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Asia

Asia, Culture, Food

I Drank Yak Blood


 I drank yak blood. Really. Yesterday, after eight years of not eating red meat. The flavor had a quality surprisingly similar to raw milk, a bit salty and, of course, metallic.  It was still warm. I won’t go into details about the chewy bit that I couldn’t finish. 
I stood at the top of a stone wall with two other Americans and a small crowd of children to watch the slaughter of three yaks from above.  The kids, none older than eight or nine, passed around fruit candies, shouted at us in shrill voices (the general belief being that if they spoke louder we would understand) and clambered onto rooftops and ledges to acquire prime seats for the show.  A woman sat behind us scraping creamy cheese off a flat stone, occasionally whacking me with a stick for blocking her sun.
I had decided that watching this event, commonplace to life in Mustang but wholly absent from my prior experience, was something I should do.  The longer I sat above the courtyard, watching the men turn bodies into carcasses, their hands turning from brown to deep red, the more comfortable I became.  Maybe desensitized is a better word.  I have long rejected the part of my own nature that is programmed to hunt, kill and eat meat.  Now, as before, I have no desire to order a steak, but I found it valuable to acknowledge that side of myself, and humanity at large, in such a manner.
When Tenzin, the owner of the Red House Lodge, beckoned to me, I made my way down the stairs on autopilot, having already committed myself several nights ago to trying yak blood.  “It will make you strong,” he had insisted, just as raksi(local alcohol), buckwheat, and nearly every other local product are said to do.  “You will try it, I think so.” And in the bravado of a moment I agreed.  I wasn’t about to back out later, and besides, what better way to go back to eating meat? 
I passed through the doorway into the arena.  Tenzin’s mother and another woman were already at work in the corner turning intestines and other innards into sausages.  Someone handed me a mug with rivulets of brilliant red liquid running down the sides. I drank, but could not finish.  On my way down to the river to wash out the remainder, I slipped on the muddy steps and almost fell.  The men in the courtyard laughed and joked that I was drunk from the blood.  I don’t know if it was the adrenaline or the shot of nutrients, but I did feel jittery for quite some time after.
That night before dinner, over cups of raksi, Tenzin and his friend lamented that they had not taken any pictures (sorry to disappoint) of me with blood smeared on my nose and teased me about falling down.  I felt I had proved my mettle to them and joined some secret boys’ club, at least temporarily.  There is nothing savage or bizarre about the process I witnessed.  Animals are butchered every day, everywhere; that is a part of life.  There is nothing disgusting or barbaric about the tradition I took part in; it made sense in its place, surrounded by others doing the same thing, with gusto.  Still, having proved myself to both the locals and to myself, it is unlikely I will choose to repeat the experience.  I am, however, glad that I did it.
~

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The Journey that Wouldn’t End to the Edge of the World


