I’ve been in Nepal nearly a month now, mostly living with Amanda Summers, an expat in her late 50’s from the United States. She has lived here for 2 years already and intends to spend the rest of her life residing in Bhaktapur, one of the 3 cities of the Kathmandu Valley. Life here follows a very similar lifestyle as in India – much of the day is spent eating and/or cooking, little of it is spent “working” in an American sense, and the rest of the day is spent sleeping. One of the most major differences coming here has been the impact of Kathmandu’s “loadshedding”, wherein power is turned off all over the city for a certain number of hours per day (ranging between 15 and 19 hours of no power out of 24) to decrease energy usage. It’s particularly bad in the winter time, like right now, when even if the schedule says there will be power from noon until 3pm and again from 9pm to midnight, it is more than likely that half of those hours will also be powerless.
I live here in a Western-style apartment in a huge Nepali house, with Amanda, Genae, a 27-year-old graduate student from Chicago, Sven, a 32-year-old German carpenter and trekker who hiked to Annapurna Base Camp and Michael, a 30-year-old from Boston who cooks for us. All of us found Amanda through helpx.net, a website intended to connect people looking to work internationally in exchange for room and board with those looking for help in any aspect of their life. Sven has built Amanda two futon beds while he’s been staying with her, Michael cooks for everyone and Genae and I are Amanda’s personal assistants, helping her write a book about unconventional, affordable tourism in Nepal. We help her conduct research, edit her writing, and give tips and suggestions based on our own experiences in Nepal. However, Amanda’s a super busy woman, so we also help her with other projects she’s working on. One of her Nepali friends, Suman, is interested in starting a joint venture mushroom farm and Amanda is helping fund and research it, so we occasionally work on that. One of her other new ideas we’ve just begun looking into is to begin a moringa tree cooperative. The moringa plant is unlike any other plant in the world and when grown and used properly, its leaves can be implemented as a major supplement to curb malnutrition and starvation. It can also be eaten fresh or dried, with the same benefits and so fits right in to our goal of helping Nepal, particularly in the less developed, more malnourished Eastern portion of the country.
Coming at this series of projects from an International Studies/Anthropology background has been particularly difficult. Amanda is a trying boss – equally generous to, and outrageously stereotyping of, Nepali’s as a whole. She has tried hiring 9 different people over the course of her two years in Nepal, to find an assistant who will do something similar to what Genae and I do and who can 1) speak English fluently, 2) is willing to speak English TO her, 3) can legally drive her around on her scooter and 4) won’t steal money or anything else from her house. This combination has actually proved to be impossible, and each bad experience has influenced her opinion of Nepali’s as a whole, irrevocably. She insists they all cheat and steal and are looking for any opportunity to squeeze a little bit more American money out of her monthly government paycheck – she has no IRA and collects far less than $1000 a month from the government, enough to keep her living a comfortable, though still frugal, lifestyle in Nepal but to be easily under the poverty line in the United States.
Therefore, one of our new tasks has been to find a household manager for her, basically acting as her permanent assistant for a very good Nepali salary. I’ve been amazed to find it to be such a struggle – who would have thought that it was so hard? Unfortunately, the influx of tourism from developed countries into such an underdeveloped one has created this strange relationship between the two where Nepali’s have been taught, through experience, by fault of both sides, that to make money, you must manipulate and trick people and will then be rewarded monetarily.
Our holidays were pretty lovely – we spent our Christmas Eve drinking traditional hot Nepali Tumba (a millet wine) out of metal straws and looking at our indoor fern tree with Divali lights on it. We had 2 Iranian couchsurfers, plus 3 Nepalis, 1 German and 4 Americans. Quite the international celebration. New Years was less exciting but was very laidback and enjoyable and I went to Changu Narayan, a hill village, on New Years Day. So beautiful! One of Amanda’s friends, Kamal, drove me up there on a motorcycle and took me to his Thangka Painting School there and I got some beautiful handpainted art for $5 USD each! Amaaaaazing.