Monday, January 4, 2016

Life in a Foreign Context

It has been a gift to spend a week with my cousin and her family in Kathmandu. We have explored all the tourist attractions as well as strolling around back alleys that open to beautiful views of open valleys and towering mountain tops. (Sadly it was too cloudy to see the Himalayas.) They new all the hole in the wall places that were safe to eat as well as the western style restaurants that rivaled Chipotle. I was able to meet some of the expat community and hear the wide variety of things they are involved in throughout the country. I found it interesting that at some point during conversations someone would bring up the gas shortage. The would ask how many tanks of cooking gas we had or what the going black market price was for taxis or where they were getting black market gasoline. I realized this part of the world creates extreme hoarders out of even the most normal people. (I learned to hoard small bills in India.) I realized a good school is important for every family living abroad and kids are kids no matter where they live. People who call a foreign city home learn to negotiate everything and will walk away if they can not get a local price for something. Americans abroad wrestle with the reality of having the means to pay for things that make life sustainable while still wanting to engage local culture and community. (I have argued to the death over 10 rupees which is $0.15.) All expats are always looking for a good deal on flights to their home country and usually know the best routes and have flown enough airlines to know which ones to never fly no matter how cheap it is. (I will never, ever fly Biman Bangladesh again.)

I am forever grateful for each and every expat who has welcomed me into their homes and community. I have learned invaluable lessons on what is truly important when living abroad and how the little things become precious gifts throughout a hard day, week, month, year. I am blown away by the amazingly strong men and women doing life outside their home country/culture. They are a beautiful community that has learned to welcome people well and say hard goodbyes. I cherish the opportunity to meet so many expats around the world and am so incredibly thankful for their hospitality and generosity extended to me. 

Friday, January 1, 2016

Nepal: The Struggle is Real

Life is rough in Nepal. I knew it would be when arrived but seeing the day to day struggle for Nepali and Bideshi alike after the earthquake destroyed so many structures and the current rioting taking place at the border which means limited supplies are coming through the border. These two situations combined have increased the cost of living and stunted the tourism industry which is the top grossing industry in this small, land-locked country. Gasoline and cooking gas are hard to come by so there is a lucrative black market charging exuberant prices for these daily necessities. Businesses who depend on tourism are struggling to stay afloat as tourist are few and far between since the earthquake. Nepal is thought to have have lost 50 billion rupees last year from the earthquake and the last of tourism.

Today, we took the opportunity to help stimulate the tourism industry and explored the 3 original kingdoms which make up the Kathmandu Valley. Each kingdom sustained a great deal of damage from the powerful earthquake which hit last April. There are temples that toppled and buildings that buckled. Piles of rubble are a sobering reminder of the devastation sustained last April. The once packed tourist attractions are now sparsely spotted with a group here and there. We hired a tour guide to show us around Bhaktapur. He works for a trekking company which normally has thousands of inquires each year from around the world. This year, they have only had four inquires for all of 2016. Taxi drivers are forced to charge quadruple the normal fare to afford gasoline on the black market. The streets are lined with buses, trucks and cars waiting for days to fill up their tanks if gasoline becomes available. There are fewer buses and those running are dangerously overcrowded to the point which they are teetering to one side as they drive. Restaurants have had to limit their menus to account for limited cooking gas. Many small roadside eateries are cooking over wood fires because cooking gas is too costly or completely unavailable.

Today I am thankful for the opportunity to explore this city with my cousin and her family. I am thankful I live in a country which has electricity, natural gas and gasoline are available 24 hours a day. I am thankful for the blessing to be able to travel and explore the world. More importantly, I am grateful for the ways God is present amidst the brokenness in this city and the ways He is bring restoration.