LAW AND ORDER AND STRANGENESS

Chapter 8

After a rough morning I was wondering if Nepalis have the impression of Americans and other foreigners that we poop more than Nepalis.  I'm sure they see us buying much more toilet paper, or didis (maids) clean our bathrooms and notice more activity on that front than typical Nepalis.  I imagine they have a stereotype of Westerners as being especially prolific in the bathroom if they don't know about our different diets and immune systems.

We have noticed a regional mannerism here that has caused us some confusion and awkwardness.  It seems that Nepalis will wiggle their heads in a motion similar to a subtle shaking your head "no" that to them means agreement or a positive response.  A few times with students I would ask questions of the students that I was certain would get a positive response and they would give me this motion and a look that seems lost, but I am realizing later it must mean "oh course we do, dummy."  I was talking with the principal and was having a nice conversation when I made a comment about scheduling around sightseeing opportunities.  He gave this head motion and a look that I wasn't sure was appropriate to a negative response.  At the time I thought, 'huh, that's oddly rude, I'll just keep talking like that wasn't an issue or I didn't see him passive aggressively saying no to it,' but in reality I should have interpreted it as 'that's cool, go ahead and do that.'  I think this is something that I should bring up with the students while giving them insights on how to converse with western people.

We had one day of seeing the odd lack of order in Nepal while on a long taxi drive to the reclining Vishnu deity at the edge of the city.  This deity is a 15 foot long metal sculpture of a god laying on a bed of tangled snakes in the middle of a pool, that is covered by an awning  protecting it from the weather.  Our taxi ride out from an earlier visit to Patan Durbar Square started off well enough.  The driver found a way to avoid the ring road, the main road to the new highway which is always backed up with traffic and filled with pollution.  This seemed like it might be a good new route to take until our driver turned his head while passing a motorcycle and lightly rear ended the car in front of us.  Luckily, we were not moving more than 5 or 10 miles per hour and we were barely jarred in our seats.  This was just a brief impediment for our driver and we continued on our way.

 

Our driver had other distractions on our drive.  About halfway through the drive, I saw the driver craning his neck and looking around a truck parked on the side of the road.  As I looked back I saw a group of people looking on as a soldier in blue camouflage holding a bolt action rifle was grabbing a young man by his shirt, manhandling him and about to swing at him just before our taxi sped away.  The driver had a clear sense of interest of what was happening but was also visibly scared for the safety of the manhandled man.  We sped away out of danger and the driver seemed quite relieved when we made it to our destination.

 

Our experiment in chaos was not yet over.  When we came to the location of the reclining deity, we walked through two small courtyards before being in the area of the statue.  Entering the first courtyard was a beggar with no legs and in the next courtyard there were three or four young, around 11 year old, children playing and running around and shouting.  It seemed as though they were yelling at us, trying to get our attention, but we were not paying attention to them or responding.  They seemed to be following us and I think I responded to one child who seemed to ask us something.  "No thanks," I said right before one of the children thrust his hand into my pocket.  As he reached I grabbed his wrist.  I thought this would be enough and he would pull his hand out and walk away but he seemed to keep trying to reach in.  I pulled his hand out, saw that he had not taken anything, and pushed him away.  I had thwarted this brazen pickpocketing child and they seemed to not want to deal with us anymore, however I was not comfortable leaving my shoes outside of the deity.  I watched my fiance's flip flops as she went in for a closer look and kept my shoes firmly on my feet.

 

The drive back to our apartment was much less eventful.  We traveled back by way of the ring road, although it is more crowded and polluted, there are traffic police that monitor the intersections.  Generally, these traffic control officers work more like glorified stop lights in crisp uniforms.  We were stopped at the front of traffic at one of these intersections and I was watching the pedestrians looking to cross the street.  It looked as though a teenager with an "Obey" hat had weaved his way between the cars and motorcycles to make it across the street.  One of the 2 or 3 traffic control officers saw this move, not appreciating it, and so he walked over to the young man to escorted him with a firm grip of his arm across the street back to where he came from.  He stood with the young man to make him wait for the appropriate time to cross the street.  The young rebel with the "Obey" hat was being babysat to wait to walk across the street.

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