November 25, 2006

Warmth and friendliness

Despite the stressful trip into Kathmandu, there were some highlights during the day that would never have happened if we had a simple, straightforward, easy taxi ride into the city.

I spent a lot of time sitting by the side of the road guarding luggage, as Jonathan went off to find the next ride towards Kathmandu. Despite being anxious about the situation, it felt luxurious to be sitting in the grass, warm and feeling the sun on my face. It was a welcome change after the cold and skin cracking dryness of high altitude. I gazed at the mango and banana trees dotting the valley and marvelled at the precise terracing of the rice fields, while chickens pecked and goats chewed on grass besides me.

Groups of women walked by in beautiful flowing saris, kids in school uniforms, and men in traditional round cloth hats frequented the small roadside shops across the road. I discovered that Nepali men commonly walk holding each others’ hands – as natural for them as it would be stange in the US.

I found that the Nepali are curious but polite people. Passerbys would stare at me, but once I caught them looking they would quickly look away. I would call out “Namaste!”, and instantly a slightly sheepish smile would break out, and “Namaste” would be warmly returned. I imagine they don’t see foreign women stuck alone on the side of the road with a pile of 8 bags in front of them very often. (Or maybe they do, given the number of transportation strikes!)

A teenage boy who was selling bolts of cloth saw me, and started to pester me for money and candy, etc. He was harmless, but a little annoying when he wouldn’t go away. A circle of old women sitting on their balcony, with whom I had made friends with earlier by waving and shouting “Namaste!”, started in concert to lecture him from above. Ah, the village elders. Some things don’t need any translation – the effect on the boy was immediate. He rolled his eyes (but when only faced towards me), and slunk away.

Our first meal in Nepal was delicious – doubly so since we hadn’t eaten for 8 hours since leaving the Chinese border in the morning. We sat at a roadside restaurant and ordered the Nepali Set Meal to share, which came with curry vegetables, rice, a green stewed vegetable, lentil soup (dal) and some sort of salad, each in its own little copper dish. Jonathan and I shared food as our usual custom, eating off of one plate, sampling this and that. We devoured the meal, since we weren’t sure whether at any point we’d have to be ready to get on the next mode of transportation to Kathmandu.

We had a few minutes to kill after the meal, and flipped through the Lonely Planet Nepal, reading the highlighted “Dos and Don’ts” concerning Nepali etiquette. Number 1, the Number 1 item listed went something like ” Do not share food or utensils. This is considered to ritually contaminate the food”. We looked at each other and thought back to our unintended complete and utter trampling on this cultural norm.

Oops. Hope the restaurant guys are used to crazy foreigners…

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