I’ve been on a writing hiatus for the last five months. Actually, not really a hiatus, but what with graduate school applications, report writeups, and grant research, extra writing was the last thing on my list. But all the applications are finished, the holidays are winding down, and the Moravek family is holed up at the ranch in a snowstorm. Perfect time for an update.
I visit Basantapur Durbar Square for Dashami, the 10th day of Dasai. Following the crowd of people, I stumble upon a water buffalo sacrifice. One man pulls the tail while another holds the horns of the calf, and a third man waits, holding a giant sacrificial knife. It takes ten minutes to secure the calf, and then in one fell swoop, the knife falls. The men pull the head into the temple to honor the goddess Durga. The body, still twitching, is dragged to the side and left in a pool of blood.
Escaping the dust and bustle of Kathmandu, I embark upon my first solo trek to Mardi Himal base camp. The trail feels easy and my legs feel strong. I’ve finally mastered the art of taking Diamox (altitude medication) at the right time (10,000 feet) and staying hydrated exactly the right amount. My pack is light enough to run parts of the trail. On “base camp day”, I decide to leave at 4 am and try to catch sunrise. Bad idea. I am the only person in the dark on a scantily marked trail in a thick rhododendron forest. Think Lord of the Rings Fangorn Forest. I cried a little. But I did not turn back, and sunrise on the trail to base camp was the most beautiful sight I’ve ever witnessed.
Tihar. The Holiday of Light, this Nepali holiday reminds me most of Christmas. I go with my friend Sudeep to Chitwan and spend the holiday with his family. His sister gives me a soft pink kurta, and then brothers and sisters bless each other by drawing lines of rainbow colors on our foreheads. We exchange gifts of nuts and dried fruits, and hajurama makes a giant pile of celroti (my favorite sweet Nepali snack).
Gatlang #4. Our final wrap up trip. A crew of six from the WCN office accompany Mohan and me. We hang a giant bilingual poster about Pravati Kunda. I present the results of our water quality study to the village committee. They are very interested (although my foreign accent is so strange to them Mohan must repeat most of what I say). We climb around Parvati Kunda searching for pika, the small rabbit relative that lives in rocky talus fields in the mountains. Didi gives me chiyapati, her name for the woody stem of a plant that tastes like tea when boiled, and tells me I am like her daughter.
I fly home. We take my suitcase straight to the dry cleaners to eradicate any lasting bedbugs. It’s hard to get dressed in the morning because I have too many clothes to choose from. I must remember to drive on the right. I have to patiently wait my turn in line instead of pushing to the front.
I walk into X-Sport for a gym membership. The double-level gym, with TVs lining the walls, blaring music, and an over-priced shake bar, shocks me more than anything so far. I practically run out of the building without signing up.
My baby cousin Grace is two years old now, and knows my parents as “the people with the kitty cats”. She runs in circles around our house but is a little unsure about me.
We visit grandma for Thanksgiving dinner, and despite being 92 years old and confused about many things, she still beats us all at Scrabble.
Mom and I visit Colorado for a week. As we traverse I-80 from Chicago to Colorado, I marvel at the absolute flatness of the landscape. Fields of corn and soy for miles and miles, sometimes punctuated by tall white windmills or remote farms, are such a contrast to Nepal. The Rockies are not as disappointing as I expect. Unlike the Himalayas, the Rocky Mountains are accessible. You can hike or even drive to the top of some of them, and so we do.
As much as I complain about the monotony of dal bhat, I find myself craving Nepali food. I visit the local “Taste of the Himalayas” Nepali restaurant several times. The Nepali waiters almost fall over in shock when a white girl in St. Charles introduces herself with “Ke chha hal khaber dai?”, and the wait staff tends to find reasons to pass our table more often than necessary.
Donning hard hats and fluorescent vests, dad takes Eve and I up the unfinished 151 North Franklin building and we catch the most beautiful Sears Tower sunset I’ve ever seen.
In physical therapy, I focus on stretching and strengthening. My left leg is still significantly weaker than the right. But I graduate from the stationary bike, to the elliptical, to the stair-stepper, and finally treadmill. I am more thrilled for treadmill running than I’ve ever been.
Josie gets her tonsils out right before Christmas, and we feed her Gerber’s baby food. It snows all day Christmas Eve, and we give freshly baked sugar cookies to the snowplow guy. Christmas is quiet, but we are happy to be all together.
Post-Christmas. Josie’s tonsils rupture and she looks like a vampire, spitting blood into the bathroom sink. After a trip to the emergency room, she is much better. The whole family watches a lot of basketball on TV.
New Years Eve. Mom and Dad and I go out for tacos and see “Murder on the Orient Express” in theatres and see fireworks on the way home. New Years Day is the Gantzert holiday gathering. Nineteen family members are there. GG plays a raucous game of Uno with her great grandchildren and beats us in Scrabble again.
We visit Grace again and she shows me her bedroom with her Disney princess dolls. She whispers “thank you for giving me Kitty” (her favorite stuffed animal) and cuddles with dad on the couch.
The days at home drain away too quickly. Mom and I go through her fossil collection with the goal of getting rid of them…but instead, we make plans for a new collection trip in August. Dad and I see a bald eagle in downtown St. Charles and we follow it for twenty minutes.
This time at home was like a breath of fresh air. I head to the airport feeling refreshed, healthy, happy, and very, very loved.
Meet Jessie Moravek
I am a 2018 Fulbright Scholar at Lancaster University in the United Kingdom. Studying for an MSc in Biodiversity and Conservation. Click here to learn more about me!