Monday, December 16, 2013

On being an expat in Kathmandu

People at home often ask what it's like living in Nepal, and while we could talk at length about it, most people don't want the long version.  Here is a list of small things that give an idea of what it is like to be an expat in Kathmandu; it was started by a friend, was added to by another friend over here and again adapted by us.
1. Water is always an issue - is there any in the tank, had it been pumped to the top of the house, will there be hot water, did drinking water get delivered, etc. 
2. There is no government, but that doesn’t seem to bother anyone.
3. Our students are the best travel agents in town.
4. In the winter it’s warmer outside than inside
5. We step over sleeping street dogs like they are curbs on the pavement (and vaguely fear rabies)
6. “Namaste” isn’t about yoga anymore.
7. When I hang out with my British friend, I talk in her accent in my head for the next hour.
8. We love our jobs.
9. Nepalis are friendly and kind.
10. The Bagmati River in Kathmandu is the stinkiest river we have ever encountered.
11. We can see the Himalayas from school. 
12. It’s not uncommon to see someone with rice on their forehead.
13. We regret it every time we leave home without headlamps.
14. Instead of snow days we have bandh days
15. Work clothes can come from REI and white is never a good idea. Brown is always safe.  If you want to wear heels it is best to put them on once you get to work and not before. 
16. Bangles are always a good accessory choice
17. The roads are so bumpy it often feels like you are on the Indiana Jones ride at Disneyland
18. Stomach problems are a regular lunch time topic. 
19. We get in fights with taxi drivers over a 50 cent difference.
20. Cows get the right of way.
21. There is a Nepali holiday nearly every week.
22. We can find our way around Kathmandu without knowing a single street name.
23. Saris are beautiful. 
24. Our kids have an incredible extended family in our friends. 
25. Most "convenient stores" are walk-up stalls with only room for the owner to stand in and stock chip flavors like Masala
26. 9:00pm is Nepali midnight.
27. We love the monthly "Florida shipment" days when packages we've ordered get delivered through a forwarding company in the states. Coffee is a regular item. 
28. The power goes out twice a day, every day, for hours at a time
29. We can give and receive hugs through facetime and Skype
30. There is one foreigner clinic in town and you will inevitably run into someone you know (a student or parent usually) in the waiting room and engage in awkward chit chat until you get called back.
31. We don't even use the tap water to brush our teeth. 
32. “Morning price?”, “I live here.”, and “How much if I buy more than one?” are all bargaining techniques.
33. We have a place to stay in Lincoln, Nebraska and Lincoln, England. 
34. We buy clothes twice a year - Christmas and summer - when we go home. We also buy hygiene products in 6 month supplies. 
35. We love it!

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Thanksgiving for four

With a 5 day old newborn and a 2 year old who wants nothing to do with sitting quietly, we set out to have Thanksgiving dinner at the Marriott in Bangkok.  Though a tad hectic for Jeremiah getting food for everyone from the buffet and wrangling Tegan, it was nice to have some turkey and gravy (and dessert... oh the dessert)!

Full plate for me; Tegan happy to have Hello Kitty dishes

Huge ice turkey carving?  Yes please.

So many desserts!

Thanksgivings past?  See Kathmandu and Singapore versions.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Christmas away from our "home away from home"

Not only are we spending Christmas away from the states this year, we're also away from Nepal living out of suitcases.  It's got me thinking creatively about how to recreate some traditions (see point 2) and celebrate the season.

Here is some of the ideas we've come across so far:

-No Christmas trees?  Go small, artificial or make your own (crepe paper, ribbon, felt, or paper - lots of ideas online)

-Last year our family took a hallmark recordable book and recorded them reading it.

-Crafts!  Paper snowflakes, salt dough ornaments, paper chains, advent calendars

-Elf on a shelf is everywhere, at least everywhere on Pinterest, but something that is easy to do where ever you are

-Movies - easy to take and watch anywhere

-Christmas books - there's an app for that when the real thing isn't available

-Matching pajamas (this takes some thinking ahead so there is time to find/order) but certainly identifies you as a family!

-Food - tricky if ovens are not common in your country and with ingredients that may be hard to find; improvise!  In bigger cities restaurants or import stores may offer Christmas dinners, just book in advance.

Anyone have other ideas?

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Election day

Yesterday was election day in Nepal - a big deal and a tad complicated.  There's been a number of bandh days leading up to the day though only a few that affected our school.  The goal is to elect a new Constituent Assembly with the hope of writing a Constitution to govern the nation.
Photo from here
"More than 100 parties are contesting the elections, including three major ones, the Maoists, the Nepali Congress and the Unified Marxist-Leninist. Of the more than 16,000 candidates, nearly 6,000 are women."  [emphasis added]
"Officials said turnout was high and voting largely peaceful. Earlier, three people were hurt by a bomb in Kathmandu which followed a series of attacks blamed on opponents of the poll." 
"The vote is the second since a 10-year Maoist revolt ended in 2006. The previous assembly failed in its task."

