The Things You Bring

I made it to Kathmandu and am sitting on the couch of my flat, looking out at a very large banana leaf (well actually a whole tree of them), a palm tree, brick apartment buildings (some quite nice, others, not so much) and grey monsoon-y skies. The monsoon rains have let up for now but it rained steadily through the night. No high winds, no apocalyptic downpours (yet, at least), just a lot of warm rain. Much more do-able than expected, but this might be a premature judgment. 

Sun setting over South China Sea to Bangkok from Tokyo

Sun setting over South China Sea to Bangkok from Tokyo

 

Now that I’m settled into my digs a bit, I finally have a moment to think about the lead up to getting here. That, of course, is a loaded topic. There are a lot of things that lead me here. There is the academic side. Six years of coursework, independent study, lectures, meetings, and write-ups preparing for the research I will do here. The help and mentorship I had in applying and interviewing. There are the intellectual interests, which is different than the academic training. There is the social side, which is really just my love of travel and adventure and commitment to trying to include both in my life (and therefore, research) as much as possible. 

There is also the logistical side, which is the part I am marveling at right now. It began about 15 minutes after I learned I was awarded the Fulbright, which was 4 months to the day before my arrival. This took many forms, but mostly was a constant list running through my head that I was regularly adding to as things dawned on me. The bigger, more obvious items were buying things for a survival kit and getting vaccinated for scary diseases I don't want. Less obvious were wardrobe things, like noticing these “jogger” pants the undergrads wear and thinking the tapered ankles would be good malaria prophylaxis and wondering where on earth those young people get their hip new pants. (That might be the most uncool thing I’ve ever written, and in case you’re also uncool and don’t know, I had luck at Uniqlo and Target, but hear H&M would work too). I’m not someone who is very good at managing multiple mental tasks. My ADHD presents in only two specific arenas: poor executive functioning and high distractibility. So I feel inclined to talk about the packing because: 1) I am incredibly proud of my packing job as both a feat of executive functioning and the physical job itself, which, after visualizing and mentally prepping the list in my head, took not too long to compile and get into bags. And, 2) I’ve been thinking a lot about the tangible and intangible things that I have brought with me.  

Here are photos of all my things, checked bags and carry on before and after they made it into my bags.

 

A Few of the Tangible Items I Didn’t Think I Would Need:

  • A “Go” Bag to carry with me at all times with extra clothes, medicines, survival stuff, etc. in case there is an earthquake or some other terrible thing happens. It’s grim, but smart to have.
  • Non-leather belts for entering holy Hindu sites (a last minute addition, packed by accident)
  • Compression Socks (I am too vain about my youth to get the medical-supply-store-kind, I got the athlete-kind at REI, which I found uncomfortable and too hot)
  • Back-Up batteries, for the “load shedding” or mandatory power cuts every day
  • A fake wedding ring if I need people to leave me alone as a single woman (though it seems like harassment of women in Nepal isn’t as bad as neighboring India or other places—though being 30 and unmarried will garner me a lot of sympathy and concern)

Some of the Intangible Items that I Found I Needed Too:

  • The preparedness to lose or not keep every last item in my bags in case of the worst
  • Mental preparation for a host of challenges, from weather/heat, to sickness, to cold showers, to lack of fresh fruits and veggies
    • Example: Today I had to forego my morning (cold) shower before a conference for a (cold) morning sponge bath because the shower isn't turning on (but the sink is)
  • Reliance on a family and friend support network to keep my dormant US-life operational. It would be very hard to be a 30-year old independent adult leaving the US without people checking mail, driving your car, managing your possessions, and generally keeping an ear to the ground

I had 4 months, exactly, from notification of the Fulbright to arrival. That timelines deeply privileges people who the means to square away their lives expediently. I don’t have kids, or a mortgage, or the kinds of financial obligations that would complicate leaving. I could afford the medications, safety supplies, different kinds of clothes, and electronics necessary to come here. There is deep irony in acquiring things in order to detach from the comforts of modern life. And irony that I had to buy so many things to live safely and comfortably in a much poorer environment. I am here ready to be adaptable and open and handle challenges as they come and having proper equipment facilitates that. I don’t doubt my ability to live in a range of environments, I have already done that in various ways in my life. But my body and mind are also used to a certain standard and routine and quality of life that undeniably affects my outlooks and my needs. I spent time in developing countries before and am ready for some of the challenges I can expect, others I won’t know until they come. My hope is to shift gears in such a way that they don’t feel major, but just like interesting differences. But making that shift also means being equipped. Having medicines I need for when I am sick, having clothing that will keep me cool (even if a bit unfashionable), and knowing what I am leaving behind.

Things I Said Goodbye To:

  • A wide social network available to hang out and for support
  • Fresh salads (maybe I can get one in a hotel, but fresh veggies that aren’t peeled or cooked are major risks for illness)
  • Shorts and exposed knees (except around the house)
  • The ability to read signs and easily know what’s going on at all times
  • Late summery sunsets in Seattle
  • Easily knowing if I have made a gesture or verbal mistake that is obviously offensive
  • Driving, I’m really going to miss that independence. And my car. I love my car.
  • Good coffee
  • Winter weather (it does get cold and wintery in Kathmandu, but I’ll be on the Terai in warmer weather)

Here I am at SeaTac, about to head off into a great adventure. I will try and update semi-regularly with a sense of what I’m up to and some light analysis on the social life here because, well, I’m a Sociologist and that’s what I do. In fact, it's what I'm here to do.

At SeaTac, learning that my big bag is 60 pounds

At SeaTac, learning that my big bag is 60 pounds