Veers – ARE YOU AWAKE?
Me – You’re shouting. I am now.
Veers – We have a big problem.
Me – OK.
Veers – A big big problem.
Me – Oh, dear. What is it?
Veers – The man downstairs ……….
There is a famous expression that says “Always say yes.” Indeed, even the Dali Lama tell us that if we say ‘yes’ to more things, we become happier. That might be true, but I doubt the Dali Lama has ever stood outside a gay club at 6.00 am. From my experience, there are many times when you should in fact say ‘no.’ So Dali can just feck right off.
Travelling round India, you learn to create a big defense shield and say ‘no’ ….. a lot. Certain places like Jaipur or Varanasi are famous for touts, beggars and scams. For the first time, all the guide books and reviews were right. Literally, everywhere there are people who try to make you part with your money. Some do it in the traditional sense and just come to you and ask for money. Every country has this issue and we are all (in some form or another) kinda used to it. People disguised as monks, is quite another thing. People pretending to be foreigners and asking to use your phone, is quite another thing. People pretending to be collecting for a charity, well, that’s just a bit evil, really. In 3 hours in Varansi, 35 people approached me …. wanting something. This was with me… walking fast and armed with headphones glued into my ear drums. Sometimes it’s not immediately apparent what they are up to and this makes it all the more frustrating. With each interaction, there appears to be some time of a receipt at the end.
So, as you can imagine – “Fuck off and leave me alone” was at the tip of my tongue with I got on my 19 hour bus trip to Nepal. It was supposed to be 15 hours but some wally tried to sneak 4 T.V sets and a bird (a living, breathing f-ing tropical bird) though customs without paying and the police held us all up.
If you have been reading the news recently, then you may have heard of the fuel crisis in Nepal. A complex issue, which has harmed the economy much more than the earthquake. There is virtually no oil/gas or petrol coming into Nepal. Taxi drivers were asking for 60 or 70 dollars for a 20 minute cab ride.
Veers – If you want you can come to my house and stay, it’s no problem at all.
This was a very sweet invitation from a really nice guy on the bus. But my defense system was up. What does he want?
I waited and waited and argued with a lot of taxi drivers. Yes, the price should be higher than normal, but they were also ripping me off. Eventually, it became apparent that I either walk in a random direction or say ‘yes’ and accept the offer. So I said, ‘yes.’
Veers – You will really like my house. There is a British man that stays under our house.
Me – Haha. Cool. In the foundations?
Veers – Yes.
He didn’t get it. Think he means first floor.
Veers – We will take the bus, is this OK for you?
Me – A bus? Yes, of course.
Veers – Have you been on one before?
Me – Have I been on a bus? Yes.
Veers – OK.
Me – We were just on the same bus for 19 hours.
Veers – Oh, yes. But I mean, a bus in Kathmandu.
Me – No. Why is it different?
Veers – Yes. You will see.
He was smiling and I quickly learned why. A bus that literally had people hanging out of it and an old woman with million shopping bags clinging onto the roof of the bus, came flying around the corner. Suddenly a group of idle bystanders formed into a solid pile of people cramming to get on the already packed bus. With my enormous suitcase and Britishness – ”so sorry, excuse me, sorry, sorry, I’m sorry. Pardon me” – we failed to get on. Number 2 failed. Number 3 failed. Number 4, we did it!
I shoved my suitcase on as aggressively as possible and yelled at a man to move his stick as it was blocking my suitcase. He was blind and everyone looked at me with a temporary disgust. Of course, he was blind. Of course, he was. He was probably the only blind person in the entire city and I had managed to find him and yell at him. Of course. Nothing strange there. Classical fucker Shane.
As the bus motored on, my suitcase, as if by magic, made it further and further down the gangway until it was almost out of sight. When we got to our stop, it took about 4 people to pass it down to me, not before it walloped everyone in the head. But we got off in one piece.
Veers – Where are you from? I never asked.
Me – I’m Irish.
Veers – Ah, OK. Cool. But your English is so clear.
Me – Thank you.
