Category Archives: Travel

Vijaya Dashami, Now Go Fly a Kite!

Today is the first day of the fifteen day holiday Dashain, one of the largest festivals of the year. It’s the day that jamara is planted, and when kids take fragile paper kites to the roof.

After Mamu’s morning puja in the prayer room at the top of the house she planted the family jamara seeds. She had explained last night that one of their neighbor’s used to work at the palace and would bring jamara back from the king, so for many years the family didn’t grow any, but they started again last year.

It has been busy in the house, with many people coming and going. Daddy has been busy handing out packets of invitations for visitors to take back to their section of the city and distribute out to people P’s family knows. Although the household is buzzing with activity, P and I have felt relatively lazy. We have been sitting around, chatting with visitors, sitting on the roof and watching all the activity in the neighborhood, and helping Daddy call and contact guests. This morning I helped Mamu chop onions, mushrooms and tomatoes for the noon time meal.

There has been a lot of rain, at least for a little while each day, but this morning was sunny and warm, while looking out the window P spotted several kites flying, and with a boyish enthusiasm declared that he wanted to fly kites as well. He started searching the house for spools of string and thin paper kites to take to the roof.

I remember a few years ago someone left a copy of The Kite Runner at our house, and P picked it up. He’s not usually a reader, I’ve teased him that he’s been reading the same Jarrod Diamond book for five years, but this book he quickly got into, putting it down every now and then to reminisce about flying kites in his own youth, fighting kites with neighborhood children from the roofs of other houses. Once the book transitioned from the main character living as a boy in Afghanistan and making and flying kites with his friend, to a young man living in America, P quickly lost interest and tossed it aside. He never did finished it.

So P dug through the cupboards until he found a spool of thick string and grinned, “this is very good string, from Lucknow.”  He was about to yell out to the man cutting the grass (by hand with a curved sickle knife) to ask if he could run to the market to buy some kites, but Daddy said there were some stacked above the suitcases in the bedroom. P reached up to grab them, and pulled them down, lifting a cloud of dust.

We went up to the roof, and found a spot between the drying laundry. P tied the string to the nicest looking kite and thrust it up into the air. There really wasn’t any wind, but P started pulling and twisting, sticking out his tongue and biting his lip with concentration. When the kite caught some air and lifted, P’s smile spread across his whole face, “I’ve still got it.”

P got the kite fairly high into the sky, and explained we could potentially fight with other kites that we saw floating above several other houses. He asked if I would like to try, and I took hold of the spool. I didn’t have it for more than thirty seconds before the kite started dropping and spinning out of control.

“What did I do wrong?” I asked, as P grabbed the kite back and tried to rescue it from its death spiral. “I tugged and pulled on the string like you did.”

“I guess it takes skill and practice.” P answered, a bit of pride shinning through his voice.

It took him a few moments to wind in the kite and get it under control, just as huge rain drops started to splatter on the roof indicating another shower was on its way.

P pulled in the kite, and I grabbed the others, and we helped to take the laundry in off the line before it was soaked.

Maybe I’ll have better luck tomorrow.

Buddha Airline Crash

Just a quick message…

We were on our way from Delhi to Kathmandu when the Buddha Airlines plane crashed seven miles outside the airport in KTM today (http://www.cnn.com/2011/09/25/world/asia/nepal-plane-crash/index.html)

We were actually starting our descent into the KTM valley when the pilot came on the plane loud speakers and announced, “The Kathmandu Airport has been temporarily closed. We have no further information. We will circle for a while until we hear more details or receive permission to land.”

My first thought was that there was another earthquake and that we couldn’t land because the ground was trembling beneath us. P thought maybe there was a strike that all of a sudden broke out. “Only in Nepal does the airport temporarily close when you are just about to land” he said.

About ten-fifteen minutes later we were given permission to land, but not given any additional information. We went through the airport, I got my visa, and we collected our bags, but no one said anything. We met P’s dad outside the airport, and he helped us to a taxi to travel back to P’s house.

