BootsnAll Travel Network

Kathmandu: The Daily Show, Morning Edition

Bec and I have less than a week left in Nepal. Wow. They say time flies when you’re having fun. And apparently, they were right. Before we leave, I thought I’d better at least try and give you an insight into our daily life here.

The day starts involuntarily at 5am, when we are woken violently by the doberman next door. This big, beautiful dog spends 95% of its day locked in a tiny kennel; one so small that it’s snout sticks out the front bars. I cannot feel sorry for this dog though, because it is at 5am every single morning that it begins barking. Barking frantically, as though it is being attacked. Barking as loud as a jet engine, continuously, until at least 6am. Every morning. And even though we’re up on the second floor and the dog is down in the yard below our window, it sounds as though the bastard is standing at the end of our bed. (Unless you’re Nepali and reading this, that is, in which case by ‘our bed’ I mean ‘my bed’, because we’d never live in sin by sleeping side-by-side without being married. At least, that’s what we tell the kids when they ask. And believe me, they do ask. Every single one of them, right down to the six-year-olds; “Dave sir, you and Bec miss, sleep same room.” “No no no, not until we’re married.”). I’d like to shoot that dog, if Bec doesn’t beat me to it.

Eventually, we get back to sleep and finally get up around 7.40am, throw on some clothes and walk the hundred metres to the orphanage. The walk first takes us 30 metres down the muddy track that is our street. Along this stretch we pass the butcher hacking into huge slabs of buffalo meat laid out on his wooden bench. He works in an open-fronted tin shed, about six-feet by eight-feet, with a single flourescent light enabling him to see.

The track takes us up to the main road, although I use that term quite loosely. It’s only really a main road relative to the puddle-ridden, single vehicle mud track that leads us there. It is at least covered in bitumen, well, between the huge and frequent pot-holes at least. These are the sort of pot-holes that you can see a monkey fall into and never come out.

Dodging the constantly tooting cars and motorbikes, we fall into step with the crowd of locals treading along the roadside; mostly Tibetans, they are, old men and women with weathered faces who are completing their morning ritual of walking the 3km around the base of Swoyambunath, the famous and important Buddhist stupa that sits on the hill above us.

We pass the wonderful bakery that weems out of place in this dirty, dusty setting, and wave to the young couple who work there. We have come to know them through frequent visits; their banana muffins have sustained me through many an afternoon.

Shortly after, we turn down a narrow lane; a jumble of bricks just wide enough for two people to pass. We smile and greet more elderly Tibetans, “Tah-shi de-leh”. Their faces are creased with endless stories, their smiles show blackened teeth, and their friendliness is infectious. Almost to a person, the Tibetans come across more welcoming and instantly friendly than the Nepalese.

Further along, one of the six-foot high brick walls on either side of us gives way to a small open field, which has turned into a mini rubbish tip. We’ve grown accustomed to the stench of rubbish and the frequent sightings of maingy dogs, rats and monkeys forraging through the trash. Not to mention the men who use the spot as an impromptu urinal.

And then we arrive at Sagarmatha House.

The gate is normally locked, buto nce we rattle it a bit one of the kids will come bounding down the front steps of the house to let us in. We slip off our shoes at the door and are greeted in the main room by twenty-five kids; “Good morning sir, good morning miss”. But it is not in unison, the way kids at primary school do it back home in that annoying slow motion drawl, it is a ramble of voices that fire at you like cannons.

These are the younger kids, from age five to eleven, who go to the the nearby Divytara school. They’re doing homework now, having been up since about 5.30am or so, during which time they’ve dressed, prayed, eaten milk and cookies, and started homeworkd. The older fifteen or so kids, who go to schools further away, are already eating morning dhal baat.

We sit down with the young’uns and help them to write the names of fruits and spell rhododendron. At 8.30am, Kamal, the thirty-eight year old house manager, walks in and barks a few words in Nepal. At this, the kids slam shut their books and go tearing outside to wash up for dhal baat. Their enthusiasm would suggest that they were about to be served ice cream, rather than the same dhal baat they had yesterday, and the day before, and the day before that. It strikes me now though, that it is entirely possible some of these kids have never even eaten ice cream. It’s no woner they get excited about dhal baat. It’s entirely possible they have, in fact, never had a meal that didn’t consist of rice and lentils.

But actually, the dhal baat we eat is far more appetising than ai may have led you to believe. Bec and I are quite fond of the tucket. It’s a lot more varied, day-to-day, than we expected. It always consists of a few chunks of rice, as though who ever served it up is attempting to recreate the entire Himalayan range on your plate (have I used that before? I can’t remember), plus some dhal, which is yellow or brown or red lentil soup depending on the type of lentil used. Then, to the side, will be a small serve of curry, or tatkari as they call it here. This can be anything from potato to beans to cauliflower to eggplant to some weird grey stuff of which we have no idea what the hell it is.

After some gentle persuasion by two of the older boys, thirteen of fourteen year olds Prithivi and Dev (the kids get endless satisfaction from the fact my name is the same, at least to them, as one of the other kids), we have taken to eating dhal baat with our hands, well our right hand, the left one is for the other end, if you follow my drift. The kids eat with their hands, and to be honest it felt a little weird always using a spoon.

Once you get past the impulse to lick your fingers after every mouthful, it’s a brilliantly enjoyable way to eat your food. Of course you have to let it cool down a bit first, lest you want to burn the crap out of your fingers. This is an idea that I manage to forget every single time I sit down to eat, which is easy to do when you see six-year-old Junu next to you plunge her hand into the steaming rice as though it is a bowl of jelly. If you were to walk into the house at this time, you’d hear the slurping, chewing, and chattering of twenty-five Nepalis and two distinctly Australian accents cursing over and over “Ow! Ow! Ow! Ow! Ow! Ow! Ow!”

After breakfast the kids race outside to wash their plates, hands and faces with the hose and buckets of water that are set up out on the concrete. Well, it’s not so much after breakfast as it is as they finish; typically they’re still licking their plates clean as they skip out the door.

Then it’s upstairs to get changed into their school uniform. This is a process that’s far more swift and organised than you would think, given that there’s twenty five kids aged under eleven all getting ready. Bec and I will help out with shirt buttons, rolling up sleeves and doing up shoe laces, but mostly the kids are ready by themselves rather quickly.

The one thing we refuse to help with is the kids’ hair. Unless you’re the sort of person who likes to pour disgusting black oil – the sort of stuff that looks like it’s come out of a twenty-year old deep fat frier – on your hand and then rub it on the kids head, then you’d most likely be like us and disappear when the bottle of oil gets brought out. The kids love it though, and it does give their hair a brilliant shine, I’ll give them that.

Soon after, we grab a kid’s hand each, and walk single file up the brick path to school. Once there, we’ll have a quick run around with the kids, “Dave sir, you dhoum (that’s Nepali for ghost),” they’ll say, before cheekily poking their tongue out and running off for me to chase them.

The bell rings, and we wave good bye or, in the case of our two favourite girls Nisha and Sushma, engage in a lengthy hand shake with ten or so different moves, as though we’re old frat buddies.

And that’s our morning, six days a week.

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