For those of you who were wondering…or guessing…or just had no clue – yes, I am currently in Nepal. (Surprise!)
After being here for a little over a month, I figured it was high time that I write about my experiences and observations I’ve had so far.
What am I doing here precisely? Well, for starters, I’m doing a year-long internship with an iNGO (international non-government organization for those of you who aren’t familiar with that acronym)….like every other expat that lives here (I’m not really lying about that either…), currently supporting the health team and M&E team (more on that later).
Wait. A YEAR?! Yes. A year.
Or that’s what the plan is. I’m actually having issues procuring my work visa at the moment. Oh the adventures of getting [any type of] visa. Ask any well traveled person and they will tell you that acquiring a visa can be a nightmare. (We won’t speak about that one time I forgot to get a visa before flying to a tiny airport in Indonesia and missed out on a day and a half of diving…..*grumble grumble grumble*)
Anyway, yes – I am projected to be in this country for a year. This is totally new and different for me. Most of you are probably thinking, “But you always travel! This will be no big deal for you!”
HAH. Is that ever a lie.
First of all, yes, I do travel quite a bit. However, I tend to do shorter trips, rather than longer trips (like a week to three weeks is usually the max). “Well, what about that one time you disappeared to who-knows-where for 8 months last year?” Um, yeah, about that. Even though I was technically traveling, I consider Malaysia my home, rather than a travel destination. (Because, let’s be honest. I’ve spent way more time in Malaysia in the last 10 years than I have at my Maryland home. True story.) And the times I was traveling during that 8 month period of time was three weeks or less (and was with family, for the most part).
But, I digress (as I usually do).
This is the first time where I will be without my close group of friends and family – a community, if you will, for an extended amount of time. I came here not knowing anyone or anything (because, yes, this is my first time in this country). It’s strange, to say the least. It’s definitely put me out of my comfort zone and also, knowing that I will be here for an extended amount of time gives me more time to think about my future than I care to have. I usually live my life out in six month segments. To deal with a whole year? Yeah, not really sure what to do with myself, honestly. Haha. As I said, I’m out of my comfort zone and I don’t really want to think too much about it for fear of having an existential crisis (hey, it could happen, you never know). But, as I always like to say, my life is one big adventure and I’m excited to explore, learn new things, and make new friends!
Ok, on to the more interesting things, like – do I have running water? What kind of food do I eat? What’s it like here!?
Disclaimer: My brother and close friends (ahem, Shauna…Niki…) think I’m living in a hut out in the middle of no where, riding around on yaks. (They’re not that ignorant….they just choose to believe I live in an idyllic [read: stereotypical] world as a global health development worker.)
No, I don’t live in the middle of nowhere in a hut. Sorry to disappoint! Rather, I live in a flat in the outskirts of Kathmandu, the capital city, and it’s only a few minutes walk to my office. Yes, I have running water (the plumbing is, surprisingly, very good, so far). I even have hot water (thank you, solar panels)! Although, it takes forever and a day to heat up.
Oh, and yeah, I work in an office building. Sorry to disappoint again. I haven’t been to the “field” yet, but I’m hoping that will change soon!
I also happen to be eating quite well here. (Thankfully.)
The traditional food is most similar to Indian food, but obviously has its own twists. Most people eat “dal baht” which consists of rice, vegetable dishes (you can usually find meat dishes too), and lentil soup. Super yummy (unless, that’s what you eat for every single meal like a lot of Nepali…and as a foreigner who likes variety, I hear it’s not ideal…haha). Another thing that I’ve absolutely enjoyed here are momos! Basically the Nepali people took the Tibetan dumpling (think Chinese dumplings) and made it their own, putting their own spices, etc. into it. There’s also Newari cuisine – a large ethnic group here – and their food is yummy too, but tends to be a lot spicier.
I have attempted to cook a few times too. Nothing too elaborate since I’m still trying to figure out what I can make with the produce and groceries available here.
The VERY first time I tried to cook (which, weirdly enough, I was making Shakshuka, a Middle Eastern dish…), I realized too late into the process, that the can opener didn’t work. But where there’s a will, there’s a way!!! Hahaha.