As we were loading our bags (which, luckily, made it to KTM against all odds), I said to Daddy, “While we were in the air the pilot said the airport was temporarily closed. Do you know why?”

Daddy said, “Yes. One of the mountain flights [tourist flights that do sightseeing flights around the high mountains/Everest] crashed right before you landed.”

When we got back to P’s house, after being welcomed as the new buhari, and tikka-ed and garlanded by P’s grandfather, mother, father and aunt, we turned on the news, and the crash was all anyone could talk about. 19 dead. The news crew showed damage from the wreckage as well as the line of dead bodies on the ground, with just their upper bodies covered by a blue tarp, limbs crooked every which way.

Scary to think that we were circling above the airport as this happened. The fog was thick in the valley upon approach, but not more than I’ve seen when I flew other times.

I guess when my mother woke up this morning she saw on a news ticker on the tv, “2 Americans dead in a plane crash in Kathmandu” and she totally freaked out, but once she saw the full story she realized it was a local not international flight.

So I am here safe, let’s hope there aren’t any other crazy issues in the next two weeks.

More info on the crash: http://myrepublica.com/portal/index.php?action=news_details&news_id=36509

The Urge to Smack a Delhi Airport Employee at 5 O’Clock in the Morning

This post is long, but the title pretty much sums up what I wrote….

I’m sitting on my flight to KTM waiting for the rest of the passengers to board, but I was so steamed that I couldn’t wait to whip out my laptop and draft a blog post.

P and I landed in Delhi early. Our flight was originally due to land around 4 (Sunday morning), but we got in at 3:30am. We had already been traveling more than 24 hours straight, departing Boston at 8pm on Friday and flying to London, then London to Bahrain, and then Bahrain to Delhi (last minute tickets… what to do?), before finally making it to Tribhuvan International Airport a little after breakfast time on Sunday.

A lot of Nepalis that I know tend to be wary about flying through Delhi. They seem worried about being hassled, or having problems with their luggage, or missing flights. I had chocked that up to the general attitude that Nepalis sometimes have towards India– as a country that tends to push Nepal around. But after today, I’m happy to say that on our return flight we are flying from KTM to Bahrain direct and skipping Delhi completely.

When we checked our bag (and thank goodness we only have one between us!)  in Boston the worker at the airline counter said that our bag was checked straight through to Kathmandu with no problem, but that we could only get boarding passes until Delhi since gates for flights more than 24 hours in advance hadn’t been issued yet. Okay, I’ve heard that before, I understand that.

So as we departed our flight in Delhi, P and I follow the signs for “international transfers” knowing we had to eventually find a check-in desk for Jet Airways to get our boarding passes before continuing on to the gate. Eventually we were herded into a corner where a gathering of European tourists and Nepali workers returning from abroad had already started to congregate. In front of us was a check-in counter with 5 kiosks and about 8 or 9 airport employees who were waiting to “assist passengers” to get their boarding passes. In addition to the 8 or 9 people behind the counter, several other airport employees were circulating through the crowd of passengers trying to track down passengers from different flights.

P and I got in the Jet Airways line behind about 8 European tourists. We stood in line for a good fifteen minutes and only 2 people had been serviced.

“This guy is slower than death,” I said to P, “What the hell is he doing?”

Finally one of the employees searching for passengers came over to us and asked, “Gulf Air?”

P answered yes.

“Come with me,” he said, and pulled us out of the line that was going nowhere fast. “Do you have your luggage tags and your eticket information?” We pulled out both and innocently handed them over to him. He then asked for our passports, and an “assistant” took down all our details and carbon copied them onto two sheets of paper. Luggage man #1 explained that he had to go down to the Gulf Airways baggage area, find our bag, and then pull it so they could transfer to the Kathmandu flight.

