Second First Impressions

I’ve been in Nepal for two months now. It simultaneously feels like it’s been much longer — and much shorter — than that. Depending on the day, it feels like I’ve been here forever, and I have forever until my time in Nepal is up. Other days, it feels like yesterday that I arrived, and it’s as if I’m getting back on the plane tomorrow. Day-to-day, I continue to teach and explore, and search for new experiences to push my comfort zone.

 

First First Impressions

I arrived in Kathmandu at night after almost 48 hours of continuous travel. I jumped in a taxi that took me to a hostel in Patan, and realized during the drive that I had no idea what Kathmandu actually looked like. My taxi dropped me on a pitch-black narrow street and tore off into the night, leaving me with my bags, shaking in my boots as I watched two dogs square off.

In the morning, it took more time than I really want to admit to even open the door and step out. I spent the morning wandering through Patan with all my gear, looking for my breakfast companion. She brought me to a longer-term guest house, and things felt a little better with some consistency. While still jet lagged, I had my first food-borne illness (looking at you, chicken fried rice). At the school, my boss taught me which bus runs from Lalitpur (south of Kathmandu) to Kathmandu, and I began to get a handle on transportation.

After two weeks in the guest house, it came time for me to vacate the room. I bounced around Patan from hostel to hostel for a few days before landing in the apartment that I currently occupy. This was the first time I actually unpacked my bags since arriving in Nepal nearly three weeks prior.

The act of unpacking represented the passing of a major mental barrier, and a transition from feeling perpetually in transit to feeling stable. I had been careful not to unpack anything as I knew that I’d be packing again in a matter of days, so I was constantly in arrival. Up to that point, my primary difficulties were threefold.

The first was simply finding food. It may sound stupid, but the only culture shock I really experienced was how difficult I found it to just go into a local place and order food. I would walk through the streets, stopping at restaurants that seemed reliable, before moving on and telling myself next one, next one. The process would continue and repeat every day, though my anxiety faded over time. Nonetheless, it bugs me sometimes even now.

The second was transportation. I had no scooter yet. I still hadn’t figured out where to get the bus from Lalitpur up to Kathmandu; I had to take taxis for my early classes. I hadn’t learned about Pathao and Tootle yet, Nepal’s answers to Uber and Lyft. Sometimes I walked, and arrived at the school light-headed from the new elevation and the pollution in the streets. Navigating Kathmandu was still a bewildering and overwhelming prospect.

The third was actually teaching. Before coming to Nepal, the only thing that I was consistently anxious about was teaching. Would I be good at it? Would my students like me? I had many sleepless nights for months prior to arriving, plagued by such questions. Moving to the developing world was less scary to me than actually stepping up and teaching. It took a lot to stand up and walk into my first class, three days after I arrived in Nepal.

My actual initial impressions were mixed. The people were incredibly nice to me. The dogs got territorial at night, which made me paranoid. Everything I actually had to eat was fantastic. There’s very few streetlights and the streets are mostly dark. Having been trained in the US to perceive darkened alleys as dangerous, adjusting to Patan (made entirely of darkened alleys) took some work. My feelings swung on a pendulum, where each positive or negative experience pulled me back and forth.

I think, though, that the positive has eventually won out.

 

Second First Impressions

Once I moved into a new apartment, things fell more into place. I had a place to actually unpack and unwind in, and it enabled me to meet most of my friends. I got a scooter a week later, which was a huge game-changer. Suddenly all of Kathmandu was open and accessible, and it didn’t stop there. Roads wind their way into the mountains in every direction outside Kathmandu. My roommate and I (a week after buying my scooter) drove 13km out into the Kathmandu Valley, weaving through the hills at sunset, and so my first 100% positive experience in Nepal came to be.

Once I had time to adjust to the new surroundings, I got some clarity. At first, walking out my door took a deep breath and walking at night felt terrifying. Now, no matter what time of day, there is nowhere I wouldn’t go on foot. Kathmandu often feels safer than Minneapolis, the city in the US where I attended university. Time and time again, I’ve had experiences with total strangers that have reaffirmed my feeling of safety in this place.

On my first day, I was given directions through broken English and smiles to Durbar Square. It was a small exchange, but set my mind at ease.

My second night, I went out with a group of friends, most of whom I was meeting for the first time. I hadn’t yet learned how much cash to keep or how much things cost, and I blew almost all my money on a taxi. I was jet lagged and basically non-functioning for most of the night. It would have been a night I rarely look back to, except for the fact that this primarily Nepali group took it upon themselves to make sure that I, a stranger, had a good first night in Kathmandu. One Nepali guy from the group found me in the crowd of a club and gave me a beer and a wink before disappearing again.

A few weeks later, I was being harassed by a homeless man while I was trying to get on the bus. He wanted me to buy something, and there was too much of a language barrier for me to point out that my bus was about to leave. A woman rolled right up on her scooter and just started talking to the guy. As soon as his attention was off me, she gave me a little signal to slip away and get on the bus. I was still adjusting to Kathmandu life and learning to navigate the culture, so this woman bailing me out was a godsend.

The week prior to writing this post, I was getting gas for my scooter. My key wasn’t working to open the compartment where the gas cap is. When I removed it, my key was bent and twisted beyond use. The guy behind me jumped right out of line and brought me to a keysmith down the road, which seriously saved my ass that day.

I have had more positive experiences with the people of Nepal than I can write about here. The point is that, perhaps naively, I feel that I can trust Nepali people. Of course I’m still cautious and often skeptical, but time and time again I’ve had interactions that required no such barriers.

 

Two Month Recap

It’s been an eventful time. In the past couple months, I’ve:

  1. Occupied four rooms and carried my stuff through Patan three times
  2. Bought a scooter
  3. Crashed the aforementioned scooter
  4. Had food poisoning for four days
  5. Trekked up to 4,200m and saw the Himalayas for the first time
  6. Been to over a dozen concerts
  7. Covered several hundred miles by bus
  8. Gotten so lost on my scooter that I left Kathmandu entirely (several times)
  9. Had dal bhat with several government cabinet members
  10. Taken thousands of photos — featuring my current favorites below:

 

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So here’s to more stories and photos in the coming months from yours truly!

 

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