Life in Nepal is an amalgamated existence–the modern alongside the archaic. It can range from startling to confusing to frustrating:
ATM’s and WiFi offer convenience…but only when they’re working. Hotels with marble floors dump their garbage on the street. The political system is democracy, but one of the parties is called “Nepal Other Backward Class.” If you have a toothache, you can make an offering to the ancient dental god steps away from the dental clinics.
My hotel room is on the 6th floor with a view…but no elevator. Nine-story concrete houses in garish colors stand beside crumbling 17th-century structures. Filigree artisans outdo their ancestors with new diamond-tipped tools for ages-old handwork.
The Indian Embassy has a new touch-screen machine where you can take a number for service but their visa application requests my “Father’s/Husband’s Name” implying that somewhere there is a man who is responsible for me, right?
Everyone has a cell phone, but the network is often too overloaded to place a call. People have iPhones but there’s no digital map for Kathmandu, nor 3G, nor widespread wireless, which leaves you mostly with a status symbol.
On my first day, a friend invites me home for a holiday dinner. I immerse in the 3-story, multi-generational household of 10+ people. Men and women still congregate somewhat separately, women still do all the cooking and cleaning, 5-year-old girls are still married to a fruit as part of an ancient ceremony, and…they are having a VOIP video call with their daughter in the US.
However bizarre these juxtapositions seem (until I become blindly accustomed to them again), one familiar constant is the primacy of food and family. Forget about observing…and eat. Holiday dinners are deluxe.
First I have a blessing: red rice on forehead, flowers in hair, wishes of health and success from eldest brother, plus 1 blessed guava, 1 blessed apple, 1 blessed banana, and 30 blessed cents all for me to take home. Then the food…
Appetizer: lentil cracker, prawn crackers, sautéed buffalo meat, fried sausage, a boiled egg, peanuts, and two kinds of sweets. Yes, that’s the appetizer.
Dinner: rice with nuts and raisins, cauliflower stir fry, boiled greens, sautéed tofu with peas, breaded and fried fish, curried chicken, spicy radish pickle, mild tofu tomato pickle, and fresh fruit over milk solids for dessert. My stomach precedes me home.
I’m jet lagged and asleep by 9pm, happy to be back in a foreign and familiar world.