What We’ve Been Reading…

{joint post}

When we packed up our things to come to Nepal, we had to leave about a dozen boxes of books in our parents’ attic (thanks Lynn & Alice!), but we still managed to somehow fit a whopping 33 books into our four suitcases.

Those who know what massive nerds we are asked us as we prepared to leave–How will you guys find books over there? Well, though we’ve been well-outfitted with our Kindles and our parents’ digital library access (thanks Susan!), we’ve actually found a ton of great books in print in both Kathmandu and Pokhara.

Thanks to the rapidly rising literacy rate in Nepal, the great Nepali tradition of storytelling, affordable book presses out of Western India, and the practice of book-swapping among trekkers, there are now many wonderful bookshops that carry books on just about any subject relating to Nepal/the Himalayan region, as well as most everything on the international bestseller lists–at a mere fraction of the US cost.

Here’s a little bit of what we’ve been reading lately, with some links to where you can find these Nepal-related books yourself:

Fiction

ourlives

All of Us in Our Own Lives by Manjushree Thapa (Amazon Link)

[Caroline]: A fictional account of a Canadian aid worker, a young Nepali woman living in a village, and a brother who has moved abroad to support his family. This easy “beach read” is an interesting account of aid workers in Nepal and demonstrates the necessity of multiple perspectives in order to enrich each of our own lives.

royalghosts

The Royal Ghosts by Samrat Upadhyay (Amazon Link)

[Andrew]: Upadhyay seems to be a pretty well-known Nepali author writing in English, and he has a talent for precisely capturing complex emotions and relationships without falling into unrealistic melodrama. This collection of short stories is a great fictional window into the complexity of how Nepal’s development and democratization has affected everything from religion to relationships.

vanishing

The Vanishing Act by Prawin Adhikari (Amazon Link)

[Andrew]: This collection of short stories has a post-colonial bent to it and several of the story arcs cross the world from Kathmandu all the way to Southern California. “The Boy from Banauti,” “The Vanishing Act” and “Fortune” were my favorite stories in this volume.

Non-fiction

whilethegodsweresleeping

While the Gods Were Sleeping by Elizabeth Enslin (Amazon Link)

[Caroline]: This is the best book from this list and I haven’t even read the ones Andrew recommends! An anthropologist from California marries a high-caste Nepali and ends up having a baby in a rural Nepali village whilst finishing up her doctorate degree on women’s movements. Incredibly insightful, funny, and endearing- this is a must read if you’re interested in Nepali culture or cross-cultural relationships.

tents

Tents in the Clouds: The First Women’s Himalayan Expedition by Monica Jackson and Elizabeth Stark (Amazon Link)

[Andrew]: I picked up this book at a leave-one-take-one shelf in a local coffee shop, and I have not been sorry for it. This book, originally published in 1956, chronicles the first female expedition in the Himalaya soon after Nepal first opened to climbers in the early 1950s. The writing is beautifully detailed and emanates British exploratory spirit (colonialism, too, at times), feminism, and in-depth knowledge of mountaineering. *I’m also going to insert a plug here for one of the best books on mountains/nature/life I’ve ever read, The Living Mountain by Nan Shepherd (who also happened to be a Scottish female novelist, poet, professor, & mountaineer around the turn of the 19th century).

THE-BATTLES_web

Battles of the New Republic: A Contemporary History of Nepal by Prashant Jha (Amazon Link)

[Both]: This telling of Nepal’s more recent history (post-1951 up through the Civil War) is provided in the voice of one of the nation’s most prominent journalists, who had personal relationships with leaders of the many different factions involved in Nepal’s civil conflict. It’s nicely readable and a more dramatic companion to some of the more staunchly academic histories available out there.

nepaltransition

Nepal in Transition edited by David M. Malone, Sebastian von Einsiedel, Suman Pradhan (Amazon Link)

[Andrew]: This is a great resource for anyone looking to better understand the many facets of Nepal’s complex road to democratic state building and peacebuilding. Most of the chapters are written by Nepali researchers, which is both helpful and appreciated.

fatalism

Fatalism and Development by Dor Bahadur Bista (Amazon Link)

[Caroline]: Although a bit old, this book provides poignant insights in how development work corresponds or competes with cultural values. Even beyond the context of Nepal, this is a quick, more academic account of how aid can function in highly relational or hierarchical societies. It’d make a good companion book to When Helping Hurts.

Children’s Books

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Jack and Betty & the Yak and Yeti by Simon Arthy (Link)

[Both]: We ran across this book while babysitting our friends’ kids one night and immediately fell in love. It’s quirky, fun and easy to memorize—the kids quoted nearly the entire book to us! It’s also a nice picture of what life in Kathmandu looks like.

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Chandra’s Magic Light by Theresa Heine and Judith Gueyfier (Link)

[Both]: This is a really fantastic introduction to Nepal (and international development) for kids from the awesome people over at Barefoot Books. If you’re looking for children’s books that celebrate diversity, inclusion, and help kids learn more about the wide, wide world they live in, check out their other books!

