What makes living in Nepal so different from our life in the USA? So, so much!
We started our day with the crowing of neighborhood roosters. This is how we ended the day before, and also how we spent the night, since the roosters never stop crowing. Also, the sounds of bells ringing (Hindu worship rituals in the morning and evening), merchants selling their wares off of carts (“Maachaa…. Machaa…” Fish, fish!”), and the sounds of metal shopfronts opening up. We wake up on quite hard beds, as they are cotton stuffed sleeping mats on wooden platforms. The first person up goes out and across the street for milk, which is ladled out of a large bucket still warm into a plastic bag. Back home, the milk is used to make “chiya”, or Nepali spiced milk tea/chai. For breakfast we generally ate fried bread and egg, (M ate bread and jam and boiled egg).
Grocery shopping is done sporadically each day. If you need eggs for the morning, you go out on the street and find someone buying eggs. Same for bread, vegetables, juice, rice, spices, everything. Everyone has a small refrigerator, but as the electricity goes out for several hours a day, no one likes to leave things in there long. I didn’t see any leftovers sitting around and certainly didn’t see any freezers. Many people hire a “washing didi” to come and do their laundry, but my family had a small washing machine that they connected to a hose and used every four or five days. No one has dryers… clothes are hung out to dry on the roof or balconies. We had a vacuum, and brooms for sweeping of course. (The brooms there look like Harry Potter brooms though!)
Some people have ovens, I think, but most just have stove ranges, even portable electric stove ranges. Rice, daal, and curried meat and vegetables are made in pressure cookers, frying pans, or sauce pans. Spices like ginger and garlic are bought fresh and ground up in mortar and pestles, and everyone has a small tray of spices they fill as needed with cumin, coriander, turmeric, and so on. Besides daal bhaat, we also ate homemade pasta dishes (chow mein) and fried rice dishes. My family used a corn millet with the rice to bulk it up. Also popular is roti, fried bread pancakes, rolled out on a small rolling table with a rolling pin and fried in a pan, and momo, steamed dumplings stuffed with different fillings and dipped in a sauce. Plates are more like tin platters with edges, and tin cups are also popular. Rice is eaten with the right hand, yes as soupy as it is, and the fingers are used to mix up all of the different things on the plate. (I still prefer to eat with a spoon… just how I am!) Tea is made loose leaf in a sauce pan, and poured into each cup through a strainer.
Water (cooking, drinking, bathing, and washing)
Many places have running water, and many do not. My best friend’s place had running water, with a water heater affixed to the shower heads, but my family’s home did not. To bathe there, we heated water on the stove and filled basins with that. Then I squatted in the bathroom and poured it over myself. M sat in the basins to bathe. We used purified water to wash dishes, brush teeth, and bathe in. The water is collected in a huge cistern on the roof, and then transferred to smaller cisterns in the kitchen, where iodine drops or chlorine is used to purify it. For drinking, large jugs of distilled water were delivered frequently to the house (about 75 rupees apiece, less than 70 cents USD).
Many toilets in Nepal, maybe the majority, are squat toilets. In Kathmandu, seat toilets are now becoming more common. They are not usually gleaming white, however, and are not usually accompanied by toilet paper. In the stall with either kind of toilet you will find a bucket and a ladle for washing your private area. How this is accomplished without getting yourself wet and messed up I still to this day have no idea. Always bring toilet paper in your purse. And hand sanitizer, because there isn’t always soap outside of the stall.
The easiest way to get around the city is by taxi. But it’s not as easy as it sounds. You can’t call one to come pick you up, you just have to go find one. If you’re near a place where taxis line up, then that’s great. But a lot of the time you aren’t, or it’s late and you can’t fine one. If you do find one the driver might not want to take you where you want to go, or might charge you an enormous price. A trip across the city can set you back $8-10 which seems like nothing, but in Nepal that’s a big expense. You can also take a Tuk-Tuk or micro-bus. This is good because it’s very cheap (10-20 rupees per person, less than a quarter USD) but they do make a lot of stops and stop running after nightfall. You can hire a driver to pick you up and drop you off, which is very reliable but more expensive. Finally, the way most people do it, you hitch a ride with a friend or relative who has a motorcycle or scooter. This is a free and very fast way of getting from point A to point B. You often see whole families on one motorcycle!
Everyone has a TV, it seems, with a decent selection of channels. The majority are Nepali but there are also English channels. My family seemed to enjoy going to the new mall nearby just to walk around or to eat (the stores were too expensive for shopping). We were there during a festival time so the social events all centered around that. Wi-fi is now almost everywhere so people can use their smart phones or lap tops. Children spend the majority of their day at school, with only Saturdays off, and they either play on the rooftops with siblings or cousins, or sometimes in the courtyards and side streets with neighbor kids. There are no lawns or green parks or playgrounds. An empty lot is sometimes used as a dirt field to play ball in. Women seem generally busy with cooking (as they don’t have freezers and make everything fresh) and cleaning… and a group of women tend to congregate near the kitchen to talk. Occasionally people hire a driver and visit sites outside of the city. There are some theme parks as well as small mountain towns that only take an hour or two to reach.
Everyone wears flip flops or sandals, like everywhere. Even in winter, even with socks. Since you remove your shoes every time you go into a home, it’s a pain in the ass to where shoes that don’t slip on and off. You don’t see men or women wearing shorts or tank tops, even in warm weather. Western style dress is much more common especially with younger women, but older generations and a good portion of younger women wear kurtaa suruwaal or kurtaa with leggings. Only older women or village women really wear the traditional saris. Men wear long pants and button up shirts when they’re out. A few still wear the traditional topi hat, but on special occasions they will.
What we did all day
I’ve already posted about what to do with a preschooler in Kathmandu, but it’s not like you can go see the sites, or to the zoo, every day. It does cost $10-15 to get into those places, after all. So what we usually did was take a walk around the neighborhood, visit people including the neighbors downstairs who had kids, go to the mall and walk around, or go to friends’ homes for dinner. We’d go up to the roof and listen to music and dance around, or watch TV together in the living room. Very simple… not fancy!