Saturday, December 1, 2012



I just said goodbye to the brave and amazing base camp trekkers, who loaded a bus for the airport and their harrowing flight to Luklah. They were good sports, down in the lobby at 4:30 am, the hotel door wide open and letting in surprisingly frigid air, no morning caffeine in site.

All their duffle bags and backpacks came from trek sponsor, Marmot. Lined up you cannot tell them apart ex
cept for the names magic marker'd onto their duffles like little summer campers, and the occasional sun hat or bandana carabiner'd onto a back pack.

I was particularly tickled to see Cy Curnin has no backpack. He's got a fanny pack with a water bottle, which he'd slung over his shoulder for the moment. When I asked, he told me he hates carrying anything on his back. SO DO I. This month I've been practicing packing with a backpack, but I hate it. To me, Cy is daring the mountain to let him be himself, and I respect that. I wasn't brave enough to trek without all the emergency stuff they tell you to tote along (well, I wasn't brave enough even to DO the trek). So I love Cy's bravado.

I hugged Sarah Ewalt goodbye, and she gifted me with her map of Pokhara, where she spent a week on her own before joining the Love, Hope, Strength group. Last night over dinner, she gave in to her fear about the airplane ride to Luklah so I was glad to see she was together this morning. When Tony asked me how she was doing, I confessed to not asking. No point in poking at the courage she mustered. I admit the plane ride is one reason I did not want to do this trek. I am going to be graced with my first grandchild in May, and although I could keel over at my keyboard this moment, it just seemed wrong to put my grandma self at any risk at all.

I took a photo of Lisa Miller and the small stuffed tiger she found hidden by her husband in her bag. I chatted with the inimitable Meghan Buchanan about her Lulu Lemon gear, and the fact that we both color-coordinated our trek clothes. Yes, girls DO want pretty gear. We are girls. What can we say!

I asked Lisa (whose husband is named Tony), Brett Dunnen and Meghan to take care of Tony for me, and was promised. Tony has been full of endearments this week, and he kept muttering them as he kissed me goodbye. I like this side of him. I know he wishes I was going along, and part of me wishes I was going to share this adventure with him. But a bigger part of me knows that it is good that we are splitting up. It was brave of me to back out of something when it wasn't really right for me, and it was kind of him to let me off the hook. I know I will like him a whole lot more if I don't have to poop above the tree line, in 30 degree weather, where there is no cover and everybody can see my frozen tush hanging out and will know exactly what I'm doing - not to mention avoiding that freaky ride to Luklah.

After they were all packed into the bus, and nobody was left in the lobby except a couple of the Mountain Trekking staff who were still counting bags, I stole an uneaten hard boiled egg from somebody's abandoned breakfast box, and slipped back up to the room. My own adventure begins at 6:30 a.m. - about 30 minutes from now - when I have to haul my bags to the bus station, where I catch the greenline bus to Pokhara.

And even though I am excited about my trip, it's a little bit sad and very quiet here now.


I just got off a bus into my super-expensive Pokhara hotel (more on why I picked this one later) and there's already a story in the making here. But first, I must disgorge the story of my ride here. It's been pent up in my brain for hours now.

I'm so glad I chose the bus instead of flying. The downside of the bus is a seven-hour ride - possibly more harrowing than the Luklah flight, if you can believe it. The upside of taking the bus is all the seeing one can do - seeing to saturation - in seven hours.

Before I tell you what I saw, I just need to say that I'm glad Tony was not on this ride with me. Tony experienced the poverty in Kathmandu as pain, but it did not hold a candle to the things I saw on this drive through the rural Nepalese country side.

And that brings me to all the seeing.

We think we will travel to third world countries to experience otherness. We think we will see other cultures, taste other foods, observe other dress and customs, hear the melodies of other tongues. But today instead of otherness, I discovered something basic about myself in this third world country.

As the bus took me past lifestyles that included bathing in the open at communal faucets, gathering and thrashing sheaves of grain by hand or sorting piles of corn on the floor in front of their homes, women - well, one young man but otherwise all women - using stones to scrub clothes in the river or at the communal faucet, people sitting on benches in homes that had roofs but no walls, cooking meals on fires in their front yards, or by the side of the road - in fact people sleeping by the side of the road surrounded by their meager belongings, old men picking through trash looking for God knows what, and speaking of trash, garbage everywhere. Garbage piled up to insulate walls and in some cases to BE the walls of someone's home, and tires and rocks and sticks used for those purposes too... I could go on, but you get the idea.

I learned who I am from the labels rising to mind like vapors, without being bidden. Adjectives like abject and nouns like poverty and squalor. Without knowing these people at all, I immediately colored them pathetic. And that, I'm afraid, is more about me than about them.

I don't know if I've ever mentioned here that I watch TV football with my right brain only. I do not like the game, but I can (honestly) enjoy the kaleidoscope of color moving across the field, if I tune its meaning out. I can do that easily by occupying my left brain with something else, leaving my right brain free to "watch" the color show without registering the game itself. I can do only one left brain thing at a time.

I suppose this sounds like I'm incoherently switching gears here, but bear with me. As soon as I caught site of myself in the mirror today, I realized I needed to take in the country side around me with my right brain instead of my left. Color was the big clue. The Napalese apparently adore color. Their houses are painted the most amazing shades of turquoise, peonie, chartreuse, lavender. Their buses and trucks are brightly decorated too, with characters that remind me of illustrations from the kama sutra, tinsel and flower chains and wild sayings that express their owners' relationship with the road. Today I saw slogans as varied as "Road King" and "Live Longer with Friendship."

As an aside, there were also a whole lot of slogans about going the speed limit, which did not surprise me, given the crazy road conditions. Here, buses, trucks, motorcycles and scooters and the occasional automobile share road space with tractors, hand-drawn carts, laborers, fruit stands, people casually talking to their neighbors (in the road!) and animals. I even saw an unattended baby - definitely under two years old but already sitting up - at the very edge of a dirt path so close to being in the road that I almost asked the driver to stop the bus so I could scoot her back a few feet. If you've ever biked through a crowded college campus, miraculously managing to avoid collision with all the other bikers and pedestrians who change their trajectories on a whim, you have the feeling of the roads in Nepal, except now transfer that scene to narrow mountain dirt roads, complete with huge potholes and sheer drop-offs, add heavy equipment to the mix and you're there. I was assigned to seat number 4, thankfully in the bus's second row and not the first. The privilege of sitting in the front row went to a Japanese couple. Although they spoke no English, their near constant expressions of terror required no interpreter.

