Turning Nepalese

Gathering Firewood

I have been in Nepal for a while now. I can feel my English habits and expectations slipping away and being replaced by new, more reserved, more, well, Nepalese, counterparts.

It’s little things. I find myself lowering my eyes away from Western women in vest tops as though this is shameful attire (it’s considered underwear here); I can’t hand money over without holding my elbow with the other hand; and I automatically put my hands into the prayer position to say ‘thank you’ or ‘sorry’.

And I’m slowing down. I no longer expect internet access to work first time. Or second time. Or at all. Electricity is a bonus.

I look forward to my daily portion of lentils and rice, I balk at paying tourist prices in restaurants, preferring to eat lunch each day from the same street vendor for 50NPR (about 30p, although I do realise she is still charging me a tourist price, it’s 20NPR for locals)! It’s an interesting dish, a mish-mash of pulses, dried noodles and boiled potatoes flavoured with chillie, coriander, fish sauce and various other yet-to-be-identified spices; served on a sheet of newspaper with a little homemade cardboard spoon. Delicious.

Chat Woman

I’m even picking up the body language, Ferg asked me if I wanted to order anything off a menu and I responded by wobbling my head from side the side, the definitive Nepalese gesture, which I seems to mean anything from “OK” to, “Whatever”, to “I might have understood you or I might not.”

Anyway, got to go, I’m off to go and fetch some firewood in a bamboo backpack and carry some water on my head. Or maybe there’s still a bit of English left in me yet.

The Hospital

By Evie

Unloading Scarlett from the Helicopter

After an unexpected, bumpy helicopter ride we arrived in hospital and waited. What was wrong?

When we arrived, Tettie was taken to a private room in the hospital called the Emergency Department. Only Mummy and the nurses were allowed in. Next moment, a Tettie on a stretcher came past! Amazing news ­– her leg was broken!

Soon after, we were in the room, the room Tettie lay in for 8 days. The room was comfortable, had enough beds and ,most importantly of all, there was space for me and Mima to play. Of course, we didn’t like Kathmandu particularly, however we couldn’t help liking our cozy room.

Tettie got a moving bed. I was so jealous!

Scarlett in Her Hospital bed

We went to the zoo twice. We saw 2 tigers and a leopard and lots of deer and 8 bears and 4 monkeys and 5 buffaloes and lots of fish (including piranhas) and even a few guinea pigs!

Another day we went shopping for animal carvings in Thamel and Mima got a tiny gold tiger. Later, however, she  said she wanted a golden deer that she had wanted for ages (more than 2 weeks!) I found a pegasus which was too much money (2000 rupees). A really sad day for me. Daddy says I can get it if I still want it after our 3 week trip to Chitwan though.

Thamel Souvenir Stall

Spending a week in hospital was a bit much although the food was tasty and the beds were comfortable. I was sorry for Tettie because she couldn’t do these many things, just lie and wait. I guess she enjoyed night more than day! Poor young Tettie Wettie Woo Woo, falling from so high.

A Heroic Helicopter Ride

By Jemima

A helicopter came down to meet us as we waited with a girl who couldn’t walk at all!

Waiting for Helicopter Evacuation

It looked like it was snowing as bits and bobs of wood shavings flew up in the air and came down again with the force of the helicopter. Tettie was almost blown off her chair and Evie was pushed into Daddy by the force. We were all loaded into the helicopter…

I sat in the back next to Tettie and Evie. Evie sat next to me and Mummy. Tettie sat next to the other window and me. Mummy sat next to the other window and Evie. Daddy sat next to the pilot and the other window. And the pilot sat next to Daddy and the other (last) window.

Scarlett Onboard the Helicopter

The pilot was very good at steering. We set off for Pokhara, or so we thought.

As we flew we saw sky all around but mountains all below. We took many photos of the mountains. Basically, we flew over the top of nit noy (the Thai word for tiny) Nepal. Mountains plodded past us as we moved slowly along. There were lots of mountains with snow on. The snow was brilliant and beautiful and impressive! Great steps of field rose up and up and disappeared over the mountains. Little toylike houses moved past so slowly it looked like the helicopter was staying still and they were being pushed but they were so heavy the process was slow. Big, fluffy clouds pressed on either side but we never passed right next to or through one.

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It was the first helicopter ride we had ever had and it was really exciting. Me and Daddy and Evie might not have got to go on the helicopter but we did. If the helicopter had not come at all then we would have had to carry Tettie to the road where we would go to Pokhara in a car.

