I really miss sarcasm. It just doesn’t exist here. I ask my local friends and coworkers about it. They understand the concept…by ironically mocking in false ambivalence, I attempt to convey the opposite of what I am actually feeling. Even better when delivered with that extra barb of snark to elevate it one level higher. They get it, but what is the point? It’s a lot of work to make a fellow second guess their own intellect and takes even more effort to understand the true intention of the speaker. With sarcasm being my fallback style of communication when I get frustrated or impatient, is it any wonder I left the States with my mind in knots? But still, there is that draw, the subtle self-satisfying humor from a slyly delivered line…I miss it, I mean it, really.
Regardless, it does not exist as a form of interaction at work, or my life at this point. All the better, though, as it has opened up new avenues of inter-office exchange. If improving communication is one of the major goals of this journey, then best I start with myself. No more of my self-serving ineptitude, my “thou shalt use English as your only spoken language while I am in your presence” attitude. So…I am attempting to learn Nepali and Tibetan.
Dechen, the younger sister of one of my staff, tutors me twice weekly. After a month, the words and sentences are slowly forming. Beginning with total mispronunciations, lacking of ability to hear anything at all, I have progressed to the point where I can make about twenty to thirty seconds of small talk. Although it is always the same:
“Namaste! Sanchai Tsa? Tapai Ko Nam Ke Ho? Tapai Ko Ghar Kahaa Ho? Ma Lai Coffee Dinus. Donni Bhat…Hello, how are you? What is your name? Where is your house? Please bring me coffee. Thank you.”
Regardless of the response, to which I have been unable to listen well enough to understand, I say, “Bhistarri Bhannus…Please, speak slowly…”
I blow into the office bellowing out “Chito! Chito! Chito garnus tara ramro garnus!…Quicker! Quicker! Do it quickly, but do it nice!”
“Chiya peoni sa mey pai ay sa…It is now time for tea.”
Aside from a few other colloquialisms, this is the working extent of my Nepalese at the moment. The Tibetan Tuesday lesson is more challenging for my limited abilities. Never mind that there are three levels of respect, three main dialects, and three forms of writing…I have found it difficult to get past the pronunciation of some of the most basic syllables. It is difficult to manipulate my tongue in the proper manner to pronounce ‘nga’. The sound is supposed to be spoken from the back of the throat, but the syllable instead springs off the tip of my tongue…”Nah.”
She patiently instructs me to try it again, as she mouths ‘Nga’, and points to where the sound is coming from. I do. ‘Neh.’
I do again, over and over.
“OK,” she says smiling. “May be better if we move along to something else right now…Will come back to that later…’Po’…”
“Yes, Po. Say it again…Po…”
“No, no, you just said Tibet. Po…”
I respond, ‘Pah.’
She looks at me and smiles down at the ground, shaking her head, rightfully embarrassed.
Packed like sardines in the back of a tiny taxi, knees to chest, we ride to Swayambhunath, the Monkey Temple. I count every bump on the 45 minute journey across town, as my head bounces against the tin ceiling. There are two approaches to the temple: one at the bottom of 365 very steep ascending steps, and the other midway up the southwest side, along a meandering path lined with shops and…higher entrance fees. As we got closer, I thought better to start at the bottom, so I kept repeating to the young driver…’Tala…tala…(downstairs)’. He looked in the rear-view mirror blankly and shrugged his shoulders, signaling he didn’t understand me.
‘Maahti! (upstairs).’ I spouted out.
He laughingly smiled, ‘Tala? OK, no problem sir.’ And there we arrived, at the bottom of the hill on a pleasant early spring afternoon, greeted by old stone statues and stupas, looking up at the endless stairs.
The Monkey Temple is one of the most significant holy sites in Nepal, both for Hindus and Buddhists alike. It has architecture, history and mythology dating back to antiquity. Perched atop a great hill, looking out onto the entire valley, it reminds me of Montmartre, but with temple monkeys. The story is that Manjushree, the bodhisattva of transcendent wisdom, had a vision of a lotus in the middle of a great lake. He searched and found said lotus, and saw that the area could become a welcoming place for human habitation. He took his sword and cut a mountain, thereby draining the lake, and thus becoming the Kathmandu Valley. The lotus became the hill on which the holy site is said to have self-sprung, and the monkeys came from the lice of his unkempt hair.
Within the enclave around the stupas and temples, are a few older Newari structures that house shops and a café. There we had lunch at the Nirvana Café. Enjoying the breeze and the west view, my boy read his book, and both my wife and I reviewed our phones to pick out money shots. Soon it was time to go…Sunday being a work day and all. I called out in slow annunciation, “Bhaai, Ma lei tirnu par tsa.”
The waiter came over, smiled and said, “Nepali Yeah? You want your bill?” On my way out, as I ducked my head down the diminutive wooden staircase, he said something else to which I only smiled and nodded in ignorance. I like to imagine he said, “Not bad for a gringo…”