a one-way ticket home

Hello from New York City! Back in the homeland (sort of), I’m enjoying tap water in restaurants, not packing toilet paper in my purse, walking on the right side of the street, and paying with my Visa. And tonight I am going to cook some food.

The trip out Kathmandu was in typical Nepali fashion: kind of janky. Kyle’s and my flights, heading in opposite directions around the globe, departed an hour apart late on Tuesday and we headed to the airport together. Our taxi ride to Tribhuvan International Airport was in the dark around 6pm and the city took on its Gotham-esque appearance. Once at the airport, I checked in and headed through security before Kyle while he waited for China Southern Airlines to open their check-in counters. I waited in the departure area (Tribhuvan does not have gates) for Kyle to get through security and join me. I waited and waited and waited and when he had not come through I backtracked to wait at the security check point and look for him on the other side. I waited here for another considerable amount of time before finally spotting his tall blonde head amongst the shorter Nepalis at the Visa counters. I followed his movement in the distance but what should have been a quick Visa check and movement on to the security checkpoint at which I was waiting, was taking too long. When I saw him move to another counter I realized that though we had been told that overstaying your Visa would both go unnoticed and only cost 500 rupees if discovered, had been noticed and I had all the cash. He finally made his way to the security scanners and walked up to me waiting on the other side of a table near the security guard checking boarding passes. I gave him the money I had left, which would not be enough, and my debit card to get more cash. My flight had been delayed and I waited while he dealt with this confusion. He finally made it back through security to share that overstaying his Visa had not been the only road bump.photo (9) The only one waiting to check in for his flight, a China Southern employee found and informed him that his flight had been cancelled. Everyone on the flight had been notified but Kyle had not gotten an email. The one China Southern employee had been sent to work that evening because “there would be one American needing a new flight.” Thankfully this employee secured Kyle a flight to Hong Kong where he would find a connection flight to Gangzhou. His ticket was a carbon copy piece of paper with scribbles on it but the Nepali assured him, “it okay, see I sign bottom.”

So Kyle and I reconnected for 10 minutes before my flight called out for boarding. Or, that is, an announcement was made and included the words “FlyDubai, security, documents, please, and now.” Beyond that I had no idea what was said and when I inquired with a guard, he asked for my boarding pass. I gave it to him and he ripped it on the perforated edge without saying anything, so I further asked, “…am I boarding?” to which he said yes. After collecting my bags and saying goodbye to Kyle I did not board, I pre-boarded and waited on the other side of some glass with a bunch of Nepalis. The system at Tribhuvan involves bus shuttles from the building to the planes and when a bus pulled up, Nepalis began freaking out like second graders needing to be first in line for recess. No information was announced about this shuttle and after waiting for an announcement, I wiggled my way through the chaotic mass and asked when the FlyDubai flight would board. A woman told me that this was my shuttle and ushered me to the front of the frantic Nepalis. Finally taking my seat on the plane, it was a relief to be out of the jurisdiction of Nepal. I spotted only one other white man aboard my flight and only about half a dozen other women. Other than that, the flight was predominantly young Nepali men, many of which seemed to be taking the first flight of their life.

My first flight was five hours into the Dubai International Airport at 2am. After checking in to my transfer flight and being shuttled around the airport complex, I settled into sleep on a bench at the gate for my Emirates flight to NYC. DXB was like the Apple store of airports with employees standing around in royal blue t-shirts with “May I help you?” in block letters. Finally, at 8:30am, I departed the UAE for a deluxe, however painfully long, 14-hour flight.

Happily, Kyle and I both made it to our respective destinations safely and with all our baggage. I’m fearful to jinx my final lags of travel to Washington DC and Portland, but I can’t believe I made it through this trip without losing anything (minus the small mishap with my debit card in Pokhara) or having any serious issues. I am particularly amazed that I never got sick. An amazing three months is at an appropriate end. Nepal brought me some amazing, scenic, stinky, and challenging experiences that opened my eyes and made me think differently. I miss my friends and family and though I love writing about my experiences, I look forward to sharing stories in person. I hope to find another reason to keep writing regularly, but until my next travel opportunity, I am signing off. P1060044

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prayer flags, mountains & momos

Where to begin describing such an amazing trip, incredible scenery, and all around good time?