 This is truly the edge of the world.  I know I have written those words before, but I never felt them so avidly to be true as I did on Tuesday morning, my first day in Mustang, Nepal.  The bus from Jomosom (elevation 2720m) to Kagbeni (2850m) rounded a bend in what my map calls a “jeepable gravel road” and  I caught my first full view of one of the most spectacularly empty landscapes I have ever seen.  None of the passengers (mostly pilgrims bound for the holy temple at Muktinath, several hours and a thousand meters farther) seemed the least bit concerned when our “road” passed directly through rivers and careened over small boulders.  I too have become accustomed to this specialty of road travel in Nepal.  My ten new Nepali friends, young business-owners from the south of the country also heading to Muktinath, sang along boisterously to the Nepali folk pop playing from the speakers.  We had stayed up late the night before drinking apple bandy (a Mustang specialty) and talking about “our culture” (as difficult to define in Nepal as it is in the U.S.).  The ticket-taker, whose three-day-old beard gave him a more rugged appearance than the average, never lifted his gaze from the open door and the rising dust beyond it.
View of Kagbeni from above.
At the junction to Muktinath, I alighted, shook hands with my friends, said goodbye, and turned to take in my new home.  Kagbeni’s ancient stone buildings, testament to the important place the town once held along the salt trade routes from India to Tibet, apple trees, and new solar panels lay beneath me, the Kali Gandaki River, quite low now in the dry season, winding alongside.  Beyond, in every direction, stretched golden mountains, cliffs and canyons— nothing but rock and dust and thorny shrubs invisible to my naked eye.  Beyond that, gray and white snow peaks and an unblemished turquoise sky.  The wind blew dust into my hair and face.  Exhilarated, awed, and entirely alone, I felt like laughing aloud.
The journey from Kathmandu to Kagbeni took three days.  I traveled the first day from Kathmandu to Pokhara (810m), an 8 hour bus ride, which was dwarfed by the three buses I took the next day to Jomosom, rattling and dusty the whole 12 hours.  Finally, around 9:30 a.m. on day three, the journey I thought would never end—wearisome and devoid of any glamor—deposited me ten minutes above Kagbeni.  Alone, looking out at a village that might have been entirely forgotten if not for its placement along the Annapurna Circuit trek, I felt completely in my element in this wild land at the edge of the world.
Kagbeni seen from a two-hour hike up.

Sunset in Pokhara (Photo credit Marcelo Ogata)

 ~
I’m picking up some very strange speech patterns these days, a byproduct of never speaking English with native speakers.  My Nepali-lish is getting excellent use—I managed a twenty minute conversation the other day! Long pauses accounted for about half of it, I think.  I will be in Kagbeni for another ten days or so, doing research on tourism, tourists, ethnic identity, etc. If you want to know more about that side of things ask me about it… I could go on for a while, but I won’t here.
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Asia, Culture

