The Perils of Crossing a Kathmandu Street

1. Traffic on the left – Serious peril for those of us from ‘keep it to the right’ countries.  I’m forever unsure which side of the road I’m meant to walk on. With traffic or toward traffic? Forget right hand turns, they are completely out of my league.

2. No lanes – There is a flow of traffic on Kathmandu streets, the stuff on the left is going one direction and the stuff on the other is going the other direction but, there are no lanes.  There is nothing except the occasional median to keep vehicles within a designated space.  Sometimes the road is taken up with traffic only going one direction everyone attempting to go the other direction is simply laying on their horn. Love those morning traffic jams, worse the I-90 in a snow storm.

3. No cross walks – or street signs, or traffic lights for that matter.  Every once in a while I notice the faded old paint of a zebra walk somewhere in a nondescript part of the street that no one who cared for their life would cross anyway.  There are folks that are kind of like traffic police in creased blue trousers with fancy little caps, but I can’t work out what exactly they do other than blow little whistles continuously.  Pedestrians just jump off the curb wherever they feel like crossing.  My strategy has been to find a group of people crossing and join in.  Safety in numbers right? Plus, nobody wants to be responsible for mowing down a whole group of people. Seriously bad karma.

4. Motorcycles/Motorbikes – There are an estimated 500,000 motorcycles in the Kathmandu valley and more joining the herd everyday.  They are faster than the average vehicle on the road, able to squeeze through small spaces and remain invisible until they emerge from behind a micro bus with no time for them to stop and no time for you to get out of the way.

5. Taxis, Tuk-Tuks and Micro buses – There are a massive amount of these as well, could not find an impressive enough statistic but there is estimated to be approaching 1,100,000 vehicles on the road in Kathmandu and if 500,000 are motorcycles and there are very few private vehicles then…math equation… lots of taxis, tuk-tuks and micros. We posted about riding in a taxi which was crazy enough, so you can imagine what it must be like to cross the street in front of one.

6. Children – Not children in general but mine in particular.  I have to work up the courage to step off the curb into the street myself, so it is a feat of bravery to bring my kids into the road with me as well.  The small one is no problem, I just strap her in a backpack and she is along for the crazy dash.  The only hazard she presents is waving and yelling, ‘mama stay’ (namaste) from my back.  The other kid is more of an issue.  He tends to be a bit, umm how should I say, distracted.  I cling to his hand so hard it hurts him and push him along through the traffic in front of me to avoid the chance of him getting clipped if I pull him behind.  I have taken to having him hold his breath when we cross the streets.  It keeps him focused on something other than motorcycles and ice cream and street puppies and did I pack a juice box in his lunch and it allows me a moment of quite and sanity to focus on the task of getting us across the street.

7. The fear – I am not really a fearful person, but I have this logical, rational fear of my toes getting pinched off or slammed into by a motorcycle.   Gotta be honest through it is not just a logical, rational fear I am honest to goodness terrified of crossing the street as stupid as that sounds.  I actually have the psychosomatic symptoms of pounding heart and sweaty hands when faced with crossing the street.  It is crazy!  I’ve never experienced anything like this before and I’m afraid of experiencing fear.  Fear is such a new emotion for me that I didn’t even recognize it.   It took me a while to figure out why I felt like I needed oxygen each time I stood on a curb but I did finally work it out.  (uh yeah maybe that whole denial thing isn’t really working after all)

I’m generally excited by challenges and trying new things. I mean come one I’ve willing and happily moved to Nepal. So I don’t know where it came from but there must have been a little, fuzzy, hidden fear monster somewhere in my psyche and since coming to Nepal has become huge, hairy and nasty fear monster.  Crossing the street isn’t my only emergent fear but it is one that is fairly blog appropriate.  I’ve read the ton of ‘fear nots’ and ‘do not fears’ in the Bible and I’m trying to sort out the practical ‘how to’ of that particular instruction.  So for now I’m standing on the curb, sweaty hand gripping my son, trying to suck as much oxygen out of the smoggy Kathmandu air and praying my way across the street and out of my fear.