DSCN4177The Annapurna Circuit Trek (or “Around Annapurna” as they call it here) is an estimated 17-21 day trip around Annapurnas I-III, Annapurna South, Nilgiris North/Central/South, Gangapurna, Glacier Dome, Machhapuchhre, and numerous other smaller peaks. The trek leads travelers through countless Nepali villages and climates that range from tropical to alpine and primarily along the rivers Marsyangdi and Kali Gandaki. Trekkers are free to hire on any combination of a guide and/or porter or rough it on their own. Before leaving the states, I purchased a Nepal trekking guidebook written by The Mountaineers (an organization based out of Seattle) and this book proved to be Kyle’s and my bible for the two weeks we spent on our trek, allowing us to journey guide-free. True trekking season runs from October through November and ends as the weather starts to get truly cold. Kyle and I braved the December cold to be rewarded with few crowds or other tourists. While trekkers are free to approach the circuit from either direction, all guide books and recommendations advise a counter-clockwise approach beginning in the southeast corner of the Annapurna Conservation Area, generally out of a town called Bessisahar.

DSCN3760We packed for an experience that would be halfway between camping and hotel lodging, as we stayed in accommodations classified as tea or guesthouses that generally offered comforts akin to those of a summer camp cabin. We brought a set of outdoor wear each, several days worth of snack food, cash, trekking poles, rented 0 degree Fahrenheit sleeping bags, meds and emergency supplies, a map and guidebook, water vessels, a SteriPEN water purifier, sunglasses, and one small and stowed Christmas present each.

On December 14 with map and trekking guidebook in hand, Kyle and I headed out on a four-hour local bus ride to Bessisahar, our gateway into the Himalayas. Our first day sent us on a short walk to a village called Khudi where we stayed in a guesthouse on the bank of the Marsyangdi Khola (khola = river) in what would actually be both our most expensive (300 rupees) and worst room of the whole trek. From Khudi we would visit the villages of Ghermu, Tal, Timang, Pokhari Dunda, Gharung, Manang, Letar, and Thorung La High Camp before reaching the pinnacle of the circuit: Thorung La pass at 5416 meters, or 17, 769 feet. After Thorung La we would spend one night in the larger village of Muktinath before taking a bus through a less-scenic portion of the circuit to Tatopani before finishing with Poon Hill in Ghorepani and exiting the Annapurna Conservation Area Project (ACAP) through Naya Pul.

P1050924The whole trek was 100-some-odd miles over countless suspension bridges, alongside endless rice paddies, and to the highest elevation either of us had ever been. We drank Fanta and slept about 11 hours a night. And I was really challenged by the altitude. We encountered a few trekkers on the trail including a couple from Spain (who we would refer to as the Spaniards), an extraordinarily talkative man from Rotterdam who we referred to as The Flying Dutchman, and a man from Indiana dubbed Indiana Jones. However, for the first several days of the trek, until our rest day in Manang really, we were the only trekkers in the villages we slept in. This offered a more isolating, however ghost-town esque, experience and the fortune of having our pick of rooms and usually getting the best in the whole town. The language barrier was generally very thick and most comically experienced in signage and menu descriptions. Some of the confusion was completely lost though. Like a sign on our bathroom door in Manang that read “please do not wash clothes in the toilet.”

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We discovered that Nepalis are expert sitters and lookers and they have really innovated the use of the forehead as an instrument for material transport. Kyle played soccer with some village kids after breakfast in Ghermu, juggled oranges for some boys near Ghorepani, and the children we encountered all asked simply for “chocolate?” or “sweet?” and occasionally and bizarrely, “school pen?”

