Archive for October, 2010
I came to Nepal excited for many things – trekking, researching, learning Nepali, going to monasteries… But one thing I was especially looking forward to was taking yoga. I usually practice yoga at home in San Diego and also through group fitness classes at the Cornell gyms. By now, I’ve got a pretty good handle on the basics of American yoga – downward dog, child’s pose, warriors one and two, tree pose – all those fun postures. I imagined that in Nepal my yoga practice would only become more intense. I bragged to my friends that I would come back a yoga master, sure I would learn to twist my body into a pretzel while keeping a perfectly zen demeanor. After all, yoga’s got its roots in Nepal and India. How could yoga here not be exhilarating?
While I’ve certainly been doing a lot of yoga in Nepal, it’s not at all what I expected. We have a regular yoga teacher who instructs us at CNSP, and he’s unlike any American yoga teacher I’ve ever had. He’s not a large, muscled guy nor a toned, bohemian girl. He’s a small Nepali man, who likes to spend the yoga session sitting cross-legged, placidly drinking his tea, and guiding us through the poses in his soft, lyrical way. His voice is soothing, and his goal is to help us relax our minds, not stress our bodies.
Those people who have taken yoga in the states may know what I’m talking about when I say this is a drastic change from most American yoga. At home, yoga is a workout. I’m constantly pushing my body, whether it’s just to feel the stretch more intensely or to stay in chair pose longer than the person next to me (I hate to admit it, but sometimes yoga does bring out my competitive nature). And I like the feeling that I get from American yoga. I revel in feeling that I’ve been proactive, that I’ve made a change in my body.
I never realized it before coming to Nepal, but getting enjoyment out of pushing myself is part of my American mentality. I don’t want to relax; I want to push forward, be bigger and better. This mentality is something we don’t share with Nepalis. A common phrase you hear in Nepal is ‘Ke garne?’ It means, ‘What to do?’ When the subjects of trash in the streets of Kathmandu, the ongoing effort to get a constitution in place, or the dengue outbreak in Chitwan come up we often hear ‘Ke garne?’ in response, indicating ‘Oh well. Such is life.’ This attitude used to frustrate the other American students and me to no end. We’d try to protest that things could be done, that action could be taken to improve certain situations in Nepal. It should not be ‘Ke garne,’ but ‘Ke garchhu?’ meaning ‘What can I do?’ But the Nepalis remain unmoved.
Through the Nepali style of yoga, I’ve learned to understand this ‘ke garne’ perspective a little better. Our yoga guru tells us that yoga isn’t about changing your body to be where your mind is, but it’s about bringing your mind to where your body is. We’re learning to be at peace with our bodies. ‘Ke garne’ is also about learning to be at peace. Yes, there are plenty of things I can change to improve myself and the world, but there are also things I have no power to change. While Americans are good at continually striving for something better, Nepalis understand how to accept the world as it is. I still disagree that ‘ke garne’ can be a catch-all answer, but acceptance is an important life-skill to learn. Together, I think that Americans’ motivation for change and Nepalis’ acceptance for things that can’t be changed is a balanced approach to life. And don’t you need balance in yoga?
Back from vacation (again)! This week began the religious festival of Dasain. For the Nepalese, this holiday is important for getting the family together, giving money, and sacrificing a whole lot of goats. For us, it was a break from class and a chance to go on another trek. For the past six days, the other girls and I have been trekking in Langtang National Park. It was our first time trekking alone, and I’d say we managed it pretty well – no one got lost, seriously injured, or defeated by too many days without a shower. We even saw some pretty amazing views and climbed one ridiculously tall mountain.
But for me, one of the best parts was interacting with the Nepali people we met along the way. Some of them were porters, some hotel owners, but they all seemed intrigued by us. At first we couldn’t figure out why everyone found us so amusing. Yes, we were a group of five, 20-something American girls who liked to order large quantities of tea and momos, but is that so strange?
By the end, we’d figured it out. They thought we were funny because we had adopted some characteristic Nepali behaviors and style of dress. None of us look Nepali, but we have all started peppering our speech with Nepali phrases, doing our laundry in buckets, wearing traditional Nepali bangles, and most curious to the Nepalese, we’ve started wearing lungis.
A lungi is a sheet of fabric, connected at the ends to form a cylinder, which Nepali women wear while bathing in public water taps. All the American girls had to get lungis before we went to Mane Gang so that we could shower in the village tap without exposing ourselves. I doubt when the CNSP staff suggested we buy lungis they realized how many opportunities we would find to wear them. I’ve worn my lungi while shopping, out to dinner, on treks, and of course, bathing.
Whenever we wear our lungis people comment. Some people try to show us how to wear the lungi properly (who knew rolling it up to expose your knees wasn’t proper?), some ask us where we got them, but my favorite is when people simply call out to us and treat us as friends because we’re wearing a traditional piece of clothing. When we were being driven from our trek back to Kathmandu, another driver on the road noticed that I was wearing my lungi. He yelled out to me “Oh, Nepali didi!” which means “Nepali sister!” Our driver was excited by this and showed the driver that we were all wearing lungis. He proudly exclaimed that all his girls wear lungis.
Though sometimes the attention can be unwanted, mostly we’ve found that the lungi makes friends. We clearly aren’t Nepali, but just by making an effort to wear something familiar to people we meet or by saying a quick phrase in their language we open ourselves up to them – we can become Nepali sisters.
Here’s a pic of the lungi in its intended use. Modeled by Michelle and Brenda.
One thing I’ve learned about Nepal is that scheduled plans here can change unexpectedly. Take our upcoming trip to Chitwan National Park. It was all set for next week, but a recent outbreak of Dengue Fever in the area has postponed our excursion. No worries, since the week is a national holiday and none of our teachers are available to teach us anyway this just means we have our own vacation time!
