One the questions I was asked upon my return was if I ever experienced or saw things that were disturbing to me. Not counting the big differences of disparity of economic wealth in our modern society and white privilege, human trafficking, lack of clean drinking water (even in capital cities), modern slavery and a variety of other ills that are a fact of life in many places, there were several incidents that stand out in my mind because they were so personal to each of these people. They were shocking to me partly because they were so sudden, and I was right there.
When originally writing this, I was reluctant to name some of the places where some negative things happened, but I had committed that I would share what I learned with people who cared enough to read my blog.
In the capital city of Kathmandu, Nepal, a city of 3 million people (unreliable electricity, few stop signs and fewer road signs), I was in a cab.
Traffic police stand on a pedestal in the middle of an intersection
The infrastructure has not kept up with demand. I love that there are 3 poles for these wires
We were driving along and on the side of the road were tiny rooms/shacks/homes made out of whatever a person could find; corrugated metal, plywood etc. Two grown men were fighting just inches from my door. As we passed, one grabbed the other by the hair in one hand, and in his other hand was a stone a bit larger than his fist. He was swinging the rock in it and pounding the guy who was caught by his hair in the head who struggled and twisted, squirming away as best he could. I was horrified and shocked. I stuttered as I exclaimed to the cab driver, “Oh my God, that guy is hitting the other man in the head with a big rock! This could kill that man!“ Cabbie’s response was a chuckle and he remarked, “ha ha ha, that guy sure is angry”. We continued driving.
Another incident took place while I was waiting on the train platform in Naples, Italy. An older woman had collapsed on the concrete floor and a male passenger was giving her CPR while the rest of the crowd stood by helplessly as the her life was about to change. It was weird to know that I learned information that her family did not know about yet, and it was such an intimate moment. She could only wait for what was going to be, she had no power over her circumstances. Her purse stood at attention beside her, and I spent the rest of the day wondering what she would have done differently that morning if she knew that a few hours later she would be laying on the concrete surrounded by strangers.
In Istanbul, Turkey (the European side) we were driving through a very wealthy area, where people were educated and at the top of the economic status. It was a weekend morning and lots of people were walking around, enjoying the beautiful sunny day. A couple were walking on the sidewalk and it looked like the man was about to kiss the woman. As he turned toward her, instead of kissing her, his arm shot up and he grabbed her around her throat in anger. Her eyes widened in surprised, and I gasped as we drove by, stammering to the my hosts who were driving “Did you see that? He grabbed her by the throat!” They were shocked too, and when we discussed domestic violence, they informed me that in Turkey, if someone were to report domestic violence to the police, the police would probably not do anything, and say it was a domestic problem ; to go home and solve the problem yourselves. Further conversations with other people confirmed that society would blame the girl/wife for any problems. As a matter of fact, that is the common joke. No matter what the problem is, it is the wife’s fault.
Some disturbing things are the same all over the world; domestic violence crosses all boundaries and no one gets out of this life alive. By traveling and meeting dozens of people every day, I was able to observe many things in life I don’t normally experience in my ordinary working life spending the days with a handful of work colleagues each day.
Nepal is unforgettable. The people are resilient, strong, and friendly. It was also my least favorite country. Life is difficult in large part because of their government’s lack of leadership, and it doesn’t need to be.
Funny that we have the same problems all over the world – unwanted animals getting into our gardens, but depending on where a person lives, there are difference consequences.
In Florida,USA it means my yard is dug up by an armadillo, or for my parents who live in the north of our country, the deer eating plants in the garden.
In Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe I was told that a problem animal is the elephant. Each home has a (barking) dog to help keep the elephants away.
Making friends with an African elephant in Zimbabwe.
The gardens are fenced, but the elephants lean on the fences, knocking them over. The elephants are so big that if they lean into a house or chicken coop, they knock them over too. Not only do the residents have to rebuild the chicken coops and fences to keep the chickens in, but the chickens won’t lay eggs for a week.
A mahout spotted a one-horned rhino and passed the word to everyone. Within 10 minutes about 30 elephants each carrying 4 tourists materialized out of the forest. I couldn’t believe how many of us there were. It did not bother the rhino and her baby one bit, since we were on elephants.