So, the only way to drive this has to be intuitively. There's no time to calculate. Right brained.

And for me, the only way to see the people of Nepal is intuitively, too.

So here's what I saw after shutting off my left brain. Color. Everywhere. I've mentioned the houses and the trucks, but what struck me with awe are the women's clothing. Regardless of their activities - working in the fields, washing at the river, lazing on a bale of straw with a friend chatting, hanging laundry - their clothes were made from brilliantly colored cloth. Clearly the Nepalese love color. Letting my left brain think about it now, perhaps color draws the eye away from misery, gives pleasure in spite of what else you may lack.

And I saw relationship. I saw mothers making noises at their babies, and plenty of men tending toddlers. I saw old men sitting with young men, reading or talking together. I saw teenage boys at games, often something played standing at a tall table the size of a card table. I will have to find out about that game. I saw people cooking and sharing food. People putting in a hard day's work, often working together, side by side. Doing anything from laying brick to hauling stone to cutting their fields to tending their animals or their store fronts. I boys and girls in blue pants or skirts and white shirts running around school yards, and later in the day, skipping home. And I saw plenty of modern stuff too, especially young people, on cell phones or with earphones in their ears, doing what young people do.

When I saw the Nepalese this way, I did not see poverty. I saw them laughing and playing and working and loving and ... well, living. And suddenly I realized that everything is relative. Of course, we do not want anyone to go without shelter or food or medical care. But that is not what defined the people I saw today.

I would not have missed this bus ride for the world.


I spent today getting settled in Pokhara. I thought I was settled yesterday but then discovered that my hotel - the Sampada Inn - only has internet while it has electricity. Same for hot water. Electricity is an illusive thing here in Po

khara. The shops are all dark all day, and any place that requires electricity either has a generator or uses good old fashioned fire. I can live without a bath, but I cannot work on my dissertation without internet.

Meanwhile, I could see on my wireless network indicator that hotels near mine had internet signals even when my hotel did not. Turns out some hotels have back-up systems. Sampada does too, but doesn't prefer to use it. So I hopped on and then over to check out the Vardan Resort just across the street. I am embarrassed to say I do not recall the name of the man at Vardan who greeted me, despite being told twice. It's a Napali name and my memory doesn't do well with odd syllabic combinations. Whatever his name, he's proven a huge help to me in a million ways already. This alone is worth the move.

My host showed me two rooms in a small duplex cottage near the office. They are virtually identical, except that one is at the end of the row and has two beds. The other has a king size bed. The rooms are quite a bit smaller than the Sampada Inn, but new and clean and, according to my host, built to reflect an actual Napali home inside with hand-made brick, natural materials for the ceiling, hand-woven cloth curtains with a fish motif for Lake Fewa, and hand carved wooden decorations around the windows. Pretty, if tiny. The bathrooms are interesting - big enough, but the shower is just a drain and a showerhead in the corner of the room. I predict everything in the bathroom gets wet when I use it. The price for the room is $45, inclusive of all fees, etc. That amounts to about $4 less than I paid for the room across the way. I took the room with two beds, even though there's less space to move around, because the light is so much better. It will be nice for work. I promised the gentleman I would be back around 1 p.m., after my meeting with my guide. He seemed excited to learn I would be staying nearly two weeks.

Later, when I returned, he encouraged me to see a third room. Of course! Who doesn't love choices? The third "room" was upstairs in the hotel building next door, part of the same resort. MUCH more than a room, it had a full kitchen, a sitting area, a balcony with a view of the Annapurna Range and a huge bathroom with a real shower in a large corner tub. This room normally goes for $120, he said, but "for me" he could do it for $60. Perhaps I should have popped for this - I mean $60 a night barely gets you a Motel 6 in Flagstaff in the off season. But I didn't. Sort of crazy but I wanted to be near the front office and not away from "the action," whatever that means. Frankly, I think I reacted to being alone in a strange country without the language. I didn't want to feel even more isolated than I already do. Anyway, I told him that the simple rooms near the office suited me.

I have been rewarded many times over for this decision. So far, my host has played Tom Sawyer to my Huck Finn, practically grabbing the knife from my hands to help me cut down a sim card to fit my iPhone, bringing me an English newspaper just because he thought I might like it, giving me a lengthy explanation of the caste system in Nepal (much different than India, the castes are more like ethnic groups, and get along well here), telling me about his family and the village in which he was born outside of Kathmandu (where they still own farm land) and arranging for tea when I returned from my long walk this afternoon. I liked the people at Sampada Inn very much, but nothing beats all this interaction.

I did feel guilty leaving the Sampada. The young people who were managing the hotel in the owner's absence are all truly beautiful, kind and friendly. When I hesitantly explained why I was leaving - not wanting to offend - Monu (the woman at the front desk) reassured me repeatedly that it really was alright - she understood i needed internet to do my work. Earlier in the morning, a young man cooked and served me breakfast including "aloo chat" which is a ball of spicy potato, onion and peppers. Absolutely delicious, I'd asked about it. I knew Monu truly wasn't upset at my leaving when she invited me to come on over any morning for breakfast if I felt like eating aloo chat again.

I also met my guide, Bikash Gurung, today. Gurung is not only his last name, but the name of his caste - which, by the way, was something I learned not from Bikash, but from my host. That's what launched us into the conversation about the Nepali caste system. The Gurung are Buddhist. Anyway, Bikash is not only a guide. Among other things, Bikash is that he has a heart of gold and a strong desire to help his people. He donates 10 percent of everything he makes to the school in his home village, and about two months ago, he organized a "medical camp" for his village that served two hundred people. Bikash, by the way, is not alone in his desire to help his people. Everywhere you go, you see references to various projects. Even the Vardan Resort has several such projects going, which you can check out on their website,

Although my trek won't start until December 1st or 2nd, Bikash invited me to go with him to his home village this Friday to watch a festival called "hunting honey," the honey harvest. The villagers will smoke the bees out before we arrive, he assured me. We can also dash into the school he helps after I mentioned bringing pencils for them. And believe it or not, he offered to introduce me to his family. This works out splendidly because the person I found to do the short trek with us (on - yes, there is a website for everything) needs to be back in Kathmandu on December 6th. By heading to Bikash's village on Friday, we can shave a day off the trek length later.

