Friday, November 26, 2010


It has certainly been a different celebration this year for Thanksgiving and yet one that makes me feel strangely at home here. This is certainly a place that makes me realize how very much I have to be thankful for and to be conscious of little things that I often take for granted. I am quite sentimental when it comes to holidays, and I love being able to have special celebrations with family and friends! I am so very thankful for the resources to not only have plenty to eat and a comfortable place to live but even an abundance to feast together with wonderful people God has brought into our lives.

We went Wednesday evening to the residence of the U.S. Ambassador here for a special celebration. All U.S. citizens were invited, and it was a unique chance to gather with people from our nation but on the other side of the world! Plus, we got little mini turkey sandwiches and pies. Turkey is unbelievably expensive here, so it was fun to watch everyone get so excited about some little bites of a traditional treat. A new friend of ours was invited to give a blessing at the short program, which was also a real treat for us because John and I have become very used to everyone completing avoiding anything Christian at any sort of government or secular function in LA. There was no preaching or anything, but it was nice to have some recognition of the source of all that we have to be grateful for! Without God, what or who are we even thanking? Anyway, it was nice.
I came home and started in on some baking. We have two Miracle Ovens now but still no regular oven, so we had planned some shifts to cover all the food we were hoping to make. I couldn't really picture any way to pull off pie in the Miracle Oven, so I went for pumpkin brownies and pumpkin cake. Yesterday we all spent the day preparing for a late afternoon meal here with some friends. I have to admit that I'm pretty impressed with what we pulled off with no oven and limited pots, pans, and bowls! I braised some chickens, which was an adventure for several reasons. I have never braised a chicken before. Also, I have never had to actually remove the internal organs from a chicken before. Usually when you buy them in the States, the little guts and stuff and tucked neatly into a little bag inside. It is surprisingly difficult to pull them off of the body of the bird! And, I had to cut up the chicken myself into pieces, which I have also never done, and despite the pieces being rather awkwardly cut, the meat turned out quite well. We also had mashed potatoes (made by our dear sweet Muna), dressing, cheesy hash brown casserole, rolls (purchased), gravy, hot autumn punch, and some yummy dishes brought by our friends.

One funny advantage of Thanksgiving here is that nothing is closed that day, so you can still get any ingredients you need that morning!

Some friends came over then for dinner, and we had a really nice evening together! It was so much fun to share our home with people God has brought into our lives and to feast together and celebrate and give thanks to God. We all hit a food coma pretty quickly after dinner, as none of us are used to the quantity of food or nearly the level of starches and heaviness in our food here! What fun to be able to all share together, though, some treats that remind us all of traditions and comforts of "home."

I was reminded yesterday of so many Thanksgiving celebrations growing up. My grandma has been gone now for 15 years, but I still miss her and spending Thanksgiving at her home, watching the Macy's Thanksgiving parade. Then, I think of the year that I actually got to go to the Macy's parade and spend Thanksgiving with my college choir in New York and have my dad and grandpa come to see us there! And, I think of the years now spent in LA, serving at the Santa Monica Civic Center for an amazing celebration put on there for many who wouldn't have a celebration otherwise and sharing a meal and fellowship with adopted "family" there. So, I am thankful for many things, but I feel particularly thankful for memories, both past and new ones being created in the present, of life shared with family and friends and resting with great joy in the arms of our Father who makes a place for us wherever we are and blesses us with glimpses of "home" until we are in our true home forever with Him.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Wear You Down

I wouldn't say it has been a bad week. God has definitely poured out His grace and presence on us in the midst of it, but it has definitely been one of those weeks that I feel the toll a place like this can take. Sometimes, this place just seems to wear you down.
We had a nice weekend away in Nagarkot, a small place in the mountains not too far outside of Kathmandu. We stayed in a nice hotel and had a restful weekend, though we didn't actually see the spectacular mountain views we were hoping for. Lots of fog to look at but not much view of the mountain. On the way up to Nagarkot, we took a tuk tuk to the nearest bus depot (which is really just a parking lot of random buses) and then took a bus to Bhaktapur where we expected to take a second bus up to Nagarkot. When we got off the bus in Bhaktapur, we found out there was no bus running to Nagarkot that day because one of the buses the day before had an accident. So, we ended up in a taxi. Minor gliche but far overshadowed by a fabulous shower and bathtub, which Isaiah loved, and a restful quiet weekend with fresh air.
On Monday morning, we got on the local bus back to Bhaktapur (a little nerve-wracking after having seen the one flipped over on the side of the mountain from Friday). Then we got on the bus back to Lagankhel, which takes you back through all the dust and pollution and clogs up any fresh air that might have filled your lungs while away. The bus was crowded, and when I say crowded, I mean three people hanging on to the outside of the door and people jammed in and standing over each other. Mind you, the "hawker" (as I like to call him) was still beckoning people to come on the bus. I mean, we hadn't even tapped into the space on the roof yet, so why not? Back at Lagankhel (which is the area where I go to the clinic), we just needed to get on a tuk tuk or microbus for a few minutes to get us to our road home. One microbus had just emptied out of people and tried to charge us 300 rupees! Seriously? It costs 10 for that ride! Anyway, we finally walked around the corner, got on a tuk tuk and got home, but it just felt a little astounding how exhausted we felt after our restful weekend because of the trek back home.

