The first week in a new country is bound to be full of adventure. This, of course, is no exception. Between the noisy traffic, downed power lines and demolished sidewalks, just getting around town presents a whole new level of difficulty. Each day I’ve been wandering a bit through the surrounding neighborhoods, slowly gaining a sense of the layout. It bears mention that none of the streets have names, so everyone instead reckons by landmarks (“The ATM? It’s just a few shops down from that three-way branch point near the Moksh bookstore; you know, by the local spot we showed you with great Nepali chiya [chai]…”)
As fun as that has been, though, the most enjoyable part about life here is the community. There is a vibrant ex-pat community thriving in Kathmandu, and already I’ve had a chance to share meals and Settlers-of-Catan nights with new friends from all over the world — England, Scotland and Northern Ireland; Australia, Holland, Norway and the USA; Hong Kong, Myanmar, South Korea, and (of course) Nepal. Last weekend, I joined a UMN family living down the road for an impressive 6-hour jaunt over one of the “hills” at the outskirts of the city (we ascended to some 6,000 feet). Admittedly, it was quite a bit more impressive that the two 7-year-olds in our party were able to keep up!
Other things are different from home, too: an abundance of (air & noise) pollution, indiscernible traffic patterns, the colloquial smells of wood-fires and rain-drenched mud, the clucks of squabbling hens and cooing pigeons outside my bedroom window. At this moment, I can hear sounds of dogs barking, roosters crowing, and the cries of peddlers as they walk the streets, calling out in long, low, melodic syllables. I have yet to discover much that IS familiar, actually! Yet for all that, there is also the distinct feel of what I can only call “latent nostalgia” — as though it’s not difficult to imagine growing very fond of this place, to eventually feel it quite familiar and dear. Everywhere I look, clothes and carpets are draped in colorful banners, my Nepali neighbors are hanging laundry and sweeping their decks with stick-brooms, and a cool breeze wafts down into the valley.
Through the eyes of a newcomer, to whom everything is unusual and fresh and filled with wonder, it is quite a beautiful site. (Jet-lag notwithstanding.)