In Nepal, I met a farmer who had a similar problem with a rhino. The rhino knocked over his fence and ate the garden. The next morning the farmer was fixing the fence and figuring out a way to keep the rhinos out.
(And to think that I paid good money, and spent hours on a jeep ride, and jungle walk, looking for a rhino. If I had known, I could have walked the 100 feet from my cabin to get a good look at a rhino in the middle of the night).
This man is fixing the fence, a rhino came into his garden during the night
Yes, indeed. We may have the same kinds of problems, but in an industrialized country, life sure is easier. I can fill in the hole dug by an armadillo, but this farmer is going to have to spend a lot more time keeping the rhinos out of his garden.
Since I have been thinking about the people in Nepal, I thought I would share some pictures of what life was before the earthquake. It was a hard life for many people, I can’t imagine what they must be going through lately.
In January and February 2015 I traveled to Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Bali, Nepal, India, and now am back in Thailand for about a month.
I have lost :
1 water bottle (left on a bus)
1 pair underwear (left on a clothesline)
1 jacket (must have left it in a hotel, because I can’t find it anywhere)
1 hat (no clue as to what happened to it)
and my watch now loses 10-15 minutes per hour.
My backpack has 1 large rip after arriving in baggage claim, and another small rip from another baggage claim destination.
Do you remember your mother telling you not to pull on threads that may be hanging off a shirt? Well, it is still good advice. I bought a few cheap shirts in Thailand, about $3 each.
I knew they were not well made, but that was ok. As I wore them, I noticed they often had threads hanging out of the sleeves and have tickled / startled me on more than one occasion. I do not like to feel like something is crawling up my arm,
so every time I felt a loose thread, I pulled it or ripped it out. That is, until I pulled a thread and the whole seam of my shirt disappeared.
There was quite a draft.
I have gained friends and travel buddies from all over the world including Finland, Thailand, Malaysia, Australia, Spain, Turkey and Canada. I even spent 10 days with another solo female traveler while in Nepal. and shared a bed mattress with women from the USA, Malaysia, Canada and Thailand.
I met a professional photographer, as well as a girl who was bitten by a monkey and had to face the fact that she may die from rabies (a horrible way to die) Rabies is 100% fatal.
I met an author of 10 books, and a Saudi Arabian student who bought property in Nevada to allow local farmers to use it for little or no money, several people studying to become a Yoga instructors, and made friends with Indian man who treated me like his sister.
I even went to his home and met his wife and children. And, let me tell you, he did not let men in India harass me.
The world is full of interesting and kind people from all walks of life.
Here are my brief impressions of these countries:
Thailand – love this country! Things are inexpensive. Massages cost about $7 for an hour. I am staying with a former AFS (high school exchange) student. It is so much fun to see the kids all grown up and in their home countries. She is my resident expert on all things Thai.
There are so many gorgeous temples
The food is delicious,though I questioned the cleanliness of a kitchen more than once.
A meal costs about $2 when buying it from street vendors. The people are friendly and very very nice. Even Bangkok is great- no horns beeping, clean and the people are helpful. It does not seem like a big city.
Malaysia– hot and humid, so tropical. I stayed in Penang, Malaysia which is in the North of the country. I was so lucky to stay with friends of friends,
and spend time with a favorite aunt and uncle.
I had the opportunity to try new things.
and attended a 50th birthday party with 8 courses of food. The picture below was the first course of appetizers.
I (tried) to use chopsticks
and sailed on a 72 ft. yacht,
as well as stayed in a private bungalow / mansion on Penang Hill, overlooking the city.
It was fun to experience how the wealthy live.
The food was incredible and so inexpensive.
I learned that Chinese people eat everything
-including something called a “Bishop”s Nose” which is a polite way of describing the ass hole of a chicken. Seriously, that is what it is called. It must have gained the English name during colonial times when Penang was a colony of the British. No worries, I don’t have a picture of that part of the chicken.
Singapore– Lots and lots of rules. I would even call it sterile. I could not live here without getting in trouble by accident.
Durians are a fruit that have a strong smell.
There are fines for everything, even a $500 fine for chewing gum, etc. Most people know that I like to bend the rules. I would always be getting in trouble here.
But the city is incredibly clean and safe so the rules are effective.
