Thursday, March 26, 2015

We met this Mormon

If you saw the movie "Meet the Mormons", you will appreciate where we stayed the few days we were in Nepal.  (My husband was on his hunting trip the week it was in town, so he doesn't appreciate this yet.  He will when the movie comes out on DVD in a few days!  Can't wait!)
Bishnu Adhikari and his family were gracious enough to host us for the 4 days we stayed in Kathmandu.  When Bishnu lived in Monterey, California a few years ago, he was in my parents ward where my Dad was the Bishop.  I had met him a few times during my visits, and he and my parents became close.  So when we let him know we'd be coming to Kathmandu, he insisted we stay at his house. 
He and his wife Mongala made us feel so welcome!
They have a really beautiful 3 story house, and they gave us their large guest room on the third floor.
In their stairway hangs a large movie poster that has been signed by each person featured in the film. He says they all keep in touch.
I also noticed this beautiful painting that a man in their branch had made of Christ surrounded by Nepalese children at the base of the Himalayas.
Their house was in a neighborhood of similar tall, narrow homes, and we had a lovely view from the 3rd floor terrace and roof of the surrounding area.  We thought Kathmandu would be just like India, but it's so different!  Especially the homes-- some people even had little landscaped yards.
Unfortunately the weather was yucky so we couldn't see the Himalayas like we should have been able to.
When we first arrived we sat in their living room chatting about my parents, the Branch in Kathmandu, and Bishnu's work with Choice Humanitarian.  We soon realized that Kathmandu is the only real city in Nepal.  The rest of the country is small struggling villages- like the one he grew up in.  He told us about how he studied hard so he could get the scholarship that eventually took him to Russia for 6 years where he got his degree and joined the church.  He was there when the economy collapsed and he remembers having to wait in long lines to get food.  He told us about how he returned to Nepal and struggled to find a wife, since there were very few LDS women in all of Nepal.  His Branch President gave him some good advice, and he ended up courting and marrying Mongola, who joined the church after they were married. She gave her side of the story about how he "tricked her" into stopping by the church on Sundays to take the Sacrament, knowing the members of the Relief Society would grab her and drag her in.  She has since been the Relief Society President and is now a RS teacher. 
He also told us about how he's either been the Branch President or in the Presidency for the last 15 years.  He struggles to get the young people in his branch married too.
While we were talking Bishnu's brother walked in.  He looked at Anjuli and I sitting on the couch and said, "Are these missionaries?"
Bishnu signed and said, "I wish!"
Apparently there are no missionaries in Nepal since proselyting is illegal.  There is also only one small Branch in all of Nepal that meets on Saturdays since Sunday is a regular work day for them.  There are about 200 members in the country, but only about 70 attend regularly. 
Soon their two youngest children returned home from school- Becca and Jeevs.  Becca was friendly but Jeevs was shy and wouldn't talk to us until our last day.  Smina, their oldest arrived later in the evening and her and Becca came and sat on our bed for about an hour having some girl talk.  Her 18th birthday was the day before and we discussed her college and career plans.  She is one smart girl.   The next day we found out she got accepted to BYU Idaho.  Yay!
Our favorite night of the whole trip was our last evening in Nepal.  The whole family was home and we had dinner in the family room sitting around a portable heater since it was a chilly day.  We talked about the making of the movie, and how they actually filmed it in 2010 as a Legacy Theater production.  Once Elder Holland and Elder Bednar saw it in the Legacy Theater on Temple Square, they both felt strongly that the world had to see it.  The movie was tweaked and then released to the US public in 2014.  No one in Nepal has seen it yet! 
They made me play piano and sing to them, then Smina played and sang, and then Mongola pulled out a few church songs she wanted me to help her with since she's the ward keyboardist.  We were SO comfortable in their home-- the feeling of love and the spirit were so strong!

 Becca was chatting about the Oscars that we were missing-- she really likes Hollywood movies.  Jeevs even talked to us that night!  We gave him a yo-yo the day we arrived, and it was in his hand most of the time after that.

I'm really missing this girl-- Smina is so awesome.  I really hope her college decision brings her to the US so we can see more of her. 

The best part of our visit to Kathmandu was spending time with the Adhikari family, but we did venture out on our own a few times.  We were there for business after all.  The day after we arrived Anjuli's manufacturer picked us up and took us to his factory.  It was so cool!
We got to see how they make clothes, blankets and accessories out of silk, wool, and the reason we were there--- cashmere. 

We could tell the quality was very good, and Anjuli was happy that we'd decided to make the trip to Nepal.  Those Himalayan goats sure make nice cashmere!  (Unfortunately we didn't get to meet the goats-- that would have required a grueling hike into the foothills!)

We watched ladies sewing buttons and details onto the finished clothing, and they smiled at us but kept chatting away with each other.

