Sunday, April 28, 2013

Adventures in Kathmandu Apartment Living

We purchase our drinking water. It comes in large 20-liter bottles. These are delivered by a small store down the street; we call the storefront when we’re out of water and instruct them to bring two bottles above Deka Office, to the foreign girls’ apartment. The answer is the typical Nepali “Eh, la, la!” Sometimes the water comes within the hour; sometimes it’s delivered by the afternoon. More than once, we’ve had to call the next morning and scold whoever is in the shop. Usually they bring it right over then.

The water delivery guy just walks into the apartment unannounced. Even if he did ring the doorbell, with all the electrical outages, it would only ring half the time. He’ll make two trips up four flights of stairs to the kitchen on the top floor—one for each bottle of water—then take the empty bottles back to the shop. One hot afternoon, Roxy was working at her computer at the kitchen table when the guy walked in. She was inappropriately clothed for Nepal—her shoulders were bare—and was thus startled. This happened not just once, but twice. I began telling her when I had called the water delivery guy. She would then run to wrap a shawl around her, or pull on a hoodie.

We noticed that, as often as we ordered water, usually only six bottles would show up on our bill each month. “Its because the guy gets a peep show every time he comes over here!” Roxy exclaimed. “He’s giving us a discount on our water!”

I usually locked the downstairs door from the inside if I was home alone. But this time, all my housemates had gone, and I had forgotten to do just that. As I was working at my computer in my room, an unknown man just walked in. “Is this the art institute?” he asked in Nepali. “No,” I replied firmly. “Its next door.” He apologized, and turned to leave. I walked him to our door, and locked it behind him. Erin pointed out later that, with the open door and all our shoes lined up at the entrance, our place probably looked like the art institute.

I was awoken from my Sunday afternoon nap by a phone call from Erin. After some chitchat about where we were—I in Tikapur, Kailali, having just come from the annual Easter rally, she in Pokhara visiting a fellow researcher—she broke the news to me: she had flooded our apartment. It happened on Holi—the day for flinging water and color at each other in South Asia—of all appropriate days. The electricity had gone off while she was pumping water; forgetting to turn the pump off before she left the house for Holi shenanigans, when the electricity came back on the pump started up again and it kept going with no one home to shut it off. Oddly enough, only her room and mine had really flooded. Not to worry though—all my stuff was fine; they had reached home in time for only the carpets to get soaked. It looked like the carpets would dry out and there wouldn’t be too much water damage.

When I got back from grocery shopping, there were two new people cleaning our flat. I greeted them with a “Namaste,” then trotted up to the kitchen. Roxy was there. “So, we have a new didi?” I asked. This would make our third house help: the first, a girl of sixteen, had unexpectedly quit; when that happened, the woman who cooked for us had convinced our landlord to hire her sister to clean the flat.

Roxy rolled her eyes. “Oh, you missed it.” She relayed that, after Erin had flooded the apartment, our landlord’s parents had come over to inspect the damage and noticed how dirty the flat was. Roxy explained to me that, because all of us had been out of town for a time, the didi had been given time off. So the apartment had seen better days. Our landlord’s parents called our didi, fired her, and hired a new person—a really sweet Christian lady who would often bring her middle-school daughter with her. Roxy wished that our landlord’s parents had at least given our didi a chance to explain herself.

I came home one Friday night to find forty people in my kitchen. I corralled my housemate. “Erin, since when were we having a party?” I asked. Erin stood aghast. “Oh no—I didn’t tell you?! I’m sooo sorry; I really thought I had discussed this with you! Right, we were all just leaving to go to a bar; I’ll start shooing everyone out!” Erin did penance by giving me a dark chocolate bar—a much-appreciated present that I consumed in my time of need the next time I headed out to the village for fieldwork.

When I arrive back from six weeks of research outside the Valley, I looked at the white board where we write messages to each other and calculate household expenses. Next to some numbers, a note was written: “Rager (Tori not included).”