The architecture is amazing.
I am told it costs about $60,000 in order to get permission to drive a car. And then you have to purchase a car. Fortunately, the public transportation is outstanding.
Bali – I only had a few days to spend here, but it is another country I would to spend more time. Again, although the people do not have much in material possessions, they have a family oriented culture and are friendly. I took my first painting lesson here.
The people are so friendly and affectionate. It was the best thing about Nepal.
I passed these guys while walking around the neighborhood. The boy wearing the Harley Davidson T-shirt has a dream to go to America
The country has a lack of infrastructure. It is a hard life for so many people. Nepal has been my least favorite country of the trip, although I have a lifetime’s worth of memories.
There are very few traffic lights and no stop signs. The traffic police stand on a pedestal.
and each home gets a few hours of electricity per day. 6:45 p.m. Our electricity was turned off and someone else’s was turned on. This is a photo from my balcony in the capital city.
There are many children. I am sure that the children feel very loved.
I only had a few days in Northern India so will have to go back to get a broader experience. Traffic was unlike anything I have seen before, but most surprising to me was that so many people wanted to take a photograph of themselves with me. Here are a few:
Whole families came over to me, and even put a baby on my lap. I wasn’t sure if I should feel like Santa Claus (some little kids were scared and didn’t want to get too close, or a celebrity- many people stared, and some discretely tried to get me in a photo as I walked by.
Next stop is an Elephant Conservation Park. I am volunteering to help with the elephants. I don’t know exactly what that entails, other than cutting grass and bathing them, but will keep you posted.
Kathmandu is a city like none other that I have seen…yet. When I visualized Nepal, I visualized snow capped mountains and strong brown-skinned Sherpa carrying mountain climbing gear.
I had heard the slogan “come to Nepal and change your life” and even though I did not know what that meant, I figured it had something to do with inner peace, monks, people praying at temples, and colorful prayer flags.
I had heard that Nepal was a poor country, but the people were gentle and kind. And I found all of this to be true. People said get out of Kathmandu, the capital city, it was dirty and polluted, and that was true too.
I am not sure what Bob Dylan was referring to when he mentioned Kathmandu in his song, but it must have been a very different scene than what I found in February 2015.
I have to talk about the traffic, because it was so different than anywhere else I have been. First of all, in the capital city, there are some paved roads. They must have been paved years ago, because paved is not the word I would use to refer to most of them now. The main roads had some pavement, and some areas that used to be paved and are now stones and dirt with potholes. We may ride in a vehicle at about 30 miles an hour for half a minute, then slow down so we didn’t damage the car while we road over potholes and bounced along. I even took my glasses off my head and put them on my face, not because I needed to see in the distance, but because I did not want to break them as my head bounced into the ceiling of the car.
Some of the roads had a painted line down the middle to give an idea of what side traffic would normally flow, if there was such a thing.
In reality, it means, if a vehicle is coming toward you, you should get into the left side (opposite side of the road than in the USA).
Drivers use the middle of the road because the sides are broken and the berm is dirt and dust flies everywhere. So each side of the road has people walking,
cars and motorbikes parked along the edges,
and a stream of traffic including motorbikes, rickshaws, carts being pushed by walkers, carts carrying objects such as 20 foot long bamboo poles, the bottom half which is dragging along the road, people carrying boxes and bags that are bigger than themselves strapped onto their backs,
women carrying baskets full of bricks/ stones or oranges, and carts with hawkers carrying fruit,
scales, hand juicers, and other peddlers selling a variety of other items.
Add to this cows walking down the roads, dogs wandering the streets, and all of these people and their vehicles passing one another wherever there is room. This is a perfect example of the word chaos.
Visualize the sides of the roads where there small patches of concrete slabs covering deep concrete ditches with dirty water running through them.
Instead of flat sidewalks, there are crumbling chunks of concrete, broken curbs and sometimes a sidewalk-like area; a rocky flattish dirt space that spans from a couple of feet wide and narrows to a couple of inches wide with no rhyme or reason that I could see.
To me, it looked like buildings were built, then dirt roads were covered with a pebbly tar mixture and cement and called a road. The sides are still dirt, and dust is everywhere, as well as exhaust and diesel fumes.
