It’s a cliché, but there is something about being an expat in Nepal that makes you become extremely introspective, frequently searching for meaning and purpose. This is unavoidable (in the birthplace of Buddha are we really surprised?); however, even with the find-yourself mentality you adopt, you can establish a relatively ‘normal’ and familiar life here, after of course, going through a series of stages…
Stage 1 – Sensory Overload: When you first arrive everything is “an assault on the senses” (term coined by Andrea), from the putrid smell of the Bagmati River, to the ear-piercing vehicle horns, to the eye-catching colourful saris that dance around the garbage lined streets. In fact, it is such a sensory overload that you almost have to become desensitized so that you don’t burn out from the exhaustion of taking it all in, all the time.
Stage 2 – Desensitization: This was a brief phase for me. Overnight I become desensitized to my foreign surroundings, feeling numb and a bit blue. Perhaps this was a necessary down-period before revving up to the high-paced honeymoon stage.
Stage 3- Honeymoon: You know you’ve arrived here when you bounce out of stage 2 and snap on some rose-coloured glasses. Every daily mis-hap easily runs off your back and you find yourself referring to obstacles as ‘valuable learning experiences’ and the challenges of development work as ‘the opportunity of a lifetime’. You don’t want to miss a thing, going out every night, and squeezing in all the trips and adventures possible. The glass is always half-full during this stage and although you are euphorically happy, you may not be fully grounded…
Stage 4 – Normalcy: This is when you really start adjusting to daily life as an expat. Here you mellow-out and find your way back to a more familiar and ‘normal’ lifestyle. A life where you can keep a daily routine, manage the stress of living in a foreign culture, and find a clearer and more balanced outlook. I think that I am now in stage 4 – carving out a ‘normal’ lifestyle…grounded in life’s little things. For me, the little things include cooking at home, keeping up on local news, and taking comfort in daily office rituals. I shared one office ritual recently with fellow foodie Andrea:
“I don’t pack a lunch b/c we have an office Didi who makes lunch every day served promptly at 2pm. Most days it is the standard potato curry (aloo ko tarkari), and the side dishes always change (something I quite look forward to). She goes out to get the ingredients just before 1pm, and then cooks from 1-2 on the porch attached to my office. I spend that hour breathing in the wonderful smells, and listening carefully to her cooking process to try and decipher exactly what type of curry we are getting, and what type of side dish (will it be roti? some deep fried pastry? chiura?). This makes 1pm-2pm quite an exciting time in my otherwise mundane work day. There is however, one exception….cracker-day. Every now and then we don’t get a delicious hot lunch, but rather just a pile of crackers with our tea. I HATE these days because it is not nearly enough for lunch….but what’s worst, I KNOW it’s cracker day from just before 1pm until 2pm because there is no arrival of the Didi with a bag of fresh food, no smells wafting in from the porch, no banging and frying sounds. Just, silence for an hour. And b/c so much of my day revolves around this 1 hour, my day is almost always ruined on cracker-day”
So the moral of this story? There are going to be major ups and downs, but when you realize you have a cracker-day (term coined by Jess), you know you are adjusting to expat life in Nepal.