First Weekend in KTM

I don’t live in the tourist epicenter of Kathmandu, which is called Thamel, but I live near it. I’ve been hearing a lot about it, so the curiosity to see this touristy, cultural epicenter of hip Kathmandu seemed like the perfect post-conference Friday evening plan. Its full of hostels, western-inspired restaurants, and trekking shops. After decompressing from the conference at Mitini*, the greatest coffee shop ever, which is very close to our flat could easily be in Seattle or really anywhere in the world, we headed out. Three of the four of the current Fulrbight research students ventured out to Thamel, to visit the old haunts of Lily, who had been here previously to do preliminary fieldwork on her project.

Blurry sunset picture taken while walking to Thamel

Blurry sunset picture taken while walking to Thamel

The monsoon grey skies finally cleared to be the clearest we’ve seen, and as we walked there we saw a beautiful sunset between the buildings. As dusk quickly fell (being close to the equator means that sunsets are not the prolonged shows you get in Seattle during the summer), many very large and chirping bats flew overhead. It was pretty awesome. We ate dinner at Western Tandoori, which was not a place I would have noticed if I was walking by. It was narrow and hot in there and you had to shimmy between the register-area and the tandoor (tall clay oven for making naan) to enter. For 270 rupees (about $2.50) we got three orders of naan, a plate of rice, a veggie curry, and a bean curry. All delicious. We also got a pitcher of water that was likely unsafe to drink and sat untouched. Hot and full we wandered on through the narrow, crowded streets towards Purple Haze, a “rock bar” with live music, few foreigners, and cold beer.

The tandoor and future naan in dough-form at Western Tandoori in Thamel

The tandoor and future naan in dough-form at Western Tandoori in Thamel

The band covered Pearl Jam, Pink Floyd, and Queen and the singer sounded exactly like Eddie Vedder. Then remarkably, he sounded exactly like Roger Waters. By the time they covered Queen I wasn’t surprised to hear that he was a dead ringer for Freddie Mercury too. Most interesting was that while the mostly male crowd of hip, young Nepalis seemed to enjoy and know all the words and music to the western songs, it was the Nepali songs they chanted for and sang every word to. It is always a bummer confronting the extent to which western (and mostly American) cultural exportations permeate seemingly every nook and cranny of global pop culture. Experiencing such enthusiastic high regard for Nepali cultural products was a heartening sign of resistance, or at least the simultaneity of a strong Nepali music scene in light of the driving force of American music.

The switch from Western to Nepali songs happened after a mid-song several-minute-long power outage, where people used cellphone flashlights to light up the room and were whistling and chanting for songs. Power outages are a daily reality, called load-shedding. The grid can’t handle the demands and so different groups lose power at two different several-hour intervals during the day. There is usually a small lag from power loss to generator take-over in public settings like this bar, or the hotel at the conference. We’re still figuring out what zone our flat is on, and so it’s always a mystery when we’ll have power and when to expect it back. We have a schedule and are narrowing in on our zone like a puzzle.

Other things that were interesting about this club were how it was mostly men who were generally dancing together in pairs or groups. Men here are much more affectionate with each other (while cross-gender touching is not something done in public and only just barely in this club environment). There were several pairs of men dancing with each other in a way that would look like they were courting each other in the US. I’ve also witnessed several pairs of men walking through the city holding hands or arm in arm. Something I’ve also seen in the Middle East. 

The worst thing about this club was how smoky it was. My smoke-laden clothing prompted me to spend my first Saturday in Kathmandu doing laundry.

I had noticed the unsurprising absence of a laundry machine and then realized the wooden cutting board thingy with ridges I saw in the kitchen was a washboard (and not a special board for cutting noodles or something like that, as I originally wondered). I still have plenty of clean clothes left but decided more frequent, smaller loads might be better. Especially given the humidity and the likelihood that it will take days for my clothes to dry, if they ever do.

Hand washing clothing was a first for me and deepened my appreciation of the social obligations of women without access to automated laundry machines. Laundry is still a gendered task that takes up much time in the US and major part of women’s ‘second shift’ of labor. Yet it all seems remarkably easy compared to the laundry burden in the Nepal. As someone who studies women’s household tasks and the time poverty that women experience because of the extent of their daily household burdens, I was eager to see what this task entailed and how long it took (bearing in mind I am a novice and have only my own clothing, not my whole family’s, to do). In addition to women doing their families laundry, many take in others’ laundry for about $0.50/kilo.

Here is a step by step guide to attempting to hand wash your own small load of laundry in under an hour and a half:

1.     Hang laundry line that you brought with you on the narrow balcony on window bars filigreed concrete of stairwell

a.     Forget how to tie trucker’s hitch and accidentally make slip knot

b.     When the weight of one shirt brings the line to the ground, tie tighter and with real knot and make note to look up trucker’s hitch

2.     Fill tub with water from shower, add too much Tide so there are bubbles everywhere

3.     Put your darks in and immediately regret this, realizing that you’ll need to repeat step 3 and be wasteful of water and soap to do lights because of the dye on darks leeching out

4.     Drag tub to narrow balcony and let clothing soak in soapy water while getting a pillow from kitchen to kneel on

5.     Clumsily scrub clothing against washboard for what seems like long enough to make them clean but not long enough to totally wear out the weave

6.     Notice how soapy your clothes are and feel utter despair that you will ever get them rinsed completely

a.     Decide to fill second rinse bucket, thinking this will save water

7.     One by one take scrubbed items and put in rinse bucket and rinse them for a while by swishing them around. Watch the rinse bucket grow sudsier and murkier with each item.

8.     Wring out and realize they are really soapy still. Repeat Steps 7 and 8 several times.

9.     Give up and bring to sink, wasting more water and still creating suds

10.  Wring out as best you can (which is still pathetic) and hang. Watch water drip off and soak balcony

a.     Pray there isn’t so much soap that you’ll be itchy when your clothes finally dry

11.  Hang undergarments indoors (wherever you can find space) to maintain modesty and respect among neighbors (because you notice everyone’s underwear is missing from their clothes’ lines)

12.  Repeat with lights and fresh water. Feel smug about using less soap only to realize you’ve still used too much soap

13.  Feel accomplished in your job and rest on the couch, only to hear a heavy monsoon rain start and notice how some items are getting a little splashed from roof run off (video below for visual)


*A side note on Mitini, they serve excellent food and coffee and all profits benefit training of locals and women in Barista jobs (which is a growing market in Kathmandu) and other job training. I have been here every day this week and don’t plan on stopping this trend as long as I am in Kathmandu. They also seem to be affiliated somehow with Mitini Nepal, a Lesbian Organization, though I'm not sure in what capacity