Ode to 2012…

Kathmandu Import 079

Oh 2012 what a year you were! Will there ever be a year again with such adventure, such growth, such courage?

I apologize 2011, you were good as well, but far too often I saw the same patterns of fear, of conservative  choices, of regrets that have been far too frequent in my life. Luckily 2011 you gave the greatest gift of all – of losing something big in my life, reminding me that life is far to short to squander, and giving me incentive to do something unimaginable. But even I did not know the scale of things to come.

2012 began with heartbreak and physical breaks; the confusing end to a relationship and the injury of the legs that keep me mobile. These things that made me so vulnerable I had no choice but to grow, to move on, and to learn from my experiences. I saw an opportunity, a great horizon open like ever before. I reached back and touched an old dream of mine – I would finally visit India! I would travel the world with no regrets.  However, I had some big goals to attend to first.  I needed to reclaim my spirituality, to push my studies into overdrive, to get my confidence back and to figure out my next big career move.

But in 2012, I never made it to India, though the feat wasn’t any less impressive. 12 months after that pledge, I have been captive to Nepal for over 4 months, moved by both its breathtaking scenery and its welcoming people. I may have struggled through my first job here, but I adapted and found something else to keep me here. I couldn’t be happier.

What other gifts did 2012 provide?

  • The gift of patient. So often have in been in situations that have been so far out of my control, I could only watch the chaos engulf me. I had to remain stoic and accept the reality.
  • The gift of confidence. The accomplishments, the support I have received are a factor of the many amazing people in my life, but they have given me the confidence to know I can do anything in life I want to.
  • The gift of letting go. Oh so many relationships have trapped me in my own cycle of clinglyness, loss and despair. This year, I was able to walk away at the right times and follow the path I needed to in order to progress my life.
  • The gift of trust. So many people have opened their literally doors to me, to house me, to feed me, to console me without anything wanted in return. Humanity can be a beautiful thing despite the craziness of it in the world.
  • The gift of friendship. I have forged so many friendships with so many crazy people in the last year. Not just shallow ones either, but really people I know I will enjoy for a lifetime. I am so fortunate for all these people to have come into my life.
  • The gift of family. When I told my family I was moving to Nepal, they were a little scared understandably  However, I am lucky to have some of the most understand and loving family in the world, who continue to support me to the ends of the earth.

Thank you to everyone for the best 2012 anyone could ask for.

Adventures in Driving, part 2

There’s not a single fucking street sign the Kathmandu valley.

This makes trying to find anything on bike a real ordeal. Today, it took me about 30 minutes to find this temple called the Naag Bahal, the site of where a documentary was being played about the topic of garbage. So tonight I sat, huddled outside on cold pavement in the 40 degree Nepal air watching trash. It was actually much more interesting documentary than it sounds. It was about people in the Cairo slums who processed their cities trash for a living.

To find this place, I had to ask about 8 separate bystanders where the hell it was, riding through alleyways sometimes spanning sometimes not more than several meters wide. As I asked these people how to get at my final destination, they each pointed in the direction I needed to go, telling me which way to turn. Unfortunately it’s hard when there are a million alleyways that look the same. Unlike being on foot, you feel like you have to continue driving and it’s harder to stop and adjust your path. At one point, I had to drive through an entire Nepali wedding procession full of dancers, which I promise was no simple task. Upon finding a temple seemingly in the middle of the city, I asked the final Nepali where I was. “Naag Bahal” he replied. My reaction was one of excitement and relief. I had finally arrived.

Lucky for you, I have two stories for this post. On the previous day, my friend was nearly 30 minutes late for our dinner because of her crazy taxi driver. In an attempt to save 5 minutes of time, he attempted to drive down the narrowest of alleys. Unfortunately for him, the taxi was much too large to pass through this given road. The poor driver did everything; he folded his mirrors in and risked scrapping his car against the edges of the alley just to avoid turning back. To his dismay, the taxi would not fit. What was supposed to be a 15 minute tax ride ended up taking 45 minutes of time.

These are just some of the many crazy experiences of driving in Kathmandu.

Adventures in Driving, part 1

I could have died today. As I was driving down the infamous ring road of Kathmandu, the traffic was light so I cruised at a higher speed than normal. The only time it’s possible to drive that fast is in the mornings. In the afternoons the streets are choked with traffic jams, and in the evenings the darkness and lack of street lights makes speed a liability. When you’re on ring road, you’re likely to encounter a whole host of unpredictable stimuli, such as industrial trucks, buses, taxis, bicycles, dogs, cows, old men, joggers, motorbikes with a 15 foot pole tied to them for some reason, massive potholes, piles of rubble, dead horses etc.  Anything can jump out in front of you at any moment. Yet 6:30am, there just isn’t much on the roads yet.

