Published: December 9th 2007December 9th 2007
It’s amazing how your body eventually adapts to a new environment. I no longer have a hacking cough at night (although I am using a face mask when I walk now), my skin is not peeling or breaking out into a rash, and I rarely wake up with a headache anymore.
The past couple of days have been laid back. Friday night I went to a party at Dave's place, a fellow Fulbright. His flat is beautiful—the entire bottom floor of a brand new house near Boudha. They had a tiny Christmas tree set up and lights along the walls. We had little snacks (momos, samosas, fruit cake, and Christmas cookies) made by his cook, Chandra, who someone told me developed a crush on me within the 2 hours I was there. It was a good mix of people—Boston College study abroad students, some students from the Jesuit College, a bunch of Nepalis, and the Fulbright crew.
Dave’s landlord set up a bonfire outside on the patio, and Beth had brought marshmallows, so we roasted those—the first time trying the food for a few people. It was nice. A bunch of us sat around the fire talking about Kathmandu, places we grew up (a couple of people were the kids of ambassadors so had moved around quite a bit), and our individual research projects. I felt a bit old, since most of the guests were 22 or younger, especially when a few of the guys started making fun of me for being "middle aged." But it was fun.
Yesterday I just hung out at home, reading and watching movies. In the afternoon the whole family went to Anmol Sweets for chat—an afternoon snack. Anmol serves north Indian cuisine in a “fast food” sort of way and has a huge “sweets” counter. I had a butter dosa, which is this huge, flat piece of bread type of thing served with 3 different sauces for dipping, followed by strawberry ice cream, which in Kathmandu has a weird consistency compared to ice cream elsewhere. Renuka got all dressed up for the occasion, which I think is cute. She’s always so excited to go out.
On the walk back there was a band walking through the street, holding up traffic. The band was on its way to a wedding—rather than honking horns to announce a wedding party like some people do in the U.S., here in Kathmandu a wedding is announced with a band.
Hasta made my tofu for dinner, but with rice and potatoes…still. But curried tofu was good. And it was Kanchi’s first time eating it, so that was fun. Today Hasta made the rest of it for me for lunch, along with beans, cauliflower, carrots, French fries, and a yak cheese and veggie sandwich. They always make me a ton of food, but mostly veggies.
I’m having a little bit of a conflict with Dinesh and Renuka about the cost of my room and board. In the past I paid them 700 Rs (about $11) per day when I stayed here, but I was also making a U.S. salary and only stayed a month or so at a time. Renuka suggested I pay 1000 Rs per day this time, which would be about 75% of my salary under this fellowship, the equivalent of a Nepali professor. So now I have the joy of convincing them that I really do not have enough to pay them so much (besides, that is way too much to expect for a “paying guest”). I think Renuka thinks that since I have a “lot” of money as a foreigner, that it is okay to ask me to pay more—and to pay for other things, like their phone bill when I paid my own charges a few weeks ago, her bill to get a coat cleaned, or for her head massage when I went with her for a manicure. That’s all fine, and I like to pick up the tab for her to show my gratitude once in a while, but it’s also annoying that I am expected to fork out more money because of the assumption that I have so much more.
It’s funny because we had a discussion about this the other day—she told me that because they live in a big house, many people expect them to give more money during festivals or to support family members who are having a rough time financially. She told me that people don’t understand that just because they have this big house doesn’t mean they have a lot of extra money. Well, same goes for me! Just because I am a foreigner doesn’t mean I can pay close to $500 per month for room and board when my salary is only $700 per month under this fellowship (and I still have a car payment and COBRA bill every month)! I don’t think she’s trying to take advantage of me, but maybe doesn’t fully understand my situation or is trying to get the most that she can for the sake of her family. But I know for certain that I’m not costing them 1000 Rs per day to stay here. Dinesh was funny because he wouldn’t give me a figure for food costs in addition to rent because I don’t think he wants to say something too high and offend me. So I think I’ll have to have Dinesh and Renuka talk to the director of Fulbright, who will tell them what is a fair figure. But the whole situation is a little bit uncomfortable, for me, anyway. I even have to be careful about telling Renuka where I go and what I spend money on, because I think she keeps track. Like I don’t tell her when I go for massages, and I don’t show her all the things I buy because she usually asks how much I spent. I have even had to hide receipts for Deepti’s salary as a research assistant and language lessons with Sushila because Renuka will look at them. She doesn’t understand that Fulbright gives me an allowance specifically for these things, and that it isn’t coming out of my own pocket.
Cultural differences can lead to very sensitive situations, I’m finding out…