my head lamp within reach as soon as the sun goes down. A necessary part of life in Nepal. At home, I will stop cursing the electric company next time I lose power or internet or television for whatever reason.

5. Water
Nepal is a country where the water you drink can potentially do you more harm than good. As a foreigner, I have no choice but to avoid the tap water. But even Nepalis have become accustomed to boiling their water, the consequences of not boiling have become to unpleasant. I walk 30 minutes uphill every time I want some water. If I didn’t buy enough and run out in the evening, I have to wait until tomorrow afternoon after my day at the health post to get more. I literally have to ration my water on a daily basis. There is no faucet in my kitchen or water bubbler at my work. In the future, I will be less wasteful of the seemingly endless supply I have available to me.

6. Cleanliness
I have had to accept a new type of clean for my hygiene standards. I shower in a public faucet, while wearing a dress- you can only get so clean. I wash my clothes in the same faucet, inside a bucket caked with dirt. The same stains I started the wash with, are there when I finish. Once the clothes are “clean”, I lay them to dry on a dirty, rusty roof that is laden with gifts from various animals. Sometimes my clean clothes have more spots than my dirty clothes did. My dishes are rinsed in rain water with chore stained hands. My bedroom floor is made of dirt, so that’s that. My hands and my feet are brown, always. I scrub and I scrub to get them clean, then I walk by the buffalo stalls on my way back from the faucet and they are dirty again. I eat my dinner on the same floor that I frequently walk and sit on. This too, is made of dirt and is where my food is prepared by hands that have done things today that I can only guess. I have pulled bugs from my rice, and on one occasion a pebble from my teeth. A hot shower (with a curtain), a washing machine and a dishwasher (even a sink), have never sounded so good.

7. Variety
Dal Baht, dal baht, dal baht. All day every day. This is what we eat in Nepal. Fortunately it is tasty, but still, all day every day. Breakfast and dinner monday-sunday, we eat the same thing. So Stephen, stop complaining that mom always cooks you “the same thing” because, literally, she doesn’t. I think my taste senses are slowly shrinking and dying, they only know dal baht now and aren’t really necessary. To imagine having anything I want for dinner- a juicy burger, a spicy burrito, an indian curry, a vegetable rich pasta, sounds too good to be true! 

8. Paved Roads
I wish I could really explain the roads here, but I can’t. Some have been paved in the past, some have never been. Most have potholes the size of a small child, many have obstacles of broken boulders and various other hazards. They are small roads and the cars are fast. It is terrifying. There are frequent mudslides and many mountain roads. A quick stop or tight turn could send you off a cliff. To get from Kathmandu to Pokhara (the 2 largest cities in the country) can take anywhere from 5-8 hours by bus. It just depends on the roads that day and if you or someone else gets stuck in an inconvenient location. To describe a 9 hour (thats how long it actually took us) bus trip on Nepali roads as nauseating and bone bruising would be an understatement. You better take a dramamine and hold on tight. This really is the only way to get between the 2 largest cities! I will try to complain less about traffic in the states, as long as a can have a smooth, flat road with several lanes and a guardrail.

9. Social Appropriateness
In the United States we are raised with an awareness of what is appropriate in a public setting and what is not. We are raised with the understanding that it is rude to speak to people in a certain way while other behaviors are considered polite or socially acceptable. In Nepal this type of construct does not exist. I am told I am fat, I am asked why I have so many “pimples” (aka moles) as if it is some type of disease, I am talked about loudly (in Nepali of course) when I am sitting right there. Strangers have asked me how much money I make, how much did I pay to come to Nepal, how many boyfriends have I had and why did I break up with them, do I share a bed with my boyfriend, there is no line for a Nepali to cross when asking about your personal life.  My foreign friends have had similar experiences, one guy was asked to move to another chair because he was “too fat” for the one he was sitting in. He promptly sat right back down. My blonde friend gets met with weird looks and “why is your hair white?” assuming she is much to young for that. As much as talking behind someones back is considered unkind in the US, I have decided I would much prefer it than be continuously dissected while present. And to have people consider me fat, and keep it to themselves, would be so kind! 