See the whole article here:  Nepal voting ends for new Constituent Assembly

Results will take a few weeks.

Monday, November 18, 2013

How to spend 3 weeks in Bangkok when you are 36+ weeks pregnant

You can follow my lead:
Read, watch Elementary on your laptop and bad crime shows on local tv, facetime home, and go out only for food and necessities because really, it's awfully hot out there.

Negatives: No Tegan or Jeremiah, the heat, dealing with the logistics of having a baby away from home

Perks: Good food, air conditioning, bubble tea just down the road, maid service

Nothing like a good case of boredom to really get you ready for the chaos that is about to come!

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Dashain break in Bali

We took a family vacation to Bali, staying in Sanur, with another family over Dashain break.  Bali was a great place for our group: a 33-week pregnant woman, a 2 month old newborn, a nursing mom, a toddler, a pre-schooler and 2 dads.  Mostly we hung out at the pool, ate on the beach while the kids played in the sand, and took one day trip to Ubud.  Sanur was a nice, slow pace for us, clean but not over-the-top resort-town feel.  Ubud was much more touristy but we saw some nice sites on the way.  It was all a good change of scenery from Kathmandu!

House pool

Bali Bird Park




Goa Gajah (Elephant Cave)

Goa Gajah (Elephant Cave)

Friday, November 8, 2013

Festival of Lights

I've been in Bangkok for a week now, waiting to have baby #2 (!!).  Last weekend was one of my favorite times in Kathmandu - Tihar.  Since I missed it, here are some of the pictures I took last year at the Babar Mahal Revisited complex (where we frequent the restaurant Chez Caroline).

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Happy Halloween

We joined a Halloween tradition in our area of trick-or-treating among the neighborhood expat families, about 5 houses, and ended at a house that hosted a party for everyone.  In our group we had a knight, firefighters, witches and our own little minnie mouse and to say we attracted some attention would be an understatement (the adults wearing costumes as well probably added some extra attention - a very pregnant cat and a squirrel on either hand of that adorable minnie mouse? yeah).

It was the perfect amount of fun and candy treats.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

From the outside

At the end of last year we decided we needed to move.  Our last house was great, but set up for a single person or a couple, not a family.  This house belonged to a family at school who was leaving so we snatched it up.   We're loving it!

The colors, I know, I know.

Guard house

Beautiful garden

Our beast of a gate

So many of these flowers!

From one of the upstairs patios - a swing set up for last Dashain still up

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Recruiting fairs

Somehow I missed this article that came out at the end of last school year: NY Times: Teachers Vie for Overseas Postings.

We have gotten both our overseas jobs through recruiting fairs, one in San Francisco and most recently in Bangkok. And while I agree with much of the article, it seems to imply that teachers are turning to overseas positions because of a lack of jobs in their home countries, and I have not yet seen this to be the case. People we've met overseas are there because they want to be overseas and would have done it regardless, but perhaps I missing out on a population that is driven by the need for a job more than the desire to live abroad.

My favorite quote from the article:

“You have a 20-minute interview and 4 minutes later, you have another interview that could be for a completely different job, so you are sprinting down the hallways to another hotel room.”

Add to that interviews lined up alternating between Jeremiah and I so one could watch 2 month old Tegan, then meeting (her first) babysitter before racing off for a joint interview then racing back to pick Tegan up to take her to a final interview (only to then spend the beginning of the interview standing and bouncing to keep her from crying, having it kindly suggested I leave the interview to feed her and have Jeremiah stay, and returning 15 minutes later. Yeah, we got, and took, that job). It's good to note that the elevators at the Shangri-La in Bangkok are exceptionally fast - just enough time to consult your notes about what country and position this next job interview is for and straighten your skirt from the "I'm hauling butt to get to my next interview but trying to look professional in case a Director pops out of their room and sees me" dash.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Destination birth

You've heard of destination weddings?  We've decided to go a step beyond and have a destination birth.  And while Thailand sounds like an exotic and fun location to spend a month, it's really out of necessity that we've decided to have our second baby there. 

Planning ahead the timing for having babies is of course important for many families, but for us it has been even more crucial.  We needed to think about where our next post would be, check out their maternity leave (some don't let you take it the first year, some you have to have completed your initial 3 year contract and other varieties of policies), determine what time of year would let us still come home for summers (there are restrictions on when you can fly), look into local health care and determine what our insurance plan will cover.

Step # 1 - get new jobs - landed us in Nepal and once here we noticed there were lots of little babies in expat families.  Good.
#2 - maternity leave worked out with our timing.  Good.
#3 - figure out the right time of year and happen to get lucky and get pregnant right away.  Good.
#4 - local health care.... good for prenantal care for a normal pregnancy, not good for delivery.
#5 - insurance is world-wide so we can have the baby somewhere else.