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A few days in, we solidified our end-of-day routine. After a chilly rinse-off/sponge bath, we would order a large and soul-warming pot of black tea and a plate of veg momos (momos = dumplings) to share while each reading out of our books before ordering some two-plate combination of vegetable curry and/or fried rice to share for dinner before turning in as late as 8 if we were lucky. Timang offered us our first real views of mountains and our guest house appeared to have popped straight out of the CandyLand board game. After Timang was a very successful day of hiking onto the town of Pokhari Dunda. On the way we passed the Great Wall of Pisang which is worth a Google. The harsh December lighting made photography challenging and passing this wall near the end of the day, our photos don’t quite do it justice. Pokhari Dunda was a village of new construction and our guesthouse had only just completed its first season in use and seemed to be run by the construction workers busy erecting numerous other guesthouses. This 150 rupee room offered a view of Annapurna II at sunrise.

Following Pokhari Dunda, we ventured onto the Upper Pisang trail, the said-to-be most scenic portion of the entire circuit. About an hour into our day, looking up at Annapurnas II and III, the sky was becoming hazy and unclear. When we entered the actual town of Upper Pisang around noon, the entire sky was clouded over and we couldn’t see a friggin’ thing except the dark outline of the massive himals towering above us. Upper Pisang was rumored to have internet and after wandering back and forth through the village (“up, down, up down!” a boy called to us), I settled into a computer lab and sent home a message of health, safety, and happiness. We learned from some locals that the source of the haze was a fire in a town we’d passed through two days prior. The sky would clear later that afternoon and we continued on to settle for the night in the town of Gharung. This village was a former army post situated way, way up on a steep hill and I really started to feel the altitude for the last 1000 feet of the climb. When we finally made it up to 12,000 feet, we secured the single best room we’d had yet (for 100 rupees).

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view from our room in Gharung

From Gharung was on to Manang, a bigger town and the last form of significant civilization before we’d head into the belly of the beast to cross the pass. We spent two acclimatization days in Manang and obtained a deck of cards to begin nightly games of Rummy 500 that have carried into our meals even still. From Manang we moved on for two more nights of acclimatization and stayed in the town of Letar next. In Letar we encountered a French couple (The Frenchies) we’d seen in Manang and an American doctor (Doc) with a guide and porter. P1060008Letar was our first night of real COLD and the wood-and-yak-dung-burning stove was essential. The stove provided warmth as well as the opportunity to really socialize for the first time in a week. Doc would soon become John and he and his guide and porter a fun trio to run into for a few more days. After Letar was some very slow and steady hiking up to Thorung La High Camp for our last night before the pass. On the way, we met an American expat couple currently living and teaching in Bangladesh after 20-some-odd years living overseas. The couple, their guide and porter, John and his guide and porter and the Frenchies would be our company at High Camp.

To cross Thorung La, Kyle and I had planned to hit the trail around 7am, giving ourselves daylight and ample time to cross the pass. After hearing that our companions’ guides were getting them up at 5am for a pre-dawn start, we reevaluated and decided to do the same (despite the fact that our trekking bible strictly said NOT to do this and to wait for day-/sunlight). So on the day of the pass, our alarm didn’t sound but we managed to wake up at 4:30am as planned. After a quick – but small, due to a miscommunication – breakfast, our third signal was a dead SteriPEN battery in need of replacement. After finally heading out, ten minutes into a frigid and headlamp-lit hike, I started to get anxious about ever warming up my frozen hands and feet. Kyle, in sweet boyfriend form, calmed me down and helped me warm up my hands while turning off our headlamps to look at the stars. This nice moment of calm was followed by Kyle quickly claiming he might puke. Roles reversed, I patted his back while his stomachache subsided and we walked on for a few more minutes before taking another rest. While resting, the Frenchies (the only group that had not yet left when we did), passed us. Dude Frenchie had been feeling sick since Manang and they had hired a horse to cross the pass. Dude Frenchy was atop the horse, the Nepali horse porter was wearing his pack, and his girlfriend was hiking in tow. After checking in with us and assuring them that we were fine (just cold) they headed on and we too continued. We only made it about 3 minutes before shit really got gnarly. A few minutes later, I was following Kyle when he suddenly threw down his trekking pole and started stumbling on the trail (the edge of which would send us into a steep rock fall). I instructed him to sit and as fast as I could with icicle hands, got out a butt pad and his giant orange puffy. He said he was thirsty, but all our water had both frozen solid and frozen shut. So I tucked the water bottle into the puffy with him and eventually we were able to open it and sip some water. P1060056When we had finally become slightly less frozen we continued up but only for about five minutes before neither of us could stand it anymore and we threw all our gear down ouside an abandoned tea hut and zipped into our sleeping bags in the middle of the trail to wait for the sun to come up. We eventually warmed up after sunlight hit us and started to defrost our water a bit. Kyle’s hands burned once they finally started to warm and it took a while for my teeth to stop chattering. I aspire to never, ever, in my entire life be that cold again.

