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January 4, 2000 (Email)
A Holiday Retrospection

4 January, 1999   Janakpur

Well, I finally made it back from Pokhara last night after a short detour yesterday to Inaruwa (Jill and Elizabeth's post). A lot of the people in my group who are posted in eastern Nepal happened to be leaving Pokhara on 2 January at the same time on the same bus, so I joined the group. This was a good idea - it made the bus trip a little less interminable.

After about 24 hours, I left Inaruwa last night around 5:00 on a westbound bus - backtracking to Janakpur - after watching Jill open her Christmas packages of candy and toys and eating soup. On my way to the buspark and on the bus, about 20 Nepalis told me that there were no buses going to Janakpur until the next morning. I told them I knew this, but that I was going to Janakpur now anyway - grumbling about their fatalistic attitude.

It didn't occur to me until much later that the Nepalis' comments -- that it wasn't wise to be trying to go somewhere in the middle of the night when there was no evident way to get there -- might be an expression of reason. Especially since I only had the equivalent of one dollar in my pocket (which they didn't know). But at the time, I had no doubt that I would be able to get home. If it has done anything, Nepal has given me a sense of infallible invulnerability. I could say it has given me a sense of confidence and self-reliance, but it is much more than that. I feel like I can manipulate any situation to my advantage and get away with anything. Part of this is because there are no rules, laws, or policies in Nepal - but it's mostly because I'm white and there are always a thousand unemployed and bored people around who want nothing more than to involve themselves with whatever situation I happen to be in.

Anyway, to make a long story short, I got off my bus at Dalkibar - north of Janakpur, made my way to the nearest police checkpoint, made friends with the police and had them ask every driver they stopped if they were heading towards Janakpur. I expected to get a ride on a tractor or a truck full of produce (these, along with buses, make up all of the traffic on the streets - personal commuter traffic is virtually non-existent). But I was actually fortunate enough to get a seat on a private tourbus full of Indian tourists making a pilgrimage to Janakpur. Why they were coming from the north I don't know (they only spoke Hindi). I got home around 10:00.

I found out today that my school is giving exams for the next 8 days. My students' math exams have already been created by my counterpart (presumably made to resemble the pathetic government exams they'll get at the end of the year). Peace Corps has suggested that we not go to our schools during exam time, because we would be upset by the amount of cheating and our inability to combat it. So I might be taking off to visit friends for another week.

Does it seem that I never talk about work in these e-mails? That my Peace Corps experience is basically brief periods of purgatory between vacations? I guess that's about right.

Speaking of vacations, Christmas and New Year's in Pokhara were great. I did spend a couple days in Kathmandu first, but those were pretty uneventful. The first few days in Pokhara were spent eating steak and fishing on a pontoon boat with about 10 of my friends. Christmas day was spent at Mike's Breakfast. I may have mentioned Mike's before - there's one in Kathmandu as well. It is very nice, has good food and was founded by a former PCNepal volunteer (Mike) who we've met several times in Pokhara. Mike had put together a nice Christmas banquet of turkey/chicken/mashed potatoes/lasagna/salad/pumpkin pie for us. After dinner we did a type of blind present swap (there were already about 20 of us 189s there). I got a spangly headband and a bottle of whiskey. I had contributed some pez dispensers and the talking doll you had sent in one of your first packages.

From Pokhara the day after Christmas, a dozen of us trekked up to Tato Pani (Nepali for "hot water"). This was an easy trek - 5 hours in a bus up to Beni, then 8 hours of walking the next morning. At the end of the trek, we arrived at what can only be described as a resort town (by Nepali standards) complete with a bakery and Mexican food. The reason for the town is the existence of nearby hot springs around which giant concrete pools have been constructed. We stayed in Tato Pani for 2 nights and spent almost every waking hour in the springs. Jill, amazingly, spent 13 straight hours in one of the pools. The ambient weather was quite cold, so it was nice to be sitting around in boxer shorts and bathing suits with my friends. Another benefit - I hadn't felt as clean as I did after getting out of the pool for over 6 months. We even spent time in the pool at night after the posted closing time. This only required a small bribe to the pool supervisors (another example of how easy it is to manipulate situations).

After the second night, the group split in two. The first group left to tackle a more difficult 2 day trek into the hills and then back to Baglung, near Pokhara. The second group went back down the same easy way they had come up. Guess which group I was in. The lazy group, of course. We were so lazy, in fact, that we didn't even make the return trek in a single day. We split it over 2 days - mostly so we could spend one more half day in the hot springs. On the way back we spent a night in a roadside motel (read "shack") for 5 Rupees each. 4 "We" consisted of Me, Nate, Jill, Sommer, Virginia, Stephanie, and Satyam from the women's center.

Back in Pokhara, just about everyone from my group who hadn't been there when I left, had arrived while I was trekking. I think nearly 30 of the 189s were there - amazing considering that one of us has already gone home and 3 people couldn't make it for medical reasons. It was nice to see people who I hadn't seen since training - especially Geoff who I had spent every day of training with. Bill, Zack, and Kraig from Janakpur were also in Pokhara, as were two women from the women's center who had come to display their products at the "King's 55th birthday and Millennium street fair". Satyam had already quit her job at the center in order to go to Italy next month, and was in Pokhara just to celebrate with us - her western friends. Anyway, I felt like I knew everyone there.

We spent the first day of 2000 recovering and watching movies - Austin Powers II, The World is Not Enough, two thirds of Full Metal Jacket, Army of Darkness, and parts of Titanic and CLose Encounters on TV. We tried to watch some of CNN, but I thought the coverage was horrible. Interviews with Don Rickles and a Times Square street sweeper? How about a retrospective of the 20th century?

I tried to write this e-mail earlier from the womens' center but the software crashed. While I was writing it, one of the women asked me what "retrospective" meant. My Nepali isn't that good. I told her that when a person dies and they look at their life, that's being retrospective. Then I struck a pensive pose and said "my 25 years have been good" and told her that that too was being retrospective. Not bad.

OK. Gotta give the computer back to Bill. I'll call soon.

Love, Mark

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