Bhaktapur, buses and bandhs – hooray!

***I would like to apologize in advance for the extensive use of caps in this post – it’s been an all caps kind of week – I particularly apologize to Ms. Rea, who may be especially offended***

Hi loves – miss me?

Sorry I’ve been MIA for a few days – the internet went out and hasn’t resurfaced in a few days. This episode, in fact, has been brought to you thanks to our many sponsors: Word ’97, a borrowed laptop, procrastinated packing, a rainstorm to supply the power and Remy’s magic Mac that somehow manages to always have some kind of connection going.

Where did we leave off?

Hospital: work is good – I’ve been chugging through medical entries and charting diseases and respiratory infections. Not really the kind of work I pictured myself doing, but it’s needed and helpful. It’s really interesting to see the massive increase in respiratory illness in the dry seasons and increase in gastric problems and dysentery in the wet seasons. Ages and overall inpatient numbers also fluctuate with the seasons and I think in the end it’s going to be fascinating to look at the trends in disease and see what kind of improvements we can make in their care delivery as a result.

The people I’m working with are still incredible – any one of them could have productive and lucrative careers in academics in the US and yet they choose to stay here. On Thursday, as I’m sitting in my weird little “office”, surrounded by eight foot high stacks of medical records, on a stool made for a small assed dwarf (no really, it’s has a very small circumference and is low to the ground, seriously uncomfortable if you are say, a tall blonde woman with birthin’ hips, but perfect if you are the small delicate woman who takes care of us in the Admin wing and thought she was doing me an enormous favor), armed with a pen that works sometimes but not always and copy paper stapled together into a book, the finance guy came in and asked how I was going to give them the data. I hadn’t really thought about this, so I said, “well, how would you like the data?” I was expecting on paper, as graphs, in tables, whatever, but he said “I was hoping for Excel, Access or SPSS – do you have SPSS with you in Nepal?” Um, no, crazy man. I did not bring a high level statistical software package with me to Kathmandu, but thanks for asking. Crazy.

Ultimately, I got through more than 2500 of the 6000 entries I need to get through. I left on Friday and told them I would be in the mountains at the Kalika hospital this next week but would come by the week after that to get things finished up. They looked at me like I was announcing my candidacy for Nepali Prime Minister and asked why I wouldn’t be coming in on Sunday. Turns out the work week in Nepal is Sunday through Friday- six days instead of our lazy ass American 5 days. Gawd, I’m such a slacker.

Went back to my now favorite Indian restaurant to order Palak Paneer and if I could only eat one thing for the rest of my life, it might be that. The spinach was so insanely fresh the entire dish was color crayon green with fresh farmers cheese and hot naan – heaven! Plus they were super excited to be able to give me my “tea without sugar” aka tea with mango juice. The waiters speak NO English, so communicating tea without sugar has been an ongoing battle with us, but they are adorable and make great food, so I somehow manage to cope with my fresh mango juice and tea 😉

Friday night I headed out with a couple of the other volunteers here and we went to RO2K which is basically an expat bar in Thamel, a touristy shopping district not far from the house. We met up with another one of their friends who is doing research on the sex industry in Kathmandu (Hint: it’s booming and involves lots of underage girls kidnapped from the mountains and set to work for pimps in the tourist area. How bouts instead of interviewing these girls about how miserable and dehumanizing their lives are, you try to help them? There are tons of groups in town that are giving legal aid to the girls and teaching them English so they can learn a viable and non-destructive trade – you could go help them, ya know. Just sayin’…). The place was actually really nice – low tables and cushions with basic food and drink. Had a vile local whisky and coke, a mistake I will never ever make again, though I do think that the swill managed to kill everything in its path and it may have saved me from the worst of the travelers digestive concerns (ahem, sorry) that I had to deal with a day later.

Saturday, pepto in hand, I boarded a bus SOLO for the trip to Darbur Square in Bhaktapur, Nepal. I was feeling very proud of myself because for the first time I was able to decipher the fast talking bus dude and got on the right bus without having to ask (woohoo! Take that, Nepalese fast talkers! Boo-ya.). The bus ride was a royal pain in the ass. It was full, of course, and I had a seat made for someone approximately 5’2”. I still have bruises on my knee from the two hours with my knees crammed against a metal seat frame and a crick in my neck because an auntie who was too tired to keep her head up and used my shoulder for a pillow and I didn’t want to disturb her.