There is no infrastructure, no traffic lights, no speed limit signs, no stop signs. At intersections, people drive right through, only stopping if another car , or motorbike, or person, or cow is in the way. Motorbikes turn on either sides of other turning vehicles, whichever way gets them to their destination, and pedestrians scurry across the street when they are brave and there is a gap that opens and closes quickly through the traffic.
Add to this the sounds of horns honking. Motorbikes, cars, trucks and buses all honk to let you know that they are coming through. It means step to the side, here I come. Even the bicycles have makeshift horns, an upside down empty water bottle becomes a horn when the driver squeezes it and the air flows into the attached horn purchased from a local store. Beep beep says the bike. Honk honk honk says the car. A startling loud 3 toned air horn blows from the buses and trucks.
There are a few intersections with a pedestal that white-gloved traffic cops stand on, to direct traffic. I didn’t understand exactly how it works, but have seen them waving individual vehicles in different directions but am not sure how effective they are.
While in a cab, a cop told us to back up, but with multiple cars behind us, I am unsure as to whether he actually expected us to back up or was filed with self importance of telling us what to do. It was impossible for us to back up because there were multiple cars behind us an to the sides of us. I suspect he just wanted to tell us what to do because he was ineffective in doing anything else. There was nowhere to go until the traffic passing in front of us created a hole for us to move into.
Another evening, I saw traffic cops socializing with each other, and only yelling at a driver when he pulled towards the side of the road to speak to a vendor and the entire intersection was gridlocked with traffic from all directions coming to a complete stop. There was a turning truck behind this car, who could move no further until the car moved forward, so the rest of the traffic headed in any direction was stopped until the truck finished the turn and stopped blocking the road with the trailer.
The traffic cop hurried over to the car that was stopped and talking to the vendor, told him to move on, then helped my friend and I with directions to our hostel, even leaving his post to walk several blocks to be sure we went the right way. Again, I am not sure how effective the traffic police are when they leave their post to help a tourist head in the right direction.
Almost everyone I met in Kathmandu had a cough. In the evening of the first day, even I had a sore throat. I have never seen air pollution like this, although I have heard of worse places. Most of the cops wore masks over the nose and mouth to help protect themselves from the air pollution, and when I noticed their white gloves were dirty with soot in the afternoon, I wonder what their life expectancy is?
Traffic in Kathmandu. I have not seen anything like it anywhere else.
I have heard that Nepal is one of the top 5 places in the world to Paraglide. Each morning as I sat on the flat roof of my hotel eating breakfast, I saw up to 49 paragliders circling a nearby peak (about 3,000 ft. above sea level, and probably about 1 mile higher that I was sitting).
So, for about $85 for a 20-30 minute flight, or $115 for a 40-60 minute flight, + $20 for a video and photos, I signed up. In Nepal, piloting a paraglider is a good job. The pilots get to do what they love, and they make about $150 per week, $500-$600 per month. I requested the longer flight, and they asked me to pay at the end, because it depended on the weather as to how long the paragliding would last.
Paragliding depends on heat thermals. The sunshine heats up the air, hot air rises in columns, and the chute rises higher. It also glides down at 3 feet per second, so the goal is for the pilot to watch the gliding birds to find the thermals, and continue to go up, up, up. The pilot also has an instrument that beeps when it is in warmer air, the faster the beeps, the better the thermal. I could hear the beeping, but did not see the small instrument attached to the pilot.
Once I filled out the paperwork (next of kin information and weight – I was honest), about 12 passengers piled into a van with the pilots, and we drove up the mountain to the takeoff site.
I was assigned a senior Romanian pilot named Toni. In the winter he comes to Nepal to instruct paragliding and to take tourists on a tandem flights. In the summer, he has a paragliding business in Romania. Toni once flew across Romania from north to south and was airborne for 6 hours 45 minutes. Toni has been flying for 10 years, so I felt pretty comfortable flying with him.
Ok, let’s be real and I will rephrase that. I felt as comfortable as one could feel, knowing that I was going to run off a cliff with a stranger attached to my waist, and hope that a large piece of fabric was in good operating order.
The chute was interesting to see up close. At the top front, it actually has a sort of baffling for the air to pass through.
