Trip Start Jul 20, 2013
7Trip End Aug 15, 2013
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“We are beginning our descent into Kathmandu Tribhuvan International Airport, just 5 minutes behind schedule. Seats and tray tables blah blah.”
I caught what slivers of the view I could from my aisle seat. A tower of fluffy clouds blew past, replaced by the soaring green crags that surround the Kathmandu valley. I must’ve been too scared on my first trip here to notice how incredibly green and beautiful this place was from above. Brightly colored houses and temples grew increasingly dense. The same warm feeling of home I felt flying back into LA in 2008 came over me. After 5 years, I was back home away from home. Despite it’s glaring poverty, there’s something special here hard to put a finger on.
We landed. I was mildly nervous no one would be at the airport to meet me but it had nothing on the downright peeing-in-pants terror I felt on the original trip. The old red brick airport was as musty as I remembered. One of the only other caucasians on the flight, also one of the only ladies, partnered up with a Nepali woman to split a taxi into the city. I ignored the taxis and scanned the arrival plaza for Sudip (peer, brother), Laxmi (mother) or any other familiar face.
Sudip was waiting on a scooter behind the taxis. We exchanged disbelief at my presence and drove off toward Pepsikola. Torrents of memories came rushing back. The roads were a bit better paved now, courtesy of the Japanese according to a sign we passed, but otherwise these streets hadn’t changed a bit. After five years though I wondered how the family and kids had changed. The uncertainty made me a bit nervous. Sudip was reassuringly still Sudip though.
Pepsikola got a few upgrades. In addition to the now-paved roads, there was a new bank in town and a pair of tall apartment blocks going up near the river. Tall anything-besides-mountains here was new for me. The houses seemed a bit nicer and more complete too, though that might’ve just been landscape-shock coming off of Taipei’s grey industrial concrete. We pulled into the family’s yard and climbed up to the roof/kitchen/hangout area.
“Laxmi Didi! Susaan! - Susaan has been very excited to see you.”
They came pouring out of the common room with a flood of namastes. Laxmi and I beamed at each other and exchanged a reserved head bow. Susaan, the youngest and only son who was an incoherant 5/6 year old in 2008 was now a highly articulate 5th grader. He hopped off a facebook game and said hello. I only wished I was less jet lagged to convey my appreciations and apologized for how zoned-out I probably seemed. Manabi, the adopted(?) daughter who seemed to do most of the chores, was now a full grown woman and had just finished preparing morning dal bhat - literally “lentil rice,” the Nepali staple meal.
“Laxmi didi is worried about you because you look so thin. She wants to feed you a lot to make you bigger again,” Sonu, second eldest daughter translated. No objection here. I guess a year in mountainous Taipei county came at a heavy caloric price.
“Yes, before when you came you were fat.” Thanks Susaan.
I didn’t eat on the flight for lack of ringitts with which to buy food and happily scarfed down the lentil curry platter. They showed me to my guest bed, in the same room I slept in before, and I crashed like a rock.
At some unknown point later I woke up. The sun had ticked down a bit, otherwise I had no clue what time it was.
Sudip said Susaan would take me on a reorienting walk around town. In the meantime I wanted to let family back home know I landed okay and asked about using he computer. Susaan, never quite breaking orbit, saw me pop open Facebook and got really excited.
“Do you know Miscrits?” he asked. No I didn’t. Miscrits was Susaan’s favorite online game and he spent the next half hour teaching me how to play. As in 2008, this guy had no off-switch and it was clear I’d never get bored with him flying around. I had to cut the Miscrit battle lesson short when he started adding the game to my profile and messaging my friends about it. It was time to disembark for the walk.
Our first stop was a small neighborhood shrine that looked almost abandoned and closed off to the public. I was a bit hesitant to squeeze through its gate - I’ve never seen a Hindu temple that allowed nonbelievers inside - but my little tour guide insisted it was okay. In front of the altar was a large metal bell, the loud ringing of which Susaan also said was okay.
“Now you can try.”
I didn’t try, though I doubt anyone would have minded. We left the shrine and pressed on with our amble. He lead me over a precarious-looking stone divider cutting through a rice patty. At this point I started feeling a bit nervous and responsible for Susaan’s safety, but he was a smart dude and knew where he was going. It rapidly became clear I was the one who needed to watch my step as I started slipping and sliding on the loose muddy stones he effortlessly negotiated.