Fair & Lovely


[Also published at www.yourvox.org]
 When drugstores sell creams to lighten your skin, and your vagina, and women buy these things by the thousands, something is wrong.
 “Femininity itself has become a brand, a narrow and shrinking formula of commoditised identity which can be sold back to women who have become alienated from their own power as living, loving, labouring beings.”
― Laurie Penny, Meat Market
            “Oh, your skin is so beautiful. So white!” said my Nepali friend, Sariya, placing an exaggerated emphasis on almost every word.  I looked at her, speechless.  I and many of my peers have repeatedly been the object of envy and admiration here in Nepal, simply by virtue of our fairness.  In a typical gesture, wizened Tibetan women will brush their cheeks with the backs of their fingers, exclaiming “nying jepo!” (beautiful, Tib.) or smiling to express their approval.  Ironically, thousands of Americans flood beaches and tanning salons in the hopes of attaining the same flawless caramel-colored tone that Sariya laments.  In Nepal, and elsewhere in Southeast Asia, we see the standards of beauty reversed.  Fair, clear, white, light—these are the terms of beauty, and of class.
            We can trace the obsession with fairness back many centuries before colonialism and British Imperialism in this region.  Vedic culture, which originated in Northern and Northwestern India, eventually spread through the subcontinent, bringing with it a lighter-skinned Brahminic class and the foundations of a caste system that exists to this day.  According to the creation myth found in the Rigveda (the oldest of the sacred Vedic texts at the core of what we now call Hinduism, but which one Tamang taxi driver aptly termed Brahminism), the primordial man was sacrificed so that the gods could populate the earth.  They dismembered him, and from his head they created the Brahmins, the priests and scholars; from his arms they formed the nobles and warriors; from his legs the merchants and traders were made, and from his feet the servants.
            In the intervening centuries, caste (far more complex than the four sections of the primordial man’s body) and race have become somewhat convoluted.  “Aryan” Brahmins from the Notrth, imposing their religious and social order on Southern, darker-skinned peoples, have often followed racial and cultural prejudice in assigning caste designations.  The European preoccupation with fair-skinned beauty that arrived with the East India Company and subsequent British colonialism in the seventeenth century only served to reinforce existing structures of race and power.  One might argue that whiteness, as a defining attribute of the new ruling class, acquired even greater value than before.  In Nepal, the history of the caste system is even more complicated, but the resulting standards of beauty are similar.  Here, in preparation for a wedding, beauty salons will coat the bride’s face with layers of lightening make-up to accomplish a garish (or beautiful, depending on your perspective) final product.
            With many Indians and Southeast Asians placing such a premium on fairness, it should come as no surprise that they would take to easy and “safe” skin-lightening options.  In 1975, Fair & Lovely launched their newly developed “fairness enhancing” formula, and finally “Indian women found hope in a tube.”  On Fair & Lovely’s website, the company’s entire illustrious history, from “The Early Years” to the present day is narrated.  The 1980s and 1990s, for instance, saw shifting paradigms “as women started to take charge of their love life.” Fair & Lovely, of course, “supported her every step of the way by giving her a never before fair and beautiful look.”  Analysts expect that fairness products will become a $10 billion industry by 2015.
            Today, Fair & Lovely hardly stands alone; Garnier, Dove, Vaseline, and many other brands offer their own “skin-lightening,” “anti-tan” and “fairness enhancing” products.  Now men, too, can achieve the fair look they always desired, but were too embarrassed to seek out—a legitimately revolutionary development in the Asian beauty market, and hugely profitable.  And now, thanks to Eva Beauty, women’s labia can be as fair and beautiful as their faces.  Fair & Lovely claims that their formula, based on the lightening effects of Niacinamide, or Vitamin B3, is complete safe.  At the very least, bleach does not appear on the ingredients lists of these products, as it purportedly does in some (unsubstantiated).  However, uneven application of skin-lightening creams and lotions results in blotchy, chronically dry and unhealthy skin.  As young women form a large portion of the consumer base—12 to 14-year-olds made up 13% of the market in 2008, according to one survey—customers will suffer these effects from an unfortunately early age.
            Since 2003, the Fair & Lovely Foundation has offered scholarships to girls, working towards economic and social female empowerment. Their entire marketing strategy and self-representation centers around this rhetoric of helping women realize their dreams.  Reading through these advertising materials and information about the foundation, I found that I had to confront my own prejudices, which were affecting my analysis of the skin-lightening phenomenon.  This is not the first time I have had the experience of being coveted for my skin color, but it never fails to make me uncomfortable, and angry.  Why do these fairness products seem so bizarre to me, while America’s tanning obsession dos not? It is probably because I am more accustomed to the latter, but also because skin does become darker in nature, while the reverse is almost never true.  Compared to women in America who undergo plastic surgery to make their sexual organs more symmetrical, is Eva Beauty really so shocking?  No more shocking, no more disturbing, but Eva Beauty is symptomatic of an entire set of social issues; these issues of caste, inequality, and the subjugation of women to impossible standards of beauty are, in my opinion, extremely problematic.  Fair & Lovely has a foundation aimed at empowering women; have I judged it too harshly?  Fair & Lovely may “support” women to achieve their dreams, but it does so by selling their beauty back to them, after reinforcing the status quo and teaching girls to believe that fair is lovely and light is superior.  I stand by my initial reaction: the skin-lightening industry is damaging; marketing capitalizes on deeply engrained social values and strengthens the association of fairness with success, rather than challenging it.
~
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Asia, Poetry & Fiction

A Poem About Traveling

Hello from Sikkim! I present you with a brief poem I wrote about our journey here from Kathmandu…

A Poem About Traveling
Ready, set, sit wait stand stand bus sit airport stand
sit wait wait board sit sit land wait wait taxi sit
border wait wait wait jeep drive border wait wait drive
lunch! drive sit sit sit sit sleep bounce
sit bump sit bump sit bump border wait
tea! wait sit sit drive sit bounce sit breakdown
stop. drive stop drive stop drive sit sit
bump sit bump bump bump bump bump.
We made it.
What have I done for the last thirteen hours?

