From my journal:
September 26 - October 1, 2016
[On the Plane]
Just got to my seat on Boston to Doha flight. Empty seat next to me - yes! - very pink. Entering the plane felt something like an upscale nightclub in Las Vegas. I like it, kind of neat lighting inside the cabin - neon pink. Qatar Airlines is cool.
[At a Hotel in Doha during 8+ hour Layover]
They gave me a complimentary hotel room in Doha during the layover. How wonderful! All is good. I thought it was day - like 6AM when we landed and was surprised when I finally got outside to see it was pitch black. Oops, must have been 6PM - a little turned around. I was hoping to explore outside, but not so much in the dark. Maybe I'll watch some local TV, take a shower, check out the hotel. They'll call me at 11 when I need to go back to the airport. I have three hours.
I met a couple who are doing missionary work in Nepal. They were on my last flight and will also be on my next flight. We found we have a connection. They work with Prison Fellowship International (PFI) in Nepal....and years ago, 2002 it was, I wrote my 'Prison Story' about the kids locked up in prison with their criminal parents... Well, those kids that were released soon after - they went to PFI's home in Kathmandu (like an orphanage) where these missionaries work. This couple has been helping this organization sine 2001. So they know the kids, and it is a small world.
It is very hazy outside... The AC was on in the hotel van when driving from the airport. When I went outside - my glasses fogged up completely. I couldn't see a thing. It is HOT, humid and not sure where the haze comes from, maybe the nearby desert sands? I saw a few super tall palm trees among the street lights along the busy road outside the airport. The street lights are on lit-up neon purple and blue pillars. When I looked closer I could see Arabic script, maybe prayers, almost as a design written all over every pillar.
In the airport there were all sorts of international people, including men with long white shirts/dresses/gowns (not sure what to call them) and white fabric draped over their heads held in place by a black cord. I guess traditionally men wear white and women wear black. I saw in the gift shop a salt and pepper shaker set, the salt - an Arabic man, and pepper - a woman in a black burka. I might have to buy those on the way back. I've seen a few headscarves here, but not many, and only one lady in a head-to-toe burka.
The streets were busy, lots of people walking, crossing the streets randomly - not at crosswalks. There were several cranes, and some construction workers working at night under big lights. I noticed one crane lifting what looked like a block of concrete, and I swear there was a man also on the load, hitching a ride. I had to look again. I bet in the US that is not allowed.
Only one other passenger was getting a ride to the hotel in the van with me. She said she was from Rwanda. I was happy to meet her. I don't think I've ever met anyone from Rwanda before.
In the immigration area before leaving the airport, there was a man working there who started calling out in a language I didn't understand. I and others in the line, looked toward the commotion. The man had the exact look of what you might imagine Americans would think a 'terrorist' would look like, dark beard and all. Turned out, the man was flagging down someone in line who was on crutches, telling him he could go to the front of the line. The 'terrorist' looking man was taking care of us. It was sweet. I recognized the brainwashing my country had done on my brain.
So I'm having fun, feeling in the moment...eyes open, absorbing. That's what I love and miss about traveling long distances. My brain feels clear, happy. I can do this. It is comforting to feel safe in a far away new land on the edge of the Gulf of Arabia. I like being in the world.
[Back at the Airport]
Back at the airport now, looking for my missionary friends. I found a glass of wine instead. I think there are some strict rules on alcohol in this country, except maybe at the airport. I love my new iPad!! So convenient. the perfect travel device and small!
I took a nice long hot shower at the hotel! World travel wouldn't be nearly as much fun without those on occasion. I found a mini black-olive pizza in the case at the 24-hour lunch counter in the hotel lobby, mmm, along with a coffee. Two men from India sat in the lobby near me to have a smoke. I was surprised to see old-fashion white ashtrays on the small lobby tables there encouraging guests to light up. That is a bygone era as seen through my American, Ann Arbor eyes.
