Tashi Delek UF!
To introduce myself briefly, my name is Joanna and I am a UF senior spending 3.5 months this semester living and studying in Kathmandu, Nepal, specifically in the predominantly Tibetan neighborhood called Boudha, while also going on excursions to Darjeeling, India and the high Himalayas. The program I’m studying through is called SIT: Tibetan and Himalayan Peoples, with the general subject of study being just that! Religion, culture, politics, language, history…If it has to do with Tibetan or Himalayan people, I’ll probably be learning about it. Anyway, continuing on with my first blog post!
I have been in Nepal for a week and a half already and have been struggling to find a way to put my experience thus far into words…maybe it’s the culture shock, maybe it’s that I have had no time to mentally digest the fact that I’m literally IN NEPAL (still shocking), maybe it’s that I’m so absorbed in trying to speak Tibetan that I’ve forgotten how to express myself in English. Nevertheless, I am going to try.
I’m currently sitting on a comfy red armchair, drinking a banana smoothie in probably one of the ritziest places in Boudha (the tea is 135 rupees, roughly $1.50 – far beyond the means of most Tibetans or Nepalis in the city). The internet exists and is fast, they have CHEESECAKE and pizza and coffee and spaghetti. I’m sorry to say I’m in a very touristy spot. But man is that probably average cheesecake going to taste good after the week I’ve had.
Sitting in a less snazzy cafe earlier this morning, I typed out the beginnings of a blog post detailing everything that’s happened since I stepped off the plane ten days ago and started my life here. However, all that stuff was deleted after I decided it was boring and dry and most people wouldn’t be concerned with me spouting off my itinereary. Instead, I’m going to let you in on a few observations/moments/aspects of Nepali/Tibetan culture that have stood out in my mind.
This has nothing to do with Nepali culture, but flying first class is AWESOME. The flight attendants give you ice cream sundaes, hot towels, and tiny glass bowls of almonds, are about a thousand times nicer to you than people in coach, and your seat reclines completely into a bed. Everything you’ve ever heard about first class is true; I did feel superior to the rest of the plane-population (although my first-class superiority is a fraud – I was upgraded from economy when United totally bungled my itinerary, giving me a near heart attack the night before I was scheduled to leave).
Kathmandu feels like the Caribbean. The environment is green and lush and really, really freaking humid. I guess I should have guessed when I found out it’s the same longitude as Tampa, Fl.
Kathmandu is to holy sites what Rome is to historical sites. You can’t walk ten feet without running into a monastery or temple or shrine right by the side of the road.
Don’t ever think someone is kindly welcoming you to the country by blessing you and your family and putting a tika (a red dot worn by Hindus) on your forehead. They will proceed to demand money from you and then you have to walk around the city for the rest of the day with a mark that essentially says “dumb tourist.”
I don’t know when I’m going to get used to a.) being stared at constantly for being white and a foot taller than everyone else, b.) the complete lack of traffic laws, which make crossing the street my least favorite part of the day, c.) the fact that I have to take a shower by scooping cold water from a bucket and pouring it onto myself, or d.) the food, which is delicious, but makes my stomach “depo-mey” (not fine).
(Side note: The guy from the cafe I’m in just informed me that they have neither cheesecake nor brownies. Sad face.)
I could definitely get used to a.) Nepali and Tibetan children, who are adorable and yell “namaste!” or “tashi delek!” in high squeaky voices when I walk by, b.) Nepali and Tibetan people, who have wonderful senses of humor, are incredibly polite and kind, and just laugh good-naturedly when I make stupid American mistakes, c.) walking by the beautiful Bouddha Stupa everyday on my way to class, and d.) drinking cha (milk tea) all day everyday.
The three year old girl in my homestay family spent a good hour the other night running and jumping on pillows, laughing hysterically, and repeating about a million times. It was precious.
I am at the most risk of dying from being run over by a motorbike in the tourist district of Kathmandu, called Thamel. Somehow, though the streets are packed with people, motorbikes manage to race through, coming within five or six inches of me a few times.
Thamel, shockingly, is not my favorite place in Kathmandu.
In Tibetan, boyfriend and girlfriend (garok) literally means “happy helper” and computer (lokle) means “electronic brain.”
There was a sign for a restaurant in Thamel that said “Probably the best steakhouse in the city.” Probably, but possibly not.
Angry birds fashion is all the rage in Kathmandu now. If anyone wants an angry birds sweater, all you have to do is ask.
Nepalese like to describe everything as “fancy.” Fancy purse, fancy clothes, fancy restaurant. Another favorite is “Party Palace.” There are many party palaces in Nepal, I’ll let you know when I find out what goes on in there.
When you walk by a store in Thamel, the shopkeeper usually just says “yes, please” to get you to buy something.
Rice. For every meal. That’s all I’m going to say about that.
Well, I am devoid of any more thoughts that are relevant to this blog post. Tonight my homestay family is teaching me how to make momos (delicious Tibetan dumplings) and tomorrow I am having a probably silent laundry-washing sesh with my non-English speaking ama-la (mother). Unfortunately I exhausted most of my Tibetan when I said “Tashi delek! Ngei ming-la Joanna ser-guiy-yoy” (Hi, my name is Joanna).
Kali shu, namaste, and goodnight from the roof of the world!