Adjustment Home: Two Polar Opposites and not just in terms of Location

I have been home from Nepal for over two months (!) and decided I needed some closure on this blog, as well as some parting thoughts after a period of reflection.

First off, I want to thank everyone who followed my blog! I have never blogged before and think it is so awesome that people actually read this! I am glad I was able to share my experiences in Nepal with people regardless of time and location. It means a lot to know that people can laugh at my stories at the same time as myself, so thanks.

Second off, I am hosting a Nepal Picture and Food Party sometime in the near future. I have finally been able to go through all of my millions of pictures and decided (with the help of my Mom’s convincing words) to share with all and anyone who wants to come! I think it will be good for me to talk out loud and explain some of my experiences to help me fully deal with all my re-entry reverse culture shock because yes I can tell you it does exist! I plan on making some Nepali food while I show the pics too because I am starting to miss Momos and Samosas… So if anyone is interested in coming let me know! Send me an email  (Rachelfholm@gmail.com) or call me or something and I can let you know when to come on over!

For everyone else, thank you again for following me! I think my blogging career has ended… at least until I return to Nepal again which I plan on doing! I will leave you with these parting thoughts.

Dec 23 2010: Last Day in Nepal

I woke up to the smell of my Aamaa making Alu-chop, my favorite dish. She knew I loved it and decided to make it for my last meal. I walked into the kitchen to find my family in their daily routine. My Aamaa running about cooking while yell/talking at Simi to do things faster and stop being naughty. Me just sitting at the table in half a daze because I was leaving this scene unsure of when I was returning as well as incredibly sad at having to say bye to the people I had come to love as my own family.

After eating I headed upstairs to sit in the sun and eat my last fresh suntalaa (orange). Not only did I recognize that I would not feel the warmth of the sun for the next seven months (MN = death in the winter) but I also wouldn’t be seeing my family members for who knows how long. I almost cried when I realized my Didi took the day off work to say goodbye to me.

Time moved incredibly fast as if in fast-forward to my time of departure. My family gave me tikka in a small ritual to wish me safe travels. My Baa had fetched a taxi and my bags were packed. At this moment I started to cry, which I had predicted would happen. My Aamaa quickly gave me a hug and went about her daily business. I hugged everyone else and walked toward the taxi. My Didi just patted me and said “Oh Ranjana, we are sad too.” As quickly as I had seemingly arrived I got in the taxi and drove away, off to the airport.

On the way to the airport I couldn’t contain my sadness. I am sure the driver thought I was a crazy person. He saw me as a mess saying bye to my family and throughout the ride stared at me in his rearview mirror. I had two huge bags, two white scarves (given to me in the goodbye ritual) around my neck and a huge red/orange smear of tikka on my face and red puffy eyes from me crying. Quite the sight to see I am sure.

Fast-forward over two months to March 2, 2011.

I have come and gone to Nepal and now I am home to a place that is seemingly timeless. All throughout college I have returned home always confused about how it never seems to change. Home hasn’t changed but I have a feeling that I have changed. Although it doesn’t come out daily to others, I know I am different. I am not different in the traditional sense one may think. I do still buy expensive clothes and I am not afraid to admit it. I do fall into the embarrassing habit of following celebrity blogs and watching Jersey Shore and again am not (really) ashamed of it. The superficial things I appreciated before Nepal have not changed if anything, they have gotten worse.

I do however feel that I appreciate things in life that may seemingly pass others by. We live in such a fast-paced society with many (hidden) agendas and sometimes need to stop and just breathe. We are so lucky to have iPhones that give us directions with just the tap of our fingers and lucky to have traffic lights that work efficiently.  We have the ability to fight against politicians (ahm Scott Walker) when we feel passionately, and knowing that we can do this and be safe in doing so.

I may have forgotten my Nepali and forgotten how good it feels to take a hot shower. But I will not forget how much I learned from my experience in Nepal. With this parting thought I will try to wrap things up.

The day of my departure I was sitting eating an orange with my Aamaa talking to her about how I was so sad to leave. She told me this and I will not forget it. We cannot dwell on things that we need to do in our lives. As for me, I needed to go home and finish school and get a job, this was what was guaranteed. Although I was sad about leaving I needed to accept it and move on. Nepal will always be a part of me as will my Aamaa and my family but now it was my duty to continue on. To have new experiences and not dwell, there is no point in wasting this precious energy.

