Living like a local in Kathmandu
Two rooms, five people, zero personal space.
On my last night in Afghanistan I stayed up very late hand washing my knickers because I thought I might run out and have to start wearing my lacy stuff in Kathmandu – and I really don’t like wearing lacy stuff unless it’s a very special occasion. As it turned out that was a complete waste of time because I didn’t change my knickers, or shower, for the first three days straight.
Don’t judge me.
I don’t know if anyone else in the house was changing their underwear (I know we all weren’t washing), but I literally couldn’t find that moment of privacy that’s normally desirable when I’m refreshing my pair.
You see, I’ve just spent the last few days in the home of a young Nepalese family of four. They live on the outskirts of Kathmandu in a local area. Between them they occupy just two rooms in a building that houses other small families living the same way. The rooms are small and crammed with things; not things like old newspapers, records from 1963, or any other useless sentimental junk people I know tend to hoard. Just things like, essential things.
One room acted as a kitchen/office/bedroom and had the gas cooker, water container, crockery, a small table, a single bed and some other personal stuff – some of which they managed to salvage from the office in town after the earthquake destroyed it. The other room is the main bedroom with a double bed and all their clothes and bedroom things – I dunno, I didn’t really snoop to be honest.
Water for washing bodies, dishes and clothes was pumped from a communal tap outside, and the toilet – the typical Asian squat toilet that terrified me – was in a room they shared with another family. The first night I stayed, I lay in bed under the covers Googling how to use said toilet (if you are ever using one for the first time you might find this wikiHow page very disgusting and helpful). It just didn’t look like pouring a bucket of water was really going to do much flushing. But whatever, it worked. Can we stop talking about the toilet now please?
Let’s talk about the kids – the kids were great. They were great at being bright and friendly and funny. They were great at rummaging through my things and stealing my phone to play games. And they were great at making me aware of how awkward I am with kids.
I simply don’t know how to talk to them. We have nothing in common. I don’t have any nieces or nephews and all my close gal pals are about as ready to have children as they are ready to stop cocaine. These two kids were so sweet and affectionate towards me, and all I could do was make strange noises and pretend to be a mouse because I knew that would make them laugh.
Anyway, the family as a whole was totally awesome. Despite the mother being sick in bed for the entire time I was there, I was still shown the most spectacular and wholesome hospitality. I was given the single bed in the office/kitchen while they all snuggled (crammed) up in the other room… well, for the first two nights anyway.
On the third night I found myself jammed up against the wall while the six-year-old snoozed beside me, occasionally stirring and cuddling up to me, or just whacking me straight in the face, which I think I preferred. His father snored loudly on the floor next to us while I lay wide-eyed awake at 2am quietly breathing my ‘Comfort is for Wimps’ mantra.
Luckily dad woke up and noticed my distress, he moved the whipper snapper onto the floor with him making room for me to spread out and catch some zeds like spoilt princess. I caught zeds like a spoilt princess until 3am at least, because that’s when dad got up to turn on the rice cooker in preparation for the daily 5.30am breakfast he cooked on the floor beside me.
Not unlike my Indian host family two weeks earlier, I found this Nepalese household to lack any sense of noise control around sleeping people. Once the first person is up, that’s it. Bells, horns and explosions are set off, and if you can’t sleep through it, well tough luck. I’m not complaining by the way, on the contrary. I thought it was fabulous. I was in their home, interfering in their lives; witnessing the truly remarkable way that people make life work and find happiness with the basics. Not to mention having to adapt to shitty situations like fuel and electricity restrictions.
I’ll be honest, I was totally out of my depth most of the time. Because, well, I don’t like camping and that is what it felt like for me. But this is the way of life for this family, and they do it well. They work, they go to school, they cook, they clean, they spend time together and eat treats. And as people, they are some of the most humble, generous, kind and welcoming I’ve had the pleasure of meeting, let alone spending valuable time with.
And this, my friends, this is just brief insight into my time spent living like a local in Kathmandu. Don’t even get me started on the stupendous hiking trips dad took me on…
… and the chickens in bags I saw when I got lost going out to buy bananas.
Maybe there’ll be more to look forward to in the book, babes.