The harness wrapped around my waist and legs like the outline of a diaper made of heavy-duty straps, and something square bumped against my bum with each step as I walked across the grassy and rocky takeoff field. I wasn’t sure how this contraption would fit on my body once I was airborne, but figured it would all make sense soon.
While I was walking to the takeoff area, my arms carried and held the straps near my chest, because the harness dangled around my knees and it was difficult to walk with everything banging against me. I felt like a teenage boy with the baggy pants around his knees, holding his pants up so he could walk without tripping.
My heart beat faster as Toni clipped himself to me, and clipped the chute to us, and he told me that when he counted to 3 that I should start running. My intellect asked a bunch of questions. Since I was in front and was shorter than him so ran with smaller strides, would he step on me and we would both fall down? What if we ran out of field to run in and reached the cliff? What if I twisted my ankle on the rocky slope? How fast was he going to count? Was it going to be 1…2…3… then run, or 1,2,3 start running? So I replied “ok”. I figured that he had done this long enough that I should trust him. If I sprained an ankle, than that was a problem I would worry about when it was time to land.
Note: I am practicing living the in the moment. Most of the things we worry about don’t come to pass anyway, and this situation was no different.
Toni said we were going to wait for the wind. After 10 or 15 seconds I heard his a beeping from the wind measuring instrument, a felt a breeze coming from behind, and he said “get ready…1..2..3” .
I started running. At first we ran about 5 feet. That must have been when the chute lifted off the ground, just like when starting to fly a kite. The chute lifted and pulled me back into a stationary position, and Toni said keep running. My feet ran and ran, we pulled the chute with us and all of a sudden the chute lifted us both off the ground, and my feet kept cycling until we passed over the cliff and were soaring like a bird.
My heart was still beating fast, but not because I was afraid, as much as because it was so spectacular. The wind rushing by was noisy in my ears, like riding in a car with the windows down, and the view was like looking out of a low flying plane, except that we had nothing around us. We were just surrounded by the air, and the outdoors, and the whole world.
Then my brain caught up and reminded me that I was in the air, sitting on a cushion (ahhh, so that is what the thing was that kept bumping into my behind), and holding on to nothing but a couple of mesh straps. It felt like being on a swing, dangling from heaven.
The scenery was beautiful. I could see terraces of rice and fields built into the mountains, which I did not previously realize were there. As we sank lower, I could see the homes,yards, and even the clothes hanging to dry in the sun on clotheslines.
The trees got closer and closer to our bodies and as comfortable as they looked to land on, my brain reminded me of how hard the branches were and the scratchy twigs that would cause really bad damage to a human body that dared to get too close. Then we were going up, up, up again as Toni steered right and we circled, rising in the column of warm air. His meter beeped faster, and my legs felt warmer as we rose up in a thermal.
Being with so many other flyers, my biggest fear now was that we would crash into someone else. It seemed Toni’s concern as well, as he called out to a beginner who was lower than us to “look above, look above”.
We continued to rise very, very high. Up and Up we went, until we were higher than everyone else. Even the large birds, were lower than us. We were higher than anything I could see in the sky. We were specks in the sky. I couldn’t believe we were so high, and my heart beat faster again.
Funny how the body reacts. My brain knew it didn’t matter how high we were, if we fell, it would be certain death, but the higher above the mountain I got, the more tightly I held the straps.
Eventually, I was able to let go of the straps for a few seconds, but the sensation was like the nightmares I had as a child, riding an amusement ride where the door opened, and I plummeted through the air until I woke up with adrenaline rushing through my body. So, I continued to tightly hang on to the straps while enjoying the sensation of freedom. I felt comforted as we descended when I could feel the pilot’s leg muscles moving as he steered the chute to the right or left while catching another thermal and we rose higher and higher again.
Toni looked for the large birds who rarely flapped their wings and rode the thermals. The birds that flew right past us were Egyptian Vultures and had a wingspan of about as long as my arms. They are scavengers and cannot waste their energy flapping their wings, so they soar on thermals until they find something to eat. The vultures did not seem to mind all of us flying with them, and it was a thrill to see them fly toward us and pass us by, like we were just another colorful bird just soaring along with them.
