Tikka and Tuk tuks: Life in Nepal
Five in the morning: the time when prayer bells start to ring at the nearest Hindu temple. The sound rouses people for morning worship, and wakes me up too.
If I joined my neighbors at the temple, I would notice bright red tikka (powder) blanketing statues of Hindu gods, worshipers lighting prayer candles and the smell of burning incense thick in the air.
Unlike my neighbors though, I have different morning priorities. With a hefty sigh, I roll out of bed and hustle down the stairs to beat my roommates in a race for the first cold shower, the humidity of the monsoon season covering my back. Despite being 1,500 feet above sea level, Kathmandu never dips below 30 degrees. Even in the dead of night.
I race to finish my shower before the daily, timed power outages shut off the water mid-rinse. Most mornings, this is a welcome challenge, but not always.
Breakfast generally consists of whatever is left from the night before, since eating out is much cheaper than doing groceries in the capital. Either way, I eat my breakfast around the same time most Nepalis have lunch, lending them to urgently ask me almost every day if I have had my “Khanna” at the right time.
I run out the door to catch a tuk tuk, a tiny, rickety electric car designed to drive extra slowly in Kathmandu’s chaotic rush hour traffic. One obstacle stops me from reaching the 14A in time – my chronic fear of crossing the street. Cars, motorcycles, bikes, tuk tuks, cows, dogs, tractors, fruit vendors all weave through the median as if it was just a suggestion. I learnt overtime to weave my own path through the random traffic with a wave of the hand, although I can’t help but break a sweat. Every single time.
Packing in to a tuk tuk, I am ready for my daily dose of the sights and sounds of Kathmandu. It takes a good hour in traffic to arrive in Kupondol, Lalitpur – my work neighborhood and a separate district outside of the capital. After passing Nepal’s new parliament buildings, several earthquake-shaken Buddhist “stupas” and a beautiful golden bridge, I recognize my stop. I give the top of the tuk tuk a good knock, telling the “dai” that I need to get off and hand him two brightly colored red bills. Twenty five rupees, he says. Thirty Canadian cents, I think to myself.
Getting to my office means weaving through some back streets. Take a turn at this green sign, a right at the broken lamppost, straight down the alley covered in purple flowers; these are the instructions I tell my friends if they ask where my office is. A winding staircase reminiscent of Montreal’s famous fire escapes casts a shadow over my partner’s office sign in the morning. It might be a figment of my imagination though, because the shadow disappears in an instant once I greet everyone in the office with a bright “Namaste!” and bring my palms together. Even though we don’t speak the same language, my coworkers call me “bahini,” young sister, and treat me like family.
This is where you will find me, six days a week, after all.
I sit down at my desk and wonder at what the day will bring. Each day has a different work load, full of unexpected meetings, surprise motorcycle rides and spontaneous field work. This is Nepal, and I am working on Nepali time.
What I do know is that I will never be alone. The cooking lady comes to serve me tea once on the hour while my partner chats my ear off about beer, travel and occasionally about the work we are doing. Another co-worker comes in and teaches me the basics of Hinduism while we snack on fresh mangoes picked from the tree just outside. Impromptu meetings begin when someone sits down on the extra plastic lawn chair next to my desk.
More than once, I have found myself hiking up Nepal’s back country in flip flops after a harrowing motorcycle ride to document a last-minute training on a new clay stove being made.
Other times, I end up in a remote corner of Nepal with a translator interviewing women working in the forestry industry.
No matter where I am or what I’m doing, it never feels like work.
As five o’clock approaches, I can’t help but think about plans for the night. And then I remember – it’s Friday! My one-day holiday begins tomorrow! What will the day bring? Perhaps learning to plant rice, going on an elephant safari, or cycling the beautiful hills circling the city? What I do know for sure is that every new day is another adventure in this country.