Now, when I say local health care is not good for delivery, I'm saying this based on information from a few different folks, but nothing first hand because I haven't been to a local hospital.  My first source of information was other staff members who have gone elsewhere to have their babies, then the doctor at CIWEC told me I should go someplace else, I got an email from an expat woman who had planned to have her baby here but then changed her mind after visiting the hospital and a Nepali person I work with told me stories of moms dying because of bad saline solution.  With all of that we knew Nepal was not an option. 

The two obvious next choices where either go back home or go to Thailand (great medical facilities and are well known for their medical tourism).  With flight restrictions flying home (usually 28 weeks) would mean spending much of my maternity leave waiting to have the baby and not actually caring for the baby.  Thai airways will let you fly from KTM to BKK at 36 weeks and many folks around here have had good experiences.  This weekend we visited Sametivej Hospital - we met the doctor, saw the facilities and were given information about where we could stay nearby.  It was a great experience; everyone was very helpful and friendly. 

The plan is for me to go at 36 weeks, a month before the due date, to Bangkok by myself.  Jeremiah and Tegan will come later in the month and then we will all stay in Thailand through our school's winter break.  During that time we will apply for the baby's passport (so we can get him back to Nepal!) and other official documents - an American Born Overseas birth certificate and Social Security number.

Sometimes I tell people all that goes into this and their mouths hang open, but I guess since we've known from the beginning that this is how it will have to be it doesn't seem strange.  We're just looking forward to meeting baby boy!

Monday, September 16, 2013


2 days in Dubai for work, with most of it in the airport, hotel and mall, left me utterly overwhelmed by wealth. The contrast between Dubai and Kathmandu is so vast that it's safe to say they are quite opposite.  Tall shiny buildings, shopping complexes bigger and more extravagant than I've seen in a long time, huge multilane freeways and nice things everywhere put me in culture shock.  

The one similarity I found was that the people in both cities don't use sidewalks (Kathmandu because they aren't there or if they are people aren't used to using them, Dubai I assume because everyone prefers driving in air conditioning to walking?).

So while I appreciated the nice hotel, Starbucks and H&M, I was also ready to head out. 

(Terrible quality, but that is snow inside of the mall when it's 100 F outside!)

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

A cow comes to call

Cows in the road is nothing new at this point.  Yesterday, however, we heard a mooing that sounded like it was in our yard so Tegan and I went to scope things out.  Sure enough there was a calf just behind the wall of our yard.  We watched it eat for a bit, Tegan asked it to come over and was rudely ignored, then we walked back to the gate.  As I turned to close it we saw the calf had decided to visit after all and was trying to come in.

We politely said no and closed the gate.  (And Tegan you can see is still loving the Teej bangles!)

Sunday, September 8, 2013


Last year I was gifted a number of red bangles for Teej, and this weekend I brought them out for Tegan to play with as it is again Teej season.  We went out for lunch today and saw plenty of women in beautiful red saris with lots of sparkles and rhinestones.  It's an amazing sight against the muddy colors of Kathmandu.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Summer in numbers

We've been back in Kathmandu now for 2 weeks and have gotten ourselves settled back into routines, a new house and work.  Before we get too far away from summer, we'll review summer in numbers:

8 weeks in the states
2 conferences attended
6 states visited
900 miles driven in 1 week (thanks to grandma and the use of her car!)
2 nights we both were away from Tegan
60 hours in the air flying + a lot of layover time
2 expat families met up with
8 beds slept in
3 movies in the theater (first movies since Tegan was born!)
2 doctor visits + 1 ultrasound for Allison
1 concert
2am the time Tegan thought good to wake up our first day back
5 suitcases, 1 backpacking backpack, 2 strollers, 1 carseat, 1 pack 'n' play, 3 carry ons: our luggage coming back

Friday, July 5, 2013

New Hampshire

We finished our east coast trip in New Hampshire, and like our trip 2 years ago, visited Kate and Jeff's farm as well as Jeremiah's aunt and uncle's lake house.  In contrast to the first part of our trip this was considerably slower paced, a nice way to end our time there.  And to round out our modes of transportation for the trip (plane, train, bus, subway, car, taxi, and boat) Tegan added tractor (ok, it was stationary but that didn't seem to bother her).
Feeding chickens

Helping wash purple and red radishes for farmer's market

More veggie washing

Adult and toddler food

Monday, June 24, 2013

East coast tour

A conference in DC has brought us to the east coast this summer and while we're here we're hitting up family in DC, a quick detour through New Jersey, New York and New Hampshire.  We're in New York now and today Tegan ran from display to display at FAO Schwartz saying "wooow".

Cape May, New Jersey

Sidewalks good enough for a stroller!