Working in Nepal: Chapter 1 – first impressions

Following a month of vaccinations, some presents from friends and family, a rushed mornings packing, 15 hours of flying, a brief stopover in Abu Dhabi and a nervy hour in the sky circling the airport unable to land, I arrived in Kathmandu. 

The airport was crazy, crawling with people trying to get tips off the westerners flying in and all of them ‘saw me coming’. Someone that looked like security staff asked to see my baggage receipt and took my trolley off me, walked it about 25 meters down the hall to the next set of security and then rubbed his fingers together expectantly. I obliged. The taxis use porters who hold up the hotel signs and then walk you to your taxi explaining that this is the only way they make money. As soon as I opened my wallet he had his hand in it telling me how much I should give him. I have no idea how much I gave in tips in the first hour as I couldn’t remember the exchange rate and I couldn’t tell the difference between the notes quick enough. It was a good day for the porters.

Outside was crazier than inside. There are no observed traffic laws in Kathmandu. Unless there are police at the junctions directing traffic, it’s everyone for them self. No one lets anyone out and there is no right of way. Pedestrians, bicycles, motorbikes and scooters, buses and cars all coming together in one big jam where the only rule seems to be that the first person to a space is entitled to it. The traffic moves slow enough to allow for this sort of movement and it is strangely efficient. The dust and pollution was very evident on the drive from the airport. I read before I came, that out of 178 cities surveyed, Kathmandu ranks 177th (Bangladesh incidentally is the winner…) of the most polluted cities. The taxi driver had a constant cough and told me that he holds his head over a bowl of hot water every morning and night in the hope that the steam helps clear out the lungs. There’s loads of construction and road building going on and this combined with the clear lack of any emission control on vehicles can make it a tough place to walk around in. The pollution, dust and mist have meant that I still haven’t got to see the mountains. Most people seem to wear cloth masks over their faces and I bought one that seems to keep out most of the dust but they get really uncomfortable and depending on the type you can look just a little weird…. So I just wear mine on the busy streets and try to not wear it as often as possible. Might not be a great place to base yourself at this time of year if you are asthmatic!

 

 
 



There’s frequent petrol shortages too because the Nepali Oil Corporation are not allowed to increase their prices and so can’t pay their own bills, as they are selling below cost. The government eventually bail them out, when their debts stop supply, and get petrol into the country again. This leads to queues hundreds of vehicles long, bikes on one side of the petrol station and cars on the other. When they get to the pump, they might only get a two or three litres of petrol due to rationing. I don’t know why they bother as it’s so cheap and just as fast to get around on public transport. The busses that operate, have a young lad hanging out the side of them shouting all the place names that they are going to stop in, as they pass you. If you can decipher what he is saying, a bus to another part of the city will set you back about €0.15.

The bikes on one side of the filling station

Petrol is only the start of the shortages. There is a serious amounts of electricity load shedding all year which is at its worst in summer. My apartment is in an area called G4 so I text G4 to 2722 and this is what I get back:

G4 From 5th Jan:

·         Sunday 6-13 17-22

·         Monday 5-11 15-21

·         Tuesday 4-10 14-19

·         Wednesday 3-9 13-18

·         Thursday 10-17 19-24

·         Friday 9-15 18-23

·         Saturday 8-14 18-23

This is the list of times that I don’t have mains electricity. People survive with invertors which gather and store electricity when there is mains power available in a battery which can be used to power lights and small things in the times of no power. They shouldn’t be used for bigger things like irons apparently – I think that is why my one is broken at the minute and I have to use a head torch while I’m getting it fixed. I bring my head torch (thanks Colum) everywhere I go as there are no street lights, due to lack of electricity and it is dark by 7. You have to plan when you are going to charge devices, use a toaster, microwave etc. I’ve learned to really like the sound of a fridge. When I hear the fridge come on in the evening, it means that I have electricity again. There is no daylight savings time which is a bit funny seeing as they have no power most of the time and the extra light in the evening would be a real treat.

 I pass this house on the way to work every day. There are people living in it

There are ‘issues’ with the water as well. You have to be careful what restaurants you eat from because of the water they use and their general hygiene. There is a 24 hour rule; simply that you don’t decide that the restaurant you ate in was nice until 24 hours after you’ve eaten in it and you have not been sick. In saying that, there are a lot of restaurants especially in my area that cater for expats and have increased their hygiene levels to match the weaker western constitution. Low prices mean that it’s possible to eat out a lot. If worried the best advice I’ve been given is to eat what has been deep fried for the longest.

 

I saw these guys one morning on my way to work beside a tiny 'restaurant'. They weren’t there the next day. I wondered were they on the menu

Because of the load shedding and power issues a lot of the local butchers/fishmongers just can’t keep their produce cold and they don’t really make much of an effort either. Here is one of the posher ones i.e. it has a net over the raw chicken.

Keep your eyes peeled for the next chapter of Daire's Nepali adventure coming soon.

Next chapter: Daire meets the Nepali team and learns about renewable world's approach to sustainability.