I ended up with some sort of intestinal bug for a couple days that gave me terrible cramps and body aches and kept me close to a bathroom. On the second day of that, a full-blown cold or viral thing hit Isaiah. He's been achey and all congested and, by today, seemed totally miserable. The night before last night, it seemed he was going to be up pretty much every hour, which meant we'd be getting up every hour, so we brought him in to sleep in our bed. The night consisted of frequent trips to the bathroom for me with sharp cramps in between and a restless, fussy toddler elbowing me and climbing on me and periodically shoving his nose or mouth into my face for a snot-covered kiss. Now, I know this stuff happens in the States as well. Kids get sick. We get sick. It just happens so much more frequently here. It was just under a month ago that Isaiah had his pukefest weekend. It took him two weeks for his sleep to settle back in, which gave us less than two weeks of him sleeping through the night again before sickness hit again. That is a tiring pattern.
So, in the midst of tired and not feeling well, I made my way to the clinic Wednesday morning for my monthly checkup. I had my glucose test last week and should've found out the results when I went in this time. We got all ready and got over there, only to find the clinic closed for the day. Now, the clinic is open every day, but they have a special time set aside for an "open house" style clinic specifically for expats on Wednesday mornings, which as I've mentioned, is a much easier experience. But given that it only happens once a week, I will need to wait a week if I hope to go in for that clinic time.
I was bummed and a little frustrated, but I decided Isaiah and I would make the trek up to the central post office to pick up the care package I knew was there from my parents. You see, no mail gets delivered to homes here. We have a post office box at the local post office. When we get a package, they put a notice in our box. Often, the notice is all that is actually AT our post office, though, as they keep larger (and, sometimes just random and unpredictable) packages at the downtown office. That is what happened this time. So, then you have to go to the local office, pick up the slip, take it downtown (which is a 30-minute trip one way on a good day), go to 15 or so stations to have random signatures and stamps and who knows what to get the actual package. I've never gone before since John has picked up the packages before, but I thought it might cheer us up a bit to get the package, so we hopped on a microbus and headed up there. Isaiah was so tired and nearly fell asleep on the way. We got off and crossed the crazy intersection, made our way to the unmarked gate at what seemed to be the post office, and when I asked the guard at the gate if it was the post office, he said, "Tomorrow." Since that didn't seem an answer to my question, I said, "What?" He said, "Today is holiday. Closed. You can come tomorrow." Oh, can I, please? You've got to be kidding me! Bleh. What the heck random holiday it was, I have no idea. They have a ton of them, and half of the people here don't even know what or when they are. So, we ventured into the market area next to that and bought a cheap pair of knockoff Puma sweatpants for Isaiah. I started to look for a long-sleeve t-shirt for me, which I had forgotten to pack for sleeping at night, but I just wasn't up for dealing with all the dynamics of the little shops in that kind of market area, so we crossed the intersection again and got on a microbus back to our area.
We headed to Higher Ground, a cafe that is Isaiah's favorite here. It was Muna Didi's day off, so I thought we'd just eat some lunch out and then head home for nap. Isaiah loves the banana smoothies there; it's his favorite. I ordered one for each of us, and the waiter came back a few minutes later to tell me they couldn't make them at that time because the power was out. Bummer.

I surprisingly didn't feel stressed from the day, which is God's grace for sure, as many of you know that I'm not the most flexible person on the planet. Top that off with not feeling well and carrying around a toddler that wasn't feeling well. But, it didn't make me stressed or angry...just exhausted. It's not one thing by itself, but it is the stream of things that are just a regular part of life here and accumulate to just wear a person down here. Ah, Kathmandu, you make me weary sometimes.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Culture Clash

I was just discussing with Alana the other day how sometimes the unexpected culture clash moments come in interacting with other expats. We're all experiencing a different culture here in Nepal, so there is a common ground, but we are not all from the same culture, and sometimes it's easy to forget that until it comes up in jarring ways. I had one of those moments today.

