I write this with all seriousness yet it could be seen as quite comical.
I never thought I’d move abroad long-term, away from my tiny island. Let alone get married (those who know me may have thought I’d be forever single) and start a life in a foreign land so far away from home. There was a time when I’d imagine myself living in a hut on a beach (I guess this resonates with many other islanders), selling cocktails and BBQ fresh fish to beach lovers and sun worshippers, in a little hippie coastal town… but never a landlocked mountainous region, to live in a Hindu joint-family home. Enter ‘Panic’ mode!
And I laugh about it. As a foreign ‘wife’ in a ‘developing’ country like Nepal, getting accustomed to what is norm or ‘expected’ from me can take a while. I never seem to get the outfit right for any family occasion, yet the younger girls of the family seem to wear what they like, no matter how formal or what venue. In a Newari family gathering, try to remember which dish should be served next with a never-ending variety of foods! Spinach before beans? Which type of beans?
Have you ever heard of jutho? Don’t touch the plate with the serving spoon! Don’t touch anything on the eating table with utensils which are going back into the kitchen. Are you menstruating? Don’t enter the kitchen honey!… the list can be endless for situations which, let’s say I am not accustomed to!
The first time I experienced a ‘jutho’ scenario was a long time after coming to Nepal. It happened in my now husbands house. I was so confused! I washed my hands, ate with my right hand, expressed ‘derei mitho cha’ (very tasty!) and continued to the sink to wash my plate when suddenly my mother-in-law (who I had just met) jumped up which made my feet lift a little off the ground! My first reaction was “earthquake??” No, it was because I was going to wash my plate in the sink where food is being prepared. Say what now!? Another time whilst serving daal (lentil soup) to my parents in-law, it happened again … and multiple occasions following these awkward first times. It took a few months for me to understand what’s what. But still these cultural differences are beyond my reasoning when it boils down to hygiene and where things should go. Of course cultural misunderstandings still occur – inevitably this is a hard one to crack!
A little on menstruation in Nepal; unfortunately it is still seen in many households as something not pure. My sister in laws would not cook or enter the kitchen. I simply don’t broadcast that I am menstruating! I argue, the menstruation process is the purest action our bodies go through! And well, more food for me! Perhaps it once started for a woman to take a break during this time. In many rural areas of Nepal, “chhapaudi“ is still being practiced; luckily this has been made illegal by the Government of Nepal recently, however many fear that this still exists. On this note, if you want to support a small NGO carrying out great work against the Chhapaudi and promoting menstruation health hygiene and eco-friendly products please check out and donate BeArtsy with their Rato Baltin Project (Red bucket project). I’ve had the pleasure to work a little with the woman behind this.
Well, here I am, writing to you from Kathmandu, over two years after I left home. Apparently, I am more familiar with the city (as in directions and road names) than my Nepali peers! I still can’t speak the friggin’ language though, apart from drunken conversations with taxi drivers, when I think my Nepali is great and conversation flows.
After surviving (mentally and physically) the second monsoon here I am scratching my head to find a solution to maintain myself (mentally and financially!) to have the best of both worlds: summer in Malta and winter in Nepal. Am I being spoilt? Want the best of both worlds? Hell yeah! Why not? For an islander like myself, the rain is not my friend. Three months of it, definitely not! In Kathmandu with the road and traffic situation, even more so! I despised those over-sized rain anoraks as a kid and of course it becomes an integral part of my daily outfit between June and September. Ewww! Thumb up to Simba Tree’s Scooter Skirt, making wearing a dress without flashing or being soaked possible since 2017!
The festival season came and went, which I thoroughly enjoyed with my Nepali family in Kathmandu and family in the village; yet now I face FOMO (fear of missing out). The planning starts for Christmas parties, lunches, dinners, gatherings between friends and families flying from across the world to be together. As a Maltese this is a really important time of the year. Just like how Nepali would fly from wherever they are for Dashain if they can afford to. Despite having my second families here, I scratch my head wondering where I will be for Christmas day… On this note I look back to an article written by Melanie Vella, Up to where I belong, published two years ago. My moment of fame in Maltese papers! Yay! I was so exciting to be here living my dream, I couldn’t imagine anything better (despite my intentions to spend the day in the Christian village I ended up ill in bed!). Living in Kathmandu has now become my long-term reality, I wonder, is this where I belong? Dividing my time between two homes and two families so far apart is not only rather expensive for an unemployed git like me, but the emotional factor is also quite tiresome. When I was still living in Malta I thought dividing my time between my father and mother was tiring, so I was happy to not have to think about it. To be honest, not having that choice, doesn’t feel too great anymore.
Life is not as rosy as people think it is. It’s not as exotic and adventurous as my instagram feed may seem (actually not adventurous at all!). When you leave the comfort of home, especially being one who is quite tightly connected to friends and family, it’s actually quite hard. And it hits you harder. Living in a new city, wherever it is in the world, comes with many exciting moments and challenges, yet a lot of us have faced loneliness very quickly. Despite meeting many new people, you don’t always fit or connect the way you do with your besties you’ve had for over 20 years! Most times its difficult for me to reach out to others from the expat community to start ‘friendships’; it just seems ‘unnatural’ most of the time.
So, what is it that classifies us as expats? For some reason, this does not resonate with me. I get this awkward sensation when saying it. It doesn’t seem to fit. When I think of expats I think of the diplomats and other westerners employed with the large development organisations. And I am not one of them. Then again who likes to be labeled and put into a box? For us non-INGO expats, life can be quite hard in Nepal if you haven’t set yourself up as a freelancer abroad. Obtaining work permits is almost impossible, and neither does being married here help the situation. On top of feeling as though my basic human rights have been stripped away from me, I also need to dreadfully explain time and time again that not all foreigners are loaded with cash. From taxi drivers over-inflating prices, or crashing into your scooter and thinking its ok, ‘you are bideshi (foreigner), you can pay it.’
For most of my life in Malta I would be labeled as ‘tal-pepe’ because I was brought up speaking English in my home and went to San Anton School. I am a very proud Maltese girl (well this is also debatable given the current turmoil in Malta), I just couldn’t clearly communicate in the language; with no fault of my own. I come here and again I am being put into a box with the other wealthy ‘expats’ because I am not Nepali.
There’s a tendency with expats to stick together. We’ve got the French community, the American community, the Brits, Spaniards and so on and so forth… and yes signing up to groups like InterNations is great for networking and loading off some frustrations helps at times, but would that make me feel more connected? Probably not! Set up a Maltese community? “Ejjew hdejja Maltin!” … maybe not. I left my once-sacred island as I felt like a fish out of the water so why would I want to stick with people from the same place? How would any of us benefit from this and be happy in the new space we trying to create? To be honest I just don’t understand it…
Now where do I belong? Is there a lost souls community out there?! Give me a shout!
(original post https://hancremona.wordpress.com/2017/12/12/an-expat-in-nepal-a-personal-rhapsody/)