Once my time was up, we headed toward the lakeside toward one of the landing areas. Toni had told the pick up van the location he planned to land, but commented that he hoped they were paying attention to his particular chute because we were going to the other, further away landing spot and he did not want us to have to take a cab back.
I could see the grassy area next to the lake where the paragliders landed, as well as some cows, water buffalo and horses grazing nearby. The ground where people landed was pretty flat and the grass was really short, so the animals were nearby, but out-of-the-way.
As we approached the landing site, Toni told me shake out my feet, shake my legs to get them ready for the landing, after all I had been just sitting for the last half hour, enjoying the scenery, and needed to prepare to stand up again. He told me bend my legs and keep my feet up, and to only put them down when he told me to.
He asked if I would like to do some acrobatics on the way down, so of course I said yes. When else would I ever have the chance again? He asked me to tell him if I started to not feel good, or dizzy to let him know right away. I promised I would not vomit on him.
He turned us faster and faster, first tilting to one side with our legs hanging out, then turning us the other way. I could feel the G-force on my stomach and the centrifugal forces spinning us. It was fun for a short time, and we descended quickly, much faster than the 3 feet per second while just gliding.
The ground approached – FAST, I pulled up my feet and again trusted (and hoped) that Toni knew what he was doing. He feet touched the ground, he told me to stand up, and we landed while running a few steps. He quickly unbuckled my straps, we moved to the side and he packed up the chute for the next passenger.
All in all, it was exhilarating, but not such an adrenaline rush as I expected. Surprisingly, my arms were stiff and tired more than anything else because they were hanging on so tight. I would definitely do it again and probably will at the next opportunity.
While walking down the streets in Pokhara (the 2nd largest city of Nepal), I lingered near an empty lot where kids were playing some outdoor running games, like tag. The vacant lot was surrounded by a 3 foot-tall cinder brick wall and lots of rocks and chunks of cement inside.
I don’t know why the cement blocks were built there; there were no spaces for doorways, and lots of grassy weeds were growing in it, so perhaps the owner was waiting for more money to build or perhaps it was abandoned.
Nevertheless, a group of about 10 school-aged neighborhood kids were playing together. There was one boy and the rest were girls. They asked in English if we (my new Thai friend and travel buddy that I picked up in Kathmandu) would like to play. Of course, I said yes. They told us to climb over the wall, “like a monkey” in order to join their game.
I think a person can learn a lot about a culture from children. Most of the time was spent teaching us the rules and how to play; a couple of kids interrupting each other to add a sentence for clarification, so excited that adults and/or tourists wanted to play with them.
My immediate “faux pas” was when I noticed a sun-bleached skeletal jawbone with teeth in it. I picked it up and said “Hey, look what I found”. Every kid there looked disgusted, told me it was dirty and I shouldn’t touch it. I quickly threw it to the side. Even the littlest girl, about 4 years old, walked to the where I threw the bone, pointed at it and came back to told me in her native language that it was buffalo teeth and dirty. I am sure all the kids enjoyed being the grown-up to someone so child-like and simple like me. They knew something a grown-up tourist did not know. The kids informed me that a water buffalo had died there a year ago.
The three games we played were similar to tag or running from behind a certain marker of stones to the other side while the kids tried to catch one another. They were aware of the dangers of running with all the rocks around, and recommended we not wear our glasses because if we fell down, we could break them. I was more worried about spraining an ankle. The kids were all wearing flip-flops or sandals, and the games were not so much about winning or losing as much as they were about playing together. All the kids looked out for the youngest.
They informed us that we shouldn’t really “catch” the little ones because they were little, but that we were to let them be part of the game. No one minded when the little ones picked grass or were jumping up and down in excitement, the older kids were so tolerant and inclusive; such kind, considerate kids.
The oldest girl was 13 years old and all but the 4-year old, attended school and spoke very good English. A couple of the kids said that their families owned local guesthouses. Probably these were wealthy kids since they attended boarding school, and were even picked up by a bus. School in Nepal is not compulsory and costs money to attend. Uniforms are mandatory.
We played with the kids for about an hour before heading on. It was fun to get to know the kids a bit and learn about more about the culture (and to see a water buffalo’s jawbone and teeth. It was smaller than I expected).