6

The Cold In Nepal

(Disclaimer: I wrote this post 2 weeks ago, and then forgot about it. But it’s still relevant…kind of.)

Before we left for Nepal, many people in Sweden would ask us ‘So how is the weather in Nepal?’. On a side note: I have no memory of getting this question that often when I would be in the Netherlands before going somewhere far. Why, Sweden? What’s so interesting about the weather?

Anyhow, usually the conversation would go something like this:

Us: Pretty cold, now that it’s winter!
Them (picturing Sweden in wintertime): Oh, really? Does it snow?
Us: No, it actually doesn’t go below zero where we live.
Them: So what is the average temperature?
Us: Well…in day time it can be up to 20 degrees, in the sun. (we see an eyebrow go up slightly)
Us, quickly: But it gets colder in the evening! And, and, there is no heating! No really…we SUFFER!
We can just see how they quietly judge us….how dare you say it’s cold in Nepal! Sweden in winter, now THAT’S cold!

And while we understand that cold is relative, and that snow and ice would be much worse than what we have to endure, I would like to do an effort to make you, dear reader, understand what it’s like to experience a Nepali winter. Because temperatures don’t say THAT much without central heating.
If you do like to know better what the temperatures are, I got this forecast for Pokhara. Check out those minimum temperatures! It’s ALMOST freezing, at least!

het weer

First of all, the houses are made of concrete, often with marble floors. Doesn’t quite give that cozy atmosphere you’re looking for when you can see your own breath coming out in clouds.
Then the windows are single glass, with wooden frames that never fit well. To illustrate this: with all doors and windows closed, we can still see the curtains move back and forth in the draft…
While the sun in the day time is lovely, the moment you step into the concrete house you can feel the cold come up from the floors. It doesn’t hold heat at all. Even when you put a gas heater in the room, you only get warm sitting right in front of it. Because the lack of insulation, all the heat then goes straight through the windows (and the 5cm gap under the front door doesn’t help much either, I suppose).

Cloudy days are the worst. There is nowhere to heat up, so you just wrap yourself in a fleece blanket, while dreaming of the beaches in Thailand.

This is what I wear on a regular winter day (besides underwear, obviously):

– long johns (or just some good old plain leggings from H&M)
– pants
– 2 pairs of thin socks
– 1 pair of thick woolen socks (if I’m indoors)
– tank top
– t shirt
– long sleeve (or 2)
– fleece vest

Sometimes indoors I will add one of Jacobs hoodies, or a down vest, and I always walk around on slippers, so my feet stay warmer.
On the motorbike I will wear a soft shell (wind stopper or something) jacket instead of the fleece, although when driving at night I need both.
When walking or cycling I will take of the fleece, but only if I’m moving/in the sun.

But before you start sending us electrical blankets, hot water bottles and down pants: it’s really not that bad, as the temperatures will rise again in February, and then boom, summer comes: 7 months of 30 plus degrees and humidity. We love the marble floors, then. And would be miserable if the houses were actually insulated.

So really. We’ll be fine ;)

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3

Fans, Batteries and Filters – Life In Nepal

We’ve eaten momo’s, we’ve driven the motorbike, we’ve had dal bhat with fried fish at the landlord’s house.
We’re back in Nepal.

And now that we are here, I’ve realized that I’ve never shown some of the smaller, practical details of living here. Because while I’m sure most of you understand that life here is different than in, say, the Netherlands, it might be interesting to know what kinds of things we use in our daily lives here. Some are to make life better, others are to avoid diseases, and then there’s the toiletpaper bin, just because we can’t flush it down here.

As you may know, there is never 24/7 power in Nepal. We have ‘loadshedding’, which means the power is out for several hours a day. More in the winter than in the summer. Right now we don’t have power for 8 hours a day. So first I will introduce this extremely ugly thing to you, because it has made our lives better in summer AND in winter. The fan-with-battery-and-light!!