There's a player piano here in this airport bar, which suddenly sounded different, so I looked over to find an actual man at the keyboard. I guess the computer plays when he's on break. Sounds gorgeously lovely! I was the only one to applaud when he finished his song. He looked over at me and smiled. Makes me think of my son. I hope he had a good day at school today.
My internal clock is all confused. I slept a little on the 11 hour and 10 minute flight here, from Boston to Doha. Then I perked up, wide awake after landing, had a coffee and still feel awake. It's midnight Qatar time. Boarding for Nepal is at 1:10am. Sure doesn't feel like midnight to me....only a few hours earlier, I was certain it was 6am. Very confusing.
I'm still thinking about the "Life of Pi" movie I watched on the last flight. Hmmm....interesting.
Found myself looking at Kenneth's "Love Card" in the hotel room. What a SUPER idea he had. The night before I left Ann Arbor my son said with greater than five-year-old intelligence, "Mom, make me a 'Love Card' with your picture on it. Then I can look at it and think of you while you're gone." After tucking him into bed that night, I stayed up late, packing, rummaging around, trying to get organized. And of course, I had to add the "Love Card" project to my list. I made a laminated Love Card for each of us around 3am before going to sleep.
After five hours on the previous flight, I had had enough. Miraculously, I didn't get out of my window seat once during the entire eleven hour, ten minute flight. Next flight is shorter, maybe 4-5 hours. I'll try to sleep because it will be 9:30AM when I land in Kathmandu. I'll be there soon and at the hotel where I first got to know Khumbu (my dog), and where I used to have to go out to cyber cafes to write my "Adventure Journals" to send home. I'll be really amazed if I can send email from my hotel room. I wonder if it will be the same room Khumbu and I were in on my last trip.
There are hundreds of thousands of Nepali people working in Qatar, I almost feel I am in Nepal now. I am hearing the Nepali language everywhere. It's the service workers, like the hotel van helper and driver were both Nepali, and the woman at the information desk, and almost everyone working at this airport. Nepal is one of the poorest countries and oil-rich countries like Qatar, bring Nepali people over by the plane-load. It's convenient to have a steady supply of people who will dutifully and gleefully take any and every job available.
A mom, her little boy and husband just sat down across from me. They're speaking another language, but I can't make out what it is. The boy is around my son's age. Both the boy and his dad have on matching black and white striped shirts. Cute. Dad got a beer, mom and son sat patiently waiting. When he finished his beer, they left as fast as they came in.
I'm in Kathmandu! It's like a dream. Being here is like walking through a moving kaleidoscope, dizzying at times. I wear glasses now which seems to be limiting my peripheral vision and making my steps not as youthful and graceful as in past years. The world feels so small. Hop on a flight, twiddle your thumbs for umpteen hours and viola, bingo, you're here, halfway around the world - a modern Star Trek scenario.
Just as I was about to exit the wide open doors at the Kathmandu airport, a small dog with ears cocked at different angles, and not so straight little legs and paws, came in and looked up at me. "Welcome", he said. We caught eyes, and I smiled at his small head not even a foot off the ground. It felt sad not to pet him. But he was a street dog, mangy, maybe fleas. I want to rescue them all. I think he was surprised to see me move out of his way instead of his usual experience of moving out of everyone else's way. Like Doctor Doolittle, I speak the language of the animals.
Pem (my business partner) picked me up at the airport, along with his good friend, Phula, who is best known for his part as the "Sherpa" in the recent Everest IMAX movie. Pem said there aren't as many homeless dogs lately due to an animal welfare group that has been rounding up the street dogs and spaying and neutering them over the past several years. One dog I saw looked white by nature, although in his current state he was a dusty gray, the same color as the street.
On the quick and chaotic reentry into my past - the car sped from the airport toward downtown, stopping and starting, dodging the rush of traffic that appeared to move in all directions without rules in front of our car. I think I noticed every street dog between the airport and my hotel.
My room at this hotel is two doors down from the room Khumbu and I had seven years ago. This one is a corner room with windows on two sides, one facing an alley and some rooftops, the other facing a brick wall where some pigeons live. The room has a balcony with two chairs, AC and a fancy, wall mounted television that works somewhat. There is now wi-fi so I don't need cyber cafes anymore. There is also this funny device on the wall - which once I figured out what it was - I immediately had to turn it OFF! It says: "Start Ups, Professional Detailing Supplies, Kathmandu". It appears to be an electric air freshener. It spits out a puff of fragrance every few minutes. Yuck. That's something new. The hallway smells like paint, but otherwise, I'm OK without this particular detail.
Feeling a very slight headache, I'm drinking water. Kathmandu is at about 5,000 feet, like Denver, although at the same latitude as Florida.
[A Few Days Later]
Took me a few days to adjust. What a difference seven years makes on a place and a body. Maybe for every year let's say 1000 new cars and motorcycles are put on these roads. So 7000 seems about right, new cars and motorcycles on the road since the last time I was here. If an actual count - I'm guessing the number is more than that. The whole world has this problem - more cars in every city each year. When does it stop?
I was out in that mess today with Pem on the back of his motorcycle. While riding along in the sea of exhaust with moving vehicles on all sides of us going every which direction, I was in awe of my driver's abilities. Motorcycles are the way to go - narrowly moving through the cars one can get ahead in a jiffy, but even with our slim profile - we were stuck like everyone else. There was one poor 'traffic policeman' who was trying to help a single jeep turn left in front of traffic completely going against the grain of swarms of passenger vehicles. I was glad he was attempting to do his job, but I could only imagine what a horrible job that would be - standing on foot in that thick pollution, trying to get those lethal drivers to pay attention to your instructions - seems an impossibility. Poor guy.
And then I saw a dog - asleep. How could he sleep - his nose was about an inch from the moving traffic. It was already dark. I wanted to wake him and move him from harms way. But we sped by as everyone else did. I've thought that many times today and the past few days. I want to save the poor critters and creatures and people, too, from themselves. What a job. I cannot do it alone. Seems no one can. Where is this sleeping government? I know it's complicated, but someone should be doing something, somehow, some way! Sadly time marches on and modern chaos moves in, takes hold and grows and grows. The world gets more and more complicated, more crowded, more cars. What to do? Ke garne (an often repeated line in Nepali)?
Monsoon season is lasting longer this year - they say maybe ongoing until mid October - whereas it usually ends mid September. So it is rainy and when it rains it pours, like you get drenched if you're out in it, which we were yesterday. I jogged back to the hotel in the rain yesterday and had to change clothes completely.
I was up at 4am, and it was raining. The lightening and thunder was beautiful - so nice to sleep with the sounds of nature - unless you have jet lag, then it is hard to sleep. This afternoon again a downpour, with sunshine ahead of it. Most of the day was quite lovely, but now rain again, like torrents. I bought an umbrella along the way which works pretty well, although I still got quite wet. I should bring my raincoat with me tomorrow.
I ordered a ginger tea at this coffee shop. Very cute little area. I should take a photo. It's taking a long time for the tea. Did he forget? I'm all wet an am not drying out - wet everywhere. A puddle is forming under my chair. Ginger tea arrived - tastes warm and good.
Today it rained and rained. I was out and immediately set out to find an umbrella based on my experience of getting drenched yesterday. My clothes have been hanging to dry all night and day and are still wet! And looking muddy around the pant-legs. They will go to the hotel laundry service tomorrow. I ended up walking back to my hotel wondering where everyone had gone. The streets were practically empty. Where does the traffic go when it rains??