After meeting Bikash and settling into my room, I wandered around Pokhara until I got lost enough to worry. Pokhara is not as small as a foreigner who sticks to the main streets might assume. The main drag is full of stores and restaurants like you might find in a college town. But off the main drag, the community looks a lot like the pics I posted from my drive to Pokhara. It is messy, smelly, and it seems like most people live on the sidewalk or in tiny courtyards in front of their homes. They were doing everything from sewing on machines to washing clothes in front of their homes. Also, I finally encountered untended cows in the streets in large numbers. I saw a curious cow walk up to a woman shucking corn, and another one curled up like a sleeping baby near a motor cycle. Try backing over that. I saw a cute little shaggy baby buffalo (seriously, it looked like a buffalo) walking down the street by itself, and a couple of parental looking cows waiting patiently for a different calf to finish nibbling on something before all three of them proceeded down the street past me. I saw yaks grazing in backyards, chickens wandering around the stools of an outdoor cafe, and dogs, dogs, and more dogs. I saw, or rather heard first, thousands of crows in a tree in a park. I did not see a cat. I walked and walked until the roads turned up into the hills, and, despite the lure of the hike, the view, and the many homes dotting the hillside, I decided to turn back or risk being truly lost.

At one point, I found myself walking toward a ruckus of children's voices, and figured out that I was near a school. The gates of the school had the six pointed star I've seen all over Nepal. It looks exactly like the Jewish Star of David, but this time I was shocked to see that it had what looked like the tablets of the commandments inside. I have to figure out what that star stands for around here. I know there's a Chabad House here somewhere, and when I find it, I'll ask the rabbi. Chabad, for those of you who don't know, is a Hasidic Jewish sect that sends rabbis everywhere to serve whatever Jews happen to live in the community. In Kathmandu, the Chabad hosts Jewish trekkers, primarily from Israel, and is famous for hosting the largest seder in the world. Apparently, Passover happens at the height of trek season. Anyway, the gate to the school yard was open, although there was an old gentleman in a soldier's uniform guarding the entry. I greeted him and he seemed to have no objection to me watching the scores of kids all dressed in blue and white and running gleefully around the playground. I pointed at my camera and then at the school yard, and he waived me a few feet inside the gate where the vantage was better.

Just after I left the school, about a block up, I noticed many women, some with babies or small children, bunched up inside a doorway. As I approached, I heard the happy ring of female laughter, and singing voices. Inside a courtyard women of all ages watched two women play a long, shared drum from either end, and two or three more dancing. The dance included 360 degree twirling and body dips and arm motions reminiscent of belly dancing. The audience, elderly women sitting in chairs and younger women sitting on the ground, clapped and chanted for the dancers. They were clearly having a blast. I suppose I stood out as the only non-local, and I was quickly noticed even though I was hanging way at the back of the bunch at the gate. The women in the doorway pulled me up where I could see, and let me take more pictures. Young girls crowded around my camera to watch the little video of the dance that was simultaneously going on in front of us, and some of the moms urged their toddlers to say "namaste" to me. I don't know what this will sound like, but ... I was so tickled to be among these women. Not because they were dancing, but because they were women. And because I am a woman too, they accepted and included me despite my foreignness. It brought back a memory from Jody's birth. When the attending nurse handed me my baby for the first time, she welcomed me to the sisterhood of mothers everywhere. Today I felt something similar - sisterhood in Nepal. Afterward, I walked along the road with two of the other women who had been at the dancing, not really with them, but aware of them and they of me. When they turned up a hill, one of the women said, "Bye bye" and she and her baby waived at me.

Then I found myself in neighborhoods that I imagine rarely see westerners. I felt out of place, wondered whether I was invading private spaces. I hesitated to take photographs, fearing I might make the people feel like specimens somehow. I recalled lessons learned from my friend Raquel Gutierrez about treating people like study objects. But people met my eyes in the street and offered namastes, which is more than I can say for some walks I've taken around Philadelphia! A woman held a baby who said "Mama, mama" over and over, and she answered by repeating his name over and over. As I walked by her, I too said, "Mama, mama" and she grinned at me. Another woman sat on a wall with two children, both of whom she prodded to say "Namaste" to me, and was tickled when I wanted to take a picture of them. An older woman sitting in a grassy yard peeling onions or garlic shot me a wide grin and a cheery "Namaste" too. A man pushing a cart full of something I didn't recognize cast a greeting my way, as did a group of young teenage boys. I remember once landing in the Turkish port of Kusadasi, and climbing on a tourist bus. The Turkish guide proclaimed, "We really are glad you're here. We like everyone, Arabs and non-Arabs alike. Welcome, welcome." I know it was his job to say that, but I believed him. And I believe these Nepalis smiles, too.

Finally I found myself walking parallel to Lake Fewa. If I squint and pretend like the cows aren't in the road, it almost looks like any fishing town in the Ozarks. Although, along with the boats and little food shacks, I could also see the World Peace Pagoda. I hope to hike up to it soon.

Eventually, I wound my way back to the main street. I've decided, after seeing women in these beautiful garments, to find myself such an outfit. Surreptitiously I've been soaking in information about cut and fabric. The jewel tones do something for my soul. So I began my search for the perfect ensemble as I wove through the little shops. Unfortunately, nothing I saw matched my expectations. The cloth for sale in the tourist shops is not the rich-hued, soft fabric worn by the local women. Then, as I walked by a trekking store, I noticed what the sales woman was wearing. The material looked like silk or rayon, and was beautifully embroidered. I spontaneously remarked on her clothes and lo and behold, she asked if I wanted one! This is not something they sell in her store, but we agreed to meet tomorrow so she can take my measurements. She said she will go to the woman who made hers and find me something to fit. Her name is Gita and I took her card so I don't "lose" her store among the many, many identical trek shops here. I'm so excited. I predict this will be the only thing I bring back for myself.