 

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Oh, the glory. Despite its ugliness, I could kiss it. It charges when there is power and then, when the power goes out in the hot summer, and the fan stops working and the sweat starts dripping, this fan STILL works and makes everything better. And, as you may have noticed, it also has a light (the weird arm on the side – it can fold in and out and you can even twist it). It has made cooking when there is no power and no light (and the back up system down) so much easier.

Then there’s the water filter.

 

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If you think now: why don’t you drink tap water? Then please, I beg you, do not come to Nepal until you have read up on giardia and amoebas.

When there is power, this thing filters all the crap out of our water so that we stay healthy.
PS – note the safe outlet it is plugged into.

All those power outages can give problems for electrical appliances, and we needed to protect our fridge. We got this:

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Don’t ask me how it works or what it does, but our fridge works fine and I’m happy.

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Here you see the thing that rules them all: THE INVERTER. I first bought one after I received a generous gift from people in the Netherlands. Because of it, we can have lights on at night when the power is out. No more working with candle light, no more shining my cellphone light to find the bathroom.
Right now they have replaced the battery which was very dead after 3 years of using it, and we upgraded so we even have light in the bedroom and dining room. The glory!

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Who enjoys a cold shower? Not me! This thing is connected to a gas cylinder (with the blue hose) and heats the water. I also use it for when we wash our clothes (by hand) so it gets cleaner + my hands don’t fall off after an hour in freezing cold water.
Those gas cylinders (also one for cooking) are stored outside, locked into a serious cage, to make sure no one steals them.

Back to those diseases: there is many ways to get the dreaded explosives, and while often we don’t even know where it came from, there is another way to prevent this:

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Anything that is not peeled or cooked should be soaked in water with a few drops of the brown stuff and then it’s ok to eat. It’s like magic. Because now we can eat strawberries.

And last but not least: here’s the tp bin. Blurry but you get the point.
That’s just life, in Nepal.

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9

I’m Here To Stay

Disclaimer: This was written after a tough day. Not every day is tough. But some are.

 

Sometimes I think to myself: I wish I could ask someone how to do this immigrant-thing I’m doing right now. You know, moving to another country and making it your home and all. I wish there was someone who knows how it works. And then I realize: I am that someone. I’m the one who supposedly is an expert in this. I’ve done it twice before, after all. I should know.

But I don’t.

I know how to learn languages, but I don’t know how to learn to say things in the right tone, so that what I mean actually comes across in the right way and people don’t just understand the words I’m saying, but also my heart behind it.

I know how to make friends, but I’m surprisingly insecure when it comes to cross cultural friendships. I second guess every move I and my maybe-future-friend make, because is this a cultural thing or a personal thing and do I come across as too distant or too needy when I do this or that? Do they even WANT a new friend?

I know how to be a host, but I don’t know how to be a host in a new country where I don’t know if any aspect of the social event I planned is appropriate: the time, the reason, the food, the drinks, the music, the other guests. Because being a host means making people feel comfortable and at home, and those things matter. More than you’d think.

Well people, what can I say. It’s a process. A learning curve. A very curvy one, actually. With ups and downs and a few detours and sometimes the road seems blocked. (but it never is)

So here’s a few reminders for myself and for Sweden.

Sweden. Listen up. First of all, I’m not Swedish. So I won’t get all the social do’s and don’t and sometimes I will make you feel awkward and uncomfortable, but also sometimes I will make you laugh (in a good way) and you know what? I also have things to teach you. That’s why different cultures are so awesome. I’m not Swedish. I’m Ruth.

Secondly, what’s up with eating cake with spoons? It is, has been and always will be forks for me. Deal with it.

Then this: if I pass you on the street and I make eye contact, and you look away. WHAT’S UP WITH THAT? So even when you do that, I WILL say hej to you, loud enough so you can’t mistake it for a cough or something. You are here, I’m here, and there’s no good reason to not acknowledge that.

Lastly: it takes time. For all of us.

Sweden, you’re like a family member, like a second cousin. Vaguely familiar, sometimes charming and other times surprisingly confusing and offensive. At times I strongly dislike you, but I mainly love you.