We eventually made it to the pass around 11am, stayed for a quick photo, and began our 5,700-foot descent to Muktinath. A completely different landscape welcomed us on the other side of the pass, now in the Mustang region. This night was Christmas Eve and we reconnected with the American expats from Bangaldesh, John, and each of their guides and porters (as well as a Canadian expat teaching in Japan and on holiday mountain biking in Nepal) at the Bob Marley Hotel (picture it). Fed up with 10 days of curry, Kyle and I braved some curious (however delicious) appetizer nachos, yak pizza, and salad for dinner. We all shared glasses of apple brandy and “Bob Shakes” while we each lamented the morning’s cold and the challenge of Thorung La. Several times during the evening were moments where I’d recognize the uniqueness of my company and the feeling of being a traveler. On Christmas Day, Kyle and I spent a cumulative 7 hours in a jeep, bus, and another jeep getting down to the village of Tatopani (tatopani = hot water), a town named for its proximity to a hot spring that would be much appreciated and enjoyed by muscles and soul. Being back in vehicles and having to participate in Nepali organization was a rude awakening. Nepalis can’t get anything done if they don’t stand around staring at each other for ten minutes before someone finally gets out the car keys. After Tatopani we headed towards Ghorepani for a summit of Poon Hill before ending the trek with a crazy challenging 6,000 foot gain between the two ‘panis and an equally steep descent (down, thankfully not up, 3767 steps) to Naya Pul where we caught a bus back to Pokhara.

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We made it back on the 27th and put our feet up and spent the New Year in Pokhara. We stayed busy in Pokhara sleeping, eating, and watching bootleg seasons of Weeds, which we continue to do in Kathmandu. Only 3 more days here before this 3 month trip comes to a close…

the last two tourists in Pokhara

Back in Pokhara, I am no longer a solo travler! Kyle arrived in Kathmandu late Saturday night and, in true form, found himself in the middle of a pickup volleyball match the next day. Before he arrived, everyone asked me where I planned to take him and although a few of the tourist sites seemed like viable options, I feel as though I’ve had the most intense and authentic experiences in Kathmandu while simply walking around. And I was eager to see and hear the reaction of another urban planning, alternative transportation, and environmentally-minded person. We wandered around the city on Sunday and Monday before taking another microbus to Pokhara. I took him to my orphanage home and it was incredible to be able to share what that was like – at least a little bit – with someone else. I brought a small rice paper journal for each of my girls and we were greeted with a handful of handmade cards to “brother and sister.”P1050877

The move out of my volunteer house was a very surprisingly emotional goodbye. Mina and Ram grew very fond of having us around, and particularly fond of me and Kendra. The feeling was nothing less than mutual and I look forward to paying a quick visit in January before I fly out. During one of our last few nights at the house, Kendra and I lingered in the kitchen after dinner, as usual, for a silly and customary Nepali/English conversation with Ram and Mina. Out of nowhere Ram shook his head and said, ” USA na jah-ne,” which translates directly as, “USA no going.” And during our last dinner at the house Mina’s tears were many.