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Boudha in Five Lines


I wanted to offer a more complete answer to the question what is Boudha like? than I have given so far.  In five lines and five senses, maybe I will succeed in sharing at least what my Boudha is like…
Boudha smells like fried food, cinnamon sticks, half-rotten garbage, dust, a pile of dung, car exhaust, incense, and ripe bananas—not all at once, but in quick succession as I walk through its streets.
Boudha tastes like endless variations of rice and potatoes most days, the occasional vegetable momo (dumpling), a cup of masala tea, dust, Everest beer, hot lemon honey ginger, prayer amplified by many thousands of lips, salt and unfamiliar languages.
Boudha feels like dust or a wet shawl, depending on the season, sticky mud oozing between my sandal straps, footsteps on flat stones, hours of darkness during power cuts, circles around circles around the great stupa, sitting cross-legged, hot tea on my lips, cold water on my face, hot sun on my back, a child pulling on my hand and cotton.
Boudha sounds like dogs barking at four in the morning, mantras playing on loop at record stores, children chanting Namaste, beggars chanting Namaste, monks chanting om mani padme hum, scores of pigeons flapping wings, puja bells ringing, men hacking and spitting, motorists leaning on horns, women shouting from their windows, unfamiliar languages and low-flying airplanes.
Boudha looks like red, blue, green, white and yellow prayer flags, pyramids of apples and pomegranates, stacks of brightly patterned fabric, men carrying plates of sliced coconut on their heads, human circles around circles around the great stupa, families on motorcycles, funny haircuts, and Sakyamuni Buddha’s eyes framed in gold, forty meters in the air.
~
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Asia

Shit Buses Say

They crowd the streets of Kathmandu, barreling down the (undefined) center line at breakneck speed… it feels fast at least.  Painted in a fiesta palette of pinks, turquoises, greens and yellows, these buses sound their cartoon-like horns as they roam the twisting motorways of Nepal.  Many also bear some of the most entertaining, impossibly random English slogans you will ever read:

“You Hold A Special Palace in My Heart”

“Jesus Death 4 You”

“London Dreams”

“Seeking a New Girlfriend”

“See You–
No Time to Love”

“If You *Heart* Seafood You Will Be Popular”

“Speed Control”

“Sexy Boys”

“Jesus Travels”

“When I’m Rich You’ll Be My Bitch”

~
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Asia, Nature

One, Two, Tsum*!


How about an update on my seventeen-day trekking adventure in fast-forward journal mode? Let’s go!
Day 1 (September 26): Kathmandu (elevation 1400 meters) to Arughat (elevation 600 meters). Ten hours by bus, pointy seats, enough said.

Day 2 (September 27): Arughat to Lapu Besi (884m). Approximately four hours walking.
Jesus Travels (our bus, so named for the words painted on its front) takes us from Arughat to Arkhet Bazaar, the starting point of our trek.
I am content. Sore knee, smushed toe, sore thumb, but wholly content.  Rivers and jagged green valleys—my element.  No thoughts today.  First night of camping, last real shower of the excursion.
Day 3 (September 28): Lapu Besi to Korlabesi (970m). Three and a half hours, Sherpa flat.
 A waterfall (bpap chu, Tib.) around every corner.  Trail is ‘Sherpa flat,’ meaning little net gain in elevation, but almost constant up and down. Lungi time (bathing wrapped in cotton fabric to preserve modesty) at the river.
Day 4 (September 29): Korlabesi to Jagat (1340m). About five and a half hours.
Sitting on the ‘front porch’ of my tent, looking out at the sparsely green cliffs that drop into the icy Buddhi Gandaki river below, the taste of Hannah’s sawdust-flavored oat squares in my mouth, I am taking a break from thinking beyond “how beautiful.”  My thoughts today? “When’s dinner?” Should I put on sunblock? Nah.” “Chill out and enjoy the breaks, Toby; they’re good for you.”  It’s good to be moving, waking up to these mountains (and a donkey outside my tent); it is enough for the moment.
Day 5 (September 30): Jagat to Lokpa (2040m).  About six hours.
Walking donkey pace the last two hours—getting stuck behind our donkey train an unfortunate development in the day.  We find out that stealthy leeches abound at this campsite, but I manage to escape leech-free.
Day 6 (October 1): Lokpa to Chumling (2363m). About three hours, all uphill.
Happy October. Woke up to rain throughout the night; all gear soaking wet.  Happy October—orange leaves on the ground today!  The most awkward bucket bath of my life, trying to rinse my hair under the waist-high spigot.  One mitten down, one to go.