In addition to that, I happen to live in a very “expat saturated” area of town – AKA, this is where most of the NGOs have their offices and every other worker is an expat (except for our office, I’m the only other expat besides the director and his family). What does that mean? That means there are a LOT of cafes and more westernized restaurants in the area. This is a good thing (for me) because I like variety. Plus, food here is relatively cheap. Chisato and I have found our favorite pizza place already! Still looking for my favorite coffee shop, though.
Oh, that brings me to my next point! Chisato!
Thankfully, I’ve had Chisato, my housemate, here to help me figure everything out. If it weren’t for her, I’d be SO lost – in more ways than one. Chisato works for one of our support offices in Japan and is the in-country program officer for the project they’re supporting here. Essentially, that means she stays here as long as her tourist visa lets her so she can oversee the project. Currently, she has left me for Japan (because we have a long holiday here…) but will be back soon (so we can try more cafes in the area!). If it weren’t for her, I probably wouldn’t know where anything was. Ok, that’s a lie, but it would have taken me a LOT longer to figure things out if it weren’t for her.
Basically, Chisato = lifesaver.
Another person that has helped me out a lot here is Shweta! I met her through a friend (when I was still in the PNW), and she has been incredible showing me around and exposing me to the culture here!
As I said earlier, I’m currently helping support the health team and M&E (Monitoring and Evaluation) team. The health team is in the beginning stages of writing a proposal for another grant from Japan that will deal with neonatal and child illnesses in a few districts. It’s been really interesting being able to sit in on all the meetings and seeing the proposal take shape. I spent the better part of this past Thursday editing and proofreading the first draft of the proposal before it went to the Japan office. Since I’m the only native English speaker in the office, I get to edit anything and everything that comes my way. Haha.
I’m also helping the M&E team develop their knowledge management system. That has proven to be a large task that the other intern and I have been working on…mainly because neither of us have ever done this type of thing before. It’s kind of the blind leading the blind right now. Don’t ask me who thought it would be a good idea for the interns to work on this project. Haha!
One thing that I am a little disappointed in, is the public transportation system. Or lack thereof. Ok, fine, I’ll give it a little credit. There is public transportation. However, there is no system. There are tiny taxis that are “expensive” (about USD $2-4 compared to using public transportation that is less than a dollar) and then there are public buses, mini-buses (or micro-buses), and a type of electric rickshaw that one can use for a very small fee (anywhere from 15-30 US cents). The catch to using these modes of public transportation is the fact that there is absolutely NO schedule and they pack people in there like sardines. Just when you think you can’t fit anyone else inside, they pack three more people in. Lol. It’s quite the adventure, I must say. Not to mention, traffic here is HORRENDOUS. I can’t begin to describe what it’s like in detail….except that it reminds me of organized chaos. It’s really quite the feat to be able to drive here…you have to watch out for stopping buses, people crossing the street, motorbikes/scooters weaving in and out, cars turning or stopping at any given time, random cows in the street, plus, there are no stop signs and most traffic lights don’t actually work (or no one pays attention to them, I’ve noticed). But, there are traffic police that stand in the middle of busy intersections that generally do help the flow of the traffic…although sometimes their hand signals can be confusing…haha. Despite all of that, they all seem to get to where they need to be. It really is quite amazing. I’ll have to take a video of it someday. Crossing the road at any given time is pretty fun, to say the least!
Anyway, all that to say….I usually WALK everywhere. When I first arrived and looked at Google Maps I was discouraged by how far certain places were. But after a month, walking 2km (roughly an hour and a half), is nothing. The only annoying thing is the DUST. Oh man, I was warned before I came that it’s pretty dusty here b/c of all the construction that’s going on, but I don’t think I was fully prepared with how incredibly dusty it is here. Even after it rains, it’s still dusty. It’s also weird to me that it can be so dusty and humid at the same time. Figure that one out. But yes, it’s reality. There is always a fine coat of dust on everything, which I’m starting to get used to, and wearing a mask outside is the norm.
Overall, I’ve enjoyed exploring, getting to know the people and the culture, and figuring out what my daily life looks like from day to day. I know I’ll have a lot of challenges that I’ll face (that only comes with living in a foreign country), but I’m determined to make the best of it and see where it’ll take me!
Here are a few other things I’ve been able to do/see in the last month!
A few more shots of Banepa:
Lalitpur and Kathmandu: