Crushed Goldfish and A Semi-Crushed Ego

On my flight from London to Doha, I sat behind a very active (read: rambunctious) five-year-old Qatari boy. His mother and I chatted in broken Arabic as he loudly chomped on Goldfish crackers. During our conversation, I realized that Kathmandu was going to be way out of my comfort zone. This would be the first time since starting school at Davidson that I would not actively be studying Arabic and the first time I would live in a country outside of the U.S. that wasn’t in the Middle East. I had spent the previous summer learning Arabic in Amman, Jordan and the spring semester of my sophomore year in Beirut, Lebanon, where I would return after my time in Nepal. It feels strange to write that my comfort zone is the Middle East, but it’s true. Living in Nepal was going to be hard. I didn’t know Nepali and barely knew anything about Nepal’s history–I was going in as ignorant as the foreigners I had made fun of in Lebanon a few weeks earlier. “Why would you bother coming to a country without learning the native language first?” I had learned my first lesson of the summer without even stepping foot in Nepal: I was a huge hypocrite. Despite my mediocre efforts, I could not memorize all of the basic Nepali sayings provided by a quick Google search during my flight to Kathmandu (I did, however, learn how to say “Hello, my name is…” and “thank you” which did earn me some ~cool girl~ points in the office). With crushed goldfish in my shoes, I made my way through the Tribhuvan International Airport. I was greeted by a familiar face, Melech, and a girl in a red shirt. Melech, a Davidson student on the same program, had arrived a few days prior and came with Eve, our program director, to pick me up. We put my bags in the back of the taxi and headed towards my home for the next two months. On the way back from the airport, Eve explained the layout of Kathmandu and gave a brief overview of what the next two months would look like. We’d have a seminar every week to talk about Nepali history, the current political climate, voluntourism, and our roles as foreign interns in Nepal. In addition to our seminars, we’d be working a full-time internship at Open Learning Exchange (OLE) Nepal. Upon arrival at the apartment, Eve let Melech and I know that we’d have our first seminar over dinner in a few hours. I walked into the apartment feeling a little bit overwhelmed, I put my bags down, emptied the goldfish out of my shoes, and took a deep breath–this was home now.

Fueled by an incurable jetlag and a recent obsession with fitness Instagrams, I decided I was going to run my way around Sanepa, the area in Kathmandu where I was living. I noticed a few things on my morning runs:

1) everyone in Sanepa seemed to be awake and fully functioning by 4:30 am

2) there were dogs everywhere

3) a thick layer of dust and car exhaust covers the city around 7:30 am

4) I was very out of shape

Running gave me the ability to explore Kathmandu in ways I wouldn’t be able to since I was working full-time. The weekends were reserved for tourist-y activities and outings with friends at their favorite restaurants, bars, and cafes. On my morning runs, I could zigzag in and out of the back roads–seeing hidden street art, passing by people walking to the temple, and saying hello to the kids outside of their parents’ corner stores. I became a familiar face to my new neighbors and learned how kind-hearted they were—shooing away dogs who had started chasing after me and offering me water and food when I was red, tired, and sweaty. I would soon come to learn that openness and generosity were not characteristics exclusive to my neighbors, but rather that this was the Nepali way. Within my first few weeks here, I already feel loved, welcomed, and at home. I can’t wait for the rest of the summer and I’m so incredibly lucky to be living here.


Street art (1/3)


Street art (2/3)


Street art (3/3)

In an attempt to practice my Arabic over the summer, I frequented the only Syrian-owned restaurant in Kathmandu (and I believe Nepal). My coworkers came with me to try Middle Eastern food for the first time. Here they are enjoying zaatar w jebneh and chicken shawarma!