Day 7 (October 2): Chumling to Chhekam (3010m).  About three hours, very steep uphill.

It’s cold here! Trying to finish crocheting mitten number two before my fingers fall off.  The winter hat and down jacket have made it out of my backpack.  Landscape shifted to pine forests today.  Rock cairns emerging from the mist along the trail.  Real cowbell music, accompanied by the very talkative wearers.  A horse and rider trot smartly across an iron suspension bridge: hello, Tsum.
Day 8 (October 3): Chhekam to Ngakhu (~3100m). Less than an hour.
The present has become very much a mystery, as well as a gift.  Popo-lak(grandfather, Tib. The lak, pronounced ‘la,’ is honorific) Dawa Doje and Amma-lak (mother, Tib. Used indiscriminately to address village women) Pasang Dolma wander in and out of the kitchen while Traci and I wonder what exactly to do in our new homestay.
Day 8-11 (October 3-6): Homestay at Ngakhu.
Grain threshing, snot-nosed children spinning, bag carrying and other fun and games (and work) at the field behind our house.  The women here are beautiful and ageless; twenty or fifty, they look older than their years and do the same back-breaking work together.  A day long trail ride through the surrounding area in the most uncomfortable saddle I have ever experienced. Still, I can’t think of a better way to see Tsum than cantering along a narrow alley between stone walls, slouched back slightly the way they ride here.  Pancakes for breakfast: inji (foreigner) food, I suspect.  The rhythmic clicking of amma-lak’sloom fills the sun-lightened air for a few minutes one morning.  Strips of blue green turquoise, red pink burgundy, thread onto the empty page and the music fills with pattern.  Little brother Samden sings Justin Bieber’s “Baby” to baby shimi (cat, Tib.): the silliest thing ever.  Pasang Dolma drags a bull three times her size by his nose ring.  She ties the legs of the female tso(yak-cow hybrids) together and the lilt of her humming draws milk into the wood pail between her knees.  Her head scarf tied neatly, mountains framing the picture—no photos of this moment; memories will last longer.  A sick and sleepless night slows me down, and I spend some time recuperating from a sinus infection/cold.
Day 11 (October 6): Move to campsite at Lar (3245m). Colder and windier.

Day 12 (October 7): Camping in Lar.

Hot sun, cold wind, wide expanse of bleached, smooth stones hiding trickling tributaries to the icy blue river beyond.
Day 13 (October 8): Lar to Chumling. A few hours downhill.
Hannah and I do a bit of stretching on the second story of the building by our campsite.  Apparently the most interesting to happen to our riveted audience in weeks.
Day 14 (October 9): Chumling to Jagat.  About ten hours, including a long lunch break.
5:00 am wake-up. 3:45, really, thanks to the porters’ usual habit of regular pot banging as they make breakfast.  Snickers bar turned white and crumbly from two weeks of rough travel. Still tasty.  I have had more candy bars in the last month than in my entire life prior.
Day 15 (October 10): Jagat to Kani Besi (~720m) Ten hours, lunch break included.
Many more trekkers heading up as we hike out.  Glad to miss the crowds.
Day 16 (October 11): Kani Besi to Arughat.  Many hours.
Happy birthday to me! Hot walk in the sun and a long wait for trusty Jesus Travels to deliver us from Arkhet Bazaar.  A rum and coke to celebrate twenty-one years of life, a lovely birthday cake, and a night sleeping under the stars make up for it.
Day 17 (October 12): Arughat to Kathmandu. Ten-ish hours.
Wake-up at some horrible pre-five o’clock hour. Much more comfortable bus. Cappuccino and a slice of chocolate musse cake at Flavors Cafe to celebrate my return to Bodha.

