Sunday, September 16, 2012

Surviving Culture Shock

Maoist Rally

I’ve been in Nepal almost two years and I’ve acclimated pretty well, I suppose. But one never really knows how well she is doing without a comparison now and then. I’ve seen a lot of westerners come and go and the under thirty crowd do just fine, all wide eyed and ready for anything. But those of us over 40! Now that’s a challenge. I’m finding that our European counterparts do quite a bit better than the Americans, both from the US and Canada. Surprisingly, those from the US seem to do better than the Canadians. 

But even as I approach my second year in Nepal I still have my moments. We are often the last to know when others feel like laughing at us; we get too caught up in the moment. Last year a woman about my age came, late fifties. I had been looking forward to meeting her in person. We met via the internet, and it was nice to have someone who might understand my culture better and be a companion. 

Aloo Paratha served with Ju Ju Dau and salad.
When I went to lunch my new friend, she had asked that the popper, flat bread, not be fried. Well, sure enough, after waiting for over 30 minutes it came fried. She began poking her finger on it crushing it on the plate and demanding it be replaced with a more suitable popper. First, this is a third world country. Someone could have, would have eaten it had it not been crumbled in tiny pieces. Secondly, there is a social norm that requires a polite response in all situations. It is very inappropriate to demand, yell or outwardly show anger. No one told me that either, but I figured it out eventually. 

This is a complex culture, as I had learned in a sociology class years ago. There are many rules and norms that are deeply engrained into this culture. All the, “Well, this isn’t right…The way we do it back home is….” will do nothing except make you look like a fool. Everyone knows this is the way it’s been done for hundreds of years here so it must be right. The way they do things back home is really irrelevant. But the Nepali people will appear interested and will be polite because that is the way it is done here. 

Local Fish Seller and Friends

So my Canadian friend spent the next three days going from bed to toilet and back to bed. Yes, for some reason she got a bit of a traveler’s stomach. I politely ate what I had been served and was fine. But before the poo kicked in we went to cross a busy street and no one would stop for us. She decided that this was unacceptable because cars and motorcycles ‘should’ stop for pedestrians. She  pulled out her umbrella and used it as a sword to cross. Everyone was laughing hysterically, even the motorcycle drivers who seemed to purposely come just a bit too close to this demented, white lady. She actually yelled, “Stop!” because everyone knows what the word ‘stop’ means, right? 

It is usually the women who work the fields. Note the short handled shovel.

At many local restaurants there is no running water. This is how they do the dishes.

There was a hukha there at the restaurant that they sold flavored tobacco for. She insisted they smoke marijuana out of it. Actually, it would cause a person to use way too much because of the amount a hukha burns, so no, people do not usually smoke anything but tobacco in them. Additionally, marijuana is illegal here, so although you may see or smell it in Thamel or Freak Street, it is not something you will see as if you are at a rock concert. Although it is illegal, tourists often are given some grace. The rule on the books is a zero tolerance policy, but it’s usually not a problem unless there is something else going on, too. It’s actually a bit more complicated and is discussed in more detail in my e-book, Nepal: On a Budget.   
You can see patches of Marijuana growing throughout Nepal

 Nepal is an amazing destination if you can just leave ‘should’ at home. Here are a few suggestions to get over the culture shock:

  1. Be here fully and breathe in this lifestyle, dust and all. Make it your goal to experience as many strange and bizarre things while you are here as you possibly can.
  2.Take pictures of every weird, strange or bizarre thing you come across. 
  3.Join in. Although tourists may not be able to have an audience with the Royal Kumari or go into some of the temples, you can still join in wherever you see a festival going on. The particular ways may be a bit more limited than for locals.
    4.Always ask if something is appropriate, like leaving shoes on. Remember even though the temples are very interesting and the festivals can be a lot of fun, they are sacred ground and the people are involved in worship. It’s like Easter celebration. Would you like a bunch of Hindus to find the children’s eggs? You might enjoy them joining in, but you hope they figure out how they should act. Sometimes tourists just never quite get it.
  5. Make sure you have plenty of time before and after any of your planned activities. It is common occurrence for domestic flights to be canceled, buses to break down, etc. Always be clear about refunds and rescheduling at the time of purchase.    
  6.Always have a plan B. Being a bit more laid back than you ever thought you could be helps.
  7.Don’t forget to eat regularly and drink plenty of liquids. There are many shops in Thamel and many guest houses that sell water refills for only 5-10 NRs. Not only will this save you money, but refilling is so much better for the environment. Eating at mealtimes (and not complaining) will reduce travelers’ stomach issues.
  8.Understand the culture before you leave home. Not understanding what it’s like at your destination will cause additional stress. Imagine someone coming to New York City and not understanding why it’s so crowded, expensive and busy. 

Here are a few more random pictures that will give you an impression of what you will see throughout Nepal, India and other parts of Asia. Please keep in mind all the beautiful, pristine places the guide books show you. I know you are prepared for the breathtaking views, but this, you have to see it to believe it.
This dog had mange or something so bad he had no hair and his ears were completely scabbed over.

There are many kids living on the street and sniff glue. Here is one with the bag of glue.

This is a gambling game the kids play on the street.

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