Just keep moving

by Annalise on November 2, 2009

As you move around a city like Kathmandu, it is important to keep moving and have a good sense of your next destination! Stopping can be dangerous in many situations. Walking about for shopping, getting to local sites with Robin or starting my Conversational English classes at two local schools, I find myself thinking, don’t take that personally, just keep moving. The common triggers include:

- horns honking – every motorized vehicle has a horn and that along with the brake appears the most important functions. All vehicles honk as they approach all people, cows, dogs, goats, bicycles, and twists in the road; the latter occurring about every 40 m unless on one of the major highways. To a pedestrian, the horn simply says I’m here and I’m coming your way, likely within inches. Sidewalks are the exception here; most places it goes straight from street to gutter.
- vehicles not stopping to let you cross – they have a few crosswalks here and I use them out of principle but they make no difference. Here, anywhere along the steet and at even controlled intersections, to cross the street you have no choice but to step into the flow of traffic and navigate the path by judging the speed of individual vehicles, one lane at a time as you thread through this stream. Everyone does it this way. You improve your chances of moving quickly by walking with others but….
- spitting – virtually everyone of all ages does it where ever they wish on any street or trail. I’m over it, I still try not to step in it but I’m over it.
- staring – we’re pretty pale and different looking to the local Nepalese folks; we’re kinda big and we talk funny. Of course they’ll stare. My antedote to this one is eye contact and a ‘Namaste”. That sometimes draws them back, sometimes not. Oh well.
- having to barter from inflated prices – we’re foreigners and by virtue alone of our ability to fly there, we’re filthy rich. They’re feeding their families and trying to get ahead. We do our best to normalize the price back to something near what a Nepali person would pay but don’t take it too personally if we don’t quite get there. The Government of Nepal as well as entry to all local sites is in tiers, the foreigners paying more for everything.
- begging – this is a very difficult one. I sometimes carry small change for the little kids who walk beside us with open hands or for the peopled parked on the bridge with just a cup. Sometimes there is a swarm of them particularly at the gates of a major tourist site. Everything I’ve read in the guide books discourage giving to the panhandlers and the risk is once you begin, you’re sought out but there is no question there is a tug at the heart to see people in such need. We’ve opted to look for an organization we can support that works toward improving access to drinking water and public toilets.

I was visiting with an older Nepalese gentleman who runs with the Himalayan Hash House Harrier group last weekend. The run took place in the most goregeous farm land just south of the city. I caught the breathtaking view when I wasn’t looking directly ahead of my feet, running on the narrow path trying to save my life. This gentleman told me that 20 years ago, virtually all of Kathmandu was much more livable, much more like this – still green and with open spaces. In this past 20 years, it has grown so quickly and without much effective public policy on city design that there is very very little public green space. What large parks there are are fenced off. What small parks there are filled with trash. Robin and I felt this as we visited the Zoo last week. As much as enjoying their animals what struck us both was the ability for us to deeply relax and exhale in their quiet, clean park-like grounds. We stayed for quite some time before having to walk back.

Week 4 has brought some ease to our living here – we’re much more familiar with the place. We’ve made friends through several connections: work, the running group, our now new neighbors, and our local neighborhood generally. We are at a point though where although things are somewhat easier and we have some form of normal, living here could never match what we experience in Canada. Oh, here’s the power out… again.

Find the candles and just keep moving – although more slowly.

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

LeeAnne November 3, 2009 at 12:34 pm

Annalise, this was almost difficult to read. I can appreciate your compassion for the children begging on the streets.
Well, dining by candlelight can’t be too bad, can it?
Take care!

Annalise November 4, 2009 at 1:26 am

No, we never complain about dining in candle light! That part is just fine. Do enjoy your traffic lights, lanes and pedestrian crosses though. The alternative is not pretty!

Mom November 5, 2009 at 8:08 am

I’m reading ‘Dreaming in Hindi’- too bad it didn’t come out in time for your trip. Along with ‘Six Months in Calcutta’; read them when you get back and you’ll be guaranteed a bout of nostalgia. Really!

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