It was a little after 4 am, so we really weren’t thinking about how this logically didn’t seem to make much sense. I mean, don’t airports transfer luggage all the time without having to go through all this? But for the first half hour I had my cross-cultural adjustment hat on, and I was giving the workers the benefit of the doubt.

The man disappeared with the print out of our eticket and our luggage tag number (along with the two carbon copies of all our information). We didn’t see him again for nearly an hour and a half.

P and I sat, and watched some of the other airport employees chat with the European tourists. For being so freaking early in the morning there were a lot of staff people around, and precious little actually happening… just a lot of “confirming of information,” “taking down passenger details,” and staff chit chatting with each other.

After about half an hour, and a quick trip to the nearby bathroom to brush my teeth, wash my face, and generally freshen up, I started realizing how utterly ridiculous this was. Where was the guy who took our baggage info? Where were our boarding passes?

I went up to the Jet airways guy (finally his “slower than death” line had disappeared, more because of the circulating employees than probably his doing.) and said, “I am taking the 6:30 flight to KTM that starts boarding at 5:30am. An airport employee talked to us more than half an hour ago about transferring our luggage, but we haven’t seen him since, and he has our eticket print out and our luggage tags. Can we get boarding passes? Are we supposed to just sit and wait?”

“Do you want to go to Nepal without your luggage?” The guy—Sumit—his real name, asked, condescendingly.

“Of course not, but can you not issue a boarding pass if our luggage isn’t here?” I asked.

“I can, if you don’t care about your luggage.” He answered.

“So we just have to wait for him to come back?” I asked, “Isn’t there some way to check? I mean, when we checked our luggage at the start of our trip the airport employees told us that it would go straight through to Kathmandu. I don’t understand what the situation is.”

This sparked some comments back and forth in Hindi between several workers milling around the front desk.

“We cannot guarantee your luggage will get to Kathmandu if we print your boarding pass now ma’am. But if you are so concerned talk to that man.” Sumit said, pointing to another idle-looking employee.

So I went to him, explained that we talked to a guy who was supposed to locate luggage for Gulf Air more than half an hour ago, and we had heard nothing since. “Can I see your luggage tag and eticket info?” luggage guy #2 asked.

“THE OTHER GUY HAS IT, that’s part of the problem!” I explained.

“Okay, okay, let me check. What is your name?” I showed him P’s passport (the bag was checked under his name). Luggage guy #2 left with a promise of, “I’ll be back soon.”

Then he disappeared, for about 20 minutes or more. P started talking to another Nepali guy waiting for his flight, which wasn’t scheduled until noon. Damned if I was going to miss this flight and wait until noon. I jumped up to talk to Sumit again. In was approaching 5am.

“Sir, I’m sorry to bother you again, but our flight starts boarding in half an hour, and now two people have gone missing tracking down our luggage. I’m afraid of missing this flight after traveling so far, and having to wait until noon to fly because of this baggage issue.”

“Fine. I’ll print your boarding passes so you will be confirmed on your flight. But I don’t know about your bags. I won’t give you the boarding passes until the man comes back.” He took the passes and stuck them behind his keyboard. This sparked more conversation in Hindi between people behind the counter.

“I don’t understand.” I said again, “Would it be easier for me to walk down to baggage claim myself and pick up the bag and recheck it?” I asked.

“You do not have an entry visa for India to go to the baggage claim, ma’am.” Sumit said.

“My husband is Nepali,” I’d only shown Sumit P’s passport half a dozen times at this point, “he doesn’t need an entry visa, should he go down and get it if finding the bag is so hard?” I was really losing my patience.

This sparked more discussing in Hindi. I’m sure this was fun entertainment for the workers.

The guy standing next to Sumit, who looked like he had a fever since he kept wiping his face and rubbing his head, offered to call his manager. He dialed up the phone and another exchange took place in Hindi. “He will call back in 5 minutes, come back in 5 minutes.” He said.

I walked back to P. I was trying really hard to be patient, but I was tired, and this truly was ridiculous.

