A former manager of mine had been to Nepal as a Fulbright Scholar, and he maintained his enthusiasm for the country from grad school through to his recent visit for a different Farmer-to-Farmer assignment. Despite some the initial difficulties, I am happy to report I share his good opinion of Nepal. I will definitely have to come back some day to see more of the country.
Here are some odds and ends from my visit:
- Diversity: Even when boarding the plane in Dubai, I was struck by the ethnic diversity of Nepalis, just from the sample of overseas workers headed home. In a lineup of agro-vets, individuals could have easily been mistaken for Mexican, Arab, Indian, Greek, Chinese, or Native American. The day I showed up at the office sporting my only salwar kameez (the long shirt, pants, and scarf combo I purchased in India but is also common dress in Nepal), my Winrock colleague told me he nearly mistook me for a Nepali woman. The turnabout was also true. I couldn't stop staring at the Pesticide Registrar when we met because he was a dead ringer for my Filipino uncle. We even joked about it later, as through a translator, he told me he also thought I looked like his relatives!
- Food: No matter the ethnicity, the staple for Nepalis is dal bhat or dal bhat tarkari. The lentil soup (dal) and steamed rice (bhat) is eaten 2 or 3 times a day. The upgrade includes a vegetable or meat curry (tarkari). The dal bhat tarkari I had with agro-vets was an excellent value for about 150-200 rupees ($1.50-2.00), and that would even come with seconds or thirds if you wanted! ... and instead of bread rolls or chips and salsa, they leave a bowl of popcorn for you to snack on. The fanciest dal bhat tarkari come with multiple curries and spicy pickles in little stainless steel dishes, similar to an Indian thali. When I've been on assignments, the limitations to local cuisine can be monotonous after so many days. Not so in Nepal, where even the dal changes daily or different cooks have different takes on the same lentils or beans. I credit Indian cuisine with teaching me to enjoy vegetables, and its less spicy - though still spiced! - cousin in Nepal was no exception. The veg curries came in varieties of cabbage, carrot, pumpkin, beet, okra, cauliflower, different greens, and even the dreaded bitter melon. Sorry, Mom, I still don't like ampalaya in any form.
- Logistics: While my Winrock colleagues stuck to US/EU business hours, the government officers in Nepal have shorter days (~ 10 am to - 4:30 pm) but work 6 days a week with only Saturday off. Nepal also has their own calendar, a lunar one in which I believe the current year is 2072? When trying to set up meetings, what really threw me for a loop were Nepali numbers. Zero still looks like an "O," but the script for their 1 and 5 look more like how we write "9" and "4," respectively. Confusing! ...and of course, Nepalis drive on the left-side of the road like the Brits.
- Himalayas: One colleague liked to say that Nepal is not rich in much but mountains. Before this Farmer-to-Farmer assignment, my main interest in coming to Nepal would have been to go trekking in the mountains. As this would take more time than I had, one alternative was to take the Himalaya mountain flight. Catering to tourists, the plane leaves early in the morning and flies for 1 hour over to the mountains. Visibility is always an issue, and even the day, I went the flight was delayed a half hour as they waited for better conditions. Each of the approximately 20 passengers has their own window seat, and the flight attendants come down the aisle to point out Everest and the other tallest mountains in the world. It was something to see, especially since I had no other alternative and none of my commercial flights would have passed by them. However, the price tag is pretty steep at $200/seat and probably would have been better justified if I was a good photographer or had a better camera. We did each get to step inside the cockpit in midflight to see the Himalayas from the pilots' view - something I definitely thought, especially in a post-9/11 world, would never be possible!
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