I will say, on a down note, that the air here in Pokhara is barely better than Kathmandu. The air makes my throat hurt and my nose run. In spots it smells like petrol and rotting garbage and burning rubber. PEE-YEW. I still haven't found a place to buy the face mask that so many locals wear, but I took out the fleece neck gaiter i bought to stay warm on the trek and pulled it up over my nose. I will look for a shop selling perfumed oils and put a few drops on the gaiter for good measure.

Right now, I'm settled into my room. I am not hungry for some reason, so I don't know if I will go in search of food or blow it off. The electricity goes off at 10 pm, so I might try to research the sites I want to see, and then turn in early. Thankfully, this room, unlike the one at Sampada Inn, has extra blankets. None of these rooms have heaters.

Tomorrow I will see Gita, walk around Lake Fewa, take the ferry over to see the Bahari Temple on an island in the middle, and then, after a bite of lunch, actually start my dissertation again. Yay!

Today I decided I had to be brave and shop. I left my shampoo in the tub in Kathmandu. I left my razor in Phoenix and Tony took his with him - not that he needs it on the trail. I need a small duffle bag for my upcoming trek, and I wanted a shoulder sling for my water bottle so I don't have to take my pack everywhere. I also wanted to get fitted for the beautiful Napali garments. 

I know I am expected to bargain here. Today I did a bit of bargaining, and made decisions not to in other cases. I don't know exactly what the margins are here, but I had at least one opportunity to test them.

My first stop was a shop that looked to be a cross between a grocer's and a drug store. The young man behind the counter pointed me toward the shampoo, and I selected a small bottle costing 115 rupees or $1.40. The travel bottles at CVS are generally somewhere between 99 cents and $1.25 and this one is about three times that size. I hunted around for the razors for quite awhile. For some odd reason, modesty pops it's head in strange places. I could not bring myself to ask the young man to direct me to the razors. I eventually discovered them on an end cap.

By the time I was ready to pay, the clerk had snoozed off and I had to wake him up. I said, "Rise and shine~" in that lilty voices that mothers use. I don't know whether he understood the English, but he did understand the melody, and laughed. I did not try to bargain down the cost of my toiletries.

Next, the water sling. I'd seen the water slings hanging in doorways the previous day, stitched out of sturdy locally hand-woven cloth. The rows of open stalls along the street remind me of the shuks in Israel or the markets in Nogales. If you so much as glance at a shop's merchandise - and sometimes even if you don't - you are the victim of an urgent attempt to engage you in conversation about the goods before you can slide all the way past the stall. I haven't gotten used to this approach. I recalled one woman's comments about Nepal on I don't know if she was American, but she felt so much pressure - from shopkeepers hawking wares, restaurateurs pushing food, hotel manager trying to sell all manner of tourist opportunities - that it ruined her trip. Today it was all further complicated by something I read on the web suggesting that saying "I don't know" and "No" were more or less an insult in Nepal. Instead, one should say, "perhaps I can look that up," or "Thank you." How "Thank you" translates into "No" is beyond my American mind. To me, that translates directly into "Yes."

I finally saw a shop with slings hanging out front, and before I could count to three, my helpful sales person had pulled down a rainbow-colored sling and was showing me how to shorten it up. I paid him the 250 rupees he asked without fuss because $3 seemed imminently reasonable. What can I say? Later in the day, when I was negotiating for small trinkets for my girls from women selling these things on the beach, and in other parts of Pokhara where there were very few non-Asian tourists, I realized that the stores on the main drag can command much more for their wares simply because they feel more or less like western storefronts and we westerners therefore treat the prices the way we would at home.

Then I spotted an upstairs shop claiming to be a women's collective. There were several of these along the road, and I'd dashed into each, to learn what women are doing to help themselves. So far, only one of these shops felt authentic to me. The rest were full of stuff that looked like it had been manufactured in a factory somewhere. But this shop was upstairs, and something about its display window felt like a craft collective, so up I went. Two preteen girls were sitting near the window reading books and chatting. There did not seem to be an adult in the store. The shop walls were lined with purses and scarves and pictures of individual women working on looms or sewing machines, with their names and region. The prices were high compared to the stalls, and I walked around seeing nothing that I actually wanted to own. Then I spotted vials of essential oils. I believe I mentioned that the roads in Pokhara can stink to high heaven, and so I began sniffing my way through all the vials, looking for a scent I could take in large doses. I noticed that most of these jars were marked 600 rupees, a couple 375, but the remainder had no price at all. That discrepancy gave me the courage I needed to strike my first bargain. Anyone who understands the psychology of that courage ought to offer up an explanation. I personally don't get it. But at any rate, after I picked up two viles and carried them away from the shelf where I found them, two women instantly appeared to take my money. I asked "How much do these cost? They all say different things or nothing." She plucked the two jars off the glass counter top where I'd set them in front of her and went over to figure it out. Something welled up inside me and I blurted out, "I'll give you 700 for both of them." She didn't hesitate. I handed over my money, turned down her offer of a bag, and wished her a good day.

Now, some may say that I got a swell bargain, since some of the jars were priced at 600 rupees. And others may say I really didn't bargain hard enough, since perhaps they were only worth 375 at most, and I saved only 50 rupies total (60 cents). But to my mind, i precluded the discussion about 600 rupees altogether, and got two nice bottles of smelly stuff for just over $4. Works for me. What I remember from my used car selling days is that if everyone goes away happy, the deal was good. No point in second guessing. By the way, the two scents are jasmine and something called Passion that smells decidedly lilac to me.

Then I was off to find Gita, who promised to bring ready made garments similar to her own. I ferreted her store from among the dozens of trek shops and entered. Without electricity, the experience is one of being in a narrow black tunnel, lined with vaguely visible fake North Face and other gear. I had to walk all the way to the dark, dark back before I was willing to accept that she wasn't there. As I turned to walk out, however, I saw her darting across the street toward me. Yay!