When we arrived in Pokhara, we landed on the roof of the hospital and realized we were in…

Kathmandu!

How a Pizza Broke My Leg

by Scarlett

I never realized what would happen when I ate that pizza…

Suspension Bridge on Annapurna Base Camp Trek

First we went down and flat. But that was only the first part of the day’s trek. Then we crossed a suspension bridge and went up. We were climbing steps forever or so it seemed. Sometimes the steps were little, sometimes the steps were big. Sometimes the steps were smooth, sometimes the steps were bumpy. Sometimes the steps were thin, sometimes the steps were fat. But always the steps went up!

When at last the steps came to a halt at the top of the hill, we had veggie curry and rice each (normally we get three and share). After lunch we climbed again the neverending steps up to our destination, Chommrong!

We were very hungry from all this walking and had three pizzas for tea instead of the usual dhal bhat. Of course, we shared and laughed together, playing pontoon, writing diaries and Mummy and Daddy reading Harry Potter to us. It was most comfortable in that little dining room with civilization all around us.

Then the pizza came and it was delicious. The rich taste stayed in your tummy for a long time after you ate it. Then we climbed yet more steps to bed feeling satisfied, unlocked the door feeling satisfied and got into bed feeling satisfied.

In the night I woke up feeling sick. I got up or tried to. Because as soon as my feet left the bed they hit the wall! I’d tried to get out of the wrong side of my bed. When I was at last out of bed, I felt my way to the wall. It was pitch black! Then I started to cry in despair because I didn’t know which way to go. Luckily, Daddy heard me cry out and showed me the way and I went to the toilet and back to bed.

Then I told him I didn’t feel well. He brought me something to be sick in. Almost immediately after he had left, I was sick! This time Mummy came and sorted me out.

When I woke up again, I was informed that we were not trekking again that day because I was ill but we were exploring the village.

On our way, I fell four or five metres! I landed on my leg it really hurt and the pain didn’t go away. Everyone was asking if I was OK. I said no.

Then Daddy carried me back up the hill to our lodge so that his arms ached.  Every time he stepped, it hurt my leg. When we reached the lodge, I lay down and Daddy ready Harry Potter which I definitely think made it better.

Carrying Scarlett to the Helicopter Landing Field

Then a helicopter came and took us to hospital. The flight was amazing! I felt as though I was floating on a very noisy cloud! The view went on all the time we were on the helicopter. Mountains skidded past and beneath us us villages skated. Forests seemed like patches of grass and I couldn’t see the difference between paths and rivers.

Himalaya Range from a Helicopter

Then we landed on the roof of the hospital and found out we where in Katmandu instead of where we thought we were going, Pokhara.

I never realized what would happen when I ate that pizza… I would end up in Kathmandu with a broken leg… But now I do!

A Big Surprise

by Evie

Travelling is not going the way we planned, mainly because Tettie broke her leg so we had to finish our trek with a sudden and exciting helicopter ride which included amazing views, a lot of bumps and took us to Kathmandu instead of Pokhara. This news was annoying however it meant that we could go to Chitwan where it is relaxed, flat, fun, comfortable and is extremely beautiful. All of these things are very good for someone with a broken leg who doesn’t know how to use crutches.

It’s very weird with Tettie on crutches because you can’t go anywhere without a grown up (Mummy or Daddy). It changes a lot of things including running around, climbing, playing. Though it does not stop the fun of Chitwan. We can still play with her. For example she can tel us how good our handstands are. She quite liked doing that. I wonder if she could do a handstand or if her leg would be too heavy. We are working hard on our handstands and there is a squashed mushroom in the garden which Jemima keeps sitting on (that’s how it got squashed!).

Tettie can still play chess. She’ll probably get good at chess; almost as good as Daddy. We can also play Dungeons and Dragons which is an amazing role playing game which doesn’t weight much. However, I like Mice and Mystics more. You can do this game without running around.

It tastes nice here, meaning that the food here is good, the air is good, the fun is good, the trees are good, the flowers are good and the room is good.

Mummy and Daddy are feeling sad that Tettie has a broken leg but happy that we are in Chitwan National Park.