Anyways, I was doing one my of my effortless passes around a large vehicle that  I commonly perform,  when right in front of me a huge bus jumped in front of me.  The bus saw me and screeched to a halt, which provoked screaming from several female passengers inside. I hit the brakes immediately and swerved around to my left, running parallel to the bus.  I quickly drove around the backside of the bus and passed it from the rear. I glanced backwards to see if anything substantial had happened. I saw a lone man on foot running around the side probably looking for my bloody corpse. However, the bus looked stable and there were no other collisions. I sped off immediately, thankful there were no consequences and not wanting to stick around for any traffic disputes.

What the hell just happened? Should I have stayed around? Did I do something wrong? Today was just another example of how dangerous the streets of Kathmandu are. If I had been day dreaming for just a second, it could have been a deadly crash. Neither of us saw each other at all; the bus was turning its way into traffic, and I was trying to cruise around the vehicle that was pausing for it. If something had happened, it would have been me suffering the consequences. I would have been a crumpled pile of flesh splattered on the side of that massive bus, while the passengers may have suffered whiplash at worst. A good lesson was learned today and I have some gratitude for not suffering a far worse fate. When venturing on Kathmandu’s notorious roads, it’s best not to chance fate even more by driving faster than you should. I’m thankful I didn’t have to learn this lesson the hard way.

Seeing the Himalayas Clearly

It’s November in Nepal. Everyday I wake huddled under my covers, trying to stave off a room temperature that has dropped to 45 degrees. It takes a lot of effort to remove my blankets and get started on my day. I put on 3 or 4 layers to prepare for my scooter ride into town, bracing for the cold air that is about to whip across my body. Many Northerners might chatise me for saying that 45 degrees is cold; however, in Nepal no houses are heated, so you feel every single degree change. The air is still foggy, and remnants of a polluted smog are visible hovering over the city.
By mid day, beautiful rays of sun greet me as the temperature has risen to the low 70s. Gone are the monsoon clouds and humidity from the summer, and the Himalayas are visible from my bedroom everyday. This is one of the best times of the year to be in Nepal, as long as you are comfortable with dressing and removing many layers of clothing. Thamel is bustling with tourists – guestrooms are full and resturants are packed with patrons. There is energy and excitement in the air. 
And yet in this setting, here thousands of miles away from home, there is still the same old me. I certainly have grown and evolved in ways I am not even aware of yet. However, the many of same fears and weaknesses remain with me. I lost myself for a few months, but the core still exists somewhere deep down and it’s rising up again to greet me. The good and the bad are still there, making their appearances known. You can leave a place, but you can’t leave yourself behind completey. Eventually, it’s still the same old ugly you have to face over and over again. I think the best part of this experience is facing these challenges so far away from what is familiar to me, and rising everytime to meet them. 
Just like the fog has dissipated to unveil the magestic Himilayas, my own mind is clearing to reveal different parts of me. 

My Vacation Hangover: A New Phase of Adaptation

After returning from a week of freedom and Western luxuries in Pokhara, coming back to the early bedtimes and chaos of Kathmandu wasn’t the easiest transition. I have been easing the transition by watching a plethora of Hollywood films and TV shows. You would think that in Nepal I would have a dearth of media to keep me entertained, when in fact it has been far the opposite. I was unaware of the amount of pirated media that would be floating around – anything from DVD’s to full hard drives full of movies and TV shows (It’s like being in college again!). Combine that with an early curfew at my host family, and I have been attached to my computer in the evenings. In the place where I am fully immersed in a world that is completely Nepali, I still hold onto my American media culture. However, that culture is celebrated here by Nepalis alike, so it is not so far out of the realm of what is natural. This access to endless media is basically what has kept me from dying of boredom at my host family. What was once a newness of experiencing Nepal that I embraced, has now become a sometime routine and mundane existence.
That is not to say I’m complaining, more so just adapting to another stage of cultural experience in Nepal. I really do love this experience, but there are times where it still feels very oppressive and unnatural to me. I miss having the freedom to construct my life at my own will, but relish the opportunity to experience customs that push me to the limits of my tolerance. My job is not really meeting my expectations of what I hoped it could be, but it is not so awful to deter me from staying longer at this point. I hesitate to say anymore due to the publicity of this blog….
I still have to remind myself that I am in a very privileged place in Nepal. I have frequent hot showers, somewhat clean air, my own personal transportation, three meals a day, and the financial security to actually enjoy myself when I want to. I’m not married living with my parents. I can travel. I can drink and eat all I want and not worry about bankrupting myself. These are not commonalities to your average Nepali. Most importantly… I’m still American. I can go home anytime I want to a country where I have a loving family and plenty of opportunities.
Life is mundane in Nepal, but people make the best of it they can. They do it with huge smiles on their face and welcoming arms. Expectations are half the battle in the quest for personal happiness. Still thousands of miles away from home in a place where the Buddha was born, I struggle to stay in the present. My mindfulness is no stronger than when I left. It’s proof that no matter where you are, the same internal battles still rage within. I have grown in so many ways by traveling here, but there is still so much room for positive change. I look forward to it.