She motioned me to follow her back into the tunnel, and at the back she found a plastic bag. She removed the contents, but I didn't get a good look until we moved to the store front, where light streamed in from outside. Only then did I see that the garments were vibrant Christmas shades of red and green, studded with gaudy fake rhinestones - nothing like her beautifully embroidered clothing. My face must have fallen. I explained that I am Jewish and I cannot wear red and green together. Her English is pretty good, but she repeated "Jewish" with a question mark look to her face. I said "Hindu" "Buddhist" "Christian" and then pointed at myself and said "Jewish." And then I put up my fingers in a peace symbol and wiggled one finger and said, "Red," and the other finger and said, "Green" and said, pulling my fingers shut, "Jewish people cannot wear red and green together." Later when she repeated this to the woman next door - although I get ahead of myself - I realized she did understand what I was saying.

So, both of us defeated, I asked her where she got her clothes. She made a fast decision to leave her store untended and took me a couple of doors down to a fabric shop. She explained in rapid Nepali what I wanted. The walls were lined with brilliant bolts of material but the woman in the shop pulled me over to large piles of plastic bags with pre-cut material. I selected one for its color combination, and they opened it. In it were three coordinated pieces of fabric, a beautifully embroidered piece for the top, a simpler piece for the trousers and a matching silk scarf. They tucked the pieces around my neck and led me to a mirror. I realized they would have to cut and stitch the garments for me, and that seemed like it might be expensive, so I inquired into the price. 4500 rupees, or $52. Now, it turns out that several of the guys in the Love, Hope, Strength group found a tailor near the hotel in Kathmandu and were having suits hand-made at incredible prices. Trekker Meghan Buchanan also arranged to have, as she called it, "a lady suit" made for herself. Meghan told me it was only costing her $105 or so. That $105 put everything into perspective for me. I have no idea how much the fabric was worth, as beautiful as it was, but to me, the fact that this man was promising to sew these garments for me by tomorrow seemed well worth $52. I did not bargain. Perhaps they thought poorly of me for that. I will never know.

At any rate, the tailor took many measurements. When they asked me how long I wanted the hem of the shirt, I said, "Like Gita's." When they asked whether I wanted short sleeves, below the elbow or to the wrist, Gita pulled her shawl away to show me her three-quarter length sleeve, and I said, "Like Gita's." The neckline? You guessed it. "Like Gita's." When they finished, we haggled not over price, but over whether they would take a VISA card. We settled on a down payment of 2000 rupees and 2500 more by VISA tomorrow. Then I went back to Gita's store and bought a really ugly but perfectly sized North Fake duffle from her for my trek. I didn't haggle over that, either, but mostly because I felt I owed her something for helping me find the beautiful garments I really wanted. And then we talked for a few minutes about my trip, and I asked her if I could buy her tea sometime to thank her for her help. She seemed somewhat confused by what I was suggesting, but we agreed that she would see me tomorrow when I come back for my own "lady suit." Can you believe this? I'm so entirely tickled.

My final destination along the street of shops was the Chabad House, which was supposed to be across from the Tropikana Hotel. I had this idea to ask whether there would be a communal lighting of the menorah on the first night of Chanukah. If it's still in that spot, it is well hidden. I asked the shop keepers in every store across from the hotel. To a person, they had no idea what I was talking about. Fail.

The rest of the day felt so touristy. I took the walk path along the lake, where there is a beach feel, complete with hotels, bars and cabanas and lots of people having umbrella cocktails at noon, even though it is definitely too cold to slip into the water. The area felt festive and was full of Americans, and for a brief minute I craved something recognizable and considered moving myself post-trek to the beach. But my hotel host is so wonderful, and really, how much beach scene can this girl take?

It was also along the lake where I encountered a Tibetan woman in modern dress, who approached and my nationality. She asked about my trip, and then said she is Tibetan, and had jewelry to sell from her village. I said I would look at it. By the time she finished, I'd picked out a necklace for Jody Bivens that the woman said was one of the few things she had that she'd made herself, and earrings for Lisa Rose McClintock and myself. I also chose two ankle bracelets made of wood because they have the Tibetan symbols for peace and so forth on them. For all of that, she asked for 2300 rupees. Because I'd just agreed to pay not quite double that for a suit of clothes that made me feel like a princess, that seemed high to me and put me in bargaining mode again. So, I offered her 1900 for it, and again she took it without flinching. Probably I've been fleeced in Nepali terms, even though basically I got five pieces of jewelry for about $22, and that's hard for an American to argue with. I also got a lot of information about the two Tibetan refugee settlements near Pokhara and directions to one that is a 45 minute walk behind the World Peace Pagoda. Her own village is the farther one, and that would be about a 45 minute cab ride. She said I could get there by bus, but should not try, because it requires two changes of bus, and without the language I would never figure it out. Her English was excellent and I asked where she learned it. She said she learned English in school, and from tourists, but never made it beyond high school. She said she had to quit to care for her parents, as she is the oldest. That led us into a discussion about our respective parents, her village, and more. I'd say I got my $22 worth.

Down the lake, another Tibetan woman approached me. Out of curiosity - to see whether, in fact, the first woman had actually made her jewelry as she said, I again agreed to look. I didn't really love what I saw this time, but there was a pair of earrings that I liked "well enough." A good opportunity to test the limits of the bargain. I asked what she wanted for them. 500 rupees. I reached into a pocket where I had stored change from a previous purchase, knowing it wasn't 500 rupees. I pulled out 195 rupees bill by bill till my pocket was empty, and told her this was all I had to spend. When she was truly convinced that I would not pull out more, she put the earrings away, and I knew then that less than half would not fly. It was a good learning experience.

I took a crowded and wobbly row boat to Bahari Temple, on a tiny island so close to the lake that one could probably swim it. I've been told that the locals take their animals for sacrifice there on weekends, but today there were just a few Hindu tourists who removed shoes, waived some burning incense and said a prayer, then left a donation. I thought about praying there too. Any place is a good place to pray, in my mind. But I decided it would be too weird, too much like a Jewish girl faking communion, too disloyal to my own tradition and maybe even too disrespectful to theirs. Instead, I said the b'racha thanking God for making me a Jew and got into a boat to return.

