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Photo by Kendall Marianacci, Nepal Semester.

A Challenge

Tucked into the busy streets of the greater Kathmandu area rests Bhaktapur Guest House, a space in which we can feel the Nepalese air around us, but for the most part, are isolated from the chaotic motorcyclists and ample temples.  In this environment, we’ve been preparing for our upcoming journey in a variety of ways.  From eating plates of rice, vegetables, and locally-made “King Curd,” to discussions of cultural norms, we’ve learned much: now, we are aware of the cultural implications of pointing your feet at someone or wearing inappropriate clothing.

However, the greatest challenges we’ve faced have been remastering tasks once perceived to be simple.  We are reminded that there is no universal method of living, even on the most basic levels… Our hands have replaced silverware, as we shovel mounds of rice and curry into our mouths.  In America, such an action would lead to glares of disgust and countless assumptions.  In Nepal, though, this task is quite the opposite, as it forms a direct relationship between one and one’s food.  Furthermore, it is permitted only to eat with the right hand, while the left is considered “dirty.”  Find such purpose and intention in the process of eating in America, we challenge you.

Using the restroom, perhaps the most rudimentary of tasks, also takes a very different form. A common bathroom in Nepal, to a Westerner, may appear to be missing two key elements: an elevated toilet seat and toilet paper.  Instead, a squat toilet rests in the ground and a water pitcher serves as the only means of cleansing.  Not only is the squatting position more conducive to, well, you know… but the alternative cleaning tactic may be better than you’d think: If given the choice, as Anna so eloquently stated, would you rather wipe or wash fecal matter off your face?  Find such ease and efficiency in using the bathroom in America, we challenge you.

While the Bhaktapur Guest House has cultivated these new lessons, it was not until walking the streets of Patan that, at least on a surface level, we witnessed Nepalese life in action.  Though our knowledge is still limited, many differences have already made themselves apparent. With every step, we carry the weight of our privilege. Even clotheslines of laundry, adorned with only a fraction of our own wardrobes,  remind us of the excess in our lives.  Find such contentment and openness in one’s possessions in America, we challenge you.

Continue to find new ways to carry out the simplest of tasks, explore reasons for such differences, and ask what can be learned from the Nepali methods of eating, using the bathroom, and cleaning clothes.  This, we challenge ourselves.