I made it through my first week of work! The last time during which I was gainfully employed and showered this infrequently, I was a tree planter. So, there are definitely some adjustments to living in Kathmandu, and since I love alliterations, we’re calling them Kathmandu Quandaries.
That shower situation. I literally have zero hot water. I no longer believe that there are any solar panels for my flat. When I turn on the hot water tap, nothing comes out. Things were about to get desperate and I was going to use up a whole lot of fuel to boil water, put it in a bucket, and create a birdbath situation for myself, but luckily I made a new friend who also is lacking in the hot water department, and he let me crash the hostel room he booked for the weekend to shower in hot water. Just, the best feeling ever.
Other than me being gross, work is pretty great! The projects I’m involved in are really cool – I’m working on a draft report, auditing the Constitution from a gendered perspective. Right now, I have my first draft of the English report, and am just waiting to meet with a member of the Nepali Bar Association sometime this week to go over everything. We’re hoping to have this published by the end of the month, so that’s kind of huge for me! Once that report is done, I’m going to be developing a tool (based on the gender tool we already have) to audit the Constitution from an Indigenous Persons perspective, and then I’ll get to draft the report on that. It’s a busy week otherwise as well – Adil and I are going to a meeting on Friday with the party whips (um, how cool is that, I basically get to pretend I’m a non-sociopathic Frank Underwood), the Secretary General, and other Members of Parliament. We’re are also both getting the opportunity to be involved in a couple conferences coming up in February (we may be put up in hotels, which means hot water showers, yaaaasssss!). Aside from the hot water benefits, it’s also going to be awesome to meet other people from around Nepal and the rest of the world who are involved in this type of work. So it’s been really interesting for sure, we’ve been getting a lot of hands-on responsibility, and I’m excited to really get even more into it! Other exciting aspects of work – I have my own office for the first time ever in my life, and I managed to pick up a yak wool blanket this past weekend, because our office also doesn’t have heat (I’ve taken to wearing what was intended to be my trekking gear under my office attire. I was skeptical about whether or not I should bring a suit here at all… I brought one. It was a waste of space. I bought my first custom-made kurta this week, because why would I ever wear pants with a fly when I have an option to do otherwise? And I can layer so many things under them!).
Also, I was terrible at packing this time around. I was really trying to save on space. I brought two pairs of pants. Like, why, out of everything to bring, would I skimp on the pants?
In all seriousness, I can deal with cold water and lack of heat inside a building. I’m sure there is going to come a point here where I have a minor freakout about it (if it rains and it’s a cold rain, I will have a serious problem), but it’s still pretty novel right now, and, let’s get real, it could be much worse. Most of the quandaries are things I really can adapt to, and it’s worth it to get this experience. One of the main reasons I wanted to come to Kathmandu was to be so far removed from my comfort zone, so, mission accomplished.
And speaking of learning to adapt – I tried doing laundry for the first time since coming here. What an adventure! So I have a washing machine in my flat, but remember, we get power for roughly ten or eleven hours a day, and it’s not consecutive hours. For example, on Sunday I had power from midnight to 4.00, and then from noon to 16.00, and then back on at 22.00 until midnight. So the hours of midnight to 4 were a wash because I was sleeping; noon to 16.00, it’s too cold to stay inside so you might as well go out and do something, and then, let’s get real, I go to bed by 22.00 most nights. So on Saturday, my power came on at 16.00, so I went home to put in a load of laundry, and then left. When I got home at around 22.00, the power was out, and I had a washing machine full of all my clothes and about 5 litres of water. I think there’s a weird lack of synchronization between my water and power being on simultaneously. So I had to wait until noon Sunday to turn the washing machine back on and let it finish its cycle. It finally did, 24 hours after I started this process. And obviously, driers are not a thing here, so it was quite a question mark as to whether or not I would have work clothes today.