As I walked away from the dock, I was still intending to find the World Peace Pagoda, but I again got irretrievably lost. I shared part of my lost walk with a Nepali management student who grew up in a village not far from Kathmandu and was very curious about me and my thoughts on Nepal. After we parted ways, I walked past the school yard I'd seen the day before and was thus able to find myself on the map and direct myself home, down some pretty funky alleyways. Along the way, I passed a hand-painted sign scrawled in Hebrew that said Beit Chabad and had an arrow. I chased it around the corner but could find nothing at all. I was nowhere near the Tropikana Hotel. On another note, I've continued to ask permission to photograph people, and today I was turned down twice - once by a woman working on her sewing machine and the second time by a solder guarding some sort of installation. I was disappointed, considered taking the photos from a distance using my zoom lens, but then decided to respect their wishes even if they would never know.

I'm back in my hotel now, as you probably know. There is no electricity, but I've been assured that there is now hot water. I've set my computer into eco mode to conserve the battery, and am learning to be grateful for what I have - whatever that is. I've pulled out my dissertation materials and organized myself toward that end. When I finish this, I will find food and then work a little on my lit review revisions. Tomorrow is the honey hunting festival in That (soft "th"), and I'm completely jazzed. It's 5:25 in the morning back home in Phoenix, and my friends are probably still snug in their beds. This trip - both the exposure to the lifestyle and the isolation of being closed off from what everyone around me is saying by the language - makes me appreciate my own home so much. I know that the rest of the Love, Hope, Strength folks are having an amazing experience too, but they have each other to share the experience. This aloneness is probably really good for me... but I find I am really glad to have this facebook outlet.

I'm sitting in a small, comfortable wicker chair with a cushion covered in locally-spun fabric, on my cottage's little veranda, which I share with potted flowers and other tropical plants, drinking what's left of the warm masala tea, wishing for another small pot.  I can ask for one, but that would require moving, and I'm so content for the moment to just sit.

It's already been an interesting morning.  I was awakened before dawn by something that sounded like long, low wailing of an instrument, attended by wild horn honking. I will have to ask my host what that might have been. I fell back to sleep, and came to again as the sun rose, never too bright thanks to the haze of fuel pollution and the fog on the mountains, so that it is impossible to tell the time from the sun like I can in Phoenix.

The first thing was to double-check the route to the World Peace Pagoda, and the walk from the Pagoda to the Tibetan refugee camp nearby. Unfortunately, my erstwhile 24/7 internet was out. No worries. I checked the erstwhile 24/7 hot water, and for the first time, it was actually hot at the same time I am in the room. This is a miracle. It has been since Kathmandu that I had a real shower.Meghan Buchanan will laugh to find out that I needed the wet wipes in Pokhara more than they needed them on the mountain road to Everest Base Camp. Thankfully, I am "American clean" now! And by the time I was showered, the internet was back up.

Barefoot and wet-hair'd, I traipsed down to find my host to let him know I am ready for tea and breakfast. Funny, I was kind of worried about whether wet hair is immodest here, but he did not notice at all. What he did notice was my bare feet. That I did not expect, since everyone here takes their shoes off to go into a building. I wonder if going bare feet outside signifies something here, or he was just thinking I might be chilly. No worries. I put on socks back in the room and looked up the Pagoda trails.

On the way back to my room I accidentally entered the door to the other side of my duplex cottage - and caught my neighbor in full undress. She shreaked. I shreaked, apologized and backed out hurriedly. At least she is a she. Later when she left for breakfast, she said, "Hello again" with a smile. I encouraged her to walk in my door unannounced any time, if she felt the need to get back at me. She's with a group of English speakers from somewhere on the European side of the globe, and by their clothes, they look like trekkers. If they are here longer than one night, I may try to get to know them, to see if there is any interest in hiking together a bit...

Now, off to finish my tea, get my trek permit, and get on the road to the World Peace Pagoda.


A glorious day today.

First a pay it forward story.  The hotel owner stopped by to see if I am happy.  During our chat, he mentioned his father, a brilliant man and a priest who had the ear of the King of Nepal in his day.  The government distributed money through his father, who gave it to the needy through an assortment of programs, bringing very little salary home for himself.  Then, at 42, his father died an unexpected death, leaving his family rather destitute.  At some point soon thereafter, the owner was introduced to a German man who had known his father.  This German became godfather to the owner and his brother, and sponsored them all the way through college.  Now, the owner brings orphaned children from the villages in Nepal to Kathmandu, where he, as he put it, cleans them up and teaches them manners and how to brush their teeth.  Then he enrolls them in a good school and sponsors them as far as they want to go.  He says that the resort I'm staying at basically pays for much of this work.  Wow.  I mean, really really wow.  He invited me to come to the office to see the pictures of "his children." 

After he left, I was accidentally locked into my cottage by the manager!  He stopped by with a plumber to check my bathroom for some reason, and then on his way out, he engaged a little wooden latch that keeps the screen from swinging, unbeknownst to me.  Probably just habit.  This is the second time since arriving in Nepal I felt like I'd awakened into a bad slapstick shtick.  First, the elevator at the Yak & Yeti in Kathmandu captured and refused to free me.  Way around the corner from the lobby, being heard is a long shot.  Likewise, my cottage is the farthest from the office, and so in the first case I banged the alarm over and over until someone finally passed by, and today I yelled idiotic things like "Hey, anyone out there>??" and "Help! help!" I really needed a better script writer.

Once freed, I was off to the Ambot Boat Dock, quite a ways down the shore from the Bahari dock where I caught the boat to the Temple yesterday.  Later, it turned out that the trail head to the World Peace Pagoda is directly across the lake from the Bahari dock.  I think the map directs tourists to the other dock just because the Bahari boats are so darn busy.

So, I walked out of the cottage without my water sling, and it's darn hard to reach around behind the back pack and wrestle the bottle out while hiking.   I decided to buy a second sling.  250 rupees, what the heck, right?  Along the way to the dock, I located a sling, but without a buckle for shortening the strap.   The shop proprietor offered to cut the fabric and shorten it on one of their sewing machines.  One of the fellows doing machine embroidery stopped what he was doing to stitch the sling, managing to break three slender machine needles on the thick fabric in the process.  That gave us a chance to talk. When he discovered I was from America, he wanted to know whether I voted for Obama or Romney.  He'd only met one American who voted for Romney.  He thinks Obama is "an OK guy," but noted he was taking a "wait and see" approach.  He was hard to disagree with!  We talked about how Romney and Obama may be different, but it's difficult to change laws and institutions, and no matter who won, the winner would have a tough time.