The hardest thing (yet)

I almost didn’t go back.

Every minute felt like 10. With every nod of my head I felt more discouraged. And with every- pheri bhannus, “Say it again,” I thought I might just walk out and just say- I’m so sorry this is a terrible mistake.

Volunteering with my Nepali language?

Ya’ll.

It’s hard.

And I’m not digging a well or rebuilding a school in the pouring rain or caring for oozing wounds. I’m literally just talking to women over cups of tea. And it’s the hardest, most vulnerable thing I’ve done in a long time.

You see- I’m great at hospitality. I can welcome 20 people into a one room studio flat in London that is the size of a pea and make folks feel at home. I can chit chat with the best of them and really do a pretty darn good job of transitioning between awkward silences and something more.

But my hostessing, hospitality, and general human connection skills seemed to evaporate when I went on Monday to my first day volunteering at a women’s rehabilitation center. I understood the center had a “conversation hour” where I could (in my mind) sit down across from a lovely Nepali woman and have a heart to heart. However, for whatever the reason, the 3 hours I was there were filled instead with – – – space.

I was so proud of my Nepali. I could say SO many things like- I am eating a mango… I ate a mango… Would you like to eat a mango…. If you eat the mango…. We should eat mangoes.

Yet as soon as the first woman approached me it felt like the speed dial on my brain had been turned to nil and the speed dial on her mouth was cranked up to the high heavens. I literally didn’t get a word. And the first few times I did say- “I’m sorry, say that again please. Please say it more slowly. I didn’t understand. I’m sorry.”

But then the shame and disappointment in my own self bubbled up in my throat and cut off those words. I nodded and said “Yes” and “That’s sad” and “Hmmmm…” And in doing so I felt like I dishonored their stories. They were answering my questions with detailed 20 minute answers about their pasts and the things they ran away from and the relationships they broke and I lost the courage to say- your story is important to me. Please say it again slowly because I want to hear it and know you better. I let my own embarrassment gag me.

Normally in my life I get pumped about “being brave.” I see it as a time to show off my ‘stuff,’ to do the hard thing, to have grit, to throw my fears out the window! To infinity and beyond!

Yet ‘brave’ this time looked like admitting how incredibly limited my Nepali skills were. How despite studying it every day for 7 weeks I have not yet mastered the entire language (I know, I know.) Brave should have meant being vulnerable in a way that let light shine on the parts of me I was trying so hard to hide. My lack. My incompetence. My struggle. Right now it feels as though my whole job is to learn Nepali. So admitting that I had not yet achieved that felt like the moment you rip off a band aid and the wind hits the wound and it feels raw all over again.

I was suppose to go back to the center on Wednesday. Well technically I was suppose to go twice a week for the next 5 weeks. As I got off the bus on Wednesday though and began to walk towards the center, I doddled. i stopped in a store, got a water. I shuffled my feet. And I spent at least 3 minutes gazing at a pothole. I did not want to go back.

What was the point? I wasn’t helping my Nepali- I couldn’t understand a thing. I wasn’t giving them any relationships- again could barely remember a single name. It just wasn’t a good fit, I told myself. We’ll see how today goes, I thought. I was already drafting the email to the coordinator in my head: thanks for this opportunity, but….

And yet.

When I walked in everyone was chit chatting and resting and lounging in the shade on the porch. I sat with them. A drum was brought out. A girl laughed and began to sing. Then a 60 year old woman ran over from tending the chickens and danced. We all smiled and laughed and then she said, in Nepali I could understand, “YOU! You dance now!”

It turns out one does not need many conjugation tables, prepositions, pronouns, or even a large vocabulary to move your hips and lift up your arms.

My Nepali was not much better. But I felt brave enough to say, “I didn’t get that, could you repeat it? I want to hear you.” Again. And again. And again.

So here’s to bravery feeling more like exploited shame. Here’s to doing the hard thing and being humility- ated.  Here’s to dancing because we’re all struggling with something.

The video below is thanks to whichever women took my phone out of my bag and was kind enough to take a video of this most precious (and embarrassing) moment. 

One month in!

[From Andrew]

The Sunday morning before we boarded a flight to our orientation in Pennsylvania, we preached together at Berea Mennonite Church on the subject of time. It’s ironically fitting, because in our first month here, we’ve had to unwind so many of our assumptions about time–how quickly it passes, how much we have to “spend”, what we “should” be doing with our free time, etc.

Other expats who have been living for Nepal for several years have told us that if you can accomplish one good thing a day, then you’re doing really well. Inevitably, the bus ride across town will take twice as long as you thought, perhaps the driver will change routes on a whim, you’ll run into a lovely and chatty neighbor on your way into town, one basic grocery item will have you traveling to four different stores to find it in stock, rain will pour from the sky from seemingly nowhere…things move slower here, and for good reason.