Every Friday, Isaiah and I go to a prayer that is a bunch of moms, mostly with toddlers, so the kids also come. The basic setup of the group is that we each share about any updates/praises/prayer requests, and then we pray for each other. The kids play, usually in the same room, so it is obviously isn't the most focused sharing and prayer time ever, but we all seem to manage to connect while keeping an eye on our kids.

I hadn't really thought about it, but nearly all in the group are Westerners, and actually, primarily British and American. There is one woman who has started coming recently that is not, though. She is a VERY sweet and generous woman who loves Jesus and is absolutely lovely, so I hope this won't be disparaging to her. The cultural differences have just been notable. It reveals assumptions we make about the way things are done. I never much thought about it in the group before, but it is an unspoken norm/expectation among Westerners for things to have a certain degree of structure and order, and it seems to be agreed upon with very little or no direct communication about it. Things like taking turns and going in order around a circle to share. When a new person comes, someone usually explains just that we each share our prayer requests, and the rest seems rather understood. Now, as I said, the kids are there, so there are always the distractions of one of the kids needing attention for something, but those get addressed with a clear attempt to not disrupt the order of the group, and then the mom(s) slip back into the flow of what is happening. Again, none of this even was something in my consciousness until someone came who did not follow the same "rules." This newer woman has, the past few weeks, often gotten up in the middle of someone sharing and just started doing something, such as passing out chocolates to all of the kids. (Remember, most of them are 2 or under!) Last week, she hosted the group, and right as we went to start sharing, she turned on the cartoon network on the TV in the room there for the kids, and later, in the middle of someone sharing, she pulled out two incredibly noisy, flashing toys and turned them on and set them in the middle of the kids. It was weird to realize how shocking it felt and to realize the assumptions made of how a group like this operates.

Anyway, all of those have been sort of amusing, but today was more of a clash. The host home today had steps (marble, mind you) all over the place to get in and out of any room, and one of the little boys had quickly scampered up a few steps and fell down and banged his head. It swelled up and started to bruise right away, and he was yelping. The woman hosting gave the mother a bag with some ice, and she sat on the couch to try to put the ice on his head. Her closest friend was next to her, I was in the room, and this newer woman was in the same room as well. She was trying to tell this mom not to put ice on it; she was telling her she must put a hot rag on it instead. It was said in a tone that was surprisingly stronger than a suggestion. The other three of us tried to just say that ice would actually be good. Then, the newer woman walked over and said, "Let me see." She pulled the mom's hand back and started to press hard with her hand on the bump! The friend rather sharply told her to stop. She got a bit defensive, and the friend tried to explain a bit of why we put ice on it and that it was hurting him more to press on it, but the newer woman was convinced this was the wrong thing to do. A brief conversation followed with many awkward exchanges, including the newer mom stating that is why she didn't let her son on the stairs (even though he had actually been multiple times and had tumbled off a couple). Awkward really is an understatement for that moment.

The actual action wasn't brand new to me. When we were visiting India, a friend's son fell, and everyone seemed convinced to do the same thing. While the hot rag makes it look much worse, that part at least seems it would make sense to actually enhance the body's natural reaction to rush blood to that area. Perhaps our attempts to counteract the body's reaction is less natural and more of a measure of pure comfort. However, the whole pushing on the bump thing just makes me absolutely cringe. It might actually make sense as well, but it just hurts like heck and seems awful! Still, different modes of dealing with situations exist, but the truly jarring part was the very non-Western mode of stepping in and just asserting a way of addressing something...with someone else's child!

I've tried to think it through a bit, as it just felt so jarring to me and so completely baffling to understand the disregard for what seem like common boundaries to me. I mean, barring being a medical professional stepping in to address an emergency situation, it just seems completely unthinkable to me to just step in, pull a mother's hand away from her son (when she has already expressed not agreeing with one aspect of what you're trying to get her to do), and carrying out your own mode of handling the situation, which involves physical intervention with the kid! It connects for me with the lack of boundaries I perceive in the way Nepalis interact with kids when anyone feels the freedom to just touch/squeeze/pull/pick up a kid they don't even know. I think some of it probably stems from the individual versus communal focus of cultures. I know this woman was truly intending to help and felt convinced she was doing the right thing. Regardless of the reasons from cultural norms that led to this particular situation, it was just one of those moments that was a true clash of cultures and a shock to both parties as assumptions came to the surface as being radically different. There are reasons that phrases like culture "shock" and culture "clash" have come into use! It is sometimes just completely jarring to have those differences come head to head in an unexpected moment!