NOTE: I wrote this post months ago and foolishly delayed on posting. However, it still paints a true picture…
My daily routine is significantly different since we moved from an apartment into our house – all for the better… Main difference is our two amazing house helpers, Tika Dai and Sonu, who enable this effortless and efficient lifestyle…
Prakash and I wake up early, usually just before 6am. I get ready and then prepare a fresh, healthy, hot breakfast — never before have I managed to successfully and consistently do this! I prepare nutritious “parathas” (similar to a tortilla) supplementing the usual whole wheat flour and water with veggies, lentils, nuts, seeds and flours of other grains. I make 8 each morning – one for each of the five of us, one for Tika Dai, one for Sonu, and one for our dog (he is a street dog that the previous tenant cared for and just kind of came with the house – truly a gentle soul…). I prepare the kids’ snack and water bottles, and sometimes their lunch. Since school is nearby, often their lunch is prepared a bit later and taken over at lunchtime. Simultaneously, Tika Dai is buzzing around the kitchen – drying and putting away dinner dishes, making tea and setting the table. While we are busy in the kitchen, Prakash holds down the fort upstairs ensuring the kids complete their morning routine amongst the nonstop horsing around! They all head down, get their backpacks ready for school and we all sit down to breakfast together — again, this never happened in the US, but we are enjoying and cherishing it. Prakash heads out on his bicycle around 7:45am and we follow a few minutes later on our cycles.
I’ll introduce our house helpers a bit before describing how significantly they impact our life… Tika Dai is 52 years old, married and has 3 sons and 2 daughters. His wife lives in their village (Chitwan, which is a 5 hour bus ride from KTM) and 4 of his 5 children live, work and/or study in KTM. He never attended school, but ensured his children studied. His daughters completed up to 10th grade and his sons completed high school and are pursuing further education. Self-taught, Tika Dai learned to read Nepali (Devanagari script) and can manage to read and write, although at a fairly slow pace. His knowledge of English is limited to perhaps a few dozen words, spoken only. He lives in a small, detached room within our compound. I can write pages about his personality but will summarize – cheerful, optimistic, content, caring, thoughtful and hard working.
Sonu is 32 years old, married and has 1 son. Her husband lives in Saudi Arabia (an astronomically high number of Nepalis work abroad in Asia and the Middle East as they can financially contribute significantly more to their families) and her 16-year-old son just completed 10th grade and now works at a cycle shop as a manufacturing assistant. She also never attended school but has learned to read and write Nepali. Her vocabulary of English is surprisingly high and she has taught herself the alphabet. She and her son live in an apartment 3 km from our home. Sonu is kind, smart, thoughtful and hard working.
Sonu and Tika Dai take care of most household tasks:
* Laundry and cleaning — Sonu takes care of all the laundry (sorting, machine washing, hand washing, hanging to dry, ironing and folding). I only put clothes away where they belong. She and Tika Dai together take care of all cleaning (dusting, cleaning bathrooms, sweeping, moping, cleaning the kitchen). I only help with tidying up — a nonstop task with 3 kids at home! Their efforts to take care of our house simplify my life tremendously.
* Groceries — As I wrote about before, purchasing groceries is a bit tedious in Nepal. Since we don’t have a car and since fresh fruits, vegetables, milk and bread don’t keep for long, frequent purchases are a must. However, Sonu and Tika Dai, do most of the shopping! She purchases produce in the morning on her way to our house. Tika Dai gets grains, dairy and all pantry items as and when we need them. I’ll make a list, written in English, and read it out to him as he rewrites it in Nepali. At the end of the day, we do the “jisab” and he gives me the receipts from the day and I pay him back. About once in two weeks, I’ll go shopping to get items that require some selection or searching. Again, their efforts in this regard greatly reduce my work load.
* House work — There is quite a bit of work to do to maintain a house in the developing world! We do not have a direct line of water to our house from the City Government. Four large tanks hold our water supply (equivalent to 6000 liters). Tika Dai makes sure the tanks are cleaned (about once a year), pumps the water from tank to tank (when the electricity is on), and calls the tanker truck for deliveries (about once every two weeks). Gardening work is plentiful and Tika Dai singlehandedly completes it (cuts the grass with a non-motorized cutter, trims trees and bushes, cares for the veggie patches, sweeps fallen leaves, waters the plants, etc). The list of items that need maintenance goes on and on – but thankfully Tika Dai seemingly effortlessly manages all.
