Four Years, Four Continents

I made it to Kathmandu! And with that, I’ve managed to carve out a life for myself on four different continents in four consecutive years, which is something I never could have dreamed of at any point in my life up until now.

Speaking of surprising turns of life: Kathmandu. To be perfectly honest, before this job opportunity arose, I never considered coming here. Not that I had no desire to visit Nepal, but I always thought my next country would be either Argentina or Australia. Coming to Nepal, I had very little in the way of preconceived notions or expectations. I did prepare before coming here, by reading materials provided by DFATD, books, and news papers watching news stories about the country and documentaries, but I still didn’t really know what I was getting myself into.

I had a conversation earlier today with my Airbnb host, Birendra, who is literally one of the nicest people I have met in my life (I’m also in love with his daughter, who is very competitive and, the way she tells me, an incredible football player). Birendra has run a trekking company for the past 15 years or so, and has travelled around Nepal, and most recently, to the United States. Since I arrived, we’ve had many conversations about differences in people based on where they come from, but one thing he said to me today stuck out – he described “travellers”as though it were a broader sort of nationality. And I hadn’t thought about it until he said it, and maybe nationality is the wrong way of describing it, but the more people I meet who put in the effort to be open to experiences outside their comfort zone and the more time I spend away from Canada, the more at one I feel with the rest of the world. Which is not to say that being away from Canada makes me feel less Canadian, or makes me wish I had grown up elsewhere (I don’t wish that at all, Canada is beautiful and, under more transparent and forward thinking political leadership, is a wonderful place to visit or call home). But the more time I live away from Canada, the more pieces of other cultures I pick up. And in meeting more people who have spent significant time in parts of the world different from their home community, there is a certain broad sense of belonging. My life for the past four years is completely crazy to me when I think about it, and I don’t take for granted that there are not many people in their mid twenties who can say that they’ve lived on or even traveled to four different continents. My life is very cool, and I love it, and I’m learning to accept the harder parts of it (which do very much exist). And here I am.

My move to Nepal was significantly easier than my move to the Netherlands. Which was unexpected, to say the least. My move to the Netherlands involved me losing (and finding!) my passport in the Toronto airport, moving to three different apartments, and the world’s longest dispute with the Rogers phone company (which has finally come to an end). The hardest part of the initial move to Nepal was my Phoebe Buffay-style sprint through the Toronto airport after my flight out of London (Ontario) was delayed an hour and a half (precisely ten minutes longer than my connection in Toronto). Literally as soon as I got into the airport off the tarmac arrivals section for the poor souls on the London hopper plane, I heard that all passengers bound for Abu Dhabi should be on the plane. Sprinting through the airport in hiking boots (always wear your heaviest shoes when you travel!) with a carry-on packed for 18 hours on a plane is on my list of unadvisable activities. The flight attendants literally thought I was going to either pass out or vomit on them.

If you look at the top left area of the map, you’ll see an escalator image, which is where I arrived. I flew out of E75. I know this map has no scale, but seriously guys, this was harder than a marathon.

But I didn’t vomit! The rest of my flight was uneventful but productive (I crushed the first season of True Detective). My first impression of Kathmandu, as with any city, was its airport. This reference is only going to be relevant for maybe ten people reading this, 75% of whom are family members, but Kathmandu’s airport is roughly the size of the Dryden airport. And yes, there are only two conveyor belts for your luggage.

I arrived at around 20.00 to a pitch black city (no street lights in KTM). My organization, IDEA, had arranged for a driver to pick me up and take me to my Airbnb. This was my first experience with addresses in Kathmandu. Don’t get me wrong, there are numbered streets. I am not staying on one. Combine that with no street lights and often no street signs. Ol yours truly spent a significant amount of time after sunset (which occurs at roughly 18.00) circling some side streets to find my Airbnb. I have made many street dog friends through this activity (don’t worry, my rabies shot is up to date and I always carry a headlamp. Headlamps: the sign of a true Canadian traveler). The first night, I made myself stay up until 23.00, and still woke up wide awake at 1.30. Even though I fell back asleep, this city wakes up at 5.30 sharp. And by wakes up, I mean the temple bells go off, the dogs start barking, the people start moving, the trucks start going. So glad I’m already a morning person.

My first day here was even more productive than crushing a season of True Detective (hard to believe, I know). I got a cell phone, no problem, and I found an apartment! My apartment hunting technique went as follows: go to first apartment you have on your list; see German Shepherd in courtyard of house; based on presence of said dog, immediately commit to apartment without going inside.

Saru, my new roomie!

In all fairness, it is a good apartment! It has laundry AND a toaster oven (I was informed by a friend that he had never seen a toaster oven in Nepal, despite having lived here for a few years) AND a bed that accommodates a non-child sized human (for some reason Dutch people love using child-sized beds in rentals, despite being a nation of tall people) AND carpets (key in a country in which houses are not heated or well-insulated). It also has two couches to accommodate visitors!

But really, dog.

Note that, though this is a very cute dog, she is not as cute as Varta, and I am in no way replacing my dog.