I have tried to live by this mantra while home. It is pretty hard to do. I have tried to make it my sole goal to live in the present. Make today good and be happy in the moment. The past is just that, it is done. Think about it but don’t dwell because there is no point. There is also no point in focusing too much on the future because we have no way to predict it. All I have control of is today and now.

I miss Nepal and think about it often and have promised myself that I will go back. The hard part really is now, I am trying to define myself in a way I have never had the chance to do so before. For the first time I have no path, no pre-determined future. It is completely and utterly terrifying but also very exciting. I can do whatever I want. I’ve been to Mars (Nepal…) and back and survived to tell about it! On with life and the adventures that I will experience day-by-day.

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I AM DONE WITH COLLEGE, and no it is not too late.

Is the title self-explanatory enough? Today I finished my independent study project I have been doing for the past month in Nepal. My project was on women politicians here in Nepal. I got to interview a bunch of awesome women who are in Nepal’s Constituent Assembly and learned lots! Enough with that though… no  more studying for tests or writing for papers or awful procrastination which I have mastered! Finally!

On another note, it is Hanukkah! The other night I celebrated with my family. We made latkes and I actually made hummus!! It was all so amazing. I will attach some pictures of the occasion.

I am off to enjoy my last moments in Kathmandu. I come home in 19 days!

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Short But Sweet

How can I leave this!

I look like a giant yes but Nepalis are incredibly tiny. How great is my Aamaa?

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I don’t think I am ready to leave Nepal… yet.

Yesterday marks the month point of my return to the States. As of recently I have found that I have bittersweet feelings about coming home. The past few days I have found it to be a little hard because today is Thanksgiving and part of me is missing home and the whole tradition of it all.

But then I wake up in my Nepali home to my aamaa (mother) and little host brother arguing and talking in Nepali as they do every morning when they cook together. I realize that I am in Nepal and that I have so many Thanksgivings to look forward to. Then I find myself getting sad that I am actually leaving Nepal so soon.

I have been having these horrible dreams the past few nights all about my leaving Nepal and returning home. In one of them I didn’t say bye to my aamaa and woke up soo sad. In another I was in Madison at the annual Halloween celebration trying to get to Jimmy John’s but could not find a cab, again ending with me waking up very frustrated. What does this all mean? Tell me if you can make sense of any of this.

Don’t feel too bad for me though because I have had a great Thanksgiving. Last night I actually met up with my Aunt Barbara and Dennis who happen to be in Nepal at the same time as me. They have been here trekking and visiting and luckily had Thanksgiving night free! I got to spend the holiday with them at a traditional Nepali restaurant. Although possibly a bit corny – it was great. I realized that I have spent almost as many Thanksgivings with my Aunt as with my mom so regardless of the country it was comforting just spending time with her and Dennis.

I also was able to snag a slice of pumpkin pie which I gave to my host parents, they loved it. They also had a hard time understanding what Thanksgiving really meant, which led me to think about it too. I made up some story about the Pilgrims, is that right? Just one small reminder of how different the US is from the rest of the world, can’t wait to have more reminders of this when I return home.

To everyone who was at Mom and Mark’s house for the big meal, it was great to see and hear you all. Although you could only see me on Skype, my aamaa was happy that I had the better end of the deal than you all.

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Stop staring at me. No really, STOP.

As of now one would think I would be used to the constant staring that happens on my daily walks through Kathmandu. As of now one would also think that the honking of the horns, the exhaust fumes in my face, and the stench of garbage along all the streets would just be background noise and a faint smell. Unfortunately this could not be more wrong. Amidst all of these things, I am still expected to get research done. Let me lay it out for you.

Today I had a meeting (rescheduled from yesterday which included me waiting an hour and a half on a street corner because Buddhist protestors had sat down in the middle of a busy intersection, blocking all traffic) with a young, woman Member of Parliament. She told me to meet her at 11am in a little café/oasis in a neighborhood south of where I live, but also in the same area of the Parliament Buildings. So me being the American I am take this to mean, okay yeah sure I will get there maybe half hour or twenty minutes early. So I leave my house with plenty of time to get to my meeting. I need to do some printing as well as take a public bus (only 10 rupees!) to my meeting. I leave two hours early as to give myself time to get lost.