Then I spotted luggage guy #2 again and walked up to him.

“Our luggage is all set?” I asked him.

“I relayed your message.” He said, noncommittally.

“So you have talked to the guy who is looking for our bag or you haven’t talked to him? Does he have our bag?”

“I don’t know. I passed your message to him. He will explain the problem.”

“So there is a problem now?” I asked.

“No, no… no problem.” He said.

“There isn’t anyone we can call?” I asked a bit desperately.

“No.”

I went to Sumit again, the time getting dangerously close to 5:30 when the flight was due to start boarding. “I don’t really understand the problem.” I said, “Why can’t we call someone to track down the bag? We are going to miss our flight!”

“Wait five minutes ma’am.”

What the hell!

So I walked back to P who was still talking to the other Nepali guy. A few minutes later P spotted luggage man #1, “There he is, let’s go talk to him!” he said.

P and I walked up to luggage man #1 and I asked, “You found our luggage?” (thinking in my head, “it’s only been about an hour and a half! Where the hell have you been??”)

“Yes.” He said.

“And it’s definitely on the flight?” I asked.

“Yes,” he answered, “It’s a blue bag with a retractable handle, right?”

“Yes.” We both answered simultaneously.

He handed us back our eticket and original luggage tag. Sumit had conveniently walked away from the counter, so I said to the fever man, “Our boarding passes were printed out earlier, can you please give them to us now that our luggage is confirmed?”

Fever man shook his head, “I can’t. Sumit has them.”

So now we had our luggage, no boarding passes, and the flight was getting ready to board, and we were quite a walk from the gate (and P can’t walk fast… he has a torn meniscus, and his surgery isn’t scheduled until November, so even gingerly making it across the terminals had been a challenge this whole time.)

I spotted Sumit coming from the bathroom from across the room. He walked over and I asked him for our passes. He insisted he had to print everything again, asking for both our passports, our luggage tag, our eticket, and a verbal confirmation from luggage man #1.

P and I were practically stamping our feet in frustration.

“I’m sorry,” Sumit said, looking up from the computer, “I can’t put you two next to each other on the plane, since we waited so long to confirm your boarding passes there are no seats left together.”

“Whatever,” I said, “Just give us our boarding passes.”

He printed them and handed them to us saying, “It’s boarding now, I suggest you run.”

Thanks… asshole.

“Don’t forget your luggage tags*.” He said as we walked away from the counter. That was the least of my worries, so P and I ignored him and ran through the passageway towards international security check.

* for clarification—I mean the luggage tags you loop through the shoulder strap of your bag with your name on it that serves as identification, not the sticker on your boarding pass envelope that tells you where your bags are, which I had been talking about previously.

A uniformed young woman with a large noise piercing and a colorful bindi asked us for our passports, tickets, and wanted to see the luggage tags for each of our carry-ons.

“Shoot,” P said, “I forgot that they stamp the luggage tag to verify that you have gone through security at this airport.”

Of course the woman only had one spare, and we had three bags. I spotted one on the floor near the x-ray machine and picked it up, it was blank, good. I frantically looked around for another and saw one under the foot of another uniformed security officer, a man with a mustache. I asked him to hand it to me, but it wasn’t blank. “No matter,” he said, and gave it to me anyway to loop on my bag. Whatever works.

We tossed our things on the x-ray machine and I walked through the scanner, and of course set it off, and had to be taken aside and frisked. I told the lady we were running late. She looked at my boarding pass and said, “You have time.”

P and I gathered our things on the opposite side of the x-ray machine, and started walking as fast as we could through the Duty Free section of the terminal, on the other side was a sign that said “Gates 1-14 to the right”, with a notification it would be approximately a 15 minute walk.

I hefted the bag I had been rolling on to my back and picked up my speed. I called out to P to see how he was doing. He was moving along, but didn’t want to push himself too hard in case he injured his leg more. So I said I’d go ahead, at least let them know at the gate that we were on our way.

