Happy new year! How long do I get to say that after new year? Are we still in the window? Because we haven’t seen each other and it’s only January 9th, and it sounds like the right thing to say.
The new year is a great time for people like me because it gives us something to say in the elevator. You can say How was your holiday? Because the person surely took one and their answer should get you to the sixth floor and you can get off the elevator looking like you would LOVE to continue the conversation but this is your floor and OKAY BYE!
That’s not us though. We’re friends, you and me, amiright?
Which is why I’m so happy to share all this fun Nepal stuff with you!
I’m in Kathmandu right now, writing this. In fact it’s 2:25 a.m. on Wednesday morning, my time. Which makes it something like November 2016 for you. (Also I know, intellectually-speaking, why we have time zones, but seriously we can put a Roomba on Mars but we can’t figure out how to just all be on the same time?)
I’m writing at 2:25 a.m. because I have jet lag. I thought I had kicked it on my first night. I hadn’t. Jet lag is one of those things that just pops up at horribly inconvenient moments, like when you’re walking into the CVS and suddenly a static-clinging sock falls out of your hoodie because you forgot to put a dryer sheet in.
Anyway, I’ll get to the point because I have to try to get back to sleep. (I picture Jet Lag pointing and laughing at me right now.)
I’m in Nepal!! I’m so happy to be here. I’m alone for the moment – Lizzie is traveling internationally right now and she’s joining me on Friday for the weekend, as are our friends Mark and Laura (Finn’s godparents) because they’re bringing their daughter Chloe over because she’s going to stay in Kathmandu for five months. Stoked for them to come too. (The kids, BTW, are with their grandparents, my dad and stepmom, who are staying with them and hopefully not letting Beasley eat the remote control.)
But right now, being here alone is surreal. Because I haven’t been in Nepal alone, not since right before Liz and I married. (I do mean literally right before – I moved back to the US in September 2007 and Lizzie and I got sneakily married at the Arlington Courthouse two days later – 6 months before our church wedding.)
When you are not used to being alone and suddenly you’re traveling alone, you learn something about yourself.
Here’s what I learned – it’s kind of boring and obvious, but hear me out:
I learned that I genuinely love Nepal and it’s people. Yesterday I talked with our Next Generation Nepal Country Director for three hours straight. It was awesome. Then we met some other partners I’d not met before and we just talked and I wasn’t at all exhausted. And tomorrow I’m meeting new people and I’m looking forward to THAT.
There’s something different about Nepal, I guess.
Stepping off the plane, the first thing I recalled is that Nepal always smelled like fire. It still does. People just burn things here, man. Everywhere you look people are burning things. Sometimes it’s just to keep warm, and sometimes it’s by the side of the road so that they can make fresh roasted peanuts, and if you can find me a food that’s better than fresh roasted peanuts I will literally give you an automobile. (You have to supply your own automobile. The giving will be more of a ceremonial thing.)
I got my bag from baggage claim and realized it was a mark of how deeply comfortable I am with Nepal that I felt fine about getting off a plane in a developing country at night with the craziness of people coming up to you, and I had literally no money. I mean literally. The ATM in Newark airport wasn’t working, so I had no cash at all (after paying a visa fee) and the ATMs at the Nepal airport weren’t accepting my debit card.
It shows my level of comfort that when the scammers came up to me offering me an illegal taxi it was me that turned to them and offered them a scam.
“Yes, I would love a taxi,” I would say, much to their momentary delight that they had caught a hapless traveller. “But here’s the thing – I have zero money.”
“You can get money sir, money exchange right here.”
“I don’t have any dollars either. Zero.”
“You have ATM card sir? ATM machine right here, I show you sir.”
“My ATM card doesn’t work. Like I said, I have zero cash,” I assured them. “But you can take me to my hotel, I’ll pay you there.”
“Who pay, sir?”
“My hotel. I’ll ask them to pay you.”
“You are joking I think sir.”
“Not joking. They’ll pay you, I’m telling you. I’ll go in and ask them to come out and pay you.”
“What if they no pay?”
And then they would stare at me for a moment and shake their heads. “No sir. I cannot take you.”
But eventually I got a guy behind a tourism desk to call his friend on his cell phone who called his friend who agreed to do it, asking me all the way to the hotel if I “sure hotel pay.”
My hotel paid them and put charged my room. So everyone went home happy.
In Nepal, things just sort of work out. But at first glance, it doesn’t seem like that kind of place. It took me a couple of years of living here to learn that.
Being here is like stepping back into my old life here in many ways. I was a loner when I lived in Nepal – I didn’t have a social life. I pretty much did three things: 1.) I spent time with Farid, who started Next Generation Nepal with me, working on NGN anti-child trafficking work, 2.) I spent time with the kids in our children’s home, and 3.) I wrote.