Lest you think classes were absent from this trip, most mornings featured Tibetan language class, and many afternoons we heard lectures from our traveling entourage of teachers and scholars. Unfortunately, these happenings failed to make the final cut for this post.

*Tsum is the name of the valley where we trekked. Sum means three in Tibetan. Chik, Nyi, Sum translates as One, Two, Three!
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The Goats of Nepal

Sometimes, words are inadequate. So without further ado, I bring you the Goats of Nepal…
(This is only the beginning; I will be adding to these photos throughout the semester.)

It’s a goat, standing on a cow!!

They’re not goats, but they’re super cute!

Goat in a door.
Goat in a basket.

Sikkimese goats!

Mustangi goats, coming home from pasture.

 Uploading pictures is proving far more difficult than expected. I am off on excursion/trek to Tsum for 17 days, but I will have lots of new and exciting things to share when I get back!

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Asia, Culture

When Cultural Sensitivity is Overrated and Mosquitoes Should Be Killed

“Never step over people or tables. Don’t put books on the floor. Never point your feet at someone.” While we sat on cushions around the edges of the room, our Tibetan instructors listed for us the dos and don’ts of their culture.  “Don’t kill bugs; in Buddhism, you should show respect for all sentient beings.”  Girls should never reveal shoulders, knees or cleavage. Men and women shouldn’t touch. Never wear clothing inside out.  Presentation and cleanliness are very important to Tibetans. If you don’t follow these cultural guidelines, “you might make your families feel uncomfortable or offended.”

My first night with my Tibetan homestay family, my homestay father zealously attacked several bu, bugs, crawling along the wall.  My second night, my homestay sister entered the room wearing pajama shorts and an inside-out T-shirt.  Day three, my homestay father wandered around with no shirt on, and day four my homestay mother wore her chuba (traditional Tibetan dress) with no shirt underneath it, revealing both cleavage and shoulders.  Their attitude, casual at all times, did not indicate any concern for the aforementioned cultural norms.

 I observed these incongruities with amusement.  My family’s behavior, so perfectly opposite from what my teachers had led me to expect, illustrates the limitations of cultural sensitivity.  In the documentary film, “Dalai Lama Renaissance,” the Dalai Lama said, “Sometimes I really find difficult dialogue with mosquito and my pain.  First mosquito come, sometimes I give blood, the second come, then the third, then difficult.”  If even the Dalai Lama feels the urge to kill mosquitoes, then we should hardly be surprised that my homestay father, an average lay Buddhist, might do the same.  The tendency to show an exaggerated amount of respect towards cultural practices not our own, to bow and scrape, even, to what we[1]don’t understand is in my opinion a little bit silly.

Undoubtedly, our teachers’ advice proved relevant for many of my peers, but I wonder if the flood of instructions ultimately serves anyone well.  “You will make mistakes,” they concluded, “but don’t worry—Tibetans love to laugh, and they don’t hold grudges!” If breaking the rules will result in laughter, are we better off forgetting them? No; they still teach us a lot about another culture.  Nonetheless, as we worry about political correctness, cultural sensitivity and respect, I think we would be well served to not take any of it too seriously.

The view from my roof in Bouddha!