So I hurried ahead, and by the time we got to the gate the crowd waiting for the plane to KTM was still waiting, some playing cards, a few stretched out sleeping on the floor. Apparently there wasn’t such an urgency as Sumit made us think.

“Do you think we can ask someone to trade seats on the flight so we can sit together?” P asked.

“It’s only an hour and a half, I think we will be okay if no one switches.” I said.

When boarding started P and I got on the flight and waited as people found their seats. I was placed between two older Nepali men who looked like they were returning from working in the Middle East.

As the plane filled, I noticed no one sat in the seat next to P. I asked the stewardess if I could move. She said if once the pilot closed the doors no one came on the plane with a ticket for that seat I could move.

Lo and behold, the pilot closed the doors and no one came. That jerk Sumit probably just wanted to mess with us some more.

I moved back a few rows to sit with P.

So now our flight is just about to land in KTM. Our freaking bag better be on this plane, or I might just have to conjure up a voodoo curse on Mr. Sumit of Jet Airways at the Delhi International Transfers desk. Yes, Sumit, I’m talking to you.

The Ups and Downs of USCIS

Round OneRound TwoRound ThreeRound FourRound FiveRound Six, Round Seven, Round Eight

Sorry, I couldn’t help but leave with a teaser before. Lots of stuff going on in the AmericaNepali Household behind the scenes…

P and I had hoped to travel to Nepal before the end of 2011.

The debate before we got married was that we wanted to travel for Dashain, thinking it would be really nice to be with P’s grandfather for our first married Dashain and very special to take our first married tikka from him. However with the timeframes of green card applications and travel documents (called “advanced parole” which allows a green card petitioner to travel abroad while an application for permanent residence is still pending), we didn’t think there would be enough time between filing the paperwork after our July wedding, and the festival in early October. The alternative was to have a secret “court marriage” a month or two in advance so we could start the green card paperwork early, and our marriage certificate would reflect a different legal date than when we held the ceremonies with our friends and families. That seemed like too much trouble to travel for a festival, so we laid our plans to rest and figured we would try to travel around Christmas time when I had more time off from work, in the hopes that his immigration paperwork would be settled by then.

But then an unexpected research/presentation opportunity came up for P, and an organization asked him to come to Nepal (and would pay for a ticket!) near the end of September… a week before Dashain.

Immediately I called an immigration attorney colleague (the same who gave me advice about the green card application) and asked how I could expedite P’s advanced parole application. He recommended two thing: move up P’s biometrics appointment (originally scheduled by USCIS for August 29th), and contact our local congressperson to pressure USCIS to speed along the application.

The biometrics (photograph, fingerprint) was the first key, because that triggers the FBI background check on an applicant, and nothing starts on a green card/advanced parole application before that.

We sent P to the Boston USCIS office armed with an invitation letter from the organization in Kathmandu, some airline reservations, and his USCIS notice for his biometrics appointment on Aug 29th. With all these documents the Boston USCIS office allowed him to take his biometrics on Aug 16th, so we could get the ball rolling.

On Aug 19th I contacted my local congressman’s office and was connected with his staffer who works with immigration issues. She asked me to write a cover letter explaining the situation and to send a fax with all of our USCIS receipt notices, his biometrics document with processing stamp, letter of invitation from Nepali organization, and travel itinerary.

For the next three and a half weeks I either called or emailed her office every other day (and eventually every day) to check on the application status, most days with absolutely no response at all. It didn’t help that Hurricane Irene blew through and caused damaged to areas in the Congressman’s district, and a week and a half later remnants of another tropical storm caused flooding in our city (water nearly up to the bottom of my car on my way to work!). She told me at one point that Hurricane Irene was taking up most of their energies that week, which I interpreted as, “You are low priority lady. Your husband will just have to travel at another time.”

Last week I figured it was do-or-die week, and by Friday the only response I had from the congressional liaison was, “Your husband’s application is sitting on a supervisor’s desk at the [USCIS] Missouri Service Center.”

