Riding the waves in Nepal

Mother and child, made up to play a part in the Bagahavad-Gita, at the festival where they are reading the entire text over 8 days

June 12, 2011

I haven’t written for a couple of days because I’ve been too tired to do anything but go to bed at the end of the day. There I read a few pages of my new favorite author, Samrat Upadhyay’s The Guru of Love and listen to the Hindu priest, who is actually very handsome, sing into the night. The festival he heads begins with loud, but pleasant, music every morning at 5 and continues throughout the day. I am never certain when they stop because I always fall asleep before 10, usually before 9. I shall recount what I can of the last few days by moving backwards in time.

Yesterday Brendan and the two German girls, Eileen and Sarah, Eeshwor, one of the Nepali teachers and guides at VSN (Volunteer Society Nepal), and I went rafting. We boarded a bus downtown at 6:30 and headed west, towards Pokhara, to a point on the river Mugling, about two hours down the road. There is only one road going that direction, so all the trucks, buses, vans, and motorbikes bound for Pokahara, Chitwan, India, and all other points west and southwest, crowd the narrow two-lane highway.

Imagine driving on California Highway One in busy traffic with different traffic laws. It is understood that faster vehicles will pass slower ones, and that they will do so on sharp turns high above a river bed, honking their horns to alert drivers coming the opposite direction. The driver revs up his engine and pulls out into the oncoming lane, and then abruptly swerves back behind the slow-moving truck that is probably also belching black smoke into the atmosphere, narrowly avoiding the oncoming truck barreling down upon him. All the passengers, who are squeezed into tiny seats obviously designed for small-boned Nepali people, and not enormous westerners, lurch backwards and forwards, to the right and to the left, holding on to whatever they can in order not to fall into one another’s laps. Imagine this treacherous passing experience, not unlike a game of chicken, happening every five minutes or so for two to five hours. Our journey to the river was actually not so bad.

The rest stops are generally no more than set of fruit, vegetable and bottled water vendors grouped under tarps by the side of the road (the toilet is a hole in the ground surrounded by plastic sheets). So I was garrulous when I got back on the bus and struck up a conversation with two couples, one Dutch and one Swedish, who were sitting nearby. The Dutch woman, very tall and thin, with nearly white blond hair, blue eyes, and creamy, pale skin, had gone rafting before. She said her companions were 30 Chinese people, who kept on falling out of the rafts because they didn’t listen to the guide’s instructions. Her name is Linda and she works for the Ministry of Education through VSO. Her boyfriend was visiting her for two months.

The Swedes, Marie and Kun, were also in Nepal for at least a year. Kun works for a Swedish IT company in Kathmandu. Marie, who is some kind of biologist, had been volunteering for a water treatment project but quit in frustration over the slow pace of change. They and two other Swedish women in their group shared our raft with us down the Mugling River. This was very good because they were very fluent and comfortable in English, and made a lot of jokes. At one point Kun, who had playfully been complaining that we needed a drum to help us keep time with the rowing, started booming “Ho! Ho! Ho!” with every stroke, and we all went along with his game of pretending that we were Vikings.  We hit some pretty good rapids, although nothing more than a class 2, and got nice and wet.  It was tremendous fun.Our rafting group on the banks of the Mugling River

We stopped for lunch at a sandy beach where three, and then five, and then seven, dark brown, elfin Nepali children were playing. They’d run across the ridge of sand behind our landing, roll down the sandy slope, and then dive into the river upstream of us. They had to have been very strong swimmers, because the current was very strong, and they’d head out the middle of the river and sweep back to the end of the beach with ease. I watched them anxiously for a while, worrying when their heads would disappear under the brown water, and breathing again when they’d reappear, like seals, and scramble up the beach. So much energy! They watched us, too, for time, especially when the guide laid out our lunch, for which we were ravenous. It was especially nice to have something other than dhal bat to eat. We had a cucumber, tomato and onion salad in some delicious mayonnaise, brown bread, cheese (!), jam, baked beans and tuna from the can. We ate so much that we didn’t really have room for dinner.

