THE CUBS WON THE WORLD SERIES!!!!! I live-streamed Game 7 at 5:30 in the morning, but left for work at the top of the 8th. The wifi was out at the office, so my buddies texted me play by play updates (ball 1…strike 1…strike 2…ball 2…). I cried when they won. This win means so much to so many people because the Cubs are so much more than just a baseball team. They represent never giving up, hanging on to hope, and sticking up for the team you believe in—no matter what.
In other news, Donald Trump was elected president of the United States. November 9th was the second time in a week that I got up early to watch a live-stream from America. That horrifying moment when the NYT “Election Prediction” needle went from 85% Clinton to 95% Trump made my stomach drop, and I spent most of the day struggling to explain my thoughts to my Nepali colleagues.
Experiencing the election from Nepal is challenging. In some ways, it’s a blessing to be away from the mess, but in other ways, I feel guilty for hiding out in Nepal when America can obviously use all the help it can get. My consolation is that I’m building bridges on an international setting, and that I am happy, healthy, and productive, and that doing what I’m good and care about is the best way for me to contribute right now and in the near future.
But back to the Cubbies: hang on to hope, don’t give up, stand for what you believe in, no matter what.
Shortly after returning from the trek I headed off again to the Luce Early Assessment Meeting in Thailand. All 18 scholars + partners and our program coordinators Li Ling and David Kim came together from across Asia to share stories and check in on each other.
The king of Thailand died recently, so the mood in Bangkok was subdued. Everyone, including our group, wore black, white, and grey, and we passed through thousands of mourners crowded outside the royal palace. Our tour of Bangkok included traditional communities, out-of-the-way artist colonies, and beautiful temples. We had a lovely four course meal of Thai food on a boat cruising on the river through Bangkok, and an amazing smorgasbord of breakfast food during which I ate salad for breakfast.
After debriefing with Ling and David in Bangkok, the crew headed to Krabi for resort on the beach. Between dips in the ocean, the crew had long, intense group discussions about the issues we’ve been facing in Asia—issues regarding our identities, contributions to our places of work, American nationality, and how to deal with mental-emotional health abroad.
Once our programming was finished and we said goodbye to Ling and David, most of us headed to Tonsai beach resort, where we spent more time beaching, rock climbing, and snorkeling. After a few days at Tonsai beach, Jen Tu and I headed by ourselves to Koh Phi Phi, a famous Thai island about 2 hours from Krabi. Phi Phi (pronounced P. P.) provided more snorkeling, lots of mango sticky rice, and endless coconut smoothies before we headed home.
Interacting with the Luce scholar class is a truly enlightening experience. It is a privilege to interact with a group of such talented, motivated, inspiring young people, and even more of a privilege to learn to view myself as one of them. I can’t wait for the Lucers to visit Nepal!
Side note: I have an intense pathological fear of heights, and if I’m any more than a few feet off the ground I start to panic and hyperventilate and my muscles freeze. This has happened every time I’ve ever tried a rock wall, and at this point I don’t even like to climb ladders, lean over balconies, or walk up flights of stairs where you can see through the steps (think fire escapes).
The mangoes must have gotten to my head, because despite this lifelong fear I agreed to go rock climbing with the Luce crew. True to form, on my first climb I panicked five feet off the ground, started sobbing, and screamed when I lost my grip on the wall and swung down (which then put me at 2 feet off the ground. Lame as it may sound, 2 feet is terrifying to me). But then I took a break, gritted my teeth, got back on the wall, and climbed to the top, largely thanks to the encouragement and instructions from the Luce crew. Thanks to everyone for helping me reach this major personal accomplishment!
For many Nepalis, Dasai is a time to return home, eat lots of mutton, receive and give tikka, and spend time with families. I, on the other hand, did my absolute favorite activity in the whole wide world and went trekking. Here are the highlights:
-My two trekking partners were Sophia and Christina, who are both Princeton in Asia fellows and are the brightest, toughest, loveliest pair of Americans who could have taken on the trails with me. Our destination was Annapurna Base Camp, better known as ABC.