We’ve enjoyed relaxing in the quiet and sun of Pokhara and potentially have the single nicest room in all of Lakeside, with a view of the mountains right out our window. There are still some tourists left but definitely not very many. This morning we headed out with a checklist of to do items needing to be completed before leaving on our trek. The first of which was to get a bucket of cash to carry with us and after stepping into an ATM and opening my wallet, I found that it was not there. Kyle helped me regroup and we decided to stop and use some wifi to assure that my card was not stolen and being used. We sat down in a restaurant, I checked my account, and everything looked okay. Kyle’s debit card hasn’t been working here because a small piece of the magnetic strip is damaged. I was prepared to use Mom and Dad’s emergency credit card to get cash, but was still pretty irked. I managed to find the receipt from the transaction during which I lost the card and knew it had been at a Himalayan Bank ATM. I could recall that it had been one of those STUPID ATMs that suck your card all the way in and don’t give it back until after cash is dispensed. That’s stupid. The ATM receipt included a customer service phone number and I asked to use the restaurant phone. A British man (who appeared to be a partner owner of the restaurant) overheard me and then, along with two other Nepali women in management at this establishment, directed Kyle and I to the Himalayan Bank in downtown Pokhara. They said that if it had been sucked in by the ATM, one of the machine attendants would have collected it overnight and brought it to the bank. It was our best bet. We hopped a cab and stepped into the bank where I we waited about 3 minutes before receiving assistance and I explained I’d left my card in an ATM in Lakeside. The bank teller asked for my documents and I pulled out the photocopies of my passport, ID, and the debit card itself and after scanning the papers for a few seconds, as if it were a magic trick, presented my OnPoint Community Credit Union debit card from the inside of his left suit sleeve. My chin quite literally hit the floor as Kyle, the teller, and our observant taxi driver laughed at my reaction.

Tonight we pack up our bags and head out for what we’ve estimated to be an 18-day trek of the Annapurna Circuit. We will carry rented sleeping bags, minimal clothing, some snacks, camera, and lots of cash and puffy. It should be cold and it should be beautiful. If Pokhara is a bit like a ghost town, I can only imagine white faces will be few and far between in the Himalayan villages into which we are about to wander. I’m excited for this adventure to wrap up my time in Nepal. Happy holidays to everyone and I’ll be back online around New Years Eve!

meanwhile, back at the ranch

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In Portland, my parents are behind some new and improved neighborhood feng shui. What began as my childhood house, garage, and backyard has morphed into a house, mother-in-law guest house, and duplex unit over the years. In the rules of Monopoly, you need four houses to build a hotel, but real life presents the expedited version of the game and my parents just got their hotel.

I grew up in a house that was one part home, one part construction zone. And my mom has well-documented the whole damn thing. There was the Saturday we said goodbye to my dad as he lowered himself into our second, non-working chimney as we began a whole-family demolition process where Dad knocked down bricks, one at a time, while the rest of us employed a bucket brigade (that included our next door neighbors) out the basement door. My dad is also on a lifelong quest to one-up himself in ways to impress me. One time we left for our summer sailing weekend at Timothy Lake near Mt. Hood and when we got there, found that the rubber plugs on each of the two Hobie Cat pontoons were missing. The parts that would keep the boat afloat gone and sure we wouldn’t sail, we were only briefly disappointed. Some rummaging for the right tool and scavenging for the right branch, minutes later Dad presented two whittled, wooden plugs that would keep us afloat for the weekend. We went to soccer games and on road trips and vacations like any normal family, but all these things often paled in comparison to discussions of lumber deliveries or the reaction people had to the part of the house tour that reveals our television-elevator. The sounds of drills, hammers, and saws evoke memories of childhood and the smell of sawdust warms my heart. I’m serious people. Understanding the difference between cement and concrete was a life lesson right up there next to don’t chew with your mouth open.

