Sometimes the reality of this is Harsh
Sometimes I don’t think I admit to myself how hard this really is. I’ve said this in another blog, but it’s not really the lack of creature comforts that gets to you (toilet paper, hot showers, pizza delivery) but it’s the stuff you can’t explain, stuff you didn’t even realize you would miss.
I generally find myself to be a pretty independent person. In America I am generally very happy sitting in my room, watching movies, reading books. And a large part of my time is spent doing those same things here. But there is a loneliness creeping on me I didn’t even anticipate.
After the first three months of being so overscheduled in PST the freedom of solitude I felt at site was glorious. I relished it. But then when we went to our IST and subsequently my mini vacation to Kathmandu, coming back to site has been epically lonely.
For starters it feels impossible to make friends at site. It’s not even the language differences, but it’s the lifestyle differences. What do I have to talk about with a 30 year old woman here? She’s married with several kids, her husband is possibly in a different country working or trying to keep the farm going. She is resigned to housewife duties. I’ll ask women what they do in their free time, and the tell me they don’t have any. They are busy cooking, doing laundry and farming, amongst the many other things. I’d imagine most of the other housewives here are also lonely in their own way, but at least they have other women around with shared experiences. I can talk to them about their hopes and aspirations, maybe they do want to go to college. Well hey I went to college! And it was pretty easy for me to get in, and I had help paying for it, and I got to study whatever I wanted with no hope of ever getting a job out of it. If they want to go to college they are going to have to bust their butts to save, and learn English, and make sure their own families don’t marry them off before they finish school (which happens). Is my conversation hopeful or depressing with them? This still doesn’t feel like a level we connect on. I feel lonely because I haven’t found any bonds that really connect us.
And you can’t friend the boys down here if you are a woman. Truthfully I probably have more in common with the men in villages than the women. It feels like the men have ample free time. They spend lots of time during the day gambling or running around with their friends. But I am a girl, and even though I am the strange American girl it is too out of context in the culture to try to be a good friend with me.
And that brings me to other social freedoms I didn’t realized I missed. When I was in Kathamandu I meant a ton of people. People who thought more liberally and had been exposed to more things, it was easier to connect with people there. If I wanted to go chill out at a coffee shop alone I could. If I wanted to go have beers with friends late in the evening I could. If I went for a run I was just one of many countless morning runners and walkers. All these are things I did with freedom in America too. Just even that I could get around via taxi, my car, or a bus with ease was like America.
But even in the district capital here, which is the 8th biggest city in Nepal I think, all those social situations are gone. The coffee shops here are the countless chia pasals with the exact same menus, usually with a bunch of men hanging out in it or outside gambling. If I want to go eat with friends at a restaurant be aware that all the restaurants are closed by 7pm, and they all have the exact same menus. Or if you plan on going into the city be aware that all you have to do needs to be done by 4pm because that’s when your last taxi leaves and if you are not on it you are going to be shelling out the cash for a hotel because there is no other way to get you home.
The Peace Corps basically picks your friends for you. You arrive with 25 (or more) people, you get told these people will be like family to you by the end of your 2 years. And then you get placed in a district and that family is whittled down to 6 for the next two years. Your other 19 friends you will only see at trainings or if you make a sincere effort to go to their site. So you better learn to get along with these 6 because these are the people physically closest to you who you have the most in common with. And you will all be different ages and backgrounds, so all you may be able to talk about all day is Peace Corps stuff. Maybe no one gets to know what you were really like in America because you are told you are on the job 24-7. You are always trying to please your host family or Peace Corps or some other organization.
Oh yeah. Then there is the host family you are with for two years. Much like the friends you are assigned in your district, you are also expected to become a part of this host family. And let me tell you that’s a burden, especially when American and Nepali families are so different. It’s hard to want to accept this family as your own when they keep asking to borrow money from you, or start telling you how fat and lazy you are after drinking too much. They have no idea what your job is and when you try to explain it to them they don’t understand, so therefore you are not working. Or perhaps they think you are there only to help them. After a while you feel used. Maybe you are just a cash cow to them and they aren’t interested in you as a human being.
Much like the rest of the village, you aren’t a human being anymore. You are the sideshow attraction here to entertain them. They stare at you every day. They will stare at you every day for the next two years. You will walk by them and they will shout “Nice tattoo! Marry me!” and whistle and cat call you for the next two years, and say all sorts of other inappropriate things.
So sometimes you feel really lonely. It has nothing to do with whether Nepalis are nice people or not, it has everything to do with the fact the smallest details can be huge differences. How are you supposed to make friends and family when you are on the rich space alien island of loneliness. How are you supposed to feel like a real human being when all the ways you knew to socialize are gone. There are no clubs are bars, there are no recreational sports leagues to join, there are no hobbies to pick up, no movies to go too, no neighbors to talk too. No one here is going to learn your deepest secret or understand your greatest fear. No one in your village has read the last greatest book or seen that really good TV show to start a conversation. They aren’t here. They aren’t available. All those things in America that made you feel like a human being enjoying the small pleasures in life are not here.
And today I just miss being a normal human being on my own planet rather than alienated on someone elses.