Last day in Kathmandu
The original schedule for our last day in Nepal was to get up at 4:00 AM to catch the morning flight to Bahrain for a 14 hour layover before continuing on to London. I prepared myself for a long day of granola bars and airplane food. Airlines seem to usually have two flights per day out of Kathmandu, and luckily they switched us to the evening flight, cutting our layover down to 2 hours.
That was welcome news, since we found the Bahraini airport a rather unnerving place the first time (so very much tension and so very many burqa’s), and though international airports are inherently interesting places, 14 hours is a long time to people-watch in the same hallway.
So instead we had another day in Kathmandu, starting with a leisurely goodbye to our three remaining program-mates (the others had all been voted off the island or eaten by sloth bears) as they departed for a village-to-village trek whose details made me jealous. Then we walked into Basundhara for a masala omlet (sic), wandered a bit, had super-spiced veggie momos (a Nepali/Tibetan version of pot stickers), a nap, back into town for chicken butter masala curry with basmati rice and garlic roti (you can see where my priorities lay), then headed for the airport.
On the way we dropped off two Finnish girls at the orphanage where they will be volunteering for two weeks. They were sweet girls, but their youth and green-ness were painfully obvious as they chattered away instead of paying attention to Rajesh (the program boss and superhero) even as he explained how to walk there (they would be going alone starting the next morning).
I admire Rajesh immensely for many reasons, one of which is how he somehow manages to shepherd group after group from giggling and oblivious to prepared to live for 2-12 weeks (or 10 months) in Nepali families and teach classes. And the entire time he patiently answers questions and laughs gustily and genuinely at jokes, all of (both of) which he must have heard a thousand times before. His entire family is a fortress of hospitality, personality, and authentic fundamental goodness.
We got onto the road to the airport to find gridlocked traffic (“gridlock” may not be the best term since there is nothing so orderly as a grid in Nepali traffic). Nepal had just elected another in a long line of Prime Ministers that day (they rarely last a year) which may have contributed to the standstill. Motorbikes buzzed and swirled like the flies in the gutters, while everyone else aggressively shouldered their way into spaces that seemed way too small, turning off their engines during the minutes between each miniscule movement. I am deeply surprised to see so many relatively intact paint jobs as they defiantly refuse to ever give way. A polite driver in Nepal would never go anywhere. Literally.
The road was wide enough for 2 American lanes, or 3 European, so there were 4-5 Nepali. The 3-4 in our direction were fully constipated, the 1 oncoming flowed steadily (a customary contrast in Nepal). Half a kilometer farther along it switched, our side merged into 1 lane, which slid past 3 of stationary chaos. No one had the patience or control to point out that it would work much better with two lanes in each direction, instead of the 4-into-1 bottlenecks on both sides. This is Nepal.
I hear India takes all these things about Nepal and multiplies then several times over. I am not ready for India right now.
There is not much you can do about gridlock, and I trusted Rajesh to do what could be done, so I sat back to enjoy my last bits of Nepal through the window of our little white van as he skilfully wedged it into closet-sized spaces, saying only “if you can drive in Kathmandu, you can drive anywhere.”
I watched fruit stands by the side of the road tended by women with colourful sari’s and potent scowls. Cows wandered, grazed, or stood in peculiar places, utterly unmolested. A woman in a bus in front of us stuck her leathery head out the window and vomited white liquid onto the street without looking; it was pure luck that there was no motorcycle coming.
Rajesh saved our bacon (not the first time) by swerving off onto small surface streets that spit us out unexpectedly close to the airport. Having a local on your team is priceless.
Leaving a wonderful place and the people who made it even better is a uniquely difficult thing, but we took refuge in the distractions of travel, first stop: Bahrain.