I tried to bake cookies in the itty bitty oven in the Airbnb. This was extremely difficult for several reasons:
1) Ovens are not part of typical Nepali cooking. Almost nobody has one. The oven at the Airbnb is basically a glorified toaster oven.
2) The glorified toaster oven requires electricity. If the lights go out while baking cookies…you don’t bake cookies.
3) I used the tried-and-true Nestle Toll House chocolate chip cookie recipe. Which uses cup measurements. But nobody has measuring cups because nobody bakes because nobody has ovens. And also everything here is in milliliters. I had to guesstimate how many coffee mugs of flour equaled 2.25 cups.
4) Sugar in Nepal is much coarser than in the US. Imagine coarse cane sugar.
5) “Brown sugar” is that weird coarse sugar with molasses dumped over it. It doesn’t make a nice uniform brown substance like in the US. Imagine sugar covered in sticky brown syrup. Yuck...
6) The glorified toaster oven is in Celsius. 300 degrees Celsius is a lot different from 300 degrees Farenheight. Let’s just say I burned the first batch.
Next time, I'm making brownies.
Adventured to Nagarkot for an overnight with some Airbnb friends. Nagarkot is the “weekend getaway” for Kathmandu residents—it’s a bit out of the valley and has a great view of the Himalayas. We drove halfway there and hiked the rest of the way. It was a 7-mile hike that took us 6 hours. We lollygagged, stopped for chiya, sat in the sun, watched women tend goats, got lost, found a new friend named Long from Vietnam who was also lost, and finally found our way to “The Hotel at the End of the Universe.”
Good beer, better food, nice room, great ambiance. Went to sleep with the greatest anticipation for sunrise the next morning. Alarm went off at 5:30 am and we awoke to… complete cloud cover. Couldn’t even see the building next to you. The Himalayas have tricked me again…but, the company was worth it.
Last week the fearless Em Dickey and I braved the crowds in Basantapur Durbar square to witness the Newari Indra Jatra celebration. After a delicious snack of neon pink cotton candy, we saw the temple to Sweta Bhairava, the terrifying face of Shiva. Sweta Bhairava is only unveiled once a year, on the day before the full moon in September. He’s got a giant cigar in his mouth, which is actually a pipe where people pour offerings of alcohol and milk.
We also ran across the chariot of Kumari, the living goddess. The Kumari is a little Newari girl chosen from a pool of applicants when she is about four years old, and it considered a goddess until her first period. This Kumari was maybe nine and wiggled her feet when people came up to kiss them. We watched the little girl for about 15 minutes. What would it be like, to have people worship you and then suddenly, when you hit your period, be a normal person again? Talk about having a rough time during puberty.
Is this practice abhorrent or beautiful? Does worshipping a child goddess until her period disrespect women, or place femininity in the highest regard? How can menstruating be unclean if it is the bodily process that produces the living goddess? If menstruation is unclean, then why worship a goddess at all? My mind buzzes with unanswerable questions.
After a dysfunctional three weeks, I sort of feel like a human again. Here’s what went down:
After discovering bedbugs, I sprayed the bedframe with bugspray and moved into the spare bedroom. Then two nights later I woke up with MORE bites ALL OVER my butt. So I went on a cleaning rampage. I took every non-underwear fabric item to the dry cleaners. Then I boiled every single pair of underwear (my anti-laundry strategy of owning three weeks of underwear backfired big time). Everything else got boiled, wiped in antiseptic, frozen, or sprinkled with flea powder. Then I took all my stuff, left the apartment for good, and went to an Airbnb.
During this cleaning process the laptop accidentally took a bath. The laptop repair guys had to replace the hard drive and keyboard and repair the motherboard. Thankfully I’m back in action with a pirated version of Windows 10 and Microsoft Office 2007.
Those are the bad things that happened in the last three weeks. Here are all the amazing things that made up for it:
- Maybe the universe gave me bedbugs for a reason, because the Airbnb is really great. The owners, Santa and Mithila, are young, fun, and welcoming, and there is an adorable puppy named Sanomaya (small love) who satisfies my need to cuddle with furry animals.
-I went to Pashupati, the largest Hindu temple dedicated to Lord Shiva, with my friend Sudeep, and we snuck in the back to avoid the $15 foreigner fee. The temple (or the grounds, because as a non-Hindu I am not allowed inside the temple) was old and sprawling, and the river flowed behind the temple itself, and the dead are cremated on the riverbank and ashes are sprinkled into the river.
When it rained we took shelter with a Nepali groundskeeper and his wife and played with their 10-month old baby while watching a cremation. The groundskeeper offered Sudeep and I each and apple, then asked if I was Hindu. When I said no, he took the apple back because it was an offering meant only for Hindus.
-Sudeep and I also visited a temple to Lord Ram. This time, the priest smiled and invited me inside, where we chatted in Nepali and watched as he drew the curtain around the Ram statue and fed Ram dinner of milk and rice. Then we helped ring the bell when Ram finished dinner and the curtain was pulled back for more people to worship. Just goes to show how different people interpret the same religion differently.
-My friend Rozina invited me to her home for a Dar celebration. Dar is part of Teej, the main Hindu women’s festival. On Teej, women fast for the entire day, dress up in red saris, and dance all day and night to honor their husbands. Dar is the day before Teej, when women eat a lot of food including rice pudding in preparation for the day of fasting. Dar can also be a women-only party in the weeks leading up to Teej. This is the type of Dar I experienced. Rozina dressed me up in a borrowed sari and braided long red and green threads into my hair. As a bhidesi, or foreigner, I was a guest of honor and danced with Rozina’s friends and neighbors for hours and hours to special Teej songs.
-I play an ongoing game of “how many parts of a goat can I eat”. So far, I’ve tried goat meat, goat blood, goat intestine, and goat lung. Goat blood is probably my favorite. It tastes like really tender sausage. I’ve also eaten bone marrow (origin unidentified).
-Through the generosity of my kidney doctor friend, I observed a live kidney transplant. I was in the room wearing scrubs, and there was blood all over the floor, and there were two people lying on operating tables with 8-inch incisions in their stomachs. I, the girl who refuses to watch Grey’s Anatomy because I dislike blood, did NOT faint. I watched for three hours. Talk about conquering your fears.
-Work started, and I have a desk all to myself in a quiet corner of the office where the huge German shepherd guard dog named Black likes to come in and sit next to me for a pet. Didi feeds us lunch and tea twice a day. I mostly understand what people say to me in Nepali.
-Week 2 of work, I journeyed to Gatlang village near Langtang National Park. We took representatives from SOS Malta, a donor organization, to see the village community center rebuilding project they funded after the earthquake in April 2015. I tagged along to see my wetland study site, Pravati Kunda (more on this later!).
-The road to Langtang was SO BAD that we traveled for three days and spent only four hours in the village. On the way home, we drove through a bumpy and slippery landslide area, next to a 200 foot cliff, in thick fog with 10 foot visibility, in the dark, in pouring rain. A truck driver going the other direction literally leaned out his window and told our jeep driver that “your vehicle will not pass”. But of course we kept going. This is actually the most dangerous thing I have ever done. People die doing that. But we survived!
-I met some cool new runner friends and tried to run 20k this morning. I forgot that I haven’t run 20 k (half marathon) in 4 months, and I’m out of shape because running solo in Kathmandu is stressful. So I was really slow, and I only made it about 17-18k and then walked the rest of the way home. My legs hurt like hell and I ate an insane amount of dhal bhaat when I got back. But the runner friends are cool!
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!