Upon arriving at the RCDP hostel in Kalanki last Tuesday, I was given a dal bhaat lunch, introduced to several new volunteers, and then told that not only was the hostel already full, but five new people were arriving from the airport that night, so the program was going to take me to the nicest tourist neighborhood in Kathmandu – called Thamel – and put me up in a hotel there for the duration of my last ten days in Nepal.
Despite my waning funds, I was happy to fore go the cockroaches and dal bhaat meals in Kalanki (since, after all, I’ve been living on dal bhaat for three months now) and venture out to make friends, use wifi, and feed myself in Thamel. I realized that my standards have changed when I became outraged with one fruit vendor who tried to sell me seven bananas for 150 rupees (USD $1.74). I haggled him down to 50 rupees (USD $0.58) and still felt ripped off. Oh no, I thought, walking away – how am I going to handle the move to Helsinki next week? The thought of paying 8 Euro (USD $9.83) for a relatively cheap lunch in Helsinki gave me goosebumps.
I’ve been enjoying my time in Thamel. The weather here in Kathmandu Valley is much warmer than up in the Himalayas. Whereas it averaged 50-70 F at Pema Chholing, it’s upwards of 85 F in the humid capital. The non-existent Nepali constitution, which was supposed to have been written and approved back in May by whatever chaotic group of people now constitutes the governing body, never was. So the strikes continue, and continue to thwart the plans of my fellow volunteers who’d like to move around the city. Public transportation doesn’t run during the strikes, and if you’re lucky enough to find a taxi driver who’ll risk it, you’ll pay upwards of 5-10 times the normal fare. Fortunately, since my trip to the Finnish Embassy last Wednesday (I’m now officially a resident of the EU!), I haven’t needed to leave Thamel.
I’ve spent my days here wonderfully... taking my morning cafe au lait (oh, how I’ve missed coffee!) in breezy rooftop cafes high above the hustle and bustle of morning traffic; catching up on work, emails, and research while enjoying the company of fellow travelers (it seems that everyone who comes to Nepal is interesting – after all, people don’t come here from the West for the comforts of a luxurious vacation; it’s neat to explore the different motives that bring others to this beautiful yet impoverished land). I spend the late afternoons and evenings wandering the streets around Thamel, browsing stores full of trinkets I like to inspect but don’t want to buy, trying on hats and saris and traditional shoes because it’s fun to dress up and the vendors have fun with me too, and people watching.
I woke up this morning with a deep, throaty cough and my body racked in pain. I’ve been told it’s a throat infection – something that many people get from the pollution on the streets – and it feels exceptionally strange to be hacking up a lung in the middle of summer. This is the type of cough I’d expect to fight in the dead of winter, or a long, drizzly spring. Not when traipsing around in flip flops and sun dresses.
In Nepal, life in Thamel is the polar opposite of life at Pema Chholing. Yet I’m happy here. After travels in 30 countries, experiencing both the perks of life as a US diplomat and the lows of Nepali outhouses; organic home-cooked meals from Trader Joes and a 3-month pure rice diet, the beautiful ocean views from a ritzy apartment and a $1 per night mattress-on-the-floor hotel....I’m starting to think that there’s nowhere I won’t be happy.
I don’t think it’s completely sunk in that this will be my last week in Nepal, and yet on some level I know it: I’ve been collecting my photo souvenirs – the best kind – they don’t cost anything, won’t be a hassle to stuff in a bag, and won’t incur any additional luggage fees. I’ll post them, print them, gift them, and look at them whenever I need to relive Nepal...