Across the street from my house is an apartment complex and behind that is a parking lot that, over the years, has either been scantly used or vacant. The lot has long belonged to Rivermark Credit Union and was a regular hangout spot as a kid. Kalah, Amanda, and I learned to ride our bikes there and it was our chosen location to set off fireworks with the Goldens way back when. For a few years, my parents have been all but stalking the credit union property manager to get their hands on this prime real estate to build their next project and about a year ago they got the call and made the expensive plunge to buy the property (this is a large vacant lot on SE 26th and Madison, so you can imagine the desirability). Over this past year, Mom and Dad began taking baby steps to prepare to build a triplex unit, lovingly dubbed “The Three Sisters.” When many challenges began facing this process and Mom and Dad were similarly faced with the, “so what do we do?” question, we got the peculiarest of peculiar phone calls. A woman called and asked if we would use this newly acquired property to babysit a large historic mansion (The Montgomery House) around the corner, on Hawthorne and 27th, that was slated for demolition to make room for a large mixed-used building in the works. After laughing briefly, the idea of not babysitting the house, but just taking it, became a possibility that quickly morphed into a reality. Deciding they wanted it and moving forward, the project again posed too steep a financial burden and my parents backed off. I got a note from my dad here in Nepal that they were going to step back for various reasons but only a day later got another message that the fat lady had not yet sung. Enough stake was had by the City of Portland, the developer of the new construction on Hawthorne, and the neighborhood that my parents were vouched for. The City of Portland drew up and voted on a special ordinance to allow fees to be waved, the house to be moved, and my dad to build what he wants inside it. So we moved this puppy.
photo (8)The whole project being somewhat reminiscent of the movie Up, Mom disappeared one afternoon to return, Mini Cooper convertible top down, with several large balloons to tie onto the house. December 2nd brought what would be a three-day moving process and a lot of bending over backwards on the part of Rivermark Credit Union who had to temporarily deconstruct their newly remodeled parking lot and allow for this 100-ton house on its way to a new home. So a lot of construction work and stress later, Mont has made it to its new residence.

In sum, my parents are BAMFs.

teaching Mina English

So volunteering in Nepal has been…weird. I didn’t know what to expect and I really tried not to expect anything at all for fear of projecting something onto this experience and it not being what I wanted. I’m still working on writing the book, What to Expect When You’re Not Supposed to Have Expectations, but oy. I continue to boomerang between feeling frustrated by my volunteering arrangements and feeling like I need to suck it up and recognize it’s all part of the culture and overall *~*~experience~*~*.

I arrived and initially expected to be working in a monastery and an orphanage. I have consistently visited the orphanage each morning from 7-9 (up at 5:30am and a 30 minute walk from my house) and that is going well but it has also been an interesting experience. Veronique also works at an orphanage (which I have visited) and the two placements couldn’t be more different. Veronique spends about 3 hours each mid-day at her orphanage during a designated class time for the kids. I, however, show up to a foster home and walk into the morning routine of a household. There isn’t much space to tutor or teach and I don’t have the ability to behavior manage or create much of a space for it because the girls don’t understand English beyond the basics they need for their homework. I have fun with them, we do homework most days, and they are a fun start to my day but admittedly…it’s not what I would have expected. I’m learning to just go with it, for sure, but the feeling that I have skills to offer that are not being used is still there. As is the underlying assumption that I am supposed to donate and write home asking for donations on behalf of the orphanage. And that’s very much not a good feeling. After almost two weeks here when the monastery placement was still not arranged, I inquired about an environmental NGO and began working there, helping with a documentary they were putting together. Sounded great! This quickly became more of a joke when the man who was to supervise me was gone for a week and then there was another big festival and the office was closed and I went to Pokhara. Then I discovered that I was going to be charged an additional $200 for work at this NGO. And if you haven’t heard my diatribe on my opposition to paying for my own free labor, well, ask me sometime. In short, I’m against it and was not willing to pay for this. So things changed again and this week I was put in a school where I spend about 3 hours each morning after my orphanage teaching in English classes in grades 5, 6, and 7. I am happy with what I am doing now but the feeling that my time has not really been put to use and that I have not had much of an impact is pretty strong. Part of me is quite frustrated and part of me recognizes this is largely tied to cultural differences in regards to productivity and the speed at which things happen here. There is a feeling of having jumped into an ocean that is international volunteering/aid and not knowing which way is up. No answers, just lots of feelings.

