The Family Freak Show

After our first touristy experience in Kathmandu we have decided it is a healthy thing to get out and see the sights.  This past weekend we got out, way out, of the entire Kathmandu valley to visit the botanical gardens.

The botanical gardens were to be honest a little bit underwhelming. We have missed the best season to visit the gardens so there nothing was in bloom.  Bummer.  We were disappointed by the lack of flowers but totally blown away by the trees!  As we drove up to the park both Dave and I were drooling out the windows at the trees. I didn’t realize how much I missed trees.   We are from the NorthEast U.S. where there are tons of gorgeous trees.  Trees in WNY do this cool thing about this time of year where their leaves turn colors and then fall off.  Sounds a bit bizarre if you have never experienced it.   It is really one of the most amazing things I have ever taken for granted.    Anyway there are not too many trees left in Kathmandu or in Nepal for that matter.  There was a huge period of deforestation in the country and wood/trees are now a scarce resource even thought there has been a big push for conservation and reforestation (is that a word?).

So the trees were nice.  It was also nice to just be out of the city.  A  big city like Kathmandu is great because you have access (w/ a few exceptions) to anything you could want, there are restaurants for whatever type of food you are interested in and you can always find someone else interested in doing something that you want to do.  On the other hand, I have this strange propensity to want to breathe clean air, hang out with growing things and maybe dig in some soil every once in a while and there is not much of an opportunity for that in Kathmandu.

The one thing there is in Kathmandu is anonymity.  You can live one of those small Upper West Side or Notting Hill lives.  Your flat, your office, your friends, your favorite restaurants and your favorite shops are all within a two radius.  We don’t have to branch out here and we don’t have to be noticed.  There are also tons of westerners here so we don’t really stand out to Kathmandu people either.  There seems to be this weird unspoken rule that you don’t talk to other westerners on the street.  It is as if we are all trying to look like we belong here and it would blow our cover if we spoke to someone else who obviously doesn’t belong here.

So we have been living our small, invisible Kathmandu existence until we were suddenly the center of attention outside the city at the botanical gardens.  We were there with some Norwegian friends and even if the Nepalese had seen white people before they have may not have seen people that white.  Our friends have these two red/blond, see-through children and in combination with our two yellow/blond also very white children, we were the main attraction.  ‘Forget the beautiful gardens! There are kids over here with all the color drained out of them!’

When we first came here I guess I kind of expected that people would notice we looked different but it hasn’t happened so much.  It has been a relief that we seem to be inconspicuous and haven’t had to practice ignoring gawkers and pretend we are comfortable with people touching our children.

Maybe if we had dealt with gawkers a little more I could have explained better and our kids wouldn’t have been so weirded out with people picking them up and having their picture taken by strangers.  Maybe if my Nepali was a little better I could have said ‘No thank you’ or something more appropriate than ‘He is a son’ and ‘She is one one half baby. How many years baby are you?’.

I’m thinking this is probably something we will deal with more when we move out of the city so I’m going to start thinking about how to handle it now. I know we are going to need time just as a family and just to speak english, but I don’t think the best way to deal is to only hang out with ex-pats and other people who look like us.  It is never a good option to simply stay away from people who are different.

So, maybe we need to have a family conversation on differences, skin, hair, language and whatever.  Maybe we need to make more Nepali friends and playmates.  Maybe I should be teaching my kids that God made each person different and it is a good thing.  Maybe I will explain to my children even though we looks different we can all live together.  Maybe this is a way to love the people and things that God loves and the diversity of Creation.   And maybe I’ll ask around to see what the polite and culturally appropriate way is to deal with being the family freak show.

Here is some pictures of beautiful gardens and very white children!