We were also rather sick, for the bus ride back was miserable.  What should have taken 2 hours took 5, since there was a lot of traffic and the bus kept on breaking down.  The driver would pull over to the side of the road, open up the engine, which was in the main cabin and which filled the bus with greasy smoke and heat, fiddle with something or other, and set off again.  We were all squished into the extra-small seats.  Brendan swears the ratio is 10 Nepali for 1 Westerner, although it is really more like 3 to 1, and tried in vain to find room for our knees.  When I first boarded the bus was so crowded that I had to stand.  That was actually nicer than sitting, since I had a bit of room and received the breeze from the door, which remains open throughout the drive so that the teen conductors can hang out and scan for potential passengers.  I had a view of the river through the window there, too, and felt quite comfortable, if tired, until a farmer got on and set six half-dead chickens on my feet. This was too much for me. “No.  Hoina!  Hoina!” I said, and jabbered at him in English and Nepali until he moved them, only a few inches away.

By the time we got back, which involved a harrowing ride in a taxi whose driver tail-gated everyone and everything, including bicycles, we were late for dinner.  I ate some to be polite, since Laxmi, the servant, had spent hours cooking it. It was Jackfruit, which I had never heard of before. It grows on trees as big as pumpkins. I saw only a portion of it, cut, in the kitchen. It has a tough, prickly rind, like pineapple, and you have to dig out the sweet round bulbs or seed-like shapes from the mass around them. Apparently when the fruit is green is has a chicken-like consistency, and is a good meat substitute.. Laxmi cut up those pods as well as the surrounding pulp, with a yellow curry sauce that had a lot of onion and garlic and ginger, as well as other spices I cannot name. She pounds the garlic and ginger together in a stone mortar. We are going to have a cooking class here soon, and I will take notes so that I can try to reproduce some of the wonderful vegetarian meals we’ve had. Brendan and I are both keeping to our vegetarian regime, which is quite easy to do here. He skipped dinner last night because he didn’t realize that it was on the table and wasn’t very hungry anyways.

It’s at night that I get most depressed about the breakup. I miss Tim still so much. And love him, in spite of everything. I never stopped loving him, and indeed can’t imagine not loving him. Every time I look at him, I want to kiss him, or hug him, or help him. It has always been this way. This is a very strange breakup. I feel, of course, tremendously wounded by his withdrawal. I will not say rejection because it does not feel like that. It is true that we are very different and that has made finding common ground hard at times. He has lately become much more religious, and my apostasy, my turning away, from Christianity has bothered him more than it used to. I respect his honesty even though I do with he hadn’t withheld his feelings and thoughts about this from me until the last minute. He tried to end the relationship as kindly as he could. He said he loved me and still wanted to be friends, still wanted to do things together, go for dog-walks, kayaking, bike-riding, yoga—all the things we used to do together. I have found this confusing. I can understand his desire to grow old with someone who shares his religious values and enthusiasm for sports.

I suppose if I were picking a boyfriend the way one could pick apples off the cart, I would chose someone more in tune with my own wanderlust and educational background. The apples matching that description so far have not proved very sweet, and Tim was often very sweet.

I am writing about how I feel about this relationship, and feel somewhat uncomfortable writing sharing personal details about him that he would probably rather not have publicly known. Therefore it is important for me to say that I bear him no ill will at all, and do not wish to give the impression that he is a heartless or cruel person. He is a very good man, very good indeed. Among the best I have ever met.

I remain grateful for the time we had together. I would also say that he has more courage than I had, for even I could see that our differences in life-style and spirituality and interests could potentially make things harder for us in the future. Recognizing this does not make it any easier to say goodbye to him, and I like to believe that he feels the same way. I miss his arms around me and I miss the ease with which we kept house together. I remain very sad, and the sadness drags me down at the end of the day especially.

It is morning now. I have to stop writing and study. Today I have the last of five days of lessons. Like Hindi, Nepali is based on Sanskrit. There are very few cognates and the script is entirely foreign, so learning this language presents me with the intellectual challenge that I enjoy. Tomorrow I begin my work here, and I will need all the language skills I can muster.