After the third needle broke, I offered to fix it myself if someone would find me a needle and thread.  The proprietor seemed surprised that I could sew.  I assured him that I can, and offered up that my grandmother was a tailor.  Not that I inherited the skill by osmosis or anything. But I can sew.

I left the shop with my political fix, my new, shorter water sling and a gauzy white scarf around my neck, printed with red ink in a Tibetan prayer flag motif.  No, I was not looking for a scarf. But how many times have you dropped off a prescription and waited for it without picking up a half dozen other items?

Across the street from the shop and next to a police installation, a large park hosted a big map.  I hoped it would say, "You are here" (it didn't).  Behind the sign was Lake Fewa, and a little walkway down to a doc with a Hindu shrine on it.  A round-faced elderly woman, dressed in a black sweater over a purple Indian-style dress leaned over the rail.  Her hair was pulled back into a bun that peaked out from a gray scarf.  I hadn't been looking at the map for more than 30 seconds before she asked me where I was from.  And told me she was from Tibet, lives in the settlement near the Peace Pagoda, and walks two hours every day to get to Pokhara.  I knew what was coming!  Reflexively I asked her why she did not take a bus from the settlement, and she said that it was too much money to take a bus every day, but the walking is good for her. Except her back hurts. 

The sales approach of these Tibetan women is really good. They start by acting interested in you, then launch into their own life story.  Soon it feels like you know them a little.  It's really hard to say "no" to someone once you have empathy for their situation. This woman's story: She was two when her mother fled China with babies in tow. She herself does not remember China or the escape, but her mother said they had no food to eat most of the way. She said life is hard for the Tibetans in Nepal because China pressures the Nepali government in regard to the the Tibetans. She spoke, too, of her love for the Dali Llama.

I knew as I listened that I would buy her jewelry, whether I liked it or not. What a hard life for this grandmother, walking in from the settlement every day, making her spiel to strangers day in and day out. I picked out four bracelets that were more or less identical and a locket that I had no intention of buying. She asked for 2700 rupees, of which the locket was 1000.  Using Nanette Kroupa's bargaining techniques, I haggled until I knew exactly what she was willing to part with them for, and then declared that I did not want the locket and would give her 1500 rupees for the bracelets. This was a smoking deal for her because it was only 200 rupees less than the 1700 she originally asked for the bracelets - though through watchful negotiation I learned she would have parted with them for about 1000. She looked at me like she'd pulled off the world's biggest heist. I wanted to laugh, but I just handed over the gelt and got out of there with my bracelets.  By the way, all these women, no matter the time of day, tell you, "Good price.  You my first sale. First sale good luck."  Later in the evening, I would walk by this woman again, sitting on a bench with a blond-haired tourist, showing her wares, telling her story, saying, "First sale good luck." 

By the way, I was interested enough in her tales of Napali persecution of the Tibetans to google it. The people here are so kind that I did not want to believe, but it's apparently true. Check this link for the whole story.

From there I took a dirt path down the side of the police station to the dock.  Unlike Baharai dock, where throngs of tourists jostled to be first into the boats, I was the sole tourist at Ambot.  Four or five guys sat on benches or in their boats looking pretty bored.  One - tall, skinny, dark-skinned, wearing a red shirt and wild black hair - got out of a boat - his "up" as we used to say in the used car business. He Namaste'd me. Did I want to rent a boat? I asked whether this is the place to get a ride to the World Peace Pagoda trail head. Yes. He let me know it's about a 45 minute boat ride to the trail head, maybe an hour or more to climb and walk around, 20 minutes or so to come down, another 45 minutes back to the dock. In other words, at least three hours, for which he wanted 700 rupees or $2.66 an hour. I could have bargained, but I did not. I wanted him there at the trail head when I got down.

His name is Jhap, the "p" pronounced softly, almost an "m," instead of with the hard pop of an American "p." Jhap gets to the boat dock at 7 a.m. every morning. During high season, he makes four trips across the lake a day.  If they are all round trips, it's a $32 dollar day. During low season, maybe only one - an $8 day.  I did not ask him how much of that he has to turn over to the boating company.  During the 45 minutes across the lake, Jhap pointed out to me the different villages on the hills, the four highest Annapurna Range peaks visible when the clouds move off, the King's Palace, now an armory (yes, they still have a king who is important in the same way that England's queen is important).  We talked of America, the Arizona desert, his village. His English is astonishing. He taught me a few Nepalese words. Words for things we saw - water, poinsettas, boats - and simple phrases like "thank you" and "how are you?" I've forgotten all of them already, except "Rumrun" means "I'm ok" or "Everything's good." Na rumrun means the opposite.  Only reason I remember that one:  he would ask me "Rumrun?" a dozen or more times up the steep path to the Pagoda, each time I stopped to catch my breath.

When we got to the trail head he offered to walk up with me. On the way, Jhap pointed out baby buffalo, an owl (oluu in Napali), gardens of garlic and onion, terraced farms, rice sheave huts, a huge wild poinsetta. He explained the Hindu religion to me, told me which God was being worshiped in each of the shrines we passed along the way, and let me in on which of the gods "that is really only part of the One God" he favored. He wanted to know about my religion, so we talked about Judaism for a few minutes. He knew that Israelis are "Jewiz." He had never met an American Jew. We spoke of the similarities and differences in our faiths.  He mentioned all the Christian "advertising" in Nepal. 

He also told me about his family. Jhap is not a kid. He looked late 30s or early 40s. He is Hindu, from a village two days' walk into the mountains. He has an older brother and sister. His sister married a Muslim, converted, and moved to Calcutta. He took a long, difficult bus ride to see her once since.  His parents are still upset, both that their only daughter is so far away, and that she has become a Muslim. Jhap officially lives with his family, but stays with friends in Pokhara so that he can find work. He has never married because it is expensive to marry. He would still like to, though.

Jhap was not my "guide" and he wasn't being paid for anything other than rowing me across the lake. Yet, he was attentive and kind and patient when I needed to stop for breath.

The Pagoda, as we emerged from the forest, rose before us in all its white marbled majesty. Steep white steps led up to the Pagoda, but the sheer beauty of the structure drew me in and up as if by flight. Four gold statues were set into the structure at intervals around its circumference. Plaques in English and Napali described the sculptural representations. I was, to put it mildly, blown away. 

