Well, today I had an experience that I can say with certitude I have never had before. In the middle of a 20 day week of traveling tour in Nepal to deliver training workshops to Englishteachers, I had to pass through Kathmandu. The fact is, you can’t travel anywhere in Nepal by air without going through Kathmandu. Everything begins and ends in Kathmandu. While planning my whirlwind tour from west to east, I had realized that if I left one town in the morning and went to the next one in the evening, I could stop by my apartment, divest myself of things I had acquired in the first town that I didn’t need for the second so that I didn’t need to carry so much each time I set out into the far-flung constellations of cement colored blocks of Nepal. I could also update training materials, if needed, and print them out on my computer.
There is no doubt the the advent of cement revolutionized the housing industry in Nepal. Everywhere I went, I found the same style of cement house described in my earlier post: concrete slabs, concrete pillars at each of four corner 12 or so feet apart, concrete slabs on top, then a new set of pillars. Between the pillars, brick. In Damauli, I asked what people had done before. Built with stone and mortar I was told.
Hmmmm….that explains why the cement wall that I am looking at in this school is painted white and then had black lines drawn leading from one to the other around and about to form an irregular pattern of oblong and round shapes that extended the entire length of the wall – it was a imitation stone wall!
The use of paint to beautify the cement homes that pepper the hillsides of Nepal, in the same fashion as they tumble down the hillsides surrounding Kathmandu is more apparent when you leave that city, in part because the color is not dulled by years of accumulated city dust and grime in part because people seem to have more of an interest in decorating their homes outside the city. Perhaps because they have more time, life is calmer, there is less to do, so why not paint your house pink with lavender trim, melon with lime trim, yellow with blue and red trim, the combinations are endless. My favorites are, of course, the arrangements with lavender. While pastels are the preferred choice, dark slate blue, teal, and a purple are not unheard of.
I also noticed something else about the basic design of these cement paradises. Often, the slab of the second floor extends about a foot or two beyond the front wall of the first floor, to create ledge which can be turned simultaneously as front awning on the first floor as well as the basis for a balcony on the second. Yes, whenever possible, balconies adorn the fronts of these cement gems, with painted metal fences of gold or black. The third story, if it exists, is then placed much further back from the front of the second floor that is extending over the first, to leave a wide balcony in front of the residential portion of the building at that level. My apartment building is like that in fact. The fifth floor apartment has a wide balcony in front of while the other floors do not have. This all happens at the front and back sides of the buildings, of course. There are never any windows on the sides to that they can be built one along side of the other. I was lucky enough at my hotel in Itahari to be a the back of the hotel overlooking a narrow road with several of these houses facing me, one in the process of constructing its fourth level. The cement pillars are reinforced with rebar.
The roof of the highest story of any building almost always has either a cement wall or a metal fence to enclose an upper patio, most commonly used to hang laundry where rows of scraggly plants are lined up in the dense soil that people have dug up from somewhere. No one seems to have heard of potting soil and everywhere, especially in the cities, the plans are all spindly, looking as it they are at death’s door, but they don’t seem to die. I wonder sometimes what anyone would think if they saw the lush green of my houseplants. I presume that plant fertilizer is no more available than potting soil. I ache whenever I look at them knowing what they could become if they were in better soil. The street dogs and cows are not are not the only sentient beings who have my sympathies.
When I realized that I had several hours in Kathmandu, I texted Lakshmi’s trainer to see if there was anything he needed for her. I said I could stop by to see Lakshmi if he thought it would be a good idea. I wondered if she would remember me after a week. She had adapted so easily to living with me, and the trainer said she was happy playing with his family, I didn’t know if she would even give me the time of day if I arrived on her doorstep. He thought it would be a fine idea and so, with the help of the ubiquitous cell phone, to keep everyone participating in the drama that was about to unfold updated, I managed to arrive in Kathmandu more-or-less on time, my cab driver retrieved me and drove me to the animal clinic where I had taken Lakshmi to be treated for mange just two weeks earlier, where her trainer met us, and joined us in the cab to travel to his neighborhood where we wound around the narrow streets barely wide enough for the mini cab to fit that run betwixt and between the variegated cement buildings with their miniature balconies and potted plants.