I think it was doubly (triply?) infuriating because I also work with USCIS as part of my international student advisor job, and I just couldn’t FATHAM why this woman couldn’t find out more information. Or maybe I was just frustrated because I knew my fate was in her hands and I couldn’t do anything to change it, and she seemed so “distracted.”

My boss said that USCIS doesn’t like people thinking that congressional intervention helps. I guess it is annoying when congressional representatives start bugging the USCIS processing centers with application expedition requests. I get that. “But,” my boss continued, “P’s application wouldn’t be ‘on a supervisor’s desk’ had you not contacted the congressional liaison. I  think it is a good sign.”

Monday I emailed—no updates.

Tuesday I called—no updates.

By Tuesday night I was finally loosing hope. I actually drafted a long desperate sounding letter to email directly to the congressman–and emailed it too–but my email bounced back since I had the address wrong. There were only ten days left until the proposed departure date. It just didn’t seem possible that his paperwork would come through.

Then Wednesday, mid-morning, I received an email from the congressional staffer I had been harassing for almost a month, “Case MSC______________, Form I-131 was approved on 9/14/11. The applicant should receive their card in 2-3 weeks from USCIS.”

Hallelujah!

I jumped clear out of my seat at work and practically yodeled I was so excited. I called P right away and he, of course, didn’t pick up the phone, so I sent him a google chat.

9:39 AM me: MERRRRR
9:40 AM P: ?
me: IT WAS APPROVED!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
P: what?
me: your advanced parole!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
P: how do you know
???
:)
????
9:41 AM me: [congressional staffer] just emailed me!!!!
P: forward the email???
seriously??
can’t believe it
i had lost hope

So now we are buying tickets to go to Nepal next Friday.

Now, if you were following closely, you noticed that the congressional representative said, “document will be mailed in 2-3 weeks.” Yes, this could be a potential logistical hurdle.

Since P has been officially approved for advanced parole he can leave the country without incident, but he will not be able to re-enter unless he has his advanced parole document in hand. We are hoping this document will arrive before we depart, but I’m not necessarily expecting it to. We will give our mail key to our friend D who will be on the lookout for his documents and will Fedex to Nepal when they arrive. P might have to change his ticket if there is a delay in his documents, but at this point, we have to travel and hope for the best.

But the moral of the story is, USCIS can make you want to tear your hair out, but sometimes things actually work out. K-k-k-k-k-k-Kathmandu, here I come!

10 Years in America

Ten years ago (minus a day or two), P, draped in yellow and orange marigold garlands, hugged his family at the Tribhuvan International Airport. The group who gathered to see him off posed for a photo (which still hangs on our refrigerator). In the photo P looks different—much skinnier, with longer hair and tinted glasses. His expression is a mixture of excitement, nervousness and sadness. His little cousin at the time was about six years old, she was the smallest one in the photo—now she is nearly done with high school. After the photo P again said goodbye, trudged off to the departure gate, and boarded a plane bound for Bangkok. It was almost two years before he returned for a visit.

His brother, P, his mom and dad before his departure

It took him over 48 hours—flying from KTM to Thailand, then Tokyo, then Minneapolis (where he briefly met up with a cousin who, during P’s layover, brought him to the “Mall of America.” An undoubtedly overwhelming first entry into the US, P fretted at the cost of an alarm clock when he converted dollars into Nepali rupees. His cousin gave him sage advice, “Stop doing that. You’ll never survive here if you keep converting everything.”) then from Minnesota to Boston, and finally to Bangor, Maine. Once the tired traveller departed his final airport, he was greeted by his friend and former high school roommate S, who drove him the final two hours north to their small college campus in rural “Downeast Maine.” Today is the anniversary of his initial arrival on US soil.

A decade in America.

