We made it to Nepal and as we were landing we could see the sprawl of small buildings blanketing rolling hills of Kathmandu. We took a shuttle bus from the plane on the tarmac to the terminal and the folding doors on the side did not close. It seemed very dangerous although no one flew out to their demise. It all seemed very familiar. It took me a while to pinpoint why but I realized it somehow reminded me of Petrapovlosk, Russia from semester at sea. Something about the feel of the worn architecture and stray bricks made it feel comfortable.
We went through the visa and immigration process, found our bags fairly quickly, exchanged money, who knows how much we actually got back, and found our ride. We were shuttled by a very nice man, a tall driver, the nice man’s son who was quieter but very nice himself, and another passenger. The other passenger was a Canadian med student who was very nice. My fiance seemed to enjoy doing a little mentoring and she also seemed to see the same kind of excitement of international medicine in this med student. As we drove through Kathmandu I realized the great numbers of people was very different from the city I visited in Russia and it felt like a much older city.
We got back to our apartment and everyone from the van helped us move our bags. I felt bad for the people helping with our biggest duffle bag who seemed to have trouble with it. I remembered back to dragging it by myself in the Phoenix airport and had a little feeling of pride in my strength. See? The pushups ARE working. I took my two backpacks and started to take the smaller duffle bag. It seemed like I could handle the weight but the people helping us starting looking at me in shock and took the larger bag from my hands.
Touring the apartment we found it to be quite spacious, including 2 bedrooms, a dining room, a kitchen with a gas stove, and a bathroom with a western toilet. The front of the apartment has a lusciously green garden and small lawn and a couple of large water collecting systems. A little dog sits out on the porch by the door to bark at passersby and keep watch. We later learned his name is Jack.
We decided to take a little walk with our guides for the day to see how to get to the Hospital. As we headed to the point where we could see the hospital I started to notice stray drops of rain and a faint rumbling. Within three minutes we were in a downpour of golfball sized drops of water, completely drenching us. We huddled in the slightest shelter waiting for the rain to slow before heading back to the apartment. Our guides graciously made us tea which, after it cooled a little, was quite delicious, and we offered crackers and biscuits, the latter were especially popular with the Napalis.
Once the rain subsided we walked with the med student to the hospital then to her apartment as the driver took her bags. Her apartment was in a little neighborhood that looked older and almost European. From there we walked to see where the local restaurants, ATM and market are. The whole walk we saw how densely populated the streets are with cars, thousands of motorcycles and scooters, and pedestrians. All vehicles are constantly beeping and honking to announce their arrivals to everyone around them.
There is no single method to merging and passing, which is made even more chaotic by the fact that they drive on the left side of the road. Crossing the street to us feels like backwards process like writing with your left hand. Every time I get to the second lane that I cross I am surprised by a vehicle that is just upon me. I can't help but think from when I rode in the van going through this kind of traffic that the lack of lanes, no one adhered to crosswalks, and general aggressive driving means that the drivers are actually moving more slowly as they decellerate much more often that walking feels as though it takes the same ammount of time to travel.
As we traveled to see more coffee shops and restaurants we came across a large concert in a park that sounded really good. It felt like a rock from the 90's and the lyrics were in another language. It was hard to tell what language and there were hints that it might not necessarily be Nepali. There were several Chinese Red Cross tents at this concert that we could just over a short wall that hardly blocked the show from pedestrians. We later learned that Jackie Chan came with the Chinese Red Cross contingent just after the earthquake.
There aren't all that many remnants of the earthquake in the area that we are in. It seems every once in a while we'll see where a collapsed building, a few homes, a fire station, and a very popular pizza place. The pizza place had a very eloquent note on the wall explaining that started by saying that they were closed indefinitely. I thought that wording was very eloquent and opened the possibility that it is not closed permanently, yet realistically understanding that the collapse in their popular location may mean it never comes back.
After seeing the sign, we walked by a building that had five or six young men clearing bricks and debris, some from a second floor roof. We looked in at them as they worked and I think they overheard talk about the restaurant that had been there and other talk about the possible correlation of the strength of the ground in this area and how few other building had fallen near there. They glanced at us as they heard us. I try not to act like a disaster tourist, smiling at the destruction of other people's homes, but it is encouraging to see how many homes and businesses still stand.
It is motivating to see a lone mural on a wall of a siluetted tableu of Nepali landmarks and someone raising the outline of Nepal's characteristically shaped flag, the only non-rectangle national flag in the world. The mural is noted with the words "we shall rise again." Fitting for a country whose building will be rebuilt and the lifted spirits from a raising flag. It may be awkward in American context considering it's parallels in terminology to the Confederacy and current debates over the stars and bars, but if there's a meaningful reclaiming of a saying, this one is more appropriate than the original.
We returned to the apartment as the sun was going down. I had a nice conversation that I had trouble understanding with the landlady that lives upstairs. I think she said to make sure we lock the door at night, but it also could have been "don't lock the door at night." Both make some sense. I could understand with fears from the big earthquakes there were situations of people being locked into unstable houses and issues of getting them out, but I also understand the safety and property concerns to keep the door locked. I feel the greater piece of mind is to keep the door locked at night. Jack the dog does a great job of warning of anyone coming close, but it's rather easy to walk right by him.
After cleaning up from the downpour and multiple days of traveling we fell asleep quickly, just not for very long. Around 1AM my body realized we are just about 12 hours off from our timezone and woke me up with irreversable clarity. I was able to use this time to figure out the internet password and send messages and emails to people back in the US. It's difficult to figure out when people back home will see things and my sleep cycle seems backwards, but I fight on by engaging my mind with typo ridden text.
In the morning, after my fiance went to the hospital she called to have me come down to meet some people and bring our bag of medical supplies for the ICU. There is talk of me working with the school, maybe doing some teaching. I met a few people at the hospital and they seem very friendly and interesting. I was very happy to talk about the questions we had with eachother regarding baseball and cricket. We went out to lunch and had some great conversations mixed with heavy feelings of tiredness in my head. During lunch the monsoon rains swept in and pitter pattered outside the windows. After eating, the rain slowed down but my head still felt slogged. I had some wonderful chances to see the hospital and meet a surgical team in the morning and my fiance had the chance to see much more of the hospital. I went to see the old wing of the hospital that is being gutted and renovated, a process that started before the earthquakes, but I ran out of energy before getting to meet about teaching. I'm excited by that chance, I'm confident that it will be fun and kids will learn interesting things. I look forward to the opportunity.