Walking quickly in the rain I noticed suddenly no one had anywhere to go. At 2:30PM, I was the only one moving in the streets, maybe along with one or two others, but for the most part everything stopped, all that gridlock and honking was gone. No one was out. Usually in the middle of the day the streets are too packed and don't even try to cross! I crossed a busy street earlier today and thought of the old video game Frogger, where the little frog tries to cross the street without getting hit. The game must have been developed here (or in India). Getting through every layer of traffic (safely) is very satisfying. Your prize is your life!
I need to get back to the hotel to change my clothes. Now I see sun shining in through a window beyond where I am sitting. That means there must be a beautiful rainbow somewhere for sure. It's definitely still raining, but not as hard. I should run back to the hotel.
Wow, so much water cleaning the streets. A giant waterfall is pouring down from the top of the 4th story rooftop into an already full plastic barrel, making lots of noise. I saw people pushing trash on by the front of their stores, trash that floated down in the gutters, through the troughs catching many gallons of runoff at the sides of the roads in front of the shops. One man pushed the trash with a stick, as if a boy moving toy boats downstream, grocery bags, juice boxes, old water bottles, biscuit wrappers. He freed the garbage that was creating a dam so it could move freely down to the next shop owner, more pieces of trash came along from up stream. Wet, wet. Nothing in Nepal is half-way - this place is one-hundred percent. Like the rainbows during monsoon are completely vivid and glorious, divine-like. I have to see if there's one now, but this cafe is in a narrow canyon of an alley, a little shopping walking street - no cars or motorcycles allowed!
During all this rain, I thought more tourists would be at this cafe, but not too many, just me and three others. Where is everyone?
I'll check out the Electric Pagoda bar and grill tonight. What a great name.
The contrast between the crazy, busy, dusty, pollution filled streets - and the rain, the vast muddy rivers that form in the streets - it's messy both ways.
Tourists traversing this alley-way now, must be safe to move about. Looks like the rain has stopped - maybe more later tonight. It's like the place needs a shower every once in a while to wash away all the crud down stream into the rivers and into the next country! - which would be India.
I'm sitting at The Electric Pagoda. It's the perfect place for me now, in a corner on a cushion at a low table - just me. I've ordered broccoli, tofu, ginger, mint stir-fry with rice. It is yummy! The place is big and spread out, outdoors with groovy music playing and trees, tables throughout the garden, lovely atmosphere, dark, too. So dark, I almost ate a red-hot chili pepper thinking it was broccoli. I love having this iPad (you!) to chat with (type on) between bites. Seven years ago - my journal was paper and pen. It will take me several lifetimes to digitize it all, but someday that's a goal.
Just saw the smallest bug wander across this screen. I was thinking - being outside there should be many bugs, but that's the only one I've seen, and it would be easy to miss it if it weren't crawling across this lit screen. Little does he know I'm writing about him. He went <-- that way and must be on the dark perimeter now because I don't see him at all.
I really hope I don't get sick having inhaled toxic amounts of fumes on these roads this evening. That would be bad. I was wearing a mask while on the motorcycle with Pem, and we could chat over the wiz-bang of surrounding traffic noises and random honking, making our conversation only slightly difficult. "America is so boring compared to this", Pem said swerving not to hit the young family, mom, dad and two kids, aboard the neighboring motorcycle.
"That's why we come," I yelled back. He, wearing a helmet, nodded.
He said, "People cheer when the electricity comes on. They cheer when the water comes on. Life is exciting here!" A large bus built 50+ years ago moved in ahead of us. All I could think was - he's right, he's so profound. We philosophized while negotiating through those exciting streets.
To complicate matters it started to rain large splattering drops of rain. Part of the sky was clear so we debated whether to continue onto the super log one-way street that circles the military marching grounds. Once we got in there we were committed to go completely around. Suddenly a big group of motorcycles was bunched up at a standstill. They had chosen to stop under the shelter of an overhead pedestrian walkway, like right there in the middle of the street! We got around them and then stopped ourselves under a large tree at the side of the road. I got out my new shiny umbrella and we only got slightly wet after that. We weren't the only ones on a cycle holding an umbrella.