I think it might seem a bit like I complain about things here or friends and family may wonder if I am having fun. To clarify, I am having a good trip. There are ups and downs and I miss everyone and it stinks in Kathmandu, but I’m learning a lot, this has been an overall positive experience, and I imagine it will continue to be such. In a weird way, the complaints (or more often, realizing the things I miss from home, as per a previous post) are an important part of this trip for me. Since 2008 I have been doing my best to live my life intentionally. That includes self-reflection and not taking things for granted, however small or trivial they may be (I thought life had already taught me to appreciate sidewalks before I came here…little did I know). It really might sound weird, and I do have domestic methods to remind myself not to take things for granted, but I knew that would be a part of this trip. For me, travel is part exploration and part newfound appreciation and discovery of where home is. So it’s all part of the process.

My house here serves as an office on the ground floor, for the Nepal arm of the volunteer placement, and our rooms and kitchen on the floors above. There are two Nepali staff who live in the house with us: Ram and Mina. They are not married but serve as our house mom and house dad, cooking us oh so much rice and locking the door for us at night. Mina replaced the previous cook at about the time that I arrived in Nepal. Neither Ram nor Mina speak much English at all and while Ram babbles endlessly at us in Nepali despite the fact that we do not understand him, Mina was initially very quiet. That changed one night when Ram was visiting his family and Mina was responsible for all of us. Only three of us (all girls) were home for dinner and after we finished Mina began trying to tell us something. What ensued was a very funny lost-in-translation conversation full of ridiculous gesturing and, most surprisingly, endless giggling. I felt like I was a 13-year old at a slumber party as Mina would say one word in Nepali and consequently keel over laughing at herself. Turns out she was trying to tell us she’d bolted the front door but that a couple people were still in Thamel so they would need to knock. These giggles are a recurring event now and even more so since Mina has sought out English lessons from us. She’s a quick learner and informs us of her grocery runs with an “I shopping going to now” and lovingly refers to Rhys and Veronique, the Australian couple, not by name but as “boyfriend” and “girlfriend.”

In this photo I am wearing Ram’s topi (hat) traditionally worn by Nepali men. Pat, one of these is coming your way!

Mina and I have a special bond because we share an identical quirk. My soul sister is a 30-something Nepali woman who similarly undergoes spontaneous esophagus spasms that sound like singular, loud hiccups. Dinner time in the house is a chorus of “HIC!”s from both Mina and I followed by an exchange of empathetic smiles and laughs. Mina gives very strong and sincere hugs and is by far one of my favorite parts of Nepal. When we left our Thanksgiving pizza dinner, she pulled me into a strong side-hug embrace and we walked the whole way back to our house in this position. She has recently started tickling me and yesterday brought her two sisters by the house – she is the middlest.

It is Thursday evening in Kathmandu and the departure mood has hit our house. Veronique, along with two others, fly out tomorrow, followed by another on Monday, Rhys on Tuesday, and the rest of us are on to other things the following Friday.

i am not enlightened

I’m learning a lot in this country but here are a few things that I shamelessly miss:

– being barefoot in the bathroom
– jeans
– sweaters
– my perfume
– fast internet
– sidewalks
– unlimited water at restaurants
– my bicycle
– cooking my own meals
– QUINOA
– beans…
– milk
– a dresser
– radio
– boots
– personal space in public places