Monday, June 7, 2010

Namaste! Arrival in Kathmandu

I'm finally here.

After an enjoyable journey from Paris to Bahrain (with an overnight there) and then to Kathmandu, I am finally in Nepal! I am officially a fan of Gulf Airways as both my flights operated smoothly with decent food and good service. Plus they put me up in a hotel during my overnight layover in Bahrain, with dinner included, which helps my opinion of them quite a bit! I ran into a number of French students on the flight over and we explored Bahrain a bit together in the oppressive heat. All of the students where headed into internships in Nepal, three of them to a health clinic outside of Kathmandu. Very cool! Hopefully we will stay in touch while in Nepal. Coline waited patiently for me at the airport as I went through customs and bought my visa, a thankfully painless process and we took a taxi back to the house. 

The weather is muggy but not unreasonably hot, and no signs of the monsoon yet. Having not gotten a lot of sleep over the past few days I am still exhausted but very happy to be back in the developing world. Yesterday I got out for the first time, wandering through the streets to meet Coline at work for lunch. We ate at a local restaurant she had been to before, the  Lazimpat Café, a very agreeable and cheap (by western standards) restaurant on Lazimpat street. I was having trouble deciding what to order, especially given the heat, when I ran into a part of the menu that sounded distinctly Mexican and too much like home to resist! I ended up ordering nachos and Coline had a Nepalese soup we have forgotten the name of. We also shared a lassi, or Indian milk based drink which we ordered with banana (one can often choose the fruit flavoring). It washed down the spicy food quite well.

After walking back to work with Coline I got back to wandering the city streets. My first stop was the British Council, which was quite unhelpful for a newly arrived America but I did find nearby a language learning center at which a British-accented man said I could bring by my CV later. An encouraging start! I continued back to Lazimpat and headed southward, dodging cars, motos, bikes and people. Some of the best advice that Coline has given me is to never turn blind corners sharply – vehicles of all kinds here take the corners fast, honking as a warning but often only once they have already entered the turn. This means that if you are on the inside of a turning a corner blindly you are in a dangerous position! Thus the smaller, winding streets require frequent crossings to not get run over. To make things even more confusing for an American (or French for that matter), driving is done on the left side of the road, so the cars just really aren’t where we expect them to be.

Having the impression that there are many more people in the streets here (also, very notably, very few of them are children) I looked up some statistics and, according to a quick search on Wikipedia (which uses United Nations statistics from 2009) the population density in Nepal is 199 people per square kilometer whereas in Senegal it is just 69.7. This seems to be explained by the fact that Senegal has less than half the population and the Northern half of the country, which includes the Himalayan mountain range, is sparsely inhabited. However the most relevant statistic, considering that I haven’t been outside of Katmandu yet, is the city’s 18,700 /km2 population density versus Dakar’s 12,500/km2. Not seeing many children in the streets is particularly significant considering the recent press that Senegalese talibés have been getting, And the work that a number of high profile organizations, such as Tostan and Human Rights Watch has been doing to raise awareness about the plight of Talibés. Coline’s suggestion is that in Nepal the children tend to be in school and although this has yet to be confirmed it would not surprise me terribly.

The pollution here is as awful as we were warned. I will definitely be wearing a mask if I am out for a day on the major city streets. The humid climate just seems to make the lungs feel worse, and the fact that the mountains around the Katmandu valley prevent any real air circulation is quite literally palpable.

Unfortunately I found neither a map for myself nor a good book on learning Nepali, but I stumble upon a street full of foreign language and study abroad preparation programs for Nepalese students. I talked to managers in two of them and think I have a reasonable chance of getting work there if I wanted. I also passed numerous small shrines which I am eager to learn more about later. Before too long I had made it back to the house without any trouble at all, very pleased with my ability to not get lost for the day.

For dinner we had a good meal of Dal Baht with eggplant and potatoes. Breakfast was toast with butter, cereal Coline had bought, coffee and fresh watermelon juice.

There are no bugs yet but the cutest little lizards have been crawling on our walls and ceilings. The other night while closing the curtains one actually fell onto my eye. In fact, continuing the trend, a bird relieved itself directly above my left shoulder yesterday, creating a nice stain on my shirt.

That’s all for the moment, I’m hoping to put up posts on France soon so stay connected!