Monday, April 13, 2009

No Woman, No Cry

I’ll conclude my Kathmandu series with a short account of my evening. 

I rested in my hotel for a few hours.  I’m staying at the Kathmandu Guest House, which is a terrific place.  It’s not upscale, even by Nepali standards; a room costs about $20 per night and is basic but also very clean and comfortable.  But what distinguishes this hotel are its guests and its grounds.  It has beautiful courtyard gardens, which feel like little oases in the chaos of Kathmandu.  And the guests are mostly young travelers from all over the world.  I am definitely a geezer here, which is just fine.  I’ve loved listening to these idealistic young people, and fondly remembering my own experiences backpacking in Europe before starting rabbinical school.  Travel provides a vital education, and I feel very lucky to be back at it, though I also miss my family and friends more than I can say.

Then I set out for dinner, walking through the Thamel, the district of the city that is mostly devoted to tourists, though it retains a great deal of local Nepali flavor, too.  My dinner experience captures that.  I dined at the Northfield Café, where I enjoyed traditional Nepali vegetarian fare with rice (thank goodness for Sephardi Pesach standards!) and American sorbet for desert.  On a stage just a few feet in front of me, a Nepali folk dancer, dressed in a gorgeous silk sari, was performing to the music of a traditional band.  Yet it was hard to hear their music because, across the street, at the Reggae Bar and Grill, the band was blaring the Rolling Stones “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” and Bob Marley’s, “No Woman, No Cry” at volume 11 (interesting that no matter where you go in the world, Bob Marley is a universal icon.)  The whole experience was wonderful.  And the meal, an enormous feast, as usual, cost me the equivalent of under four dollars.

Back at the hotel, the power was out.  That wasn’t unusual.  Every day, because of a general energy shortage, the electricity is turned off for about eight hours or so.  This doesn’t happen at regular intervals; it is, rather, arbitrary and completely unpredictable.  I have no doubt that this is terribly enervating to the Nepalis and I would surely complain about it if I was living here, too.  But as a tourist, I rather enjoy it.  It imposes an aura of tranquility, forcing me to leave the computer and my CNN-blaring television.  During this time, much of the hotel is lit by candlelight, which adds a warm and peaceful glow to the night.  I love this stillness.  I don’t want to dismiss the benefits of post-industrial society; it is, however, also important to recognize what our technology forces us to give up.  Like all of life, this is a trade off.

But my serene state was shattered when the power came back on and I went off to the internet café.  While there, I met many Israelis, who are here in large numbers (there are even several falafel stands with Hebrew signs, though most are closed for Pesach.)  One of them had just logged off after 17 minutes on the computer.  When the proprietor charged him for half an hour—the fees are assessed in fifteen minute intervals—rather than 15 minutes, the Israeli began to argue loudly and vehemently, in typical Israeli fashion.  The owner acquiesced and billed the Israeli for only fifteen minutes—a difference that amounted to the equivalent of about twelve cents!  It’s so Israeli, to raise one’s voice and blood pressure and argue so ferociously over twelve cents, just out of principle.  Talk about a culture clash!

And this is ironic because the Nepalese are natural allies to Israel, which needs allies very badly.  My guide, Mangalal, told me that the Nepali people simply cannot fathom the Islamic Arab states, with their jihadist mentality, suicide bombers, and general religious fanaticism.  All of these things are utterly incomprehensible in this society of religious syncretism.  “Besides,” he added, “as a nation bordered by China and India, we know what it is like to live in a neighborhood where you are surrounded by powers that do not much like you.”  And finally, there are lots of similarities between Israeli and Nepali driving habits.  The two nations should, at the very least, co-found a mutual horn-honking appreciation society.  Important political alliances have been forged over less.

Well, I’ve now written much more than enough, so I am going to sign off.  Tomorrow morning, early, I head out on my trek around Annapurna, so allow me to excuse my wordiness today by saying that I’ll be off the grid for the next three weeks.  Wish me well and I will look forward to writing—and, more importantly, hearing from—you all upon my return, some time around May 9.  A continued joyous Pesach to all!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

24 cents per 1/2 hour? sonds like a good internet cafe