We walk to his house. Very modestly decorated but large all the same with a beautiful roof terrace and a stunning view of Kathmandu. I met his parents. Their English was basic, but they were super sweet. Their facial expressions seemed to convey – “Oh, wow. How nice to have you here. But what the f are we gonna do with you?” After our introduction we went up to the roof.
Me – Where is Everest?
Veers – You can’t see it from here. But if you climb that peak over there, sometimes you can see it.
Me – Wow. Have you ever been there?
Veers – No. No. It’s very far, man. Very far. 6 hours on a bus and then 3 days walking to the base camp. Not easy.
Me – No. Would you like to go some day?
Veers – I’d prefer to go to America.
Me – Right. Do you like living in India?
Veers – No. It’s filthy.
Me – Oh, my God, I know… I was in a guest house once, that I thought was next to a rubbish dump. But it wasn’t a rubbish dump it was a river.
Veers – Really?
Me – Yeah, I only noticed when a can of coke, started moving through the rubbish, and then I realized all the rubbish was floating on black water. Disgusting.
Veers – Wow.
So we continue to talk until his mother calls us for dinner and we eat. The portions were absolutely enormous and sooooooooooooooo good.
Veers – James, in Nepal we eat with out hands.
Me – Oh, right. Cool.
Veers – Would you like a spoon instead?
Me – Yeah, I would.
Side note my name is James in Nepal. The parents stare at me in the same fashion that I would imagine my grandparents would stare at a Chinese person drinking a pint of Guinness with chopsticks. One parent says something and he translates.
Veers – Do you think it’s rude to eat with your hands?
Me – Oh, God, no. Please go ahead.
Veers – Do you think it’s bad in your country?
Me – Eating with your hands?
Veers – Yes.
Me – I think it’s dirty to eat with my hands because I pick my nose and scratch my bum a lot.
Veers – OK. I see.
That was supposed to be a joke. Well, a joke that is, in part, quite true. But it was a fail. Later the British man from the first floor came up to say hello. He was from Somerset and had a very typical West County accent, and was a giant of a man. Nepali people are quite small (in fact, they are so small that I think if you saw a fat one in a forest, asleep, you could mistake them for a tree stump) and he looked like a building next to them.
British Man – Cork is it?
Me – No, Dublin.
British Man – Ah, Dublin. Beautiful city. Absolutely beautiful.
I love Dublin, but if a foreigner claims it to be absolutely beautiful, I instantly think – ”wow you need to get out more.”
Me – Oh, wow. Thank you. Yeah, it is nice. Have you been?
British Man – No. I just heard it was beautiful. Very nice people,
Me – We are lovely.
The father smiles and offers the British man a seat, which he refused before the two of them exchange some air wrestling moves. The kind of physical banter you’d expect between two young brothers who haven’t seen each other for a while. With no common language, they do seem to have a strong connection.
Me – You teach martial arts?
British Man – I do. I do indeed.
How? You are so old.
Me – Cool. Very old. I mean, cool. Very cool.
British Man – And I served with this man during the war.
Me – Oh, right.
He looks at me really seriously. The war? What war? I sense I should know what war he was talking about. He was so old, I was about to ask, “was it WW1 or WW2?” but I realized that would not be nice to suggest.
We chatted and chatted and the old British man had some amazing cultural insights into Nepal. A delicate blend of positive and negative observations from a Western perspective that had developed into a pretty comprehensive understanding of the Nepali people.
British Man – 6 years and I still can’t speak Nepali.
Me – Well, it takes time, doesn’t it? 6 years, you must like it here.
British Man – Eh, I’m sure. But it’s home. The people are great, what you see is what you get and they genuinely get a kick out of helping people.
Me – That’s very nice.
British Man – What brought you here? It’s a terrible time to visit Nepal. The monuments are destroyed by the earthquake, there is civil unrest and you have to walk everywhere because there is no fuel for bikes or taxis.
Me – Yes. I know. Well, I knew some of the that, before I came here. But I suppose, it’s best that there are some tourists to help. I’m also trying to open a school here. It’s a long story, I haven’t figured it all out.