-ABC is a teahouse trek, which means we ate/slept in little lodges along the way and didn’t have to carry tents, food, or cooking gear. This was helpful for several reasons, most obviously because we didn’t have to rent/borrow tents and cooking gear in Kathmandu, and also because campers smashing down vegetation to make space for tents and fire pits is bad for the ecosystem. In any case, all we had to bring was clothes, toiletries, and sleeping bags, which we carried ourselves instead of hiring porters. We did, however, hire a guide through a local trekking company. Our guide Bimal was experienced, efficient, fun, and somehow always knew when it was going to rain. Overall, he was amazing and I would recommend him to anyone interested in trekking in Nepal.
-Foreigners who speak Nepali (or at least a little Nepali) were a rare sight along the trail, and we made fast friends with guides and porters. During my entire time in Nepal, Nepali language skills were most valuable during the ABC trek. It was a major sign of respect for guides and porters.
-Speaking of porters: It would have felt uncomfortable for me, with my egalitarian American tendencies, to hire somebody to carry my stuff. But it is extremely common in Nepal, and for many porters it’s actually the first step to becoming a more well-paid guide. In my opinion, hiring a porter can be fine, if they 1) aren’t given too much weight; 2) have proper shoes, gear, and blankets for nighttime; 3) are treated with respect; and 4) are paid a fair wage and tipped generously. Unfortunately, this is not the case for many porters, and I was sad to see several people carrying ridiculously heavy bags in only flip flops.
-Our ten day timeline was a generous amount of time to complete ABC, so we only hiked about 4-6 hours a day. Usually we got going by 7:15 am and arrived at our next location by 12 or 1. The rest of the day we ate dhal bhaat, rested, chatted, and played raucous card games of B.S. and Go Fish with Bimal and the other guides and trekkers before hitting the sack at 8 pm.
-On day 3, we did a sunrise hike to Poon Hill for panoramic views of the Annapurna range. It was cloudy the night before, and we went to bed expecting disappointment. But when we stepped outside at 5 am the next morning, the sky was filled with the one of the most amazing blankets of stars I’ve ever seen. We turned on our headlamps and followed the train of trekkers for about 45 minutes up the hill just in time to see the pre-dawn Himalayas, and watched as sunlight slowly flooded the mountains. It also happened to be my 23rd birthday—one I will never forget.
-Our second sunrise hike was to Annapurna Base Camp itself. We spent the night at Machaapuchre (fishtail) Base Camp, about an hour and a half below ABC, and started off at 3:30 am. ABC is at 4,100 meters (13,451 feet), which isn’t high all that high for the Himalayas but definitely made me light headed. We started off so early the mountains were bathed in light from an almost-full moon. Once the moon set, we could see that awesome blanket of stars again—this time, complete with a meteor shower. And once we reached ABC, everybody cheered when the first ray of sunshine struck Annapurna 1—the tenth tallest mountain in the world at 8,091 meters (26,545 feet).
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!
Since NBC’s Olympic coverage decisions are questionable, I know you’ve all been twiddling your thumbs and watching Facebook for my next update. Well, here ya go (that phrase confuses my Nepali teacher...):
Life abroad is a series of highs and lows. For example: Last Monday (a week and a half ago) I signed a lease on a wonderful 2-bedroom apartment with a private kitchen and bathroom all my own. The apartment search was a success! I was on cloud nine! But my euphoria was not to last. Later that night, my laptop died. Totally black. No lights. Nothing. Nada. Even when plugged in. Consulted the internet. Combed through the first 15 top hits on Google. Still nothing.
Luckily my Asia Foundation friends had a solution: take it to the laptop fix-it guys! After a harrowing ride on the back of a motorcycle with a semi-random Asia Foundation person (see previous post re: riding vehicles with strangers), I dropped my laptop off at possibly the most disheartening repair shop in the entire city. There were pieces of broken laptops everywhere. Sparks flew from the outlet when they plugged my computer in. They had never seen an Asus before. I left with tears in my eyes…
But lo and behold, the next day they called and said, all fixed! And it was. Soon I was reunited with my trusty laptop and the newly serviced motherboard. They also magically fixed the speakers! Not even NUIT or Staples could fix those! Good job, scary little repair shop!