I thought I knew cashmere, but holy cow, this cashmere was like nothing I'd ever felt before.  Like butter.  So dreamy.
 Here are the canisters of powder used to dye the materials.

Outside there were ladies dying clothes in steaming pots of water.
Now you know where your clothes come from.  You're welcome America. 
After Anjuli was done playing dress up at the factory-- (she had fun trying on lots of fun cashmere goodies) and talking business, her manufacturer took us out for lunch.  Bishnu had told us about the classic Nepalese food-- momo-- so we asked him if we could try it.  He took us to a place he knew where we could get some good momo.
He ordered us each a chicken momo, lemon soda, and a veggie chow mein for himself since he's a Hindu vegetarian.  I couldn't hide my appall when he proceeded to put ketchup all over his delicious looking chow mein.  He said, "It's tomato ketchup", like that would explain it.  I assured him we knew what was in ketchup since Americans INVENTED the dang stuff.  It was pretty comical.
The momo was DELICIOUS.  Think Chinese dumpling stuffed with Indian goodness.  After all, Nepalese culture is a blend of  Chinese and Indian influences.  How awesome is that?
The lemon soda was much less awesome.  I could hardly drink it.  And I wasn't even going to TOUCH that water.  No clue where it came from, even though we said we wanted bottled water.  If I don't see the waiter OPEN the bottle, I ain't touching it.
After we thanked him and he headed back to work we called Bishnu and Mongola, who were at their office so we met them there.  They were having their afternoon tea break, so we joined them in their break room while one of the employees served us the afternoon snack.  We were full of momo, but you don't say no to food in these countries.  Our stomachs had been worked out enough in Mumbai to handle it by now. 
I was able to get down most of my yogurt, chapatti, and dahl. 
The funniest thing was when Bishnu brought out jars of peanut butter and jam.  He said he learned to love peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in the US, so he proceeded to make one with his chapatti.  I don't know where he found peanut butter in that country, but it was hilarious!
After tea time we went sight-seeing.  Bishnu dropped us off in the "touristy" section of town and joked that we could pump some US dollars into the Nepalese economy.  There are Hindu and Buddhist temples everywhere, so we stopped to walk around the courtyard of one.

Then we found the rows and rows of shopping that kept us occupied for another 2 hours.  We did our best to stimulate that economy, even though we bargained like skilled Indians.  I scored a lovely leather and embroidered bag, a few pretty shawls that claimed to be 100% cashmere (although now we knew better!), a little handicraft elephant for Ashton, and tee shirts for Jason and all the boys.  The tee shirt vendor was our favorite-- he broke down easily when we smiled and joked with him.  He said, "800 is good price!", and Anjuli said, "But 700 is better!  And we'll smile for you!"  He laughed.  We got all the shirts for 700 rupees(That's about $7 for all of you without an exchange rate app.)
I have to say, traveling without husbands has a few benefits.  We even got a jeweler to leave his store and bargain with a taxi driver for us.   =)
The taxi dropped us off at a Chinese restaurant where the family met us for dinner.  We had awesome food-- more momo, spicy fried tofu, delicious noodles, lemon chicken...... and the waiter opened the bottles of water in front of me.  Happy time.
We slept......ok.  Nepal is NOISY.  Besides the traffic noises, (which we were used to from India), there were a myriad of other sounds we were NOT used to.  There was a neighborhood dog that barked--- a LOT.  And a rooster close by that started crowing at 3 am...... and never stopped.  Plus the neighbors were so close there were noises from them.  We kept hearing a bell from SOMEWHERE, and the next door neighbor would start singing his prayers at the top of his lungs at about 6 am.  At breakfast one morning he sounded like we was right outside the back door.  Anj and I looked at each other, then at the family who didn't react at all, so we shrugged and didn't say anything about it.  Weird.
Bishnu asked us how we slept, and we said "good."  He gave us a suspicious look and said, "American good, or REALLY good?"
He knows Americans will say that everything is good when it's really not, so he wanted to know the truth.  We admitted the rooster was the hardest to take, and he said it drives them nuts too.  We joked the rest of our stay about whether things were American good or REALLY good, and having ourselves a nice rooster dinner.  =)
It was pouring rain that day, but in the hopes it would stop we went in the car with Bishnu.  He needed to stop by the Chinese consulate to get a visa for a work trip, and then he was going to take us to the Monkey Temple.Unfortunately it began raining like it was monsoon season, so after the consulate we went back home.  He made us hot chocolate and then we took a nap.  Although the rain didn't shut the rooster up......
By that evening
I was going stir crazy.  It was still raining off and on, but the moments it would stop I'd jump up and pace around, impatient to go somewhere.  Nepal was out there, and we only had a few days to see it!
We finally decided to just go to the Monkey Temple, rain or not.  This was the big thing I'd been wanting to see in Kathmandu-- and it's kind of the symbol of the city. 