Now we have to decide what to do with our new-found freedom. Should we stay in Kathmandu valley and enjoy the religious festival? Or travel by bus to another region to do some more trekking? For most of us, this was not a tough decision. While Kathmandu is great, trekking last week was easily the most incredible and gorgeous hiking trip I’ve ever been on. The Himalayas are unbelievable, and I would do anything to go back. So we’ve started to plan our next trip.
After last week’s trek, we learned a bit and know what to expect – lots of hills, hot days and cold nights, and too many Kodak moments to count. I thought I’d share my gems of wisdom with you in case anyone wants to fly out to Nepal and join us on our next trip (you won’t regret it!). Here goes:
1. Morning snack is essential. The day usually starts off with a long uphill climb, so be sure to take advantage of the hotel’s breakfast menu. Not only are banana pancakes, Tibetan bread, or egg – potato roasties delicious, but they also provide much-needed fuel for the day. And don’t pass up the milk masala tea!
2. Leeches are a serious threat. We were warned that since we were traveling at the end of the rainy season we might encounter some leeches. I thought I was protected with my hiking boots, tall socks, and leggings, but I let down my guard one time and walked barefoot from my hotel room to the dining room, and guess what? A little blood-sucker got the best of me. Besides the nastiness factor, leeches don’t hurt badly, but be sure to bring salt and band-aids. And as the kind hotel owner told me, “Letting out blood is a good thing, now you’ll be extra healthy!” Sure…
3. Swallow that American Pride. Before leaving on the trek, all the Americans decided to carry our own bags while all the Nepali students hired porters to carry theirs. It was a matter of pride for me to be able to carry my own bag, besides I enjoy being able to carry everything I need on my back. But by the end of the trip I did see the benefits to hiring a porter. First, you don’t end every day sweaty and smelly. Second, you have more time to enjoy the scenery. And third, you provide a job for a hard-working Nepali; it’s crazy how much these guys can carry!
4. Treat yourself. Just as the morning meal is delicious and essential, you’re missing out if you don’t get dessert. After a long day of trekking, a dessert of apple pie, chocolate pudding, or a deep-friend snickers bar tastes just right. One of the hotels we stayed at even had a chocolate cake that Time Magazine had named 2007’s best chocolate cake in Asia. Not too shabby.
5. Befriend fellow trekkers. One of our favorite parts of trekking was hanging around the breakfast or dinner table and chatting with other trekkers. We met people from all over the globe, and it was great to hear everyone’s stories.
6. Take it slow! Nepal is incredibly diverse, and each day we had new scenery to admire. By the end of the week we realized we didn’t want to rush from hotel to hotel, but we’d rather take our time on the trail to try and see as much of the landscape as possible.
Now that you know what expect, all you’re missing is a plane ticket and a trekker’s permit! And in case you’re not convinced, here are some photos:
Internet again! Though I’m exhausted, slightly sick, and glad to be back in my bed at CNSP, the last two weeks were incredible. The first week, I stayed with a host family in a Tamang village called Mane Gang. The host families in the village had accommodated CNSP students before, so they knew what to expect, but we had no idea.
We arrived at the village after hiking straight uphill for what seemed like hours. My host mother came out of her house to meet me, and I quickly learned hugging is not an appropriate greeting, especially when you’re caked in sweat. She just laughed at my awkward outstretched arms and instead gently touched her hand to my forehead. Then she showed me the room I would share with her. It was usually my host brother’s room, but for that week he would sleep upstairs with the dad while I slept over with the mom.
I wasn’t sure how tight the foreign student/host family relationship was supposed to be, but my ‘aamaa’ gave me little option. She sat me down on the bed and said “Ma, aamaa. Tapaai, chhori,” meaning “Me, mother. You, daughter.” Then, she took one look at my grimy up-do, undid my bun, and combed out my hair. At first I was a little uncomfortable spending time with her. It was hard because my Nepali was limited, and she spoke even less English. But as the week progressed my Nepali improved dramatically, and I came to seriously appreciate how awesome my aamaa is.
Women in Nepal don’t always have the greatest amount of freedom to speak their minds or make their own decisions. Even in Mane Gang, a place where the women seemed to be quite happy and productive, marriage used to be arranged through kidnapping. I talked to one older woman who had been out cutting grass when six men dragged her off to live with her future husband. She was only twenty at the time (my age… scary) and said she felt frightened, helpless, and didn’t know what to do. Times are changing now, but women are often still subordinate to their husbands and in-laws.
My aamaa is a rare and inspiring exception. That woman is not subordinate to anyone. She liked to wake me up by yelling, “Chhori, uThne!” which means, “Daughter, get up!” We’d have tea and then she’d put me to work – washing dishes, husking corn, or cutting grass. She isn’t afraid of yelling at her husband either and getting him to do work, something I haven’t seen in other Nepali households. She must be used to standing up to her husband because she was one of the founding members of the women’s group in Mane Gang even though he didn’t support her. Now, she is a prominent woman in the village and holds her ground in impromptu debates with the men who stop by her house.
At the end of the week, I couldn’t believe I was moving out. She came with us for a couple hours on the bus so we could drop her off at her eye appointment (she was almost blind, though she would never let you know it). The ride was long, and buses in Nepal are a scary business because the roads are unpaved, one-way, and tend to be on the edge of cliffs. During one particularly treacherous stretch I turned to her and said, “Malaai Dar laagyo,” “I’m scared.” She laughed at me and called me a little baby, which was her favorite way of making fun of me. But then she put her arm around me and held me for the rest of the stretch along the cliff. We said goodbye, and I told her I’d remember her, but I don’t think she realized just how much of an impression she made on me. She is one awesome aamaa and any future CNSP student would be lucky to stay with her.