I explain my idea to the old British man who seems very impressed and my friend translates my idea into Nepali and his parents also seem impressed. Browie points for doings something some N.G.O work…. wooohoo
Me – But I don’t know. I’m still figuring it out. It’s not a definite plan.
Veer – OK. It’s almost 8.30, so we will sleep now.
Me – Oh, OK.
Nepali people go to sleep every early. Central Kathmandu is literally dead at like 9.00 pm.
After 19 hours, I sleep amazingly well before I was woken up dramatically around 8.00 am (which was a very late hour to sleep until)
Veers – We have a big problem?
Me – OK.
Veers – A big big problem.
Me – Oh, dear. What is it?
Veers – The man downstairs.
Me – Yes.
Veers – The British man.
Me – Yes.
Veers – He is dead.
Me – OK. Right.
I get up.
Me – Shit. Fuck. Shit. Fuck.
Yes. I know. It’s a shit fuck.
Me – Eh, I can…. I can…. .
I quickly realized that I wasn’t sure what the best course of action was. Leave and allow them the family to mourn in peace. Surely, it can’t be helpful to have me, the smelly feet foreigner wandering around the house needing to be entertained. I had stayed one night because of the fuel crisis, now I should pack my suitcase, say I’m sorry for your loss, and find a hotel.
On the other hand, they might need my help with some stuff. Calling the embassy… bla bla bla.
Me – If you need me to do anything just ask. I’m so sorry. What a shock!
I walk downstairs and his parents are sitting on the sofa staring at the floor.
Me – I am so sorry.
Parent – Big problem.
Me – Yes.
Parent – Very very big. Very very problem.
Me – Yes. Yes. It is a very problem. I’m very sorry. I can help you, if you like.
Parent – Yes.
Me – If you need me to call anyone I can do that. The embassy, or his family.
No no no no. Don’t offer to do that.
Me – Yes. I could call the family in the U.K. or his friends…
No. Awful idea. Stop stop stop
Parent – Yes. Maybe, it’s a good idea.
It is not. It is not a good idea. Shut the fuck up, Shane. You’re stupid, stupid man. You really are a dumb fuck.
Me – Of course. Just ask me. It is no problem at all.
The family, with their beautiful hospitality, insisted I stayed and made breakfast for me.
Veers – Today, we will have lots of police, so please, if you want to go for a walk and see Kathmandu, please do. And, we will update you tonight when you come home. We will just wait here.
I read between the lines.
Me – I will come back tonight at 7. I’ll go now and if you need me for anything during the day, ring and I will come back. I won’t be too far away. Sound good?
Veers – Great.
Later that day.
Me – How is everything?
Veers – I called the family.
Me – OK. How was that?
Veers – A bit sad. It costs 9 000 British money to return him to the U.K.
Me – Fuck me.
Veers – They can’t afford it, so I don’t know what will happen. He is in the hospital now.
Me – Oh, dear. OK. They are examining him.
Veers – Yes. He was blue. Like very very blue.. like…
Me – Like something blue.
Veers – Yes.
Me – Oh, dear. And the British embassy?
Veers – There is not very much for them to do. There is only the son to contact. He doesn’t have anyone else in the U.K.
Me – That’s very sad. Was the son very sad?
Veers – No. Not really. He seemed shocked, but not really sad.
Me – I don’t know why, but I kinda thought that.
Veers – We just need to figure out what do with his stuff. Donate it maybe….
Me – Oh, god. It’s a very sad way to go.
Veers – Yes. He has no valuables and little family.
Later at dinner.
Total silence just the sound of just sipping dal. The father asks a question and my friend translates.
Veers – In your country, you burn people?
Me – What? Oh, like cremation.
Veers – Yes. I forgot the word.
Me – Yes. Some. It’s less expensive.
Silence again. Everyone returns to their plates…..
Later that night.
Parent – You stay. This is a big problem. You stay friend.
Me – OK. No problem. I stay
Parent – You happy?
Me – Yes. Very happy. Good food. Very nice.
My friend and his sister also look happy that I’ve decided to stay. Who can blame them, I love staying with me. As with most stories in life the ending is yet to be determined and we are still in the process of honoring the man from the first floor in every way we can.