At the entrance there's a woman selling coins that you can try to throw into a pot at the center of this small pool.  If you make it you get good luck.  Bishnu bought us each some coins to throw, so we each tried our luck.    I almost got one in, but the rest weren't even close.  No good luck-- the rain continued.

We had to climb these stairs to get up to the temple,

plus we had some great views of the city-- despite the gloom.

The Monkey Temple isn't the real name-- it's actually called Swayambhunath Stupa, but tourists call it the Monkey temple since it's heavily populated by monkeys who didn't really seem to mind us.  It's also home to these Buddhist monks, who chant their prayers while spinning these round prayer scrolls.

Outside one of the monks was feeding bananas to the monkeys.  They had a large bunch inside that was clearly just for this purpose.

There were a LOT of monkeys.  When it was raining all the babies found their moms and snuggled up.  It was so cute!
And this monkey is taking donations:
The rain finally stopped so we headed to the other destination I'd been dying to see-- Durbar Square.  It was the original palace and city of Kathmandu-- where the first King set up residence.
First we stopped at a café across from the entrance for some momo.  Bishnu told us about the momo festival they have every summer, where chefs compete to make new and unique types of momo.  He says he's even tried pineapple and chocolate momo.  Interesting.
Bishnu is quite a jokster.  He liked to photobomb our pictures!
A patriotic Nepalese man waving their flag:

I love the Chinese influence in the architecture.

It got dark pretty soon after we arrived, so we headed home for dinner where Mongola had some nice warm soup ready.
The next morning we got up early.  Actually, the rooster had us up even earlier, and ran to the windows.  It was clear!  We'd been planning to go on a mountain flight around Mount Everest that morning, but the weather had been making it seem impossible.  Bishnu was doubtful that the weather was clear enough, but we said we wanted to try anyway.  When else would we have this opportunity?  He laughed and mumbled something about "American spirit", and we took off for the airport. 
When we arrived I thought we were at a construction site.  We were walking through mud and garbage and piles of wood, when suddenly Bishnu was talking to someone through a hole in the wall.  I looked up and saw a small sign that advertised a local airline.  Apparently this WAS the domestic airport.  Ok.  We got two tickets for the mountain flight, told Bishnu we'd take a taxi home, and said goodbye to him.  We were joyous!  We had been worried for days that this wouldn't happen, that we wouldn't get to see Everest when we were SO close.  We got on the plane-- everyone gets a window seat, and took pics of each other. 

As soon as we took these pics, they announced that the flight would NOT be taking off.  No luck today folks, is what the pilot said.  No visibility. 
 Nobody moved.  The plane was full of tourists-- lots of Canadians-- who had come a LONG way like us and didn't want to give up.  Can we at least try?  We all pleaded, but the staff was very sure it wouldn't be worth going.  So sad.
What were we going to do the rest of the morning?  It was only 8 am and our flight didn't leave until 4. I suggested we go back to Durbar square since we had to rush it the night before.  I like to have time to just sit at cultural sites and soak in the ambiance.  A little trick I learned when I lived in Paris.  That's the only way I can feel like I know a place.
So we walked around a little, sat a little, and enjoyed the morning sun.  We climbed the stairs of the palace to get some good views of everything.

You can barely see the outline of the Himalayas in these photos.

I learned Anj is very afraid of pigeons.  An after effect of her trip to Venice.  It was funny-- every time she heard wings flapping she freaked out.

When it was time to go home and pack we stopped at the same café and had one last lunch of momo. (That's right, we had momo every single day in Nepal.)  We also each got a banana lassi-- something I'd never seen before.  I'm obsessed with mango lassis, but had never tried banana.  It was SO good.
As we were packing our things, trying to get everything to fit, Bishnu and Mongola came home and presented us each with gifts.  They gave us each a large bag filled with beautiful Nepalese handicrafts.  There was a tablecloth, place mats, a vase, a tote bag, and a Nepalese singing bowl.  Mongola demonstrated how the bowl sings if you rub a wooden dowl around the edge.  We were speechless with the generosity and beauty of the gifts-- and a little concerned about how to get it all in our suitcases!
There was no way ANY of it was getting left behind though, so we made it work.  A few smiles at the ticket agent got us out of overweight fees at the airport.  =)
As we flew out of Kathmandu we could just barely see the tip of Everest poking out of the clouds.  That was as much as we got to see of that darn mountain.  Maybe someday I'll be back to see the rest, who knows?  Anjuli is planning to go back and hike to base camp with her hubby someday. 
We flew from Kathmandu to Delhi, from Delhi to New York, New York to San Fran, then drove to Anjuli's house in Sacramento.  Then I took a flight from Sacramento to Salt Lake, Salt Lake to Pasco.  A total of 10 airplanes for the entire trip.  10. 
Insane.  I don't want to see an airplane for awhile.  =)