Road Kill

I just witnessed a near miss on the road outside our guest house between 2 elephants, a motorbike and a horse and carriage. The squealing of tyres, the trumpeting of the elephants and the neighing if the horse brought everyone onto the street. No one was injured, but it did make me wonder what kind of road kill they get here, and might explain that chewy spaghetti bolognaise I ordered the other night…

Street Life

As much as I’ve come to dislike the noise, hassle and creeping throat infections endemic to Kathmandu, I always like the taxi journeys here.

Maybe it’s because of our first taxi ride from the airport, when I was fresh with excitement for our trip and flooded with the sheer relief at no longer being on a long haul flight, but just looking out of the window is endlessly entertaining. Scene after scene flashes by, almost too briefly to take in. Even as my mind tries to process what I’ve seen, I’m confronted with something new to surprise me. And it’s all made even more exhilarating by the constant shriek of car horns and the fact that right of way seems to go to whichever driver has the most guts and whichever vehicle has the most inertia.

A few of the vignettes I glimpsed on our last break-neck journey through Kathmandu:

A forlorn-looking man sits at a metal table, a single joint of meat and a cleaver upon it. Will he sell it before it goes bad?

A grubby girl in torn clothes crouches on the curb. On a blanket before her she has arranged beautiful piles of chillis and garlic.

A man welding in flip-flops. Sparks scatter over passing traffic.

Two small children wearing fluffy pyjamas, no more than three years old, walk along hand-in-hand beside the traffic.

A crowd clamours around a tea stall. The stall next door remains ignored.

A man disassembling a motor on the pavement.

A sign for an English Boarding School with the word academy misspelled.

Confectionary-coloured buildings: pink, turquoise, lime green, yellow.

Cows crowding at an intersection cause three main roads to slow to a crawl as drivers inch past them.

A woman with five children clustered around her legs makes a dash across the traffic to a chorus of beeping horns and screeching brakes.

An open door reveals a room no larger than our kitchen back home, filled almost entirely with one bed for the whole family.

A woman washes at a public pump, deftly juggling wet hair, toiletries and a sarong to conceal her modesty.

A row of lorries, more ornately painted than a gypsy caravans.

Little shops everywhere. In doorways. On railings. On pavements. Stalls, carts, trays round necks. The air of desperation and poverty increases as the size of premises diminishes.

Dogs everywhere; sleeping, loping, sunbathing, begging, stopping traffic. Some look relatively healthy. More are scabrous or mangy. One has an open wound on its head, what looks like brain showing through.

A gang of laughing teenagers playing on their phones. All the boys are holding hands.

Chickens scratch at the rubble of a collapsed building.

Kathmandu, We’ll Soon Be Seeing You

We’re free! It’s 6am and were all loaded onto the bus waiting to set off back to Sauraha, next to Chitwan National Park.

It was late yesterday by the time Scarlett was discharged from hospital, then, this being Nepal, there was a last minute problem with the internet so we couldn’t get all the paperwork we needed. We were promised it would be sent on but we’ve learned in the last few months that these things are much better sorted out on the spot, so we waited around in our room for an extra few hours.

Eventually we left. But with all out bags and bodies, and Scarlett in her plaster cast and with crutches, there was no way we were going to fit in one vehicle. The hospital had arranged an ambulance for Scarlett which we crammed with as many bags as possible (plus Scarlett and Janet, of course).

The ambulance screeched off into the mental Kathmandu rush hour traffic, sirens blaring. Me, Evie and Jem watched it weave across a packed intersection then tramped off to find a taxi. I was worried that Janet would be stranded with both Scarlett and a mountain of baggage but luckily our taxi driver was equal to the mentalness of the traffic, and without even the aid of a siren, managed to arrive across town mere moments after the ambulance.

We’d splurged on a more expensive hotel for the night – the original Kathmandu Guest House where The Beatles and Jimi Hendrix once stayed – because unlike all the other Thamel guest houses, it has both a garden and restaurant on the ground floor. Not something I’d normally pay $45 a day for but I really didn’t want Scarlett to brave the hectic, pavementless streets of Thamel yet nor did I dare carry her around. Even with able-bodied children, the streets of Thamel take all my concentration to navigate.

We didn’t have tickets to leave Kathmandu yet, and there was loads of organising that needed to be done to clear things with the insurance company and see if we can fly out of Nepal with Scarlett in a full-leg cast, so Janet went off to a cybercafe while I stayed with our girls in the garden.

It as fine at first. Evie and Jem went off exploring, occasionally popping out of flowerbeds or dashing across the lawn, while Scarlett and I did slow circuits of the paths to help her practice with her crutches.