Ten years is a long time. It’s hard for me to imagine being away from my own country for that long. P said that when he initially left, he knew he was leaving for quite a while, but he can’t believe it’s been ten years already, “Time passes fast in the US.”

Now—almost three American university degrees later, soon to be married, with lots of memories under his belt, I guess today is one of reflection.

I can’t speak for P, but I think about all the immigrants who have come to America who never had a chance to go home again, who missed weddings, births and funerals. We are lucky that we now live in an age of great technology. P is able to talk to his parents often on the phone, and video chat through Skype and Gmail. We are able to travel to Nepal every few years, and P’s family has been able to visit. We make an effort to highlight beloved and important aspects of Nepali and American culture so that both of us feel respected and appreciated in our household.

So happy ten years to P. Perhaps someday we will be celebrating a happy twenty years… or perhaps a happy ten years to me in Nepal. There is a lot of life (knock wood) in front of us, so we will have to see what will happen.

Happy 2011… Now Go Visit Nepal!

Happy New Year! What better way to celebrate than visit a beautiful, culturally rich, and adventurous country?

The Nepali government and Nepali travel trade sector decided in October of 2008 to launch the national tourism campaign “Nepal Tourism Year 2011” to help bolster tourism after the country’s long and costly civil insurgency.

With the adage “Atithi Devo Bhava” (Guests are Gods), an important concept at the heart of Nepalese culture, the campaign will hopefully rekindle tourist interest and dollars in the tiny Himalayan destination.

Not yet convinced? Check out this lengthy (9 minutes) but intriguing tourism montage:

If all works out, we hope to be there for Dashain 2011. When are you going?

Just Me and My Momo Man

Something short and sweet (I mean “tasty”) and funny…

Nepali Summer 2009

It’s me and the “Momo Man” from the Bakery Cafe chain in the Kathmandu Valley. How could one not pose for a picture with a character made out of the tasty Nepali delicacy?! (I’m assuming he’s veg, of course ;) even though his head is kinda shaped like a buff momo… hmmm…)

This is from the Bakery Cafe in Thamel.

Deadliest Journeys–Nepal

The administrative assistant in my office found this video on Hulu yesterday and passed it on to me since it was about Nepal. So last night after dinner, a group of us sat around the table eating dessert and watching the show.

The voice over commentary is over dramatic, but it is still interesting to watch and see the conditions of one of the remotest roads in Nepal (from Surkhet to Jumla– a 185 mile journey that takes 4 days by truck).

Apparently the editing staff played around with translating Nepali to English, and in several instances the subtitles over dramatize what an interviewee stated (example– the subtitle said, “Damn that road that killed my mother!” when she actually said, “I’m scared of that road that killed my mother,”), or outright changed a good portion of the context. However, if you are like me and need to rely on the subtitles, you’ll get a general idea of what is being said. I’d recommend watching with a Nepali speaker so you’ll get a better understanding of what the local people are actually saying.

The program is only about 20 minutes long, and if you are not able to watch Hulu in your home country, I believe the video is also available on Youtube (but you have to sign in to watch it).

While looking for a picture of the road I found another posting that tells about the journey between Surkhet and Jumla with lots of great pictures– “The Karnali Express: Bumping on for 52 Hours (Jumla to Surkhet)” on the blog “United We Blog! for a Democratic Nepal.”

An example of the road between Surkhet and Jumla

Agni Air Crash

I’ve written about the tiny mountain airport of Lukla before, and how we got stranded in Lukla for a few days due to bad weather. It’s supposedly one of the most dangerous airports in the world because of the altitude, angle and shortness of the runway, and the narrow valley leading up to the runway. Certainly there is a good reason for the flights not to travel when the weather is bad.

Sadly an Agni flight traveling from Kathmandu to Lukla crashed Tuesday morning killing all 14 on board. The flight took off from KTM, heading towards Lukla only to find that the weather was too bad to land and the flight turned around to return to KTM (something which also happened to us– but we were left in Lukla listening to the plane engines recede into the distance). Before the flight could make it back to the airport it crashed– about 50 miles from KTM– in a rural village.