“So, you hangout with friends from school a lot?”
“I had one best friend, you know the one I played Miscrits with, but he went away to another school. I cried so much when he left. Haha.” Susaan giggled as if to downplay the crying. “Can you sing [random One Direction song]?” I couldn’t. He could. He was a shameless fan and the One Direction poster I saw hanging on the guest room (his room?) door belonged to him. “I am going to be a rockstar; I’m the number two singer in my class level.”
We arrived at a relative’s home and walked up the stairs. Susaan acted like I was walking into a surprise party. He shushed and motioned for me to hide from whoever opened the door. His uncle, a friendly man who unfortunately spoke limited English answered the door. Susaan asked where his aunt and cousin were; it was clear no one was really home.
“Hmm, so we can go in, or we can walk somewhere else.” He didn’t quite know what to do.
“You’re my tour guide, I’ll follow you.” Susaan correctly decided we should leave the uncle be and head on elsewhere.
On the way back we passed some kids playing cricket. “Oh! They said some rude words - Nepali rude words.”
As it turned out, the uncle’s house was empty because most of that family was visiting Laxmi. Upon return we found the aunt, grandma and two cousins hanging out on the roof with everyone else. They were sharing some of the mochi balls I brought as a gift from Taiwan. It was too bad I didn’t have my camera on me, my Taiwanese friends - ever obsessed with their food - would’ve gotten a kick out of this. Repaying the mochi, the aunt shoved some roti and fried sweet bread at me insisting I chow down. Susaan started a “How old is she? How old is he?” guessing game and many lols were had.
The aunt asked her son to translate something:
“Please come to my home.”
“Ah...” She turned to me. “Please come to my home.” Sure. I got up, ready to follow her out. There was some chuckling. “No, no, no. Tomorrow.” It was a farewell that got lost in translation.
I spent some time chatting with Ganesh (father) and Sudip about life in general. Sudip had heen absent most of the day because he was busy pulling his hair out over final exams. This was his last year of university. Ganesh just finished earning a PhD and could now progress in his career as a professor. This was a well-educated family and it showed in the kids. Speaking of whom: “Now we go downstairs.” Susaan didn’t like my attention divided away from him. Ganesh and I had exhausted his knowledge of English and Sudip already went back to his books, so I obliged. It was getting dark on the roof anyhow.
To my surprise, it was equally dark in the common room downstairs. Power was out across the whole neighborhood, a near daily occurrence here. Susaan turned on a battery powered lantern and handed me two sofa pillows. “One for hitting, one for blocking.” Oh lord, a pillow fight. He handed another pair to his preschool aged cousin who was just kind of floating around making noises. “Don’t throw too hard at her though, she’s only six and she will cry.”
After a round or three, Sonu (older sister) passed through on the way back to the girls’ room. I ratted Susaan out to her but pillow fights with visiting foreigners were apparently a common occurance and not a problem. I pulled out my flipcam in hopes of distracting him from destroying half the room. It blew his mind. He spent the next significant-while singing One Direction songs into the camera or giving fake newscasts about “the number one most popular band in the world.” Dinner is eaten late in Nepal and all these antics were meant to kill time.
Sudip poked his head in. “Charlie, you can eat rice now.” Dal bhat was served. Sudip, Susaan and I were the main people eating this time around. I talked to Sudip about his school and tests but he seemed quite stressed by them. Laxmi walked in and scolded Susaan for something. Sudip translated. Apparently Sudip wasn’t the only one with an exam the next day. Struggling a bit with her limited English, Laxmi asked if I could help Susaan study for his science test after dinner. We wrapped up the meal, I wished Sudip luck and we all went back downstairs to study under lantern light.
Either Susaan wasn’t being honest about how much material he had to review or it was a short test. Either way he knew his stuff. We played a few rounds of hangman for good measure. With the hour getting late and there not being much else to do, I said goodnight and hit the sack.
Sleep didn’t come as easy as I thought it would, probably from drinking too much Nepali chiya (chai.) The door creaked open and I heard a familiar voice in the darkness.
“If the biggest fish and the biggest whale fought, who would win?”
“The whale I think.”
His test was on land vs. aquatic animals so he had fish on his mind. This went back and forth for a little while. Eventually he retreated to his temporary camping spot in his sisters’ room and I at last fell asleep, mentally giggling and happy to be back.