Thursday, February 01, 2007

Nepaliko Buddi Pachhi Aaunchha

Last weekend Dinesh arranged for a Eurogard water filter to be installed in the kitchen. The technician said he would arrive at Sam's House the next day at 11am with an electrician.

The next day we met the technician at the front gate at 1pm and without an electrician.

The Eurogard has to be mounted on the wall near the kitchen sink where it's tapped into a water source. The technician was drilling holes to fix some brackets to hold the apparatus--there are two brackets: one for the filter and one for the machine.

He was placing the filter bracket underneath a wall shelf. As he prepared to hammer in the screws (yes) I thought he hadn't left himself enough room to actually put the filter in the bracket. But feeling this wasn't my place, I didn't say anything. When time came to put in the filter, he didn't have enough room and the bracket had to come down, new holes drilled and re-mounted.

Dinesh, too, was watching this scene, though less closely because he was on the phone with other tasks. When I described what happened, he said, "We have saying for that: Nepaliko buddi pachhi aaunchha. They never plan ahead. You should write about that on your blog."

Nepaliko buddi pachhi aaunchha means "Nepali knowledge later comes," or "Nepalis learn after the fact," or, in this case, as Dinesh intended, "Nepalis learn only after the mistake."

At first I was puzzled about why Dinesh would suggest this as something to describe. He's a very proud Nepali and great defender of the culture, even the parts he doesn't agree with, so his request seemed like a release of momentary frustration.

But later, after thinking about it, I realized that Dinesh (and Rekha) often feels this way and I think it represents an expression shared by a lot of educated Nepalis. And this was Dinesh's point.

By the most liberal reports the literacy rate of Nepal is less than 50% (far less than that for women). And for many considered literate, they have a substandard education, oftentimes ending somewhere in grade school.

In the US, we consider literacy and a decent level of education the norm (all kidding aside). Right? We go to the cashier or the craftsperson and we reasonably expect and reasonably get the service we pay for. So to be educated in an extremely uneducated society where simpler tasks seem to go awry more often than necessary would be a challenging circumstance.

Throughout the process there have been many work changes and delays (all small, thankfully) that by western standards would be considered unacceptable. Many of these delays are due to different cultural standards for time and negotiation. But others, the ones that frustrate Dinesh, can be attributed to Nepaliko buddi pachhi aaunchha.

Still, Dinesh handles everything with great aplomb. Saving face. Making repeated phone calls. Negotiating on the fly.

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Just wanted to share a note about the chat center.

These are rolling carts that park in commercial areas and sell fried food. Sort of like the vendors outside bars after closing time. The patrons are mostly young people from the nearby college. You can buy pakodas and jeris and lots of other things that I cannot identify (like fried hard-boiled eggs). It might be the most unhealthy and unsanitary food in this great country.

And yet I am strangely drawn to them.

Don't worry. I won't eat there. Dinesh won't let me. And Jen won't let me. And Jen would never forgive Dinesh for letting me. And Dinesh knows and fears this.

But I do like to stand by them and watch the process and the socializing. I get a lot of strange looks but I'm amazed at the food preparation. On one hand, by western standards, it's mind-blowing in terms of hygiene: unwashed plates, iron cooking pots with re-used oil, people drinking residual fry juice from the plates. On the other hand, it's a bravado display of cooking coordination—like watching an expert grill man in the back of a diner. There's soup and several fried items, salty, sweet and sour. They're pumping the kerosene tanks for more flame, collecting money, making change, taking orders.

And there's also the jumble of patrons surrounding the chat center. Young guys on cell phones, women holding small children, gaggles of girls laughing and calling to friends. It's kind of crazy.

Sometimes I stand there, man of the street (but not really—I'm a tall white guy here) but never for too long because I get pulled into a conversation and my Nepali fails after the first few exchanges. So I move on to the next chat center… across the road! Oh yes!

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