Sometimes when all we are use to is all we see, we can develop resistance to learning…That is ofcourse unless we realize that there is more to the world than where we were born. This is best described in Plato’s allegory of the cave where he describes men who were living in a cave and the only forms they could see were shadows cast by a light from a candle in the middle of the cave. If taken out of the cave, the men would have some difficulty believing the real thing as all they could see while in the cave was the shadows.
Just like the men in the cave, I have found myself constantly asking myself whether I have been in a “cave” and what I’m experiencing right now is the struggle to cope with life outside the cave. Here the cave refers to what I’m familiar with, my home country and the lifestyle while life outside is the different experiences I’m going through and expect to go through while in Nepal.
When the plane first arrived at Tribuvan airport ….all I remember was seeing several taxi drivers holding up signs, with others trying to get my attention. “If you can’t find a taxi you can make a call from the inside,” a helpful policeman outside the airport said to me. “Please be here Dr. Manju. Please.” I remember thinking. And as if she had heard my thoughts, Dr. Manju appeared from behind me and gave me a good old welcome bear hug. Namaste! Welcome to Nepal.
These very words have stayed with me every day. Every time I leave the house or when I start comparing Nepal to Kenya, I remind myself that I’m in Nepal and Nepal will never be Kenya. I just have to deal with it. We may both be developing countries facing our own different challenges. Daily I realize that even if we were both developed in terms of communications, we would still be different because a country is more than the technology. A country is about people. People and their cultures. People and the struggles they have overcome. People and their values. And daily I’m learning about the values of the Nepali people.
My first dinner
I was welcomed home by my host’s parents who were quite happy to meet me. My host’s father is a writer and an artist and was much interested to learn about Art in Kenya. He had been told that my father is also an artist. A few minutes after my arrival, I was served a warm meal of chow chow or noodles. After exchanging a few more pleasantries, I’ m invited to dinner and allowed time to rest.
During dinner I learn more about my host. He is a professor and once lectured at the universities here. He is well read about ancient history, philosophy and just about any subject you can think of. However, he doesn’t leave his compound. For the last 20 years he hasn’t left his compound apart from a few occasions when he gets an invitation to give a lecture in university halls abroad. So why not in Nepal? He vowed never to leave his compound in protest to the multiparty system in Nepal. When I ask him why he doesn’t support this system? His response is that, you can’t have too many people preparing the same cup of tea. Too many cooks spoil the broth. And so he spends most of his day reading or in his garden. But he is always willing to chat and share some nuggets of wisdom. “My only regret in life is not visiting Africa, “he says. He is now 74 and avoids long distance flights.
Among the first few things I bought on arrival in Kathmandu was airtime to let my parents and home office know that I was alright. I hardly slept the first night. It was too cold. I woke up and borrowed a blanket from Catherine ‘s. Catherine is my roommate from Uganda and she was to arrive in two days. I fell asleep early morning, guess my system was still operating on the Kenyan clock, we are three hours ahead here, and I was suffering from jet lag.
I was allowed to rest on the second day and I took the time to converse a little more With Baba. I shared my music with him and told him a little bit more about my family. He took me for a walk around his garden. This is a naturalized garden with over 20 species of fruits. Due to the 16 hour load shedding of electricity currently going on in Nepal, I couldn’t check my mail until 4.00pm when the power was scheduled to return.
My first impressions of Nepal can best be described as a mix between culture shock and fascination. Maybe be little bit more of the culture shock…Maybe we had been warned of these during the preparation course held two weeks before we departed. In between breaks in our conversation with Dr. Manju, I couldn’t help but notice the things that were different from home . I remember thinking; things will get better as you get closer to home. At first I thought that this would be in 10 months time, but I’m glad it has taken less time. I have chosen to adapt to appreciative thinking. It is working. There are always two sides to a coin.
So what were my first surprises? First was the size of the taxi. My suitcase could hardly fit in the back of the taxi. Second was the noise. Private cars, motorcycles or boda bodas as known in Kenya, the Tempo or Tuk Tuk, the micro or the bus similar to City Hoppa all seemed to be hooting at the same time. The drivers in Nepal all seem to drive much in the same way as the matatu drivers in Kenya. It helps when you want to get to your destination fast but it’s scary if you are a pedestrian. No one has right of way. Everyone seems to be in a hurry. There are zebra crossings. But they seem to have little or no meaning. But there are traffic police everywhere. At least the police are respected. They are also quite helpful. Thrice they have stopped me to offer assistance to get to my location. And yes, they speak fluent English. I’m happy to learn this.
There are dukas in every building. Traders selling different wares, from clothes, carpets, groceries, etc. All the ground floor buildings are reserved for shops. You can hardly tell the difference between the city centre and the residential areas. A lot of buildings have been decorated with some sign post or Billboard. But there some beautifully styled designed buildings here – artistically made. I like it
At home I ’m short, but here, I’m quite tall and must look almost herculean to most.
The most challenging thing during the dry season is the dust and the air pollution. Many peoplewear dust masks then. People in the streets cough or clear their throats and spit at free will here. Is the need to clear the dust from one’s system responsible for this? Maybe.
The first thing you get when you arrive in every office here is an offer for tea. This is much like back home in Kenya. Only here it is considered rude to say no.
Here my newhostDr. Manju introduced me to her staff and our programme coordinator in Nepal Sanpurna Entire. Sanpurna is this cool, calm and collected guy who has become our go-to man whenever we need any assistance. After addressing a few domestic issues Dr. Manju invited me for a lunch of Rice, lentils, daal and cauliflower at her apartment. In Nepal, rice is like Ugali is to Kenyans.
From then on we moved from office to office trying to settle official matters, first it was a sim card and internet modem, then the immigration office, then to the international language school, Bwiso Bwasha for admission- Here my colleague and I will learn Nepali. Learning to write the Nepali language remains my biggest challenge…I’m about a month late for this class but the lecturer Chandra Mani is quite helpful. He is giving us two hours of extra classes for a month.
Finally some company
Friday was a day I was looking forward to as my roommate Catherine was finally arriving. I remember checking my clock every other time waiting for 4.00 O’clock. Saturday we rested as Catherine’s was suffering from jet lag. On Saturday, it was time for me to be the tour guide to Cathy. We get a lot of stares from people here. Most are just curious and have never seen Africans before. Those who have seen Africans and can speak English ask whether we are Nigerians or South Africans. We gather it’s because of football and the world cup. The two or three who have heard about Kenya, only know it because of cricket.
I arrived during the Lhosar (Buddhist New Year) celebrations and so the nights were full of loud music and fireworks. We live in an area called Boudha where there are over 50 Buddhist monasteries. A quick search of Wikipedia and other sites reveals that this area, also known as Boudhanath is one of the holy Buddhist sites in Kathmandu, Nepal Located about 11 km (7 miles) from the center and northeastern outskirts of Kathmandu. The stupa’s (shrine) massive mandala (round religious symbol that represents the universe) makes it one of the largest spherical stupas in Nepal.
The Buddhist stupa of Boudhanath dominates the skyline. The ancient Stupa is one of the largest in the world. The influx of large populations of Tibetan refugees from China has seen the construction of over 50 Tibetan Gompas (Monasteries) around Boudhanath. As of 1979, Boudhanath is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Stupa is on the ancient trade route from Tibet which enters the Kathmandu Valley by the village of Sankhu.
There is still a lot that I look forward to learning about in Nepal. This includes their food, dressing choices, festivities e.g. funerals and weddings. Speaking of weddings, Baba’s nephew who is based in Australia is currently in Nepal for his wedding. It is an arranged marriage. He met his bride for the first time a month ago. The parents identified the bride for him and introduced them through facebook. She was the fourth of many selections they had for him. It’s been a year of communication through social networks but the two love birds have decided to tie the knot.
Baba says that wedding festivals are arranged according to the caste of the couple. He mentions four castes…Brahman – Highest and religious caste, Chatriya – warriors, Vaisya – Businessmen and traders, Sudra- the lowest caste which has labourers e.t.c