I’m sitting on the roof – my favorite place in the hostel, especially at sunrise. This is the fourth floor. Its concrete walls are about 3.5 feet tall, and a light pink salmon color – like the rest of the building. There’s a great view of the city from here, and if it’s not too smoggy – the outline of the low mountains as well. A ladder up to a 10 ft x 10 ft perch gives access to the black plastic water tanks. Though we don’t technically have hot water, the sun heats these tanks so well that the water coming out of the faucets actually gets pretty warm.
This fourth floor deck only covers half the width of the building, so the third floor is part roof as well. There are potted plants and lines to hang clothes on both. Our language teacher, Biplap (say Beep-lop), has a room on this floor, and the male volunteers have opted to occupy the adjacent room. Outside, there’s a spicket in the wall flowing into a tiled washing area where we wash our garments in a light metal basin.
An indoor-outdoor staircase leads down to the second floor, where four rooms hold 11 beds. In addition to the bathroom on the third floor, there are two bathrooms on the second. Western style toilets are a plus, but the shower situation is kind of funny. Between the toilet and the sink there is a faucet coming out of the wall and a drain in the floor. You basically stand there and turn on the faucet, drenching the entire bathroom. It’s completely tiled, and so hot outside that everything dries completely within a half hour after your shower, so there’s no opportunity for mold to grow or anything. Takes some getting used to, but at least we know the bathroom is getting cleaned daily.
Taking the stairs down one more flight, we end up on the ground floor. This is where we eat our meals in a small dining room and have our morning language course in a small classroom. There is also a kitchen where our meals are cooked on a camping-style propane burner. Prakesh and Portimah (Por-tee-ma), the husband and wife who run the hostel, have a room on the first floor with their 14-month old daughter, Porcimah (Por-see-ma), whom everyone calls Naani, which means “little girl”.
Prakesh and Portimah don’t speak a whole lot of English, but they’re both very friendly. Naani basically wanders the house all day, calling “Babu!” from the balcony when she wants her daddy and undressing to play in the spicket while her mom is washing clothes. She’s a smart but spirited little thing and screams when she doesn’t get her way.
We play with Naani around mealtimes, when Prakesh and Portimah are busy in the kitchen. Mealtimes are at 8am, 12pm, and 7pm, with an optional tea time at 4pm. My first morning, we were given corn flakes and hot sweet milk for breakfast. Apparently any dairy products will be hot because its not safe to drink them – even for locals – unless they’ve been boiled, due to a lack of refrigerators. (Owning a refrigerator would do little good, as electricity is unpredictable. A generator makes sure we always have a few lights, but the general rule is that if the electricity is on during the day, it’ll be off at night, and vice-versa.)
As you might imagine, pouring hot milk over corn flakes turns them instantly to mush – just the beginning of my Nepali culinary experience.
Breakfast yesterday morning was ramen noodles in a spicy mutton broth. Unfortunately there wasn’t a gluten free option, but I wasn’t that hungry anyway, so instead I enjoyed two cups of dudh chhiya – milk tea. Imagine the best chai tea latte you’ve had at Starbucks, and then quadruple the experience. That’s dudh chhiya. I think being here and having this as my one treat every day makes it that much better.
After breakfast we have language class from 9-12. Then at twelve is lunch – the biggest meal of the day. This consists of daal bhaat, steamed rice with lentil soup, accompanied by steamed or fried yellow potatoes, two to three stir fry dishes, and a large, 8-inch-in-diameter crispy bread-cracker, kind of like the Indian bread naan but not as thick. I can’t eat it, of course, but the others say it has a fishy flavor. Nepal is nearly 80% Hindu, so most of the food is vegetarian, but every now and then you’ll get chicken, mutton or sea food. Certainly never expect beef, as cows are sacred in their religion and basically lead the most comfortable lives of anyone in this country (When they wander into the middle of the road, where you’ll often see them, traffic literally stops and goes around them. Drivers are more respectful of cows than people!). Nevertheless, there are a few non-vegetarian selections at mealtimes. The first day I had octopus stir fry and enjoyed it.
Dinner is pretty similar to lunch. The stir fry varies a little bit from day to day, but pretty much consists of the same ingredients: carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, white onion, bell pepper, yellow potatoes, and zucchini. It’s always cooked in some type of curry or other spice, but in general the food isn’t very hot spicy. I only eat cooked food and never touch the platter of raw cucumbers and carrots that’s put out at lunch. Raw vegetables are mostly water, and after walking around this city, I wouldn’t trust for a minute anything grown in local water. Luckily the hostel keeps purified mineral water in basins on the first and second floors for us, so I do stay hydrated.
I haven’t had any food yet that I necessarily disliked, but I also haven’t felt exactly normal after any meals. I’m sure this diet will take some getting used to.
I complained a while back about the filthiness of the city, which, fortunately, isn’t the case with the hostel. It’s rather clean here, and pretty comfortable. Although yesterday morning I woke up, feeling a rather large bug with many legs on my chest, and whisked it away without even opening my eyes. It wasn’t until I woke up about twenty minutes later that I saw it on the wall next to me. It was really big! “What is that, you guys!?” I asked. One of my roommates, Emma, from Hong Kong, said “Wow, you’ve really never seen a cockroach!” Eww. Apparently I was sleeping with a cockroach. At least it didn’t bite.