7 Days in Nepal
Softball, Nepali Family, and Bhaktapur
AM Softball at US Embassy Annex
A festival day, Makar Sankranti, I am told they have 5-10 festivals a month and most people don’t really know what/when they all occur…but they celebrate heartily nontheless. We are off to play softball first thing in the morning…quite a cold day for it. We drive to the US Embassy Annex where our IDs are checked and the truck is swept for bugs. Once inside, I have to checkin to the security office and get a visitor badge. We meet up with Joe’s colleagues and other friends to play a fun and lighthearted game (for some of us…Joe is very serious about baseball and hits a home run nearly every at-bat) until about noon, then back to the house for cleanup.
Festival at the Bhujel Family Home
Off to Jayanti’s family home just 15 minutes north, she says to Joe, “I think Al not like my house,” which at first I don’t understand. Once we arrive to the four-story concrete building, with family on all levels, I realize she is referring to my western heritage where nearly every American has a plot of land with a colonial on it. I am not offended by her home…it is cozy and more family-oriented than most of us in America.
We eat huge festival meal of Nepali dishes and treats–very interesting and different. Most notable is the “pork,” which is fatty, very chewy and salty. The rice pudding is amazing and the Nepali milk coffee Ama makes from scratch is better than anything from Starbucks or Wawa.
We hang out with cousins and relatives for awhile: watching the men play cards on the rooftop; grandpa and grandsons watch cricket in small dark living room; along with the other young relatives, I am given 70 rupees as a festival gift from Grandpa (I ask Joe what I could do with the gift aside from keep it and he says give it to our tour guide in Bhaktapur later).
Bhaktapur Durbar Square
Rule #6: Get a Good Guide
Joe and I part for Bhaktapur, dropping off a few relatives along the way. At Bhaktapur, I pay to go into this historic kingdom and ask Joe what I was paying for, which started a long back and forth of me asking where we were and what we were looking at and him telling me I was asking ridiculous questions. I also asked what I felt was a legitimate question (not knowing much about Hinduism or Buddhism):
Why are there so many temples?
No answer. Another stupid question.
[The answer…in case you are wondering: Worship is an important ritual of the Hindu daily life, usually observed twice a day (in the morning and the evening). The Hindu religion recognizes innumerable gods and goddesses, possibly 330 million deities altogether. The rulers and inhabitants of Kathmandu tried to please these deities, which resulted in the creation of architectural masterpieces all over the valley–every square and every junction in the older parts of the city has temples and stupas.]
When I finally have enough of Joe’s antics, I tell him he is a wonderful host and vacation planner but a terrible tour guide–and that’s when we meet Sunita. At 4’2″ and 75 lbs, wearing a long black knit sweater and tight dark blue jeans, Sunita walks with a severe overpronation and is followed closely by a few local children. She appears to be in her late teens or early 20s, but it’s hard to be sure. Her dark brown skin was sprinkled with light patches like milk stains, her brownish green eyes sparkle amid her chocolate face.
She approaches Joe–who is scowling and towering over her–beaming nervously and apologetically as she offers a tour of the Durbar Square. She says she only has a bit of time to return to her 8-month-old daughter who is in good hands with a relative. Joe introduces me as the governor of Pennsylvania, the most important person in the state, and that I deserve a very good tour. She has no idea what this means (most people have never heard of Philadelphia let alone Pennsylvania), but I play the part for amusement’s sake. Joe acts as my translator (which comes in handy because most people do not speak very good English).
We part for the landmarks, being followed by a few of the young boys Sunita had floating around her. They seemingly attempt to get cash from Joe…or maybe even his Coke. He shakes them off. We see the first temple, Nayatola, money temple (which I later discover is not true and actually means five stories, the symbolic of five basic elements–I question how good my tour actually was). Steep steps and a dramatic pagoda top make it one of my favorites.
“Ju Ju dhai,” a famous yogurt in Bhaktapur, is ordered for me by Sunita…she even pays for it. It comes right out of the refrigerator inside a dilapidated shop in a pottery cup. It was really very good! Off to pottery square then meandering through the ruins from the earthquake of 2015. Joe agreeably states this as “the tour no one ever gets.”
Along the way, we pop into the paper store and I get a fabulous tour of handmade paper making and printing from the well speaking professor and his son. I buy a handmade Hindu book, written by the son, along with a few greeting cards. 5000 rupees ($50).
The most fascinating part of this journey is watching the relationship between Joe and Sunita. It’s almost like a spy/cop/detective with his number one informant. They appear to know one another, give and take flack, swap tales about people up to no good, and trade turns being the domineering party.
We head back to the car where Sunita is greeted by an aunt and cousin who have been taking care of her baby. The little girl is a chubby 20 lbs, and it seems implausible that Sunita could hold the girl let alone have birthed her not even a year before. I pull the festival gift from my pocket and go to give to Sunita but her baby grabs it and naturally takes it into her hand, the other holding a bottle of milk–the daughter is learning early from the mother.
To Grandma’s House
Heading back, we get slammed by a truck loaded with people on the roof. The driver’s sideview mirror breaks off and he tries to ram us again. Joe opens the window and yells at the guy, “You hit us asshole!” Joe speeds up and winds through heavy traffic to shake the guy, but he catches up and tries to ram us again. Joe rolls the window down and yells at him again, the people on the roof of the truck are yelling at the driver and banging the side of the truck. They sound angry and terrified. We soon shake him, but a great example of the craziness of Kathmandu traffic.
We return to Jayanti’s parents house, meet more cousins, get delicious Nepali coffee and tea, then part for grandma’s house. On arrival through narrow streets over a cliff, Joe pulls his relatively massive white Ford Ranger in through the narrow driveway behind the gates. We ask permission from grandpa, then Joe and I climb the roof on a wobbly metal ladder so I can get a pic of the city at night.
Inside, the house is made of dark gray concrete walls and ceiling. A single bulb hangs inside the 400 square foot living room. It’s very cold and dark. Family members are warmly dressed but barefoot, and smiling merrily. Joe says “prepare to be fed again” and in no time we are called into the dining room where two place settings of food and Mountain Dew (no shortage when Joe is coming to dinner) await us. We sit and they all watch us eat. In 10 minutes they finally join us, eating with only their hands while we use a fork and spoon. I get very very full while they continue to feed us–I’m trying to hold out for the rice pudding that is so delicious here. After dinner, we return to living room and the cousins are curious what I do. I show them some of my art from my website–cousin Binod is especially fascinated. He tells me he is leaning to draw from YouTube videos but cannot get the hang of it. I ask for pencil and paper and little sister Ashmi brings. I draw her, their cousin Sunita, and infant cousin Avidav (who won’t look up so I draw his face in darkness and focus on his Himalayan winter hat). They love it!
The Wine Experience Binod tells me about his studies, about the wonders of Nepal, their alphabet he tries to teach me (and makes fun of my terrible pronunciation). He tells me he wants to be someone excellent and a leader one day. He’s a bit much and the family thinks it’s very funny how he talks my ear off. Suddenly, just when I feel I can’t stay awake another minute, they offer wine. I ask if only I am drinking. “No…Binod and papa would like some.” Ok! They fetch a bottle of wine but don’t know how to open it. They use a screwdriver and other tools unsuccessfully. Joe asks me to help. I suggest a screw, which requires me to draw it to translate. They search for one and find only one that is an inch long. They shove it into the big hole already made but it only shreds part of the cork. I ask Joe for help and he pulls out a 6″ blade and cuts the cork to pieces for a few minutes. The top to the bottle breaks a bit so they strain the wine through cloth into a pitcher and we drink.
Off to bed at 10:30–what a long day!