Thursday, July 12, 2012

When life hands you small pizzas, make Quick noodles instead

Nepal has a habit of taking your plans and bending them, or stomping on them, or smashing them to bits. It usually happens in a quite comical way, so you can’t stay mad for too long. In fact it happens so frequently that Andrew, the European volunteers and I have developed a reaction to this event: “Enjoy your Nepal!” It’s a tourist slogan here, but we use it in an ironic way that conveys, “This is just so typical. Let’s roll with it.”

And so it was with dinner this evening. The two new British girls at the orphanage (more on them later) decided to order pizza from a restaurant, oddly enough, named KFC. It’s not an American KFC, in case you were wondering. It’s not a real anything, actually. The girls ordered seven “large” pizzas and asked if there would be enough to feed 13 children and six adults. They said yes. Well either they are liars or they thought we had infantile appetites  because what we received were puny, pathetic excuses for pizza. These pizzas were about half the size of a personal pan-sized pizza you would get in America.

So naturally, we all started frantically wondering aloud, “How are we going to feed 13 hungry children??” Meanwhile, Karuna – a 12-year-old girl – was yelling at the pizza guys over the phone. One of the British girls said, “Tell them we’re all going to die of starvation now,” and I’m pretty sure Karuna did translate that to Nepali. But alas, KFC was closing its doors for the night, and there was nothing they could do to help us.

With all of the restaurants closed, Andrew and I ran to the store next door and asked if they had anything quick to cook. “Quick? Yes,” said the Nepali salesclerk, handing us a packet of Ramen noodles, with the appropriate brand name, “Quick.” So we bought five packets of Quick, five bags of chips and some Kit Kats and ran back to orphanage to tend to the hungry kids. And just for the record, these kids can eat a ton. They only have two meals a day, so when dinner is served, it’s always a heaping plate of dal bhat.

We cooked up our measly servings of Quick noodles, while I documented the experience because it was one of those moments where I couldn’t stop laughing because it was just so Nepali. The grandfather of the house (who speaks no English) and I just laughed and laughed and laughed.

Empty plates, hungry bellies

Anyway, I guess I haven’t been updating much lately. I have the same routine Monday through Friday, but there are still some new additions to my life – namely the two 17-year-old British girls who I’ll be sharing my room with for almost three weeks. And they can’t leave soon enough.

I try not to judge people too quickly. I really do try to see the good in everyone. But these girls really have no redeeming qualities. They quite clearly come from privileged backgrounds, and they make no effort to hide it. It was amusing seeing the looks of sheer horror on their faces when I gave them the rundown on what to expect in the orphanage: no showerhead, no hot water, sometimes no running water at all, sometimes no power or wifi, sometimes no flushable toilet (but still it’s better than the Turkish toilet in Andrew’s room), and the list goes on and on. I assured them that it gets better, that you can adjust to anything, that it's worth it in the end, but the damage was already done.

They immediately started talking about changing their flights from three weeks to two. They have since checked into a hotel just to shower. And they refuse to drink my jug of water (even though I’ve been surviving off of it for five weeks) or even pee in the toilet because there is a chance it won’t flush. Today Andrew took them to the monastery where he teaches English to monks, and the girls complained about the 40-minute walk, saying they have “never walked so far in their lives.”

Oy vey. The one girl even had the nerve to declare, “There’s nothing to do in Nepal” after being here two hours. I wanted to chuck my Lonely Planet tourism book at her head, but I’m trying to be nice. They have no interest in seeing the sights here; only the mention of shopping gets them interested. I can’t even…understand. How can you be in this amazing, fascinating, culturally rich country and not care to see anything at all? I digress. I’ll never understand.

Aside from this slight annoyance, life here is still wonderful. My internship is both challenging and fulfilling. I was asked to write the editorial the other day, but I wasn’t quite ready for that task (that’s a huge deal, you know?). I think they expect a lot from me because the last international intern was from Harvard. Talk about big shoes to fill. But they assure me I’m doing a good job, so I hope they’re right.

Sometimes I forget I’m working in an entirely different culture, because it’s an English language newspaper, and many of the editors are Western-educated. There are some little reminders, though. One day, my supervisor was laying out the Op-Ed pages and he suddenly said, “Wait, this won’t work. All these writers are Brahmins and men! We need a woman and someone from a different caste on this page.” Apparently you can tell from the last name what caste someone is a part of. The newspaper is more progressive than most, but women’s voices are still extremely underrepresented, not to mention the lower castes (which I’m still learning about).

I’m hoping to get published soon, and when I asked for story ideas, one of the editors told me I could investigate witch-hunt accusations made against local women. Apparently it’s still a prevalent practice, even in the capital. Two men recently blinded their sister after they accused her of witchcraft because one of men couldn’t conceive a child with his wife. It would be an interesting topic to look into, but it might be too challenging because of the language barrier, unless I’m able to get a Nepali to come with me during interviews. We’ll see.

One other totally unrelated thing I wanted to talk about is how friendly Nepalis can be sometimes. It's not phony, outward shows of affability like we tend to do in America. Nepalis don't smile at strangers or say "thank you" for every little thing, but their hospitality is more genuine, it seems. Sometimes when I take the bus to or from work, someone will try out their English with me. It makes me feel less like a foreigner (which is a hard feeling to escape from when you're the only white person for miles), and it makes the 45-minute bus ride go a bit faster. Yesterday, a retired school teacher helped me count all the way to 40 in Nepali, even though I can only remember 1-10. Today, a Nepali boy asked permission to pay me a compliment. I said sure, and he said, "Your eyes are so beautiful. In fact, you are so beautiful. When I look into your eyes I feel like I'm diving into two oceans." I couldn't help but laugh. It was a sweet compliment, and totally harmless. If the guys here go crazy for blue eyes, I'm relieved I don't have blonde hair.

I'll probably be updating this weekend because I have some fun things planned, and it will be five weeks - the halfway mark! - of my trip.

Shuva ratri (goodnight),



  1. Nice blog Great Job ! Blue eyes !
    Un-forgettable moments in Nepal !
    Shubh ratri !!!

  2. Thanks for the amusing blog Em! It made a great lunchtime companion as I sat in Panera with my turkey sandwhich and onion soup reading. I think the management in Panera requires a laptop or similar electronic device to be visible on the table during meals or you're asked to leave : ) Just an observation. I wondered if you are being cheated by the meager portions. Is the food scarce and expensive?
    I've always said the deepness of your blue eyes was equivalent to not just one, but two oceans! Love you.

    1. Yum Panera, please mail me some. Not all of the food is served in such small portions. I go to one cafe every morning where I can get a huge meal and coffee for a couple dollars. We just got really unlucky. I guess pizza isn't Nepal's specialty haha.

      Thanks, dad. Love you too!