Other than the obvious adjustments, I actually really like my flat – I’m in a great location, it’s a fifteen minute walk from work, a ten minute walk from a huge grocery store/market, and a twenty minute walk from the main going out area of Kathmandu. There’s also an outdoor pingpong table right outside my building, and I got to play yesterday with a couple of the local kids, and they were kind enough to pretend to be impressed by my ‘skills’.
This weekend, I got to experience Kathmandu nightlife at the one and only Club OMG. Which is probably the best name for a club, anywhere. This is the first country I’ve lived in where being a white blonde woman is clearly NOT something you see every day, which means I’m definitely overpaying for every cab I take, but it also means that I get served at the bar immediately. Win some, lose some, amirite.
I also managed to do some sight seeing this weekend, between Club OMG and the 24 hour laundry cycle. I went to Pashupatinath Temple, which Nepal’s most important Hindu temple, on the banks of the Bagmati River. I didn’t actually go in the temple, because it’s only open to Hindus, and harkening back to that white blonde look, I’m not fooling anyone. Interestingly enough, even if you convert to Hinduism, as a ‘tourist’ you aren’t allowed in the temple. I’m not sure if that’s because you may have eaten cow at some point in your life, or they just don’t want a bunch of people pretending to be Hindu to get in, or some other equally valid reason.
The temple itself was constructed in the late 1600s, but the site has been used as a place of Hindu and Buddhist worship for much longer. This site is the Nepali equivalent of the Indian Varanasi, on the Ganges, and the Bagmati is considered to be an extremely sacred river. Along the river in front of the temple, open air cremations are carried out. Only the royal family could cremate their loved ones directly in front of the temple, but since Nepal no longer has a royal family, the last cremations carried out in the ghat immediately in front of the temple were in 2001, following the massacre of the royal family (which is something I’m going to write a longer post about later because it’s such a fascinating story and could be something straight out of a soap opera). To the south of the temple is where ordinary Nepalis are cremated, and now, closer to directly in front of the temple, families willing to pay higher premiums are able to cremate their loved ones. There are differences in faith as to the preparation process of the bodies – Buddhists will leave the bodies for three days before bringing them down to be cremated, whereas Hindus will bring them as soon as possible. The bodies are wrapped in white and then orange cloth, and laid on a pyre. Some of the pyres are quite simple, but the financially better-off families will often decorate the pyre with many orange flowers.
If a mother dies, the youngest son is responsible for lighting the pyre, and if the father dies, the oldest son is responsible. The fire initiates in the mouth, which is a pretty rough burden to place on your son, from my perspective. Women aren’t actually even allowed to be part of the ceremony unless they’re Newars (the indigenous people of the Kathmandu Valley) – I was told it’s because women cry too much (I kept my Western feminist mouth shut, don’t worry).
The bodies of men take three days to burn, and women, four (I was told women take longer because their bones are harder, which really puts everything I know about osteoporosis into question, so I’m going to assume there are reasons beyond bone density, but my body burning knowledge is quite limited, so who knows). The parts of the spine that remain will be placed into the Bagmati River. Apparently after the earthquake last year, the ghats were lit continuously because there were so many bodies to be cremated.
As a Westerner, especially one who is not so big on the displays of emotion, this funeral process was kind of uncomfortable to witness – I actually saw one set of sons preparing a body, and another body was about to be lit. The one that was already prepared had all the family around it – they were Newars, so the women were there – and people were just wailing. It’s expected here to have that very public form of grief, and it’s a pretty intense thing to witness. But it was very interesting, and there were other parts of the complex around the river to explore, so I didn’t feel overly voyeuristic.
It was definitely an interesting Sunday, but it’s always good to keep things in perspective – Catholics are supposed to literally believe in transubstantiation (ie. the bread substantively becomes flesh and wine substantively becomes blood, and then they eat and drink it) – so let’s get real, all religions have things that seem weird to outsiders.
There is one thing we can all agree on for sure though – the way leftovers are provided in Kathmandu is hilariously adorable:
Happy Monday, friends!