Cause I’m here to stay.

And it will get better.

4

Why I Like SFI

Ever since I came to Sweden, no even before that, I’ve been talking about ass-eh-fee, also known as SFI. This stands for Svenska För Invandrare, which means Swedish For Immigrants.
When I first heard about it, I was amazed and impressed with Sweden. A language course, for FREE?? It was almost to good to be true for this language-loving-emigrant. I asked around, expecting to find out it was in fact too good to be true and that there would be some ‘snake under the grass’ (as we Dutchies say), but no, they said. It’s true. All you need is your residence permit and a personnummer.

Ha. All you need…turns out that getting that permit and personnummer took a wee bit longer than expected. But I waited, and kept telling everyone: If only I could do SFI. I can’t wait to do SFI.

But barely anyone shared my excitement. Instead, I was warned: I was too eager and too excited. SFI is mandatory for refugees, and I would be seriously disappointed with the lack of passion from the teachers, the lack of motivation from the students, and the overall lack of quality of the education.
In the end I wouldn’t even speak better Swedish, they told me. Because all you would do was talk to other foreigners and who was there to correct you?

Well, here I am, barely 2 days into SFI, and there’s enough to say already. Mainly this: I like SFI.
My classmates are Polish, Somalian, Eritrean, Iraqi, Palestinian, Syrian and Croatian. Most of them have very thick accents and names that are hard to pronounce. We have talked about ourselves and practiced grammar and helped each other out. The teacher only speaks Swedish with us.

Maybe not everyone is as motivated as I am, or it could be that they had a hard time using the computer so a nap seemed a better option.
The teacher may not have been well prepared, or it could be that she was taking her time to get to know us a bit better before she started off with her lesson plan.

Here’s what I think:

I have something to get up for in the morning, which is more than I’ve had in the last 8 months.
I get free education.
I meet interesting new people who teach me things about their country, culture and language (who knew that they use the Ge’ez script in Eritrea? Who has even heard of the Ge’ez script? I hadn’t, until yesterday).
I am forced to speak Swedish and because everyone is either teaching it or learning too, I’m not nervous about it.
And people. IT’S FREE.

So yeah. That’s why I like SFI.

1

I Am A Writer

I recently enrolled in a so called ‘MOOC’: a massive open online course. It’s a free course on academic writing offered by Duke University, titled ‘English Composition I – Achieving Expertise’. I am one of nearly 60,000 students from all over the world who will take part in this 12 week course.

For our first assignment we were asked to write a 300 word essay on the topic ‘I am a writer’. Here’s what I wrote.

UIT-bord

I am a writer.

When I think of writing, I think of reading. When I was a little girl, even before I could write, I studied the signs next to the highway that said ‘exit’. I memorized the lines that made up the letters and as soon as I would get home I would get a pen and a piece of paper and reproduce them.

I was a writer!

I read everything I could, literally. No book in our house was safe. At lunch time I would read the text on the milk carton. I was hungry for words, constantly.

When I was younger, I wrote fiction. I have many notebooks filled with stories. And when I had no pen or paper around, they would still come out – I would tell my youngest brother stories during long car rides. He never wanted me to stop.

But I’m not a fiction writer. Maybe it was mainly practice. To exercise my brain in expressing myself with words.

What I love about writing is what I like to call ‘the flow’. Sometimes when I’m writing I get in the flow, and I can put the intangible thoughts and ideas in my head into words and they become real.

My recent writing has been about that: to observe the world around me, the people, the culture, and then put it into words for others to read.

I use writing to understand the world, and my place in it. I use it to put things into perspective. I use it to structure my thoughts.

For me, the biggest reward is when people appreciate my writing. When they read it and recognize it, or agree with it, or even when it upsets them. As long as they are not indifferent. And that’s why it can be so hard to write for an audience. Because my biggest fear is that my writing will not make a difference. That no one will care. That it’s just words, on a paper.

But no matter what, I will always know:

I am a writer.