So easily I ride the bus. Or rather scrunch myself onto a bus where my head uncomfortably touches the ceiling. I get to the café actually order coffee! And mentally prepare myself for the meeting. Around 11 I wait outside the café for my meeting. The woman calls me and asks me where I am, I say well I am where we decided to meet. She says no meet me at the UML (United Marxist Leninist – her political party) Parliamentary Office and that she will send someone to come get me.

After waiting for 15 minutes I get a call from this same woman. She changes plans and then tells me to actually come into the Parliament Building complex, called Singha Durbar. She asks my name and gives me a number… the reason will make sense later… maybe. She says to come to her office and then we can talk. Seems easy enough, right? Well. No, wrong. This is Nepal.

When we hang up I walk 10 minutes to the entrance of Singha Durbar only to be greeted by a massive, cement compound with military police surrounding it. I go up to get in the line that seems appropriate and finally am able to talk to a guard. I show him my official SIT ID card, tell him this magic number I was given, and he tells me to go in. Only after walking by about 15 guards and me getting stared down by each on of them. Who is this white giant? Regardless, I enter the complex. I have made it in! I am so happy, now is where it should be easy, right? Again, no.

Once I am in I realize that this is not Washington DC. And that all of the Ministry buildings, all of the political party headquarters and all of everything else important seems to be in this complex. And of course everything is in Nepali script, which I do know yes but… not much more than you do.

Luckily I am able to find a building that says Constituent Assembly on the side. I walk in, talk to some men and realize it is the right building! But something does not seem right. I walk upstairs call the woman and tell her I am here and that she should come out of her office and come get me. But yet again after 10 minutes I realize… this building is a bit run-down and a bit small to be the HQ of the UML party (one of the biggest ones in Nepal).

So I leave the building and ask the men at the “front desk” if this is the UML office, their response is pure laughter. I think the equivalent would be me going to the Department of Education and asking if it was the Democratic Party HQ. Ha ha ha real funny I think to myself.

Luckily one of the men has pity on me and leads to me the correct office where I meet this Constituent Assembly member. Finally I made it! Her only response to my whole debacle was, “Let’s have some tea.” I have never been so happy to have tea.

However the sad thing about this story is that this is a good day in Nepal. Here is why.

One, I took the public bus to a meeting and did not get lost!

Two, I had coffee. COFFEE.

Three, I had an awesome meeting with an awesome Nepali woman. No wait let me correct that, I had a meeting.

Four, I only had to spend 20 rupees (think about this, 70 rupees = $1).

Now that I am home in my “quiet” oasis I walk upstairs to talk to my aamaa about my day. And to see if we can change my nose piercing… it is not infected anymore! I walk in and see that my baa is asleep on his back with a bunch of blankets on and a big fluffy hat on with a big ball on top. I walk into the next room, following the sound of Nepali music, and find my aamaa also sleeping with open books all around her. I am too comforted and touched by this scene to wake either of them so I sneak back downstairs to start my daily unwind.

 

 

 

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Happy Tihar!

Here in Nepal the Tihar or Dewali (as more commonly known) holiday is in full swing. The city is bright with Christmas lights, when there isn’t load-shedding of course, and it feels like the holiday season in the US.

The holiday Tihar is in honor of the Goddess Laxmi who is the goddess of wealth. One fun tradition commonly seen is groups of children visiting houses in their neighborhoods singing songs in honor of Laxmi. In return they receive money. It is a lot like Halloween but Nepali’s are smarter because you get money, not candy.

Last Sunday was the biggest day of Tihar. We did something called bhaai tikka. Bhaai in Nepali means little brother and tikka is the red dot commonly seen on Hindus’ foreheads as a way of prayer. But on Sunday sisters gave tikka to brothers and brothers gave tikka to sisters. Sisters cooked the food and gave gifts to brothers but in return brothers gave sisters money.

So on Sunday morning I woke up and helped my didi (older sister) cook for a bit and then we headed over to my aunts house. Once there we all gave each other tikka which was really fun. The tikka instead of being only red consisted of six colors, red, orange, yellow, green, purple, and pink. So colorful! Or rangichangi as we say in Nepali. After giving tikka we ate and played cards, as seemed to be the tradition.