[1] By we I mean self-aware Americans, SIT students, anthropologists, etc…
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Adventure, Asia

Through the Bazaar: My First Nepali Journey

Tashi Delek (“Auspicious Greetings” Tib.) from Nepal, officially!
It would be difficult to exaggerate the toll that being sick took on my first week’s experience of Nepal.  Having gotten some kind of food poisoning day three, I spent the following five days deluding myself that I was recovering, when really, sleep-deprived and on an involuntary starvation diet, I could barely function.  The daily 8am-6pm classes and meetings didn’t help either.  Finally admitting defeat, I went to the doctor Thursday afternoon, and a day of antibiotics later (yesterday) I had enough energy for our first free afternoon in Kathmandu.
Danny, one of our teachers, led our group of 21 SIT students through a series of streets, intersections and ‘rotaries’ from the Garden of Dreams (more to come on this another time) to the Bazaar in Old Kathmandu.  Passing through Tamel, the tourist district, very quickly, I noticed not one, not two, but ten or fifteen stores selling nothing but Toby Pants.  Toby Pants, for those who don’t know, are technically harem pants, but can also refer to a range of styles of colorful cotton pants, which, no matter what milieu I find myself in, always seem to be unique to me.  So imagine my excitement to find so many on one street! Striped Toby Pants, billowing Toby Pants, wide-legged, trimmed with woven ribbon, Toby Pants in every variety.  Toby Pants I hadn’t even known existed.  I had to return.
Racing to follow Danny down crowded alleyways, I didn’t quite keep track of our route, but I vowed to find my way back to the pants street.  At the center of the Old City, I learned that our “drop-off” assignment was to find our way back to our homestays in Boudha (pronounced Bodha), located at the Northeastern edge of Kathmandu, after exploring the city as much as we liked.  Thus released, I immediately set off first to wander the Bazaar, and then to locate my pants.
I wandered through the Nepali bead market where ropes of bright green, red, and yellow glass beads glittered in the sun.  Women in equally bright saris sat on the ground in some of the stalls to examine certain strands.  The space between stalls proved too narrow for the volume of people wishing to visit them, and I had to shove my way out, or be shoved.  I quickly walked through seemingly endless alleys piled with T-shirts, sneakers, underwear, and other clothing of little interest.  A few stalls stacked with fabric and shawls I sketched into my mental map.
Slightly lost, I found my way back to the open square where I had started, at the center of which stood an enormous table covered by towers of scarves.  I set out in the opposite direction, towards Tamel.  I knew I had taken the right street by smell.  At the first intersection, fruit: rickshaws loaded with baskets of bananas, pyramids of fist-sized pomegranates, neat piles of red and green chilies, juice carts with pre-cut pineapple.  At the next intersection, the distinct smell of fish emanating from a hidden location; at the next, cumin and coriander wafting from sacks of spices.  When I took a wrong turn, I retraced my steps and sought out the right scent—there’s the cumin; I’ve been here before.
At every intersection stood small stone stupas, shrines, some with metal carvings of Buddhist and Hindi deities.  Red powder for puja, too.  The spaces around these stupas served well enough as traffic circles, and every narrow street and alley accommodated two-way traffic.  Motorcycles asserted their supremacy, honking loudly, while pedestrians, bicycles carrying 10-foot ladders or bamboo poles, and rickshaws ambled on indifferently.
Toby Pants Street, when I found it several wrong turns later, was everything I had hoped it would be. 
Satisfied, but tired and ready to return to Bodhanath, I made my way to New Road, where, theoretically, I could find a bus.  Considering the size of Bodha’s stupa (more to come later), I was surprised at how many people had never heard of it when I asked directions—I don’t think my pronunciation could have been that bad!  Those who understood me continually directed me farther down the street to the correct spot to wait for my bus.  The minibus to Bodha did arrive, and the stick-thin fare collector directed me to a seat that had not existed a moment before.   The fourth to squeeze onto a three-person bench, I at least had a seat, which is more than could be said for the next ten passengers to press on.  We lurched through traffic at maybe ten miles per hour, and since I could not move my arms, I took the opportunity to count passengers.  At its fullest, this minibus (offering perhaps twenty seats on a good day) held thirty-five!  An appropriately crowded conclusion to my bustling introduction to Nepal.
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