So this is a throwback way to my first week in Nepal. I think it was my sixth full day, and my fourth day teaching. I initially didn’t post it for a few reasons, but the biggest was that I was afraid of anyone being identifiable in this post. Now I’ve realized that’s stupid, and I’ve retold this story so many times that it deserves its own post in writing.
I had been teaching for a few days, and my new thing was joining a couple of my fellow teachers and one of their students for informal conversation practice over tea in front of the school. I had known each of them for a few days.
On this particular day, I came out after finishing my classes and sat for a little while. After some time, I stood and told them I was off to catch the bus back to Patan. Their student, who will remain nameless, insisted that he give me a ride home instead. He was a government big-shot (like one of the top guys in one of the government ministries) and had his own fancy car, so I agreed. It’d be faster than taking the bus, right?
The First Stop: Strangers in a Hotel Room
Almost as soon as we got in the car, he told me that he just had to make a quick stop on the way to see his friend “for a moment.” No biggie, he was offering me a ride home so I was down for him to take care of what he needed to. We arrived at a hotel where his friend was staying, and he told me to come inside with him.
We walked past the lobby and to the front desk. He said something in Nepali to the clerk, who pointed down the hall to the elevators. My companion beckoned me to follow as we entered the elevator, and he pushed the button for some double-digit floor number. Then we walked down another hall and he knocked on a door, which was answered by his friend. I was introduced, called inside, told to sit, and then they went right to Nepali.
After several minutes of intense Nepali conversation, my companion turned to me, intense concern in his eyes, and asked, “Do you want to eat?” I didn’t, but he was very insistent and assured me he’d pay. Alright, sure.
So then their Nepali conversation resumed while I sat with some butter chicken. I was nearly finished when I noticed that they seemed to be talking about me. My friend would nod his head towards me, and his friend would look as if he was considering something. Finally, he spoke to me.
“Look at this email. Is it real? I think it is real, but I do not know.”
He gave me his phone, and I read through it. Apparently, he had been contacted by an American soldier in Libya who had a cache of 1,000,000 USD. They needed someone to accept it into their account so that they could safely get it out of Libya, and they would share it with that lucky person. It was a wall of text, sprinkled with a few weird phrases like, “Sir, I beg you as my blood-brother” and “I am your blood-sister, please help me.” They even attached a picture of themselves; a blonde woman in fatigues that read the name, “Johnson.”
“So is it real?”
I looked back up, both of them with concern and excitement plain on their faces. I didn’t want to definitively give them a yes or no, as I had heard one or two stories of the kind of backroom things that go on in the Nepali government.
“I mean…this doesn’t sound like a native English speaker.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, no American soldier is gonna call you their blood-brother. This all looks like it was written by someone with a little English and Google translate.”
“So it’s not real?”
“No, I don’t think so. It sounds like someone trying to get your bank information.”
“Ah. But I think it’s real.”
He started typing a response happily, and I shrugged. I was wondering how many Nigerian princes he’d helped when he turned to me again.
“Have you ever been to Janakpur? There is a wonderful temple. Do you want to come with me?”
I of course had not yet made it to Janakpur in my first week, so I said no. Then he invited me to come with him that weekend. When I came to Nepal, I swore that I’d say yes to any offer that came my way so as to not miss any potential weird stories. I was in the process of nodding my agreement when he spoke again.
“Only 45 minute plane ride!”
I decided I would draw the line on my yes-to-everything approach when it involved taking trips with strange men. I gave a lukewarm yeah, maybe before my friend stood and announced it was time for us to go. We got back in the car and I looked forward to getting home.
The Second Stop: Alone at the Car Wash
Once back in the car, he announced there would be a second stop. We were on our way to a car wash, which I figured would be pretty quick. He veered down a narrow alley and into the lot behind a large row of buildings where guys were hosing down cars and motorcycles. We parked and got out so that the car could be washed.
Once outside, my friend went inside and I was left standing in the lot for several minutes. Slowly, more and more people stopped what they were washing and just stared at me. I got the vibe this was not a place white people end up at. It being my first week and me not yet used to stares, my discomfort amplified each time a new set of eyes came on me.
Thankfully, it was not to last and my companion came back and we got back in the car. Finally, I was going to make it home two hours after I left the school.
The Third Stop: The President of a Bank Teaches Me to Eat Dal Bhat
After some 20 minutes in traffic, we pulled over yet again. He must have been aware that I had become his hostage when I was just trying to get home, so he apologized.
“Last stop, promise. So sorry!”
“It’s cool. What are we doing now?”
“I have to meet the president of a bank to close a deal. Just…let me talk.”
We went upstairs in a restaurant and sat down. This time, he was visibly nervous, jittering and looking around anxiously. Then another man in a nice suit came, and my friend shot to his feet. I decided I should follow suit, and we made our introductions. We sat down, a waiter brought us dal bhat, and the closing of the deal commenced. Just as in the hotel room, I sat and ate my food while rapid-fire Nepali went back and forth across the table. After 15 minutes, my friend left to use the restroom. The banker turned to me.
“Have you eaten dal bhat before?”
“Nope, first time.”
“Aha! Let me teach you!”
He explained that usually, you eat dal bhat with your hands — no silverware or anything like that. First he poured his dal (lentil soup) over the bhat (rice) and mixed it all up. With his right hand, he took a chunk of rice and pushed it to his fingertips.
“Like this. You try.”
I did the same thing, and he nodded enthusiastically. He pointed to watch, and he put the rice in his mouth in a quick little flip. I tried to do the same, and got my fingers in my mouth up to the first knuckle while trying to actually get any in my mouth.
“Ah, no, no. Like this!”
He took another bite of rice, more slowly for me to observe. I tried again, still knuckling myself, albeit less. By this time, my friend was back and laughing at the process. Whatever deal they were closing seemed to be set on the back burner while they teamed up to teach me how to eat my rice with my fingers. It was a bit of a process that attracted the attention of our waiter as well as a few of the adjacent tables, but I seemed to have hit a satisfactory level and they went back to speaking Nepali.
After nearly 45 minutes at the restaurant, we all stood and parted ways. The banker gave me a friendly wave and we left for the car. My friend breathed a sigh of relief and said, “Closed the deal.”
We drove the rest of the way back to Patan, him explaining important stories of Hinduism to me that I have now forgotten. He paused once to point to a white guy in robes with a red dot of tika on his forehead.
“That’s the kind of foreigner we make fun of.”
A few minutes later, we pulled up to one of the main gates that mark the entrance to Patan. I got out of the car, thanked him for the ride, and made the walk back to the guesthouse I was staying in, nearly four hours after I left the school.