Monday, April 4, 2011

"Thank you for not being fat!"

I'm white, and female, therefore, I get a lot of attention from random people Nepal...especially men. I'm learning how to deal with this is savvy ways.

I was waiting for a friend outside a small teashop (I was early, and had to pass time) on some benches. Two old men came by—one quite portly, the other much thinner—both dressed in the traditional dawa suruwal, vest, and topi. They settled themselves next to me on the bench, and finally asked, “Do you speak Nepali?”

“A little,” I replied.

“Oho! And how long have you been in Nepal?”

“Seven months, this time.”

“You’ve been before?”

“Yes, a few times.”


“No, not yet,”

“Oho! You should marry a Nepali boy, and then, have Nepali babies!” He and his friend laughed. “And where are you from?”


“Oho! Americans! They’re so”—the portly one raised his arms above his head to indicate height—“and so”—then stretched his arms around and filled his mouth with air to indicate girth. “But you’re not like that—you’re thin, and small!” He laughed a somewhat toothless grin. His friend nodded in agreement. “So for being thin, and short—thank you!” He continued laughing, then said, “I like thin.”

I froze. All I could think of was my friend Ruth, and how for no logical reason, really old men consistently hit on her in public. Where was my “nice boys only!!!” sticker that she swore was invisibly written across my forehead? Did it not translate across cultures?!

Thankfully, the questions turned to the usual Nepali chitchat.

“Have you had tea?”

“Yes, I’ve already had my tea.”

“And have you eaten?”

“Yes, I ate this morning, at home.”

“You mean at your room, or apartment—your home is America.” He laughed again. “We’ll, we’re going to go drink tea. Sit here, and stay cool!” He and his thin friend left.

Two weeks ago, I went to a congregation across town on a public holiday. Transport from Ratna Park—a big transport hub in the Valley—to Kapan—my destination—was hard to come by. I finally started asking around the blue micros going to a neighboring place, Boudha. “Where can I find a Kapan-going bus?” A group of young men formed. These men all worked as managers on the micros, collecting fares, announcing the bus stops, and arranging people on the vehicle. “Oh you want to go to Kapan? That micro is over there, behind this one!” As I walked to the micro, they called out after me, “Oh, la, we see you speak good Nepali!” Later, as I sit in the bus, waiting for it to fill with passengers and begin its route, they walked by: “Oho, found it?”

Today, I went to spend time with some friends who live behind the airport. This involved taking a micro from Jawalekhel (my area of town) to Sundara (in Kathmandu), then a bus to Gothatar (their village, now a suburb of Kathmandu)—a total of an hour and a half to two hours of transport. Sundara tends to swarm with buses, going all over the Valley. Bus boys trot everywhere, packs of money from bus fares in their hands, announcing where their bus is going to people waiting for transport, packing people onto their bus, and yelling at busses going to their same destination to get a move on—they’ve had their chance; get going! Some of these boys are mere teenagers, probably fourteen or fifteen.

“Excuse me, where-are-you-going?” one boy approaches me, and asks his question in English. His bus was going to Swayambhu.

“Gothatar,” I said.

He walked away, and kept yelling “Kalanki-Swayambhu-KA-LAN-KIIII!”

A bus with “Nepal Yatayat” written in its window, rounded the Martyr’s Memorial and slid in behind the Swayambhu-going bus. “Gothatar” was the first place written in Devanagari on its list of stops on the window.

The Swayambhu bus boy appeared at my elbow. “That bus! That bus is going to Gothatar!”

I let out a laugh. “Yes, I know,” I said in Nepali. “Thank you!” I appreciated his attempt to help. It was more sincere than most.