We’ve been told that the measure of success isn’t in how much you get done in a day, but the quality of the relationships you build…which takes time. That’s true across many places, but particularly here in Nepal. We’re grateful for that, and grateful to be with a host family in Pokhara for a two-month stretch right now where we can do just that: slow down, focus on our one/two good things a day (mainly learning Nepali), and nurture our emotional, physical, and spiritual health in a beautiful setting.

To give you a sense of our first month in Nepal & our routine in Pokhara, Caroline edited this awesome video. Enjoy!

 

The Things We Carried

[from Caroline]
Andrew and I think we’ve gotten pretty good at packing up our lives into suitcases over the past year. You may wonder what we actually brought with us to Nepal, here’s a short list aside from the basic survival necessities:

The Things We Carried:

  • 1 box of cheez-its
  • 3 pairs of chacos
  • 2 hand made pot holders
  • 1 pineapple themed bathroom bag
  • 4 packets of taco seasoning
  • 5 board games
  • 1 guitar
  • 1 yoga mat
  • 33 books
  • 2 paintings from London
  • 5 pairs of leggings
  • 1 bottle of dried rosemary
  • 1 frisbee
  • 2 Brookstone pillows
  • 1 recipe tin box with recipes from family and friends
  • 8 cloth napkins
  • 1 hand made quilt we got at our wedding
  • 1 roll of thin mints
These “priority items” made it into our 4 checked bags. 😉
Andrew and I packed up (yet again) this week and shifted to Pokhara, a smaller mountain town, to live with a host family as we officially begin our Nepali language lessons. Yet some of the things we didn’t carry with us have been the most wonderful so far:
  • Getting a discount at the road side samosa stand because I knew how to ask for them in Nepali.
  • Our host family telling us over tea that we should watch out for leopards in the back yard (?!!?)
  • Waking up to the HIMALAYAS outside our bedroom window.

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  • Seeing new born puppies with our host family’s youngest son after he took us on a ‘hands and knees’ hike in the pouring rain.
  • Learning to navigate the intricacies of which slippers are for the kitchen, for the shower, for the house, and for outside- and laughing all the way with Andrew behind closed doors because we failed to figure it out.
  • Getting invites for 6 dinners and hang outs in the past 8 days to meet new friends and colleagues.
  • The four inch spider on our wall (wish this one hadn’t come with us!) and the child who rescued us (mostly me, ha) from it.
  • Watching monkeys tease street dogs as they hang on power lines on our walk to work and those same monkeys as they steal ice cream cones from little girls.
  • The abundant petrichor, Andrew’s favorite word-the name for the smell right after the rain, as we begin this monsoon season.

The First Days

{from Caroline}

qATAR

Qatar layover

We made it! After our original flight from Philly to Doha got cancelled, and our layover in Doha, Qatar went from 2 hours to 21 hours, and after way too many hours spent in immigration lines- we arrived in Kathmandu (with all our luggage!!) Saturday afternoon.

We were immediately embraced by the vibrant colors, smoggy hills, dust, and aromas of chai and momos around Kathmandu. Even though we had been warned by one of the national staff that the pollution and dust in the city were bad– largely due to a lack of rain and road reconstruction- we weren’t expecting to need face masks on a normal grocery run! However, I must say Andrew looks dashing in his Darth Vader-like contraption.

We went to church on Easter Sunday at an international congregation and enjoyed getting to hear from other ex-pats about their experience living and working in Nepal. Although we won’t get to know most of these folks until we return from language school in Pokhara mid-July, it makes me excited to know there are others here who may share a love of grits and Netflix. The Nepali folks I’ve met so far (mostly staff members) have been incredible and I’m eager to work with and learn from their experiences. Their willingness to help and encouraging smiles are getting us through jet lag. Friendships are on the horizon, y’all.

us pic

But don’t worry- I’m making friends with the canine variety of Nepalis too 😉

We’re off!

Tomorrow, we’ll board a flight for Nepal- a place we will soon call home!

Over the past two weeks in Akron, PA, we have deeply enjoyed getting to know our fellow orientation participants (a few other international service workers, and some Canada/US staff as well).

We are beginning to get our minds and spirits focused on the work that lies before us. We have had many wonderful moments of getting to know our country Reps and their two girls better. We have also enjoyed getting to know one of the Nepali national staff who has helped us understand the context of the work in Nepal over many years. It is very clear to us that God has brought us all together as partners in this work for a reason, as we all feel very at ease with one another.

Please continue to pray for us as we make this transition. Pray that we will be open to learning from the work begun a long time ago in Nepal, and that we would be slow to speak and quick to listen to our national staff and local partners for guidance and learning. Please also pray that we will be able to focus our minds and attention on the work of language learning this summer, even as we adjust to not being close to friends and family that we love so much.

This blog will be a place for our stories and we hope that you will come alongside us in this journey! Follow the blog to get new posts in your inbox.