And good thing I had all my movies back, because that night, disaster struck again. I came down with a classic Kathmandu-monsoon-season-water-borne illness. Fever, aches, cold-sweat, and tummy troubles had me down for the count for 24 hours (thank goodness for Ibuprofen). Then I felt well enough to visit an outdoor market with my Nepali host dad. And then I accepted fruit off the street without thinking about it. And then the tummy troubles continued (and are continuing…).
Finally I moved into my new apartment. Yay! So fun! I arranged furniture! I put posters on the wall! I cooked myself dinner! I don’t have to share a bathroom! But this morning, I discovered a strange patch of red, non-itchy bites on my right upper thigh. Right where my leg hits the bed if I lay on my side. I dismissed them as a wayward mosquito. But on further examination, the truth became clear: I have bed bugs.
That was 2 hours ago. Now it is 11 pm on Wednesday night. Highs and lows…
Kathmandu traffic is a melee of 2, 3, and 4-wheeled vehicles (and cows) that honk (and moo) at each other while belching out black smoke. How do I navigate this? By riding random or questionably road-worthy vehicles with people I don’t know.
Example 1: I got on the back of a motorcycle with an unknown 27 year old man and careened around the city for two hours looking at apartments. The man was a random real estate agent who I met the day before. I was not wearing a helmet. I have never ridden a motorcycle. I literally brushed neighboring cars with my elbows. I was breathing in black exhaust the entire time. I did not die, which I consider a success.
Example 2: I rode halfway across Kathmandu in an off-duty Nepali ambulance. Have no fear, I was not sick or injured—the ambulance just happened to be the fastest way to get across town. How did I snag an off duty ambulance? Lucky for me, my friend Dr. Pukar Shrestha is a leading kidney transplant surgeon in Nepal. After dinner with the lovely Shrestha family, we called up the organ transplant hospital, ordered an ambulance, and away I went. So much simpler than a taxi.
Example 3: Tempo busses are three-wheeled, eight-seater rusty sardine cans that run on natural gas. They’re driven by bad-ass Nepali women who bump and honk their way through Kathmandu traffic like it’s a Sunday stroll in the park. Like sardine cans, Tempos have zero suspension and are not built for 5’10” American women with long torsos (I hit my head with every bump). Unlike sardine cans, Tempo drivers do not pack the passengers in—drivers refuse to stop if all the seats are filled. This makes them the safest option for women, who generally don’t want random men sitting in their laps on the bus (this happened to me).
I would be remiss if I did not at least mention the more exciting parts of my adventure to Palpa. Keep in mind that traveling in Nepal during the monsoon is generally unadvisable. Also remember that July is the height of the monsoon. Given these two facts, I of course decided to take a bus 200 miles west from Kathmandu to Pokhara, and then Pokhara to Palpa, waaaay out in the middle of nowhere, during the last week of July.
Monsoon is a bad time to travel for several reasons. First of all, everything outside the bus is wet, and inevitably rain leaks in the window and everything inside the bus gets wet too (including you). Second, heavy rains cause landslides that can wash out roads (which, by the way, are basically dangling over cliff edges already). This can be very serious: more than ten people died in landslides across the country on the day I bused from Pokhara to Palpa, luckily none on the road I traveled on. Third, landslides back up traffic for hours. Did I run into a landslide during my travels? Of course I did.
It rained for 22 hours the night/day I left Pokhara to go to Palpa. The ride should have been 4-5 hours long. The road was a muddy mess and thankfully the driver took it slow…that is, until we stopped entirely.
We were at the end of a long line of buses, and we sat there for two and a half hours. What were we waiting for? No idea. But I do know that it was extremely awkward to pee when the only slightly secluded spot was basically over the cliff at the edge of the road. Finally, the driver told us to grab our stuff, and we walked across the landslide. Or rather, waded—the road had basically turned into a waterfall and we had to stomp up and over the mud pile. On the other side, we switched buses—genius! We traded! Unfortunately, this bus was smaller than the first bus by about three seats, so several unlucky passengers had to stand in the aisle. Our new driver was less cautious than the first one, so we made good time…but I was terrified we would either fly off the cliff or run over a motorbike coming the opposite direction.
All in all, I made it to Palpa in one piece. But it took eight hours. The joys of traveling in the monsoon.
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!