It rapidly became apparent why the trainer had some to meet us at another location in order to bring us to Lakshmi — there is no way we would have ever found it on our own. I was touched by his willingness to make this reunion possible. Equally touched that, instead of having to spend her time away from me she was living as a beloved member of his family. What kennel in the U.S. boards animals in this way? On the one hand, I would imagine none. On the other, I can’t imagine that there aren’t boutique kennels somewhere where, for enough money, animals are treated as if they were living in someone’s home. If someone hasn’t already thought of this, they’ve missed an economic opportunity of a lifetime. For Lakshmi, $7 a day was all it took to buy her a loving home while I was away. And… she had a young man, her favorite type of person to try to coral into playing with her at our park, to entertain her. What a deal!
We all converged on the house at the same time, the trainer, the taxi driver, and I, the trainer’s son who had been charged with bringing Lakshmi to see me at the apartment until we realized that her temporary home was so near the airport that it would make more sense for me to come to her than for her to come to me. I also worried how she would feel about being brought home but not allowed to stay there yet. Such a feat would never have been possible without our smart phones, something that even I, one of the last hold outs to buy a smart phone, had to admit. It would also not have been possible without bringing — via cell phone — a fifth coordinator, my colleague from the university who has been acting as my translator when my gestures and/or text interpretation skills and/or his English fails. At one point, I thought we were doing great using text, then I got a message that made me worry that he might think I was coming to pick Lakshmi up to take her home to stay. So multiple calls on five cell phones across Kathmandu and we had it made. I must admit that even I, one of the last “hold-outs” when it comes to Smartphones, have to admit that I could not survive without one here when it comes to getting where I need to be around the city. My phone is my lifeline for my transportation, and one of my drivers clearly understands texts better than (my) spoken English.
Upon entering the house where Lakshmi is staying, my question was soon answered. She remembered me alright. She was beside herself with joy, at least that is what I presumed that was what all of the hullabaloo was about. All over me she was which, for someone who is allergic to dogs, was slightly alarming. But her affection was contagious, all I could do was sigh, prepare myself for an allergic response later on down the line, and let her maul me with every loving gesture she could come up with — rubbing, licking nuzzling, jumping, rolling over to e expose her belly, then jumping up to begin climbing all over me again. Finally, of course, chewing and I noticed that already her pearly whites were that much bigger and that seemingly that much sharper although she never drew any blood. I really have to figure out how to break her of this habit. I asked the trainer’s son what to do, to which he responded by grabbing her and petting her like crazy until she quieted down a bit. Again, all I could think is that this is not a great solution for someone who is allergic to dogs although, true to their promise, they had obviously kept washing her once a week as I had asked, because she did not smell “doggy”. Of course, once the petting frenzy was done, she was all over me again.
Her tail wagged so hard that her whole body shook. For those of us whose preferred pet is feline, this wild and rowdy display of affection upon one’s return after having been away seems a little over-the-top
Whatever happened to just sauntering over after a few moments delay, so that I would not think that you actually missed me, and, after slowly stretching and yawning as if you couldn’t care less whether I had come or not, that you hadn’t been waiting for me at all, curling sedately around my legs with a low rolling purr?
What’s with all this enthusiasm? This unfettered display of mad joy? I could see in my mind’s eye my cats watching Lakshmi with all the feline disdain they could muster at her inability to behave as a “proper” pet should act. No wonder there are “cat people” and “dog people”. The difference between the two is remarkable. Just as there are those of us who like nothing better than a quiet afternoon sipping iced tea on the veranda and while watching a game of cricket, there are those of us who want to run around the basketball court, sweatily cheering whenever someone gets a basket, knocking one another aside, and congratulating the guy who manages the best tomahawk dunk, there are those who prefer the slow easy greeting style of a cat to the rambunctious delight of a dog.
But Lakshmi had no shame. She was happy to see me. Why not show it with every inch of her body, which had already grown in the 10 days since I had last seen her?
Why should I pretend that I am not happy to see her? I heard her asking my disapproving imaginary cats. What’s with you guys that you don’t just want to gobble her up yourselves? It’s so great to see her again. I didn’t think I would, I can’t believe she is here. Wowweee! Kiss me kiss me kiss me. Rub me rub me rub me. I can’t get enough of you!!
There is no doubt in my mind that, for people who love wild and uninhibited displays of affection, that a loving pooch is the pet of choice. Even I couldn’t help but smile, she was that happy. And her joy ignited mine. How could it not? In the same way that laughter is infectious, so is the enthusiasm of a dog welcoming her owner home.