 

3

How To Be Considered Awesome By The Locals

An alternative title would have been ‘how to be considered crazy by the locals’. And the answer to both would be: be yourself.

When you are an immigrant, or an expat, or a foreigner, or whatever you like to call it, you’re usually the weird one. Unless you only hang out with other expats, of course.

But when you hang out with the locals (I should start calling my Swedish friends ‘the locals’, it sounds fun) you will always be a bit weird.
You pronounce things in a funny way. My in laws constantly tease me with my pronunciation of ‘coffee’, which sounds more like the Dutch ‘koffie’. (But, my dear family, why don’t we talk about how you pronounce China (shina) and chips (ships)?)
You dress differently. Somehow it’s always obvious there has been some other influence in your style. Something that’s not Swedish.
There is innumerable things that instantly give away you’re not like them.

And that’s fine. Cause you aren’t. But you are still awesome.

I find it really funny to notice how things that are so very normal to me, are seen as odd to the Swedes. When I had planned to visit a friend who lives 10 km away, I first thought I’d take a bus, but then changed my mind when I realized there was no snow on the ground, and the weather was nice. I would bike.
Now here’s the part where I get honest. Cause I’m always acting all cool about us Dutchies who bike everywhere, and I biked 12 km to school (and back!) for 5 years when I was in high school, and my mom transported three kids on her bike at times, and we can bike even when we’re blindfolded and without pedals and this and that and so on.

Then I got on my bike, and after about 2 km I was ready to give up. I seriously considered turning around to get on the bus instead. The thing is, here in Sweden, or at least in Småland, or well at least here around this town they pretend it’s flat.

But people, it’s not. They’re lying.

The Netherlands, THAT’S flat.

Here, it’s like a tiny tiny uphill, so little that you don’t even notice but when you bike it’s like biking through dry sand. So I dragged myself over the muddy path, regretting this decision, dreaming of paved Dutch bike paths as flat as a pancake (?).

When I got to my friends house she asked if maybe I got lost – I think I looked a little bit disheveled after that ride. But when I told her I had biked there, I could see the look in her eyes. I’m pretty sure it meant ‘you are so awesome’ but another interpretation could have been ‘you are crazy’.

Either way, she would be right.

Hejdå from the crazy Dutchie :)

14

Starting Over, Again.

Moving to a new country – how do you do it? Well, the moving part is easy. The difficult part is what follows.

This is my second time (or third, if you count the 3 + 6 months I lived in Switzerland), and though I may have gotten an idea now of how it works, I usually still feel like it’s all new to me.

In 2010 I moved to Nepal, where I didn’t know a soul, or the language. And I managed. I even enjoyed it. I enjoyed it very much, actually. But here I am, 4 years later, just moved into our apartment in Sweden. Another country, another language, and it feels like I’m starting all over again.

And even though I’ve done it before, it can still suck sometimes. Trying to find peanutbutter in the supermarket. Or powdered sugar. Neighbors that try to make small talk and me stammering ‘eh…jag pratar inte så mycket svenska…pratar du engelska?‘ and the blank face that follows.
Sitting in the apartment with no friends calling or stopping by, cause, quite frankly, I don’t have friends here. Needing Jacob to translate letters for me, and the manual for the laundry machine, and what the neighbor was talking about.
Trying to figure out where in the heck I’m supposed to bike. (sometimes on the sidewalk/bike path. Sometimes on the road. And sometimes no one knows.)

So yes, it sucks sometimes. And yes, I feel lonely sometimes. And yes, I feel handicapped sometimes for not speaking Swedish. But I’ve done this before, and I know it will get better. It will.

And when I feel like nothing is working, or I can’t find what I need, I hear my mom’s voice in my head ‘je bent toch niet voor een gat te vangen?‘ and then I remember that indeed, I’m not one who gives up that easily.

(I did find the peanutbutter, while looking for powdered sugar, which I didn’t find btw – but the peanutbutter was right in between flour and sugar. Nice one, Sweden.)