Then Scarlett announced that she needed a wee. And, of course, she was bursting. It was coming. Now.

I immediately began to consider the logistics. Two children off hiding in the undergrowth. One too slow on crutches to reach the toilet in time. No idea where the toilet was.

Letting her crutches fall, I picked up Scarlett, tramped around the lawn calling for her sisters and, having finally found them behind some flowerpots, got Jemima to retrieve the crutches and set off inside. Evie had been to the toilet with Janet earlier, so I asked her to lead the way. So far, so good.

Except, after five minutes wandering through the surprisingly extensive hotel, I began to suspect that Evie was lost. Our next turn took us back into the garden. Yes, she was lost. And my arms were burning from Scarlett’s weight.

Abandoning the search for a downstairs toilet, we made a dash our room. Negotiating the stairs in flip flops while carrying a child who was becoming heavier by the second was made no easier by Jemima leading the way on crutches and a constant barrage of requests from Evie to use the iPad while Tettie was on the loo but eventually we reached our bedroom door.

Wrestling the crutches back from Jemima, I put Scarlett down, found the key and opened the door. I hovered behind her as she hopped inside, managing to keep her balance despite her sisters barging past. I turned to close the door, and CRASH!

She’d fallen. While I was turned, she’d set off again and her crutch had slipped on a rucksack strap. She was crying, gasping in pain, whimpering, “My fractures, my fractures!”

It was all I could do not to burst into tears myself. For first time since we set off in September, I just wanted to be at home, with Scarlett comfortably on the sofa , the other two in the garden, bouncing happily on the trampoline and everything we needed to be safe and secure.

I think Scarlett must have picked up on my upset. After I’d carefully laid her on the bed she started being very brave, telling me earnestly, “I’ll be ok in a minute daddy. Don’t worry.” If anything, I now felt worse.

After half an hour or so and with Scarlett restored by the combined soothing powers of cuddles, ibuprofen, paracetamol and Harry Potter, I was able to carry her carefully down to the guesthouse’s restaurant where, once again, having a garden paid off. I sat with Scarlett while her sisters had somewhere to play (does jumping out on guests from bushes and singing “namaste” count as playing?).

Eventually Janet returned and, with two adults, everything became manageable once more. Plus she’d managed to get tickets out of Kathmandu for the next morning. We were headed back to lovely Sauraha – the only place in Nepal we could imagine holing up for any time with an injured child.

I think Sauraha will be much easier. Scarlett can sit still not he veranda, the lawn or in one of the nice shady huts; I could even string up my hammock. Her sisters can play. There are fewer distractions, fewer dangers, fewer stairs. We know our way around. Of course the fact that Scarlett was able-bodied last time we were here may prove frustrating for her, but we also did a lot of schoolwork there, which she’ll be able to join in with despite her immobility.

Until we return to Kathmandu in three weeks anyway…

A Quiet Night in Kathmandu

I’d never seen Kathmandu so quiet.

I didn’t notice it at first. I was too busy wedging myself into the tiny taxi’s front seat, my knees hard against the dashboard, my neck craned forward to stop my head banging against the roof. And of course, there was the inevitable (and inevitably futile) attempt to get the seatbelt working.

But when I started watching the streets zoom past, it occurred to me that something was very different tonight. Where was the rest of the traffic? Where were all the people? Why were we zooming not crawling?

Even the taxi driver seemed confused. Without a stream of other taxis and mopeds to follow, he hit several potholes, had to swerve to avoid a dog wandering across a deserted junction and even drove on the wrong side of the dual carriageway for part of the journey. Or maybe he was just unused to being able to drive at over 20 miles an hour. I rather doubt he had ever reached such dizzying speeds before.

Whatever the cause, neither he nor his car seemed at ease. The engine rattled disquietingly and, as we progressed, he pulled his coat up over his mouth and his hat low, as if doing so would prevent his vehicle attracting attention.

As we drove the 20 minutes to the tourist district of Thamel, the only other residents of Kathmandu we saw were worried-looking older men hurrying for the shelter of home or small knots of younger men apparently come out to wonder at the emptiness.

Plus many, many groups of lathi or assault rifle wielding policemen in combat fatigues or even riot gear.

It’s election day tomorrow – the first in five years – and here in Nepal, there’s none of the ennui associated with elections back home.