The photos are scary… the remains of the passengers– 4 Americans, 1 Briton, 1 Japanese, 5 Nepalis, and 3 Nepali crew– have been collected in small blue garbage bags, as if their bodies simply exploded on impact and left tiny pieces. It’s scary and sad, especially when I can picture exactly what the flight and the plane involved in the crash looked like, even the uniform of the flight hostess–a Sherpani styled chupa and apron.

My heart goes out to the victims and their families.

For more info:
BBC–Nepali tourist plane kills all 14 on board
The Himalayan– Agni Air crash victims mortal remains brought back to KTM

Cavity formed in the paddy field where the Agni Air plane crashed. Photo credit: Nepal Army

Where Are You From Originally?

The US is full of accents and I live cradled between two of the more famous accent regions… Boston and New York—or should I say “Bahstahn” and “Noo Yawk.”

Many of my aunts live in New Jersey (Noo Joisey), so I grew up hearing things like dawg, cawfee, and gawd (dog, coffee and god), but now in New England I hear a lot of dropped “r’s” such as the stereotypical Bostonian accented phrase, “I pahked the cah in Hahvahd Yahd” (I parked the car in Harvard Yard). And I can’t forget the usage of “wicked” as in “really” such as… “Wow! It’s been a wicked haht summah!” (hot summer).

Growing up (in central New York… far from all the cawfee shops and heavy accents) I never thought I had an accent, I guess most of us don’t until we meet other people, but I always thought I sounded kind of like the people I watched on tv. I didn’t find anything particularly distinguishable about the way I spoke, and I suppose my sisters and parents spoke in a similar fashion.

But then, about ten years ago, I started traveling extensively abroad and increasingly interacting with people from countries other than my own. Today I probably spend 80-90% of my day with foreigners and over time I guess it started to affect my accent. It wasn’t intentional, it just happened, and it isn’t something I’m conscious of unless someone points it out to me.

Which happened recently. Last week my mother and sister came for a visit and they were discussing my apparent change of accent. My mother said I was “putting on airs” while my sister just said I was trying to “sound British.” I don’t think either is true.

Some of my international students have noticed as well. I’ve had several ask me, “Where are you originally from? You don’t sound like you are from the US.” When I ask them where I sound like I am from they can’t usually place it. After responding that I am, in fact, from the US they say, “Maybe you sound different because you speak slower and more deliberately. You clearly pronounce all your words.”

And I think that is a big part of it… not airs, but when someone is used to speaking with people whose first language is not English you choose your words more carefully, you pronounce them fully (instead of dropping T’s like a lot of Americans tend to do), and you speak a bit slower, perhaps this makes you sound like you are from somewhere else.

I’ve noticed this with a few other people I’ve met who have spent significant time abroad, or spend a lot of time with foreigners. I’ve also noticed that this type of “accent” is more pronounced in these same people when I see them talking to others whose English is not as strong, rather than with foreigners whose English is completely fluent.

Plus it’s easy to reflect surrounding language as well. For example, in the part of central New York where I grew up we pronounced the word “aunt” like “ant” with a hard “A,” but in New England most people say “aunt” like “ah-unt” and since this is similar to the South Asian way of saying “ah-unty” I have found it easier to adjust to “ah-unt.” So now if I am talking to my sisters about my “ah-unt” I must sound to them more “British” since they will talk about the same aunt as “ant.”

Lastly, I won’t deny that I have picked up a few Nepali-English phrases as well that kind of pop out every now and then. I can’t really think of any off the top of my head, but if I say them in the company of my sister she calls me out on it.

Fun with accents– I found this website that lets you listen to a list of words spoken by people in different regions. If you use the word “father” and try the different areas in the US– Chicago, Boston, New York, North Carolina and Alabama, you can really hear the difference!

Talking about accents has made me feel “wicked smaaht.”