Leaving tomorrow…see you in September!

It seems unbelievable that tomorrow I’ll be in Nepal.  (Well, tomorrow I leave for Nepal, it’s about 23 hours travel time including layovers, so technically in two days I’ll be in Nepal, although since it’s nearly midnight maybe I could say “tomorrow”)  I always feel this way before a trip though, sitting in the cool clean concreteness of Belgium, it is hard to imagine the…(I don’t even know what)…otherness of a place so dissimilar. 
I will take off on Sunday, June 26, 2011 and land on sombaar (Monday), Asadh 13, 2068.  Nepal is 5 hours and 45 minutes ahead of GMT.  This means it’s 13 hours and 45 minutes ahead of where I was born and raised, so according to the clock at least, it would be faster to return to California by going the other way around the world.
And yet I know that within a day or two of being there I won’t really be able to remember what it is like anywhere else.  That’s awesome.  That’s one of the fantastic features of travelling, how it so quickly becomes reality.
But right now it seems unimaginable, so I am not really trying to imagine it.  I think preconceptions and expectations are never really worthwhile, are most likely wrong anyway, and actually have a chance of being negative; you can’t be disappointed if you weren’t expecting anything in particular, and you can best enjoy something if it’s unclouded by these preconceptions.  That being said I can’t help but wonder…
What will the work be like?  We are teaching in schools in Bhaktapur, K at Vidyarthi Niketan Higher Secondary School, and I at Kalika Higher Secondary.  What are Nepali kids like?  Do Buddhist/Hindu kids interact in different ways than we did?  Will the students pay attention and respect us or will it be the cat-herding exercise I remember from my schooldays?  Oh God, am I going to have any students like I was?  I can feel the karma about to crap on my head like a giant Krishna pigeon.
What will the living situation be like?  Which of Nepal’s dozen ethnic groups will we live with?  (The country has 24-100 different languages, depending on how you classify them.)  We are staying with a family, so I really need to memorize their names ahead of time…Badri Nath, Bina, Ranjana, Sandeep, Sapana, and Puran.  And I really should firmly know at least that “maaph garnus” is excuse me/sorry, and “dhanyabaad” is thank you.  But is that “ph” the F sound, like in English, or an aspirated P?  Probably a P.  Oh man, I gotta do my homework.
I wonder what mistakes I will make?  There is an elaborate set of customs and behaviors to learn.  I think the obvious one I’ll have a problem remembering is not to cross my legs in front of anyone older than me.  That goes with the Nepali belief that the feet are polluted and profane, I also must not ever point the soles of my feet at anyone, touch anyone else with my feet, or step over anyone or basically anything.
Also, can’t use the left hand for anything.  I had a bit of trouble remembering this in Morocco, but not too much…as far as I know.  But if I screw this up in Nepal, say serving from a communal food dish with my left hand, then the entire dish is considered jutho, contaminated, and is thrown away!  Carumba!
Nepal also has the caste system.  Ooh.  I was raised firmly to respect other cultures, but this is sometimes easier than other times.  I don’t think this will be too hard though…at least it’s not female circumcision or child marriage, those I find to be wrong in an absolute ethical sense, transcending my belief in respecting other cultures.  But that’s a blog for another day perhaps.
I find myself spilling over with enthusiasm for Nepal.  I can’t wait to feel familiar with a place so utterly unfamiliar right now.  Even the awkward learning phase (which will most likely span the entire summer) will be fun.  Getting home from “work” the first time and, what?, just walking into these people’s house?
(Apparently Nepal has a distinctly different sense of privacy than the West too, we have been advised that it is a much more collective society with regards to possessions and personal space, and that one need not knock before entering a room, so to lock the door when we change clothes.)
There is one thing I am a tad leery of.
Last year we went to Africa, and though it was undeniably a fantastic experience, we left feeling…I don’t know…a little off about it.  We were not at our best during that time.  I don’t know about me, but K at least is normally one of the most likeable people I have ever met, and yet on that trip we were both…yeah, not at our best I fear.  There are several possible reasons for this, including that our relationship needed some attention after we had been apart for two months, during which we had very little contact, especially while I was on the Camino de Santiago, but I think another reason is that in Africa we felt a bit like we were treated like children, and/or that we were useless ride-alongs.
In Nepal we will (I assume/hope) not feel useless, in fact I am guessing we will be working pretty hard all summer.  (No summer vacation for K!)  The treated like children thing…  I hope it’s not some sort of egoic prickliness prone to repeating itself.  Among the orientation documents we received it mentioned that the biggest point of contention between hosts and the hosted is the curfew.
Curfew?  Crap.
It says that Nepalese people do not stay out late, and see the cities as dangerous, particularly at night, and so hosts expect guests to observe the same curfews they set for their own children.  Again: crap.
I love, love, lu-huv walking around cities in the dusk, evening, night-time.  Photographs can get otherworldly, the tourists have gone away, the air is cooler, the sounds and smells different, the vibe distinct.  Although apparently there is little and often no electricity thereabouts, so if the city is pitch black then there’s not much to, ahem, see.
I’ll be turning 31 while we’re there (on the 4th of Shrawan) and hope it feels nothing like adolescence.  And ironically enough “timi” is the pronoun for “you” that one uses when addressing children.  Grrreat.  (In fact, the Nepali language has half a dozen forms for “you”, each carrying a different level of respect.)
But hopefully I can deal with all circumstances with the content enthusiasm that I seek to feel.  (Nepal is the birthplace of the Buddha after all.)  Feeling like I am gripping my patience all summer would be a shame.
And I have some experience being treated a bit, how shall I say it, less than fully adult here in Belgium.  This is an inevitable side effect of not speaking the native language, people sometimes see you as…not a child exactly, but as someone who needs assistance and education, not a full-fledged participant.  We have a couple friends here who (bless their hearts, I value their friendship immensely and enjoy spending time with them) seem to think K and I are kinda newborn kittens just out of the womb.  They remind us not to drink the water.  They tell us to be careful with our wallets.  Don’t show how much money you may have on you!
I generally find this endearing, and if it starts to get annoying I just take a quick mental trip to that town of drug runners on the Guatemala-Mexico border where we found ourselves marooned a couple years ago.  I didn’t drink the water.
But shucks, like I said, I have little-to-no idea of what it will be like in Nepal.  I used to think of it as a tourism country, less chaotic than India, and it is, but it is also the poorest nation in Asia.  Maybe we’ll take the bus east to take a break in the opulence of Bangladesh. 
Host families may be Buddhist, Hindu, or Christian.  They may have western toilets or squatties.  May speak English, may not.  I read things like that and don’t even try to resist the giant smile from coming to my face.  I want to learn about it all!  Nepal has a unique blend of Hinduism and Buddhism, and is renowned for having virtually no religious tension.  I likely won’t be able to pronounce the name of the food I’ll be eating.  They don’t use the left hand since it’s for the toilet…will we have toilet paper?  I don’t know!  Let’s go find out!
I’ll tell you all about it when I get back…right after I write a letter to my new friends/family in Nepal, who I’m a day (or so) away from meeting.
See you in September!