My new boss, Sheri, also invited myself and Adil, the other lawyer sent through the CBA YLIP, to the office and out for lunch. It’s a small office – including myself and Adil, there are roughly 10 people working there – but in a really cool and really safe (Mom and Dad, it is earthquake proof to 9 on the Richter Scale) building. And, as much as I am excited about getting started on the work itself, I was beyond excited to learn that we have two employed Nepali cooks who provide us with lunch every day. NEPALI LUNCH EVERY DAY. This is already the best job in the world, and in all future employment contracts, I am negotiating a lunch clause.

We did more than just talk about lunch, though I probably could have heard more about it – Sheri told us more about what we’re going to be doing with the organization and our day-to day, and I really am excited to get going on this. Even though the Nepali work week is Sunday-Friday, we’re working the Western schedule, Monday-Friday, 9-5. There’s significant assessments to be done regarding issues with aspects relating to the Muslim faith and to indigenous people’s issues, so those will be major projects for Adil and I. Sheri also told us that we might travel to other parts of Nepal to do presentations, which I’m really excited about – Kathmandu is pretty cool so far, but I can definitely see myself wanting to get out of the city and see more of the countryside at some point (plus, the more of the country I see, the better, and having an excuse to travel for work is always great).

But, Kathmandu really is cool. I did my own little walking tour (a lot of my personal walking tours involve me getting lost, but how else do you get to know a city, amiright?).

Garden of Dreams in Thamel

Originally a private garden for a kaiser in the 1920s, it was restored in the early 00s and is really one of the few green spaces in the city.

Kathesimbhu Stupa – a small copy of the Swayambhunath complex, dating back to the mid 1600s. “Stupa” is Sanskrit for “heap”, and refers to a mound-like structure containing relics and used as a place of meditation in Buddhism.

Stone relief of Shiva (right) in the Uma Maheshwar pose with Pavarti (left), dating back to the 9th century.

Wooden carved window resting over a corner store in Thamel – called ‘deshay madu’ in Nepali, which means, ‘there is not another one like it.’

The stupa in the courtyard in front of Yatkha Bahal, a Buddhist temple.

Prayer flags in Durbar Square. The flags are thought to originate from Bon, a distinct sect of Buddhism. The flags are used to promote peace, compassion, strength, and wisdom. The belief is that the prayers will be blown by the wind to spread the good will into all the space around.

It’s been very cool so far seeing everything in Kathmandu, but there are definitely things that I’m not used to that haven’t been the greatest – after five days of walking around, I have a terribly sore throat from the pollution in the air, so I now am wearing the SARS masks my parents bought me for Christmas. Practical gift givers, my parents. I’ve also accepted the fact that I may go seven months without a hot shower – the gas shortage here is real. There is no gas for hot water in my apartment, so the tanks are heated through solar panels. I had high hopes today that I would hit the solar panel at the right time, but even at 15.00, my water was far less than lukewarm. Which would not be terrible, but for the fact that houses in Nepal are so, so, so cold. Considering the fact that I put the fire on when my parents’ house is already 22 degrees, I’m 100% reverting back to my treeplanter life and wearing layers of my planting gear indoors and hiding under swaths of blankets… and I’m really glad I stocked up on dry shampoo. Another huge adjustment is loadshedding – the power is deliberately cut off by the city in order to conserve it. Today in my zone, power was shut off for 13 hours. We have a reserve power source, so I have three lights and one outlet in my apartment that will work all the time – as long as the reserve source isn’t overused. There’s a loadshedding app (which I find extremely useful but kind of ironic that an app for an electronic device is going to tell me when I don’t have power), so tomorrow, my zone only loses power for 8 hours, and luckily, during the bulk of it I’ll be at work.

And in bizarre Kathmandu news, yesterday a leopard wandered into the city and went into a residential home. He has since been captured and released into a wildlife reserve north of the city. Just like Canada and bears. (There is a small part of me that hopes an orphan baby leopard breaks into my apartment, and I could have a total Born Free moment with it. Ok, it’s not a small part of me, after learning that this is a possibility, it’s kind of my dream).

So, even though there are a lot of adjustments to be made in coming here, so far, I think I’m really going to like it. The Nepali people are just so nice, and the type of people from more developed and Western societies who have chosen to move to Nepal are really open and just really cool (from what I’ve experienced so far). Birendra, my Airbnb host and first experience with Nepali people, has offered to take me on weekend treks around the city, and is helping me plan my Everest Base Camp trek – he’s also told me that his home is now my home, and I can just drop in whenever, and when people here say that, they really mean it. It seems like it’s going to be a very easy place to meet really cool and genuine people, both from Nepal and other parts of the world. It’s not always going to be easy here, but I’m really glad that I made a choice to come somewhere so foreign to me, and to push myself far outside my comfort zone.

Namaste, friends. Have a good week!

One response to “Four Years, Four Continents

  1. Another well written piece! Hoping you get the Born Free moment. That’s the first thing I thought of when I saw that post. Also glad your Christmas gift is useful!

    Love you. Enjoy this experience!


    Sent from my iPad


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