Below and just behind the Pagoda is the Tibetan settlement I was told about the day before. I thought of the old woman, walking all the way from the settlement into town each day. I wondered how they could live in the shadow of this amazing testament to world peace, and yet be persecuted. Of course, it's only marginally different than the way Arizona has been treating our Latino friends.

The downhill trek was stony but fast. At the bottom a concession sells ice cream.  I asked Jhap if I could buy him one and he readily accepted.  Crossing back, Jhap took his time, rowing in close to the jungled shore, where he pulled leaves off a wild lime for me to smell, and where we spotted turquoise birds he said are kingfishers, a dusky blue bird with a red head that neither of us recognized, and an entire family of monkeys playing at the water's edge. I captured as much of this as I could on my camera, but eventually put the camera down to "see" this with my own eyes. He also pointed out the path up to the hill town of Sarangkot, across the lake.  I'd thought about hiking it - supposedly three hours up and maybe two back - but I have a pretty good cold, making today's hike was so difficult, I was no longer sure. He suggested that I take a taxi to a small village, visible on the mountain saddle, a 25 minute walk below Sarangkot, and basically walk down. What a great idea! Did I want him to go with me on this walk? It would be safer. YES! I told him it might not be for a few days, but I would find him at the boat dock when I am ready. He was enthusiastic.

When we got out of the boat, I really wanted to give him enough to make a dowry. I have no idea how much that would be. But I restrained myself, fished out 2000 rupees and pressed them into his hand. I don't know what he expected over and above the 700 he'd asked for, but I will take him up on his offer to go with me up the mountain, and try to be more generous then.

On my way home, I wandered into a store selling the most incredible scarves I have ever seen. Really, calling them scarves does not do them justice. They are works of art. They are made by a women's collective in villages outside Pokhara, and I will just have to photograph them and post. The decision about which pieces to buy was impossible, so I asked the store owner whether I could put it on a VISA ("yes") and popped for about six of them. Daughters, mother, sister-in-law, you are in luck! The proprietor is a Muslim from Kasmir, but he's lived in Pokhara for 15 years. He proudly told me that he recently returned to Kasmir to get married, and brought his wife back with him. She walked in the door just as we were wrapping up and they were so obviously affectionate newly weds. He gave me his card, and asked me to keep in touch. Of course, why not? Who wouldn't want to stay in touch with a customer who walked in and talked herself into six pieces?

My next to last stop was the tailor's to try on my cool new Nepalese garments, unfortunately on the complete opposite side of town from the boat dock, and past the turn-off to my cottage. Gita was in the street in front of her store, and when she saw me, she came down too. I was sent to the back room, where there was a bed and bolt upon bolt of cloth, to try on. The top was difficult to get into. I worried about ripping it, and it pulled under the arms. However, both the tailor and his wife kept saying it fit perfectly. But guess what? Gita objected in rapid fire Nepalese, and the next thing you know, they agreed to fix it. Go Gita! I sat down to wait while they let out the seams, and the tailor's wife sat down next to me. I off-handedly said that the Nepali women were so much more colorful than American women. She gave me a lesson in dressing. She pointed out that about half their fabrics were in shades of red, and said "Red after you marry." She was wearing red everywhere. Red garments, red bracelets, red dot on her forehead, red beads around her neck. I asked if Gita was married, since she was not wearing red. Oh yes. Check the red dot on Gita's forehead. Since I'm not married, I'm glad I did not choose red.

I offered them $30 instead of my VISA. That technically gave them a few more rupees than they'd asked for and saved them the 3.75% I'd learned VISA charged these merchants.  So, after fiddling around with the calculator, they happily took it. Also, handing them $30 felt so much less expensive than handing them 2500 rupees. 30. 2500. After awhile you just forget that 2500 rupees is really only about $28.

I trotted down to Gita's shop and thanked her profusely. I expressed my desire to do something for her to show her my gratitude. She laughed and said that my gratitude itself was enough. There were a couple of little kids hanging around and I asked her whether one was hers. She ruffled the hair of a little girl to my right, maybe seven years old, who promptly said, "Namaste!" and dipped down. I asked her whether I could take her picture with her mommy, and immortalized my friendship with Gita on film. I promised I'd stop back in after my trek, and she wished me well.

Evening had fully fallen as I let myself out Gita's shop, and for the first time all day, generators went on and light spilled from shops onto the sidewalk.  Before I could begin to walk, elderly woman, reaching not higher than my shoulder and carrying a cone shaped baskets on her back, her wrinkles deepened by the harsh glare of store lights, intentionally blocked my path.  By now, I knew there was something she could sell in that basket, so I peaked over her shoulder and saw green-orange tangerines.  She swung the basket down to the ground in front of me and asked if I would like to buy some.  Ok, grandmother, I thought.  "I'll take two."  She countered, "A kilo?"  I have no idea how many tangerines in a kilo.  "Just two."  "How much?"  70 for four.  Ok, four.  She plopped them into the bag with the scarves.  I dipped into my pocket, and found that I had a 5, a 20 and a 100 rupee note there.  I handed her the 100 note.  Instead of making change, she plucked two more tangerines out of her basket and handed them to me.  "6 for 100," she said.  I smiled and said, "Ok."  At that moment, I noticed Gita's daughter watching the exchange and turned to her.  "Would you like a piece of fruit?"  Her eyes lit up, I tossed her a tangerine and a goodbye, and took off down the street.

So tired I knew I'd never come back out for dinner, I stopped into the first place with a good Napali vegetarian menu. They had a back patio with a fire, but I opted for an upstairs terrace overlooking the street. I ordered a Napali Vegetarian "set," which is like ordering the sample plate at a Greek restaurant, and a glass of the house wine, Chilean. Chile seems to be the go-to country for wine in Nepal. While I was waiting to order, two U.N. vehicles made their way down the street below me. Seeing a U.N. presence over and again since I got to Nepal, I now wondered whether they were in country to deal with the Tibetan problem.

Killing time waiting for my food, I idly flipped through the pictures on my camera, and burst into tears.  I am clearly here to experience the people of Nepal and not the mountains, as majestic and awe-inspiring as they may be.

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