* Cooking — My cooking work has been cut in half! Sonu prepares lunch (for me, her and Tika Dai) and dinner (for Prakash, the kids and me) Monday through Friday. I only take care of breakfast on weekdays and all meals on weekend. Usually, she prepares a typical Nepali meal (rice, lentils and curried vegetables), but once in a while she mixes it up – pasta, fried rice, noodles, chole-puri (curried garbanzo beans and fried bread) and even homemade pizza! Also, baking has become weekly entertainment for all of us – banana bread, peanut butter cookies, date cake and peanut butter ladoos!
I’m sure you are wondering how much we pay Sonu and Tika Dai… First, I’ll tell you that they are well paid as compared to others holding similar jobs in Kathmandu. They, and all others who do this kind of work, do make ends meet but do not have many luxuries in life. Sonu earns the equivalent of $140 USD per month and Tika Dai earns the equivalent of $190 USD per month. Unfortunately, the cost of labor in Kathmandu and most of the developing world is appallingly low. These drastically low rates leave me with mixed feelings. On the one hand, it is great to have happy employees who are relatively satisfied with their earnings, but on the other hand, it is difficult to digest that we live in the same city and they have to survive on their meager Nepali Rupee salary while we enjoy a salary in US Dollars.
I’m sure you are also wondering what I must be doing with my time. I have no job, very little house work to do, my kids are in school full-time, so what do I do?!? It is a blessing to have so much free time and I’m thoroughly enjoying myself – here is a summary of my activities:
* Exercise — I have never been so fit in my life! In addition to the Tuesday mountain bike rides with other British School parents, weekly, I run twice a week and walk twice a week. These coupled with cycling as our new mode of transportation, I feel super fit, energized, and healthy.
* Nepali Class – attending Nepali language classes is very enjoyable and has enabled me to effectively communicate with Sonu and Tika Dai, in addition to shop keepers, taxi drivers, and other locals I meet. I’ve become the household “translator” – the kids and Prakash use my basic skills to communicate in Nepali!
* CSGN – I am keenly interested in learning about Nepal, Nepali people and culture. The Cultural Studies Group Nepal organizes informational lectures, discussions, walks and studio tours about three times per month. Attending these events has been very enjoyable and educational. From December, I joined as a Board Member and have enjoyed planning and organizing various CSGN events.
* Computer work – I aim to write blog posts, catch up on email, and keep in touch with friends and family while the kids are at school.
* Crochet – A hip and happening group of foreign and local women get together weekly to crochet. Since January I joined the group and two beautiful seeds have bloomed since. Janani’s creativity and skills in crochet has grown and surpassed mine! And several of the ladies are having a go at starting a small business out of our creative spirits – we’ll see what happens!
* Volunteer Project – During our summer holidays in July, I visited an old friend, Ashok Rupner, from Pune, India. He now works with Dr. Arvind Gupta, Creating Toys out of Trash, and he asked if I can help them on a project. They have over 500 videos available for free on YouTube that aim to teach children about science through the creation of simple toys made from basic household items. They have dubbed these videos in numerous languages (Hindi, Marathi, Kanada, Tamil, Bengali, Gujarati, Malayalam, Telugu, Russian, Japanese, Spanish, French, Chinese, Korean, Uzbek, Tajik) aiming to share the knowledge with children all over the world. Ashok Sir asked me to work on dubbing the video scripts in Nepali! Since my Nepali is very rudimentary (and my accent isn’t authentic), I have found native speakers to work on this project with me. I’m looking forward to notifying rural schools in Nepal of this resource when we finish.
After all of these activities, I cycle over and get the kids at 2:30 or 3:30, depending on whether they have an after-school club. In the USA, I would be trying to juggle ~17 balls at once – preparing dinner, cleaning out containers from the kids’ lunch boxes, listening to each one about their day, mediating arguments between the kids, tidying up the constant tornado, helping with homework, reading paperwork sent home by the school, and playing with the kids too. Thankfully, a few of these balls are taken care of so now I’m able to focus more on being with the kids in the afternoons.
Evenings are about the same. Prakash gets home from work, kids eager to chat with him, evening crankiness and hunger set in, bath-time activities, bedtime reluctance – the dance all families do…
Yes, life in Nepal and the USA are hugely different. At this time, we are enjoying the positive aspects to life here (low cost house helpers; biking as a primary mode of transportation; warm, open nature of Nepali people; huge range of foreigners and expats). There are things I do miss occasionally (libraries; parks, green spaces and well-protected natural resources; traffic lights and civil driving habits; clothes dryer; 80-gallon gas water heater; central heating system). There are tradeoffs. I am blessed that we have the opportunity to experience both…