I moved into my new apartment in Kathmandu today. Given the level of pollution when one is near street level, I am happy to say that I am on the third floor of a very nice apartment building. The view on my rooftop, where I will hang my laundry to dry, is spectacular in all directions. My housing experience in Rwanda did not prepare me for what was to come here. Thankfully, that experience makes me appreciate what I have now more than I probably would have if I had come here directly after living in the U.S.
The staircase that guides me up to my front door is a gorgeous matte marble with wandering swishes of gray and beige. There are no elevators, of course. On the second floor, a giant Buddha, who belongs to the furniture store on that floor, greets and welcomes me home. The floor of my apartment is wood laminate, a modern version of my hardwood floors in Vermont. The bathroom tile is beautiful and appears to be newly installed. It has hot water!! A queen-sized bed (bigger than what I have in the U.S.) fills a bedroom whose east wall is a long window overlooking my neighborhood. The same type of window is in the living room. The apartment is filled with sunlight, a complete contrast to the dark rooms of my house behind brick walls in Rwanda. There AC in the living room and a fan in the bedroom, but I am assured that, once the AC is running, the entire apartment will be cool. It is perfectly sized for one person. All it needs is a couple of air filters, to trap the pesky pollutants, invisible to the naked eye, but whom I know must be drifting up from the street which the apartment overlooks.
It comes with a complete kitchen, although I do wish I hadn’t tossed my cast iron skillet out of my luggage at the last minute, which I would have been able to do had I known that bedding was provided. Despite persistent questioning about what would be provided before I left, I was not given an accurate account. There is a microwave, gas burners (2), a refrigerator, a few pots and pans, plates, cups, bowls, utensils, a mini first aid kit (sigh, I brought one of those as well,as per instructions from the Department of State), wifi and… here is the kicker, a washing machine and a TV with cable! I’ll be able to watch CNN and, if the cable service is anything like the one at the hotel, movies in English. I am reassured, however, that there is no dryer, that would simply be too surreal.
There is also a young woman who will come in once a week to clean. I already planning to ask her to work for me as a Nepali language tutor for an hour at the end of her work day since she will be right there.
Day and night guards, plus an extremely conscientious landlord, complete the complement of people who intend to support me while I am here, in addition, of course, to Embassy staff, university faculty, and NELTA teachers. Clearly, a deep sense of isolation such as the one I experienced in Rwanda will not haunt me here, but I will still have a calm and private sanctuary to which I can escape at the end of each day. Yes, I will, for the first time, be living as an expatriate but given the overwhelming nature of the city, I am actually grateful for the small luxuries that I will be able to enjoy to offset the numerous misadventures that are bound to befall me as I learn to make my way in a city the likes of which I have never known.
The landlord’s pristine “house information” binder, with each well-typed page protected in clear plastic envelopes, and containing all the information anyone could possibly want, from phone numbers for the hospital and police to information to connect to a back-up internet service if the main one fails, is a testament to a level of organization that I find soothing. Judging from the meticulous arrangement of everything, my landlord and I share similar values about how a rental business should be run. His information binder is hands down better that the instruction sheet I provided for guests coming to stay in my AirBNB unit. Shame on me!
So far, it seems to me that Nepal is an interesting land of contrasts, the crowds and pollution of Kathmandu set against the backdrop of one of the most spectacular mountain ranges in the world where the air is, presumably as clear as it is cold, and one can trek for miles without seeing another person. 21st century technology is widely available and relatively inexpensive; while ancient three-wheeled bicycle carriages still carry one from place to place. Traditions of the past nourish people while they embrace the conveniences of the modern world in, according to historical accounts, record time. Dirty, poorly maintained streets with garbage and stray dogs open into tiny, calming and well-maintained Buddha gardens such as the one at my hotel as well as equally well-organized small shops that vie for attention along every road. Disorganized traffic delays your arrival to carefully arranged living spaces. Harmony and disharmony appear to sit quite comfortably in one another’s company in Kathmandu, perhaps as a living reminder of the yin and the yang that characterizes all of life.