Tuesday, July 17, 2012

One month in Kathmandu

It’s hard to believe that I’ve been in Nepal for one month. As always, time passes much too quickly, at times, without truly taking much notice. So far, things have gone well. Learning the language even though it is quite challenging, familiarizing myself with Kathmandu, getting to know others and acclimating is what my life is about at present. It all feels different then when I first landed in India in March 2009. At that time everything was entirely new. Having lived in this part of the world for three years, and visiting Kathmandu once before last September, I thought that things might be a bit easier, although moving half way around the world can be an unsettling experience. In the second half of language class today, we practiced speaking to one another and I felt a sense of not knowing enough, that I really should know more. These feelings came from hearing an English guy, who has been living here for ten years speaking fluently, a meeting that I attended Wednesday and Thursday with my NGO which was entirely in Nepali, except for one power point and my own inner belief that I should know and understand more. After class I decided to spend some more time studying, as somehow I feel that intensity would lead to doing things just so, although I am very familiar with what I was feeling, that “stomach empty hole, not doing enough” thing. My thought was to get out of the Guest House and walk. I meandered down a path near the Guest House and came upon people filling their jugs with water at a decorative cement pipe, something I’ve seen throughout the City. Clean drinking water is a somewhat scarce commodity in Kathmandu. As I watched, one child started to poke me and some other children started talking. Although they wanted to practice their English, I wanted to practice my Nepali and so it went. The children were lovely, one living with 17 other family members, another with 11. They wanted me to try to the water, wondered if I was married and couldn’t understand how I could have children but no wife, asked where I was from, etc. As usual, I put myself in a situation where I could deal with my “stomach” feeling. The children made me smile and gave me some sense of connection. I waved good-bye and continued my journey and decided to go to see some people whom I had met in September. Emily, a former VSO Nepal volunteer, had taken me on some walks when I visited in September, 2011. At that time she had introduced me to a mother and her adult son. The mother lived not too far from the Guest House in a shack where she sold drinks, cookies, etc. The mother did not speak a word of English and the son was a sometime trekker who led people during the high season, which was not too frequently. Since being in Nepal I had passed them many times, with the mother always waving me over to sit, but up to now, I hadn’t taken the time. However, today I decided to try to make a connection, speak some more Nepali, in an effort to become a part of Nepal. I spent maybe 15 minutes, bought some water and just sat. On some level I just want to connect, to develop relationships with people so that my stay in Nepal would eventually feel like home. It’s not that I haven’t done this, as I’ve reached out to the basketball community and talk to whomever I see. But like my Nepali class, there is a feeling that I’m missing something. On some level I lead a very contradictory life, knowing that I need to have strong deep connections, that people give me energy, but consciously choosing to live a rather transitory kind of life in an overseas environment. My experience in India led me to believe that I could, however, have good connections while living overseas. Maintaining relationships with friends, in the US, however, wasn’t always easy as not seeing people for a number of years can prove to be disadvantageous. I feel that I’m in that in-between kind of space, where I want to get settled and start work, meeting people, living a somewhat “normal” life. Wim, my new roommate and I will move into our space next week, a very nice flat with a beautiful view and a wonderful kitchen. This will certainly help. Work will begin on July 23 and this is also positive. My overall fear though is not knowing the language enough to make those strong connections with Nepalis. Of course people speak English, but I told myself when I left India, that if I was fortunate enough to live in another country I would learn the language. Am I too hard on myself, is it realistic to speak somewhat fluently in one year, can I continue to study on a daily basis? Of course the answer is a resounding “yes”, on all accounts. Will I be able to read the language, conduct my work in Nepali, fully understand the nuances? Of course the answer is “no”. It comes down to allowing myself to settle in, to not put a time pressure on myself, to try and try and try without becoming overly frustrated. The language will come, along with the connections and friends. My “Americaness and Michaelness” continues to come out, that pushing forward before really settling in. It is however, a matter of time before the Nepalness becomes part of me, when like India, I will be able to call this beautiful country, my home.

2 comments:

James McRitchie said...

Who's got a normal life anymore? Hang in there Michael, you'll get that hole in your stomach smoothed out. I just went on a retreat (annual board meeting) of United States Proxy Exchange. One of the guys, a pilot with Alaskan Airways, recently went to his 40th high school reunion. One of his friends suggested he go in drag. He did and faced all kinds of discrimination. His buddy started telling people it was a joke but when it came to forming a circle and telling a little about yourself, Dan explained to his former classmates how conflicted he had been in high school and how much better he feels since his operation. funny story. People do crazy things. At least you're out there trying to break down the barriers and making connections. Hang in there and know that friends pick right back up, even after years of absence. And the internet keeps us a little connected in between times.

Sheila said...

Ina kwana, abokina. Good morrning my friend in Huasa
Time flies, Mike. Amazing to think you have been there a month already, and me 4 months in Abuja. Getting started with your work will help and once folks know you are staying and want to learn to speak Nepali I am sure they will provide endless source of encouragemment and practice. Fluency may or may not come but communication will and that is the important thing
Sai anjuma, until next time, S