underestimated challenges

a sabbatical rest, day 75

When I recently wrote about retiring in Nepal, I suggested, at my wife’s insistence, that I may have underestimated the challenges.

Some of them, I’ve discussed already, like the sidewalks and the traffic. Nepal is not handicap accessible; it is physically challenging, which you may not be looking for in your retirement. Of course, it may be exactly what you need.

Not handicap friendly.

I will say the traffic has become easier to deal with. Pedestrians don’t seem to have the right-of-way, although I gather that cars and motorcycles are supposed to stop if you are using a “zebra” crossing. It rarely happens, but there must be some sort of penalty attached to running over people in the crosswalk since probably 15 to 20 percent of the cars do slow down. We would call it a rolling stop where I come from.

However, Katie and I are finding we can sense a pulse in the traffic and step into it with some confidence. It feels like a superpower. The trick is to look right (they drive on the left side of the road) and see a break coming, so you can get halfway across, and then regroup for the other half. Often, we can see the whole dance in our heads.

The other trick is to keep your pace steady. The motorcycle that revs its engine is just trying to get ahead of your trajectory, and in other cases is angling behind you. They really aren’t headed straight for you, although it feels like it. Your part in this play is to stay steady and predictable. Anyone who can drive on ice in Michigan can do it with practice if they don’t get run over first.

It’s not likely. From August 2014 to 31 July 2015 about 1140 pedestrians were taken to the hospital, about a third of the total accidents in Kathmandu. By contrast, there were 3,130 pedestrian crashes in Chicago in 2009. Based on population size for those years, the rate was 1.2 per 100,000 in both cities, although I’d rather go to a hospital in Chicago.

Taxi is an alternative if you don’t want to walk on uneven sidewalks. (Of course, some walking is necessary). They do have an Uber-like app here, which is nice since you can book your ride and see your fare in advance (cash payment only) and you don’t have to explain where you are going. You can use it to have a scooter come for you too.

There is a lot of smog and dust here in the valley. (Who says you have to retire in the valley?) You would probably wear a mask, even if there was no pandemic. Lots of sound pollution too, like any large city. There are 1.5 million people, but because it is in a valley the population density is 75,000 per square mile, as opposed to 25,000 per square mile in Chicago. (I compare it to Chicago because we have sometimes thought of retiring there, but the weather here makes Chicago a lot less attractive. There are no parrots in Chicago, at least not outside your window.)

You also have to plan ahead since your favorite shop or necessary government office may be closed. They have about 90 holidays recognized by the government. We’ve had several short power outages and sometimes the water supply is inconsistent, although they are working on it. And you may have to learn to use a bidet. Or carry toilet paper and get used to putting it in the trash can. Or both.

One of the other underestimated challenges is the language. It’s not that they don’t know yours; a surprising number of them do understand English. However, they are not anywhere near as loud as people from the USA, and the accent is often strong; you have to listen very intently. But every restaurant we’ve been in had someone on staff with passable English, and most of the signs and menus have English and Nepali (different script). The problem is that you don’t know their language, which is to say that you don’t know their culture. It’s not just that you don’t know what they are saying; it’s that you don’t know what they are thinking. And you don’t know what you don’t know.

This requires constant mindfulness, which may also be good for a retired brain. But any sustained interaction with someone whose life has been shaped by different customs, traditions, and values requires your focused attention, even when you enjoy the people you are with. I’ll be writing about some of those cultural differences, once I understand them better. But the energy it takes to live in a different culture is one of the underestimated challenges of life in Nepal. For me, at least, it beats playing euchre in a trailer park in Florida.

Because of the energy it takes, we’re becoming pretty serious about our day off. You have to find a steady pace that refreshes your energy. And that can be anticipated by a Nepali motorist when you are crossing the road.

I may be making some friends or family members nervous by writing about retiring in Nepal, so I’ll write about something else next time. I’m still a young man, after all, and I have to work at least two more years as part of the terms of my sabbatical.

And as any Westerner should know, our options are limitless. That’s not true for a Nepali, by the way.

More about that next time.

2 thoughts on “underestimated challenges”

  1. Nepal! I’m not even good at crossing the streets in Ann Arbor, where the pedestrian is supposedly King.

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