Thanks to the Internet and a forbearing boss, this year I left formal office life behind to live anyplace in the world (with Net access) that my heart desires. My heart, as it turns out, pretty much desires to live wherever my husband is.
That said, although I loved our time this summer and fall in his hometown of Sombor Serbia, when he announced we were moving to Nepal for the winter so he could do some trekking, I was So Not Excited. I bitched, I moaned, I whined, I was not a pleasant person. I never wanted to own hiking boots and 3rd world countries don’t sound enticing on paper. But in the end I hung my head, dragged my feet and came along.
What an idiot I was! Nepal is fantastic. I’m having a ball here and highly recommend it as a travel and living experience. The great part for Serbs is that it’s very cheap (I never met a Serb who couldn’t squeeze a dinar and make it scream for mercy.) The food is great and the scenery spectacular. Plus the weather is sunny and not-freezing just at the same time Belgrade starts getting gloomy and grey for months on end. And as my husband has been ceaselessly pointing out, Nepal feels a lot like parts of Serbia.
Well, thankfully in one way it’s not. If you start smoking, you’ll be in the distinct minority, and possibly asked to leave the building. (Yeah!!!) Also, unlike Serbs, typical Nepalese are (a) Asian, (b) eat lots of vegetables, (c) speak 3-4 languages or more and (d) can’t do math to save their lives. (It’s actually painful to watch waiters agonize over totaling up one’s bill.) They are also a lot poorer - the typical Serb is a Wealthy Westerner.
(Come on, how many Serbs do you know who rent out their school-aged children as servants? How many live at the town dump, sifting through garbage to make a hand-to-mouth living? How many live in villages so unreachable that paper currency is useless to them? No one in Serbia can ever whine to me about their finances ever again. Period.)
There’s also an extremely healthy Maoist party. Parades of thousands of citizens waving red flags with hammers & sickles are things of the past in Serbia but red hot here. (Don’t worry, Maoists like tourists, in fact they depend on them for part of their funding.)
Anyway, here are some things that make us feel like this place is similar to Serbia:
The Nepalese Diaspora & Guest Workers:
Instead of Germany, Canada and Australia, Nepalese go to India and the Middle East for jobs. Also, a lot wind up in the US. Many people here have an expat relative who sends back money. And it’s as easy to play the game of Spot-the-returned-expat’s-House here as it is in Sombor. Just look for the big, fancy, new place on the block.
Three Nepalese equals Five Political Parties:
If they don’t have as many political parties as Serbia, it’s close. Which means the government is an uneasy coalition that has a hard time getting stuff done. Then, everyone gets to bitch ceaselessly about what’s wrong with the government, with special focus on corruption, impotence, and the next generation being the Only Hope for the Future.
(Actually, it seems like the government has loads of great ideas and has passed some useful laws, but doesn’t have the power, cash, or bureaucratic energy to then enforce them.)
People keep bursting into song here. As an American, I’m just not used to it. They burst into song when they are drinking. They burst into song when the family is together. And the other day, as a vastly overcrowded bus with at least 20 passengers clinging to the roof, jolted to a start everyone on the bus broke into song.
When they take photos of happy families for advertising campaigns here, it’s a mom, a dad, two kids, and at least one grandparent. Because a grandparent lives in your home, or awfully close. And probably some cousins next door too.
Neither of my elderly parents in the US use mobile phones. But, just like in Serbia the typical granny here may not have all her teeth, but she’s got her own SIM card. In fact, there were near riots last weekend in downtown Kathmandu when a mobile provider offered free SIM cards for a limited time.
Farm animals and produce downtown:
Although they probably don’t in Belgrade, plenty of people living in central Sombor keep pigs. Here in Pokhara Nepal, which is a town of 200,000 people, I see (or hear) roosters, chickens, goats, cows, and ducks on a daily basis. I haven’t found a US-style supermarket, but can buy fresh fruit and vegetables from street vendors quite easily.
Tiny old cars:
The logos read Toyota and Mitsubishi instead of Yugo, but the size and condition of typical cars here is about the same. Little, boxy, old, and smelling of diesel fumes. Plus, drivers drive like mad men. In Serbia, road rules and pedestrian cross-walks are seen as “suggestions” that few obey strictly. In Nepal they don’t have any rules at all besides honk your brains out and try not to hit any sacred cows.
Very beautiful women:
Their bone structure and color is a cross between China and India - we Western tourists are the ugly step-sisters. Just as in Serbia (and unlike much of the US) women dress with feminine flair and care. Unlike Serbia though, Nepali women don’t show cleavage, bare legs, or wear tight-fitting anything. They prove you can be alluring even when swaddled up.
Also, I must say (although it will win me no fans) Nepali men are on average better looking than Serbian men. In fact they have a thriving male model industry, supplying men to less fortunate countries.
A small country squashed between big ones:
Nepal is shaped a bit like a sausage and has just over 22 million citizens squashed between China’s and India’s billions. I suppose one might make parallels between NATO and Russia with Serbia....but I don’t know enough about politics to be specific. The bigger similarity is Nepal’s inferiority complex. The country is more critical of itself than the outside world is. Local newspapers are filled with seemingly ceaseless editorials of what’s wrong with Nepal.
I’m not belittling Nepal’s problems, nor am I belittling those of Serbia. But the fact it, you are both fairly small countries a bit overwhelmed with this idea that other places are “better” and you’re not nearly proud enough of what you are. The glamour of the Other, of Strangers, dazzles your eyes a bit too much.
There’s more both countries have in common, but really more at heart it’s all about the people. These people remind both myself and my Serb husband of Serbians -- in the best possible way.
Friends are real friends for life. Families stick together. Although most can’t afford to hang out at cafes, if it’s sunny, people always come out of the house to sit on the stoop, or in front of their little shop and be together in the light watching the world go by. Kids run around and play outside in the neighborhood after school. Compared to this place, American suburbia is an empty wasteland.