That’s what I’m doing now. Farid doesn’t live here anymore but I’m spending time with our country director, Samjyor – a wonderful guy – getting caught up on our amazing work.
I’m spending time with the kids. Who aren’t really kids anymore but I call them that anyway. I love, love seeing them. They are like family in a very literal way – we lived together, we went through a lot together, we grew up together.
And I’m writing. That’s what I do in my spare time. I’m under a crazy deadline for my fiction book coming out this year, working on final edits, so every spare moment is invested in writing.
(Photo credit: An ashtray.)
(Also, this reminds me – follow me on Instagram! Don’t miss out on some fun Nepal adventure photos.)
And most gloriously – what puts a lump in my throat as I think about it now – is that in a few short days, Lizzie is coming to join me.
You have to understand what that was like, the months of knowing Liz Flanagan over email before I’d met her, and knowing I would actually meet her, having fallen in love with the person. (I look back and its so clear that I would have married her the moment I met her. I’m not saying that to be romantic, it is simply stating how I felt. I didn’t wait all that long to propose.)
The anticipation of Lizzie coming was like nothing I’d ever experienced. If you read Little Princes you recall that I was in the mountains, cut off, searching for families of trafficked kids, wondering if I would be able to get back in time to meet her, and then deciding that nothing on earth would stop me, and walking for 27 hours straight (stopping to sleep for 3 hours) through the mountains to get back, and God clearing the weather so a plane could land and get me back to Kathmandu to see her. (I told her this over and over again in hopes of impressing her.)
I seriously get choked up thinking about it now, writing this in Kathmandu, in a way it doesn’t hit me when I’m in the US.
So this really is like living an old life. But a beautiful one. And one that only enhances the incredible blessings of my life. To be involved with this country, to see our team making an astounding difference in rescuing trafficked kids and reuniting them with their families.
And most importantly, to know that I’m not just going to see the love of my life in a couple of days, but we also get to travel home together and be with our two beautiful children and our chompy muppet of a puppy and our friends and family back in America.
Nepal reminds me of where I came from, and of what I’ve been given. Those opportunities, to feel this deeply about my blessings, don’t come along very often.
Anyway, let’s get to…
The Top Five Least Surprising Things that Have Happened Back in Nepal
1. Thinking I would get killed crossing the road.
Crossing the road in Nepal has got to be the least intuitive action in the history of human movement. You just start walking into traffic. Like, RIGHT in front of speeding vehicles. (Do not try this without a Nepali with you if you haven’t been here before.) Somehow vehicles slow down and circle around you as if you have a forcefield protecting you. But I almost yelped audibly when I followed Samjyor across the road, clutching his arm like a three year old.
2. Saying Namaste to the same person twice in five minutes.
It’s the worst. I see the guy at the front desk. Namaste! I say. Then I forget I left something in my room, pass him again and holler Namaste! It means I salute the God within you. It doesn’t mean “Hey.” It would be like breaking a ceremonial bottle of champagne over your car’s fender every time you went out for groceries.
3. Asking a waiter five times if something is spicy.
I don’t know how many ways I can ask this kind of thing, but if I’m ordering anything other than, like, an extra napkin, I’m asking the waiter what he means by “not spicy.” “You mean like totally not spicy? Or Nepali not spicy?” I ask. “Not spicy,” he says. “Yeah, but look at me, look at my pale skin and weak constitution. You don’t want to hurt me, right?” I say. “No sir, I don’t want you to be hurt,” he says. “Okay, then I’m gonna ask you again…”
4. Geysering a bunch of water into my face.
If you could see a montage of me accidentally spraying water in my face, you’d think I was some kind of zoo animal trying to clean myself. Water ends up in my face all the time here. First, because when you drink from a shared source, you have to pour the water into your mouth so it doesn’t touch your lips. Try that sometime. Your upper lip is gonna aquaduct that water right into your nostrils and flood your sinuses like an underground cavern in the rainy season. So then you buy your own bottle of water but the plastic is so flimsy that you squeeze it too hard picking it up and you’ll crush it like the Hulk and it’ll shoot up and hit you like an emergency eye wash in a chemical plant.
5. Be up at 3 a.m.
Jet-lag, man. Night one you think you have it beat but that’s just because you’re tired. Night two? This night? You go to bed at 11:15 pm and at 2 a.m. you’re body’s all like “What’s on the agenda?! LET’S DO THIS!!”
But at least I got a blog written, right? Did it even make any sense? Anyone still there? No? Alright.