Got off at Darbur square and tromped my way solo into the village. Paid NR 750 to get in to the historic district (SEVEN HUNDRED AND FIFTY FREEEEEEAKING RUPEE – GAH.). It was worth every penny though – Darbur square is what people come to Nepal for. It’s breathtaking. I managed to piss off an old potter who couldn’t count and two old ladies who wouldn’t share (I can give you all more detail when I can get pictures up – the illustrated version of the story is way better). After a few hours, I went back to grab a bus to Kathmandu. Got on the right (crowded) bus, had a lovely conversation with three orphans who live at the monastery and then a four year old and her mom before getting KICKED OFF THE BUS just outside the Kathmandu city limits. KICKED. OFF. THE. BUS. After bus dude had collected enough fare for the entire journey. I took a deep breath, put my big-girl pants on (Hi Lish!) and went to get the next bus. Got on, it quickly filled up (New record – 34 people in a minibus!), I ended up sitting half on the lap of some kind of holy man who kept smiling and blessing me on my sunburnt forehead. As soon as I could see out of the window, after an exceptionally long time on the bus, I realized we were wandering into the foothills north of the city and I had no idea where in the hell I was. I quickly got back off the bus and started tromping back towards civilization. I was feeling adventurous at this point and figured that I was as lost as I could get and I certainly couldn’t get more confused so, let’s go feet, and off we went. After a few congratulatory pats on the back for my amazing sense of direction, I was back on the main ring road and heading home. Half an hour later it started pouring and I realized I had been walking in the wrong direction. As I was dodging a cow, trying to get to a place to cross the road, a tourbus of Chinese tourists STOPPED THE BUS TO TAKE A PICTURE OF ME. Dozens of tourists pointing their cameras at the stupid giant tourist and the cow wrestling for a foothold on the soggy shoulder of a dirt road in Kathmandu in the idle of monsoon. I should get effing royalties on that.

Anyway, I got home, had a hot (!) shower and was told by the gang that we were going to the new Pizza Hut in town. You laugh. I can hear you, it’s ok, you can admit it. The Hut is in the Rodeo Drive of Kathmandu, next to the United Colors of Benetton (I know! They still exist!) and involves reservations, table cloths, china and silverware – HA! It’s like the Hut on steroids. I had a Kaleei (?) Paneer pizza which was masala sauce, mozzarella, onion, green pepper, hot red thai peppers and paneer with coriander and red paprika – heaven.

Got home by piling 8 people in a 4 seater Suzuki because we’re cheap like that, and slept like the dead.

I’m going to finish this up quickly because it’s late and I have to pack, you all stopped reading ten paragraphs ago and I don’t want to alarm any one. This morning there was a teeny teeny tiny bandh/strike and most of the city shut down for the day. There was no violence that we saw and yes, we went out to the city in the middle of the bandh. We were safe, I promise! We walked all over kingdom come and ended up going to the Women’s Foundation production center – another group sponsored by the group I’m here with. They essentially act as a halfway house for abused women and children – they currently have over 30 women and 80 children that are staying with them. They all get medical care, food, shelter and education as well as training in high end weaving. They export their wares all over Europe and the states, but you can get them for much less here in town. The women were so sweet and we hung out for a while before spending way too much time and money on items for home and walking back out. Taxis were running again by the time we left and we sang a Nepali folk song for a discount on fare (we’re shameless). Home again, had Dal Bhat for dinner (finally!) and I don’ care what they say, it was fantastic. It had these weird soy bean puffy things in it – does anyone know what those are?? They are brown, kind of funky textured puffs of soy bean that are my new favorite thing.

Tomorrow (or rather in 8 hours), I’ll be off to Kalika – a small village six hours outside of town in the foothills of the Himalayas. I won’t be back for a week, so this will have to suffice until I return.

Love to all and thanks for listening to my rambles!

Danyabhat (thank you )

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