After eating and hanging out, my family informed me that we were moving to our uncle’s home. Instantly I got excited and incredibly nervous because our uncle happens to be the Speaker of Parliament. Of Nepal. So yeah…you know the guy who daily hangs out with the Prime Minister and the President of Nepal. He is the (former, I am not ready to admit it) Nancy Pelosi. No biggie he is just my mama (in Nepali mama translates to mother’s older brother).

So we go home re-group, grab some more food and then head for uncle’s home. We walk for about 10 minutes and walk up to a huge compound with a huge cement wall surrounding the whole thing with guards basically in the trees guarding the house. My tiny didi just walks right in with my aamaa following close behind. The guard yells something in Nepali and my aamaa just looks at him mumbles something about us being family and we continue in.

Once in the house I just followed aamaa and didi to the sitting room. Maujou (my uncle’s wife) briefly says hi to us but disappears as quickly as she appeared. For awhile didi and I sat on the couch together looking at a book of pictures of our mama with all these worldly leaders. To add to this, there are framed pictures all around us of our mama with the late King Birendra!

After a bit, mama comes in to greet us. He sits down on some pillows on the floor and looks at me almost expectantly. My didi has previously told me I can ask him about women politicians in Nepal (I am currently doing a month long independent study project focusing on women in politics in Nepal) and I can ask him questions about himself as well. So here he is the Speaker and I find myself unsure of how to talk to him. Should I speak to him in Nepali? Obviously he knows English but… is it more polite to speak what I know best? Should I ask him about himself? Politicians like to talk about themselves right?

Luckily I was able to think of words and was able to tell him about my project a bit. He seemed to coolly receive my project but listened to me nonetheless. After realizing I was going to have to carry the conversation, I managed to ask him how he got involved in politics. He didn’t seem to be in the mood to talk. He kind of laughed, brushed off my question and luckily started talking to another uncle who was in the room.

It seemed that my one-on-one time with the Speaker was over. We soon were served food and Maujou (Speaker’s wife) came in and joined us. If I was intimidated by the Speaker than his wife was ten times worse. She was so elegant and such a ‘first-lady’ type. I was terrified. She sat down asked my aamaa in Nepali if I spoke Nepali and then looked to me and started asking me questions. She asked some in Nepali, some in English and we were able to have a conversation easily. She turned out to be so nice and awesome. We continued to talk for awhile about where I was from. The Speaker has been to Minnesota and knew of the Twin Cities! All he seemed to remember was the horrific weather.

The conversation drifted and all the men filtered out of the room. Soon I realized I was surrounded by four of my elder women relatives. Each one of them uniquely independent, outspoken and beautiful. They were talking about the youth migration in Nepal and the difficult political times. Well I think so at least, it was all in Nepali. I could not have been happier. Here I was surrounded by some of the strongest women I will ever know and in the Speaker’s house, talking with his wife! I felt and still feel so lucky and in shock of this experience.

This didn’t last long though and we realized it was getting late. We started to leave and Maujou told us to return for lunch. She told me she liked me a lot and told me she was now my didi and I her bahini (little sister). She gave me a hug (Nepali’s don’t touch so this was hugggge) when I left and told us to return for lunch sometime soon.

And that was my Tihar! Now I am off starting my independent study project for the next month. I will update again soon!

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Himalayas!

First off I want to thank all of you who have sent me so many postcards! It has been so great to get words of wisdom from home, keep them coming!

Second, sorry I suck at blogging! I am back now within internet and will be for the next month so blogging will resume if I can get my act together.

Hmmm so what have I been up to… oh nothing much just climbing some Himalaya mountains. Really though. A few days ago I climbed up a mountain for 9 hours. Straight up-hill for nine hours. The next day I had to climb down for about the same amount of time. All the while having to carry all of my clothes and entire bag I had packed for our 2-week stay in the mountains.

I am currently in my ‘finals week’ in Kathmandu now after returning from the Himalayas. I am a bit all over the place and finding it hard to blog an appropriate post. So after finals week and after Tihar (Holiday of Lights!) which is this weekend I will gather up the energy and will write a good post. For now I will put up some pics, it is all I can do for now!

Hope yall had a good Halloween — first time I have ever missed it!

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