Over the last few weeks we’ve seen rallies, marches and demonstrations everywhere we’ve been. Some were just small but most were thronged with enthusiastic supporters. Even in the mountains, where we’d hoped to sit (or rather walk) this time out, there were leaflets scattered on the paths and posters glued to the walls of every village.

The gatherings have all been peaceful so far (if generally noisy – Nepalese PAs all seem to be bought from the same supplier Metallica uses) but there are apparently threats of violence, especially from the communists if things don’t go their way*.

We’re safe here in the hospital, of course, but the staff have warned us that everything will close tomorrow and transport will be impossible, and the day after we hopefully leave the city.

So why did I brave the streets on the verge of a nationwide riot?

To collect our laundry, of course. Political instability or no, you have to have clean pants.

* (I won’t pretend I understand the political situation. There seem to be a dizzying number of political parties, and each group brandishes a different prominent symbol.

I can recognize the communists (with hammer and sickle, of course) but other major groups carry pictures of cows, suns, flaming brands or umbrellas (for this last group it’s apparently acceptable to just carry actual umbrellas instead of an umbrellas banner… or in some cases to just wear an 80s-style umbrella hat ­– a cunning plan our own parties could learn from; whenever rain threatened, anyone who didn’t support you would have to either carry your emblem around or get wet. Win-win.).

I even saw one rally where they flags showed something remarkably close to the  the Conservative Party’s oak tree symbol. Do they have a Nepalese wing?)

Should I Stay Or Should I Go?

To say the last few days have been a whirlwind is putting it lightly.  No one expects to actually use their travel insurance, especially not the dramatic ‘helicopter rescue for emergency medical treatment’ section.

 

But here we are, in a hospital room that will be permanently etched upon my brain (and no doubt Scarlett’s too, the length of time she’ll be lying still in here, poor thing), reading through policy documents and working out the pro’s and con’s of the options the insurance company have given us.

 

We are lucky enough to have a choice.  The initial response was that we had to all fly home and end the trip.  However, they have now agreed that we can continue with the trip and they will cover Scarlett’s treatment on the condition that we stay in Nepal and use the same team of doctors that she is with now.  If we move on to a new country, we have to take responsibility for the cost of Scarlett’s treatment, which means we would realistically have to be here until early January when she moves from a full leg cast to a half leg cast and has various scans and x rays to check it is healing properly.  After that, there would be no scheduled appointments except for the final removal of the cast after a further 6 weeks (mid Feb), which would be fairly cheap to pay for privately, so we could move on to Thailand in early January.

 

Alternatively, we can all fly home in about 3 weeks time when she is fit to travel.  This would mean we could get the cast changed and all the scans etc in the UK, with a plan to basically set off again in early January.  This would mean buying a new insurance policy (which of course would exclude any cover for Scarlett’s treatment, so again we’d be paying for the cast removal in Thailand).  And of course, paying for flights for all 5 of us from the UK to Thailand.

 

We are currently leaning towards coming home, but it’s a tough decision and I’m not sure we are in quite the right frame of mind to make it just now.

My thoughts today on coming home are:

Good Things:

  • The NHS and the safety of knowing that Scarlett will get whatever she needs, medically
  • I think Scarlett would be better entertained in the UK as there’s not a lot to do in Nepal on crutches – lots of steps, uneven pavements etc.  In the UK we could take her out for a drive and there’s always disabled access to places.  Plus those mobility scooters you can hire – she’d have a field day on one of those!
  • We’d be home for Christmas, which we’d all really enjoy
  • We’ll save about £200 in postage as we were planning to send a suitcase of trekking equipment home which we could just take with us
  • Catching up with family and friends
  • We are lucky enough to have already had offers of places to stay (as our house is rented out)
  • The girls could see Marmalade, our cat

 

Bad Things:

  • It breaks up the trip which none of our children want – they feel very insecure about flying home
  • It costs about £2,000 more than the option of staying (new insurance and extra flights)
  • Risk of blowing a lot of our travel money while in the UK on things like petrol and food…our budgets are based on third world prices
  • We have no winter clothes!
  • I have a strange fear that we will somehow get stuck and not be able to set off again – irrational I know but I can’t help it

The main things I’ve always wanted to get out of this trip though are for us all to spend a year together as a family without the distractions of work, the drudgery of housework and the chaos of modern life.  So whatever we decide to do, as long as I can focus all my attention of being there for my family and enjoying our time together, I don’t think it matters too much where in the world we end up.