10. The list just feels totally incomplete without a #10! But I can’t seem think up a real good one. So, I will conclude with a couple minor grievances. Addresses- they do not exist here. Dead serious. It makes things very difficult to find! Apparently no one has ever wrote a letter in this country, ever. On friday we walked and walked and walked until we found the paragliding company that we were looking for. The only hint we had was “lakeside 6”, which it turns out has a several mile radius. Other friends have been on the hunt for a lonely planet recommended yoga center. Its been over a week and they are not any closer to knowing where it is. At home, I’m in a panic if my GPS isn’t in the car with me at all times. Such a technology would prove completely useless in Nepal. Next, Heckling. Please let me walk down the street in peace! Shop owners, handicraft peddlers, tour guides, waiters, taxi drivers, sweets-seeking children, and those without a discernible cause- when I said no the first time, it did not mean I would change my mind when you asked me for the 20th time. I get it, they are trying to make a living. But it still gets tiresome, if I was interested in what you had in your shop I would come in! Promise! Also, I don’t know who spread the rumor that foreigners carry chocolate at all times but apparently that’s what all Nepali children have been lead to believe. “Miss, chocolate?” “Excuse me, sweet please?” I don’t think I have ever even bought a chocolate bar in my life, let alone carry one around in my back pocket at all times. Doesn’t matter if the kid is homeless and hungry or from the wealthiest family in the city- they still want your chocolate. 

Well, I will stop there and promise that my next post will be my thoughts on things that Nepalis do way better than us westerners. Because there are plenty of those too. I have learned a lot about what I will appreciate more from my own culture and what lessons I will take back with me from this culture. The country of Nepal is a unique place that has already taught me so much in 3 weeks. 
Quickly- went paragliding on friday and spent the weekend in pokhara, a great weekend out. Had a $25 2.5 hour body scrub/massage/facial yesterday… it was as amazing as it sounds. So. good. I even got a pair of souvenir one size fits all undies! Score! One more week of village life. Will be sad to leave my family, but pretty ready to be done with my “volunteering”. Apparently I signed up for a community health nursing clinical, I literally get excited when I get to give someone a shot. Next week I leaving for the “Annapurna Base Camp” trek with a few friends. Should take us just over a week, then spending a couple more days with my host family to celebrate Dasain. Nepalis get a month off work for this festival, apparently it entails numerous goat and buffalo sacrifices- more on that later! Then a quick stop in Kathmandu before I’m off to Sri Lanka on the 17th of October!
Wow, a long winded post.. sorry. Hope you all had a happy weekend! xo

3 thoughts on “Learning to appreciate what I have, the Nepali version

  1. So you are learning how to live like a Nepalese villager. I live in Kathmandu so it’s far better developed. Here we can buy toilet paper easily but I still use the toilet water spray for cleaning. Good luck with everything Melissa. Anthony

  2. Melissa! I love you so much! Im so sorry but this morning was the first time I’ve sat down to read your blog. It is AMAZING, INSPIRING, WELL WRITTEN, FUNNY and COMPLETELY you! Im so happy I can go to this website and feel like you are talking to me and telling me all about your adventures. You are one of the most incredible people I know and I can tell that you are getting so much out of this experience and it is exactly the challenge you were looking for and needed! I love you, stay safe, and I promise I am now an avid reader of your blog! Keep the posts coming!

  3. ah melissa everything sounds so interesting!! (and difficult..)! your blogs keep making me so reminiscent of india, and i wish i was back in asia with you experiencing all the craziness! that’s so exciting that you’re gonna be trekking for a while..take lots of pics!! and take lots of pics in sri lanka…that’s where my grandfather and his family are from!! i wanna go there so bad. LOVE YOU TONSSSS!!


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