There’s a photo I have where I’m walking out across the tarmac towards the plane that was to be first leg in a long trip to Nepal on February 17, 2002. Just before I boarded the plane, I stopped and waved to Nikkie inside the terminal, who was taking the photo.
That plane didn’t take me anywhere. Just as I had stored my bag, sat, and buckled myself in did the pilot announce, with an air of uncertainty to his voice, that the flight had been canceled.
I managed to leave Amarillo after a visiting with each airline in the airport—a buffet of options—and made a few unscheduled stops before I arrived in San Francisco a few hours later than planned.
When I walked into the conference room at the Radisson Miyako (the predeparture meeting point for our Peace Corps/Nepal group) I was greeted by a well rehearsed,
Hello Scott from Amarillo! The room was divided into two uses: half for people and half for luggage.
The sight of piles of luggage overwhelmed the presence of these madmen who, oddly enough, were already calling me by name. I sat in the back, feeling somewhat victorious, knowing that I had managed to get this far and, for good measure, packed much lighter than everyone else.
The last night in America was good, just what we needed to render us completely unprepared for Nepal. As our hotel was in Japantown of San Francisco there was little surprise that we had sushi as our last meal.
Afterwards, we (‘we’ being a random group of seven or eight of us that had ended up in the same restaurant) found a bar to crowd, though it wasn’t smoky enough for my liking.
Moser (we came to discover that his name meant ‘socks’ in Nepali) had a Wallick Cocktail per my suggestion (a gin triple sec martini and generally terrible recipe) and said it was too sweet, which it was, but the glass was empty before long.
I had found that Wallick cocktail in the Mr. Boston bartender’s reference book while I was working as a bartender at the Loophole bar in Denton, Texas, and no matter how excited I could get about it, the drink never did much for me.
A few hours later we were over the Pacific. It had been quite an ordeal to get that far as a group. We numbered 56 and it was a Boy Scout-esque situation, lots of milling around, unsure of when we supposed to be where, who was leading, et cetera.
Before we left the hotel, the organizers divided us into groups of seven, each with a leader. We might as well have been wearing khaki shirts and green shorts with those green socks with the red trim. I happened to be a leader, or rather it happened to me.
It took two chartered buses to move all of us and all our luggage. (To my disappointment, I found that Andrew, a RPCV who had been evacuated from Uzbekistan, packed lighter than I did.) The situation escalated to absurdity as we orchestrated a full-scale invasion of the airport.
The logistics of moving 56 people with approximately three to four bags of 104 lbs per person in a timely manner was a bit too much for any one person to organize.
In a Musharraf-like ascent to power, I perched myself on a concrete pillar and began barking orders for this group to go there, these people take luggage tags and string (the string was used to denote Peace Corps luggage), and generally behaving like Mussolini.
Once again, as many times in youth and college, I was a mockery of the alpha male. But before I could let myself be too impressed with the enormity of what was happening, we were on our way, watching movies and deciding chicken or beef.
It didn’t take long to decide neither and renounce meat as a part of my diet in Nepal. We’d been in Kathmandu for just a couple days before we’d had our first meal of daal bhaat tarkari. This is the standard meal of most of Nepal.
It’s a plate of boiled rice with a bowl of lentils, pressured cooked into a spicy soup that is poured over rice. Alongside those two items comes to tarkari, which can be pretty much any number of various curried vegetables. Tarkari is Nepali for vegetable.
You mix it all up with you hand and thrust it into you mouth. It’s delicious.
The meat that comes on Nepali dishes is something else. The chicken was prepared like so: chicken is bought/raised/stolen and is killed, plucked, decapitated, mostly gutted, and then beaten into a mash of bone-meat-gristle-fat-marrow-guts side dish.
The past few days in Kathmandu seem to me now as if they were years ago.
I’m not sure the people I met then are the same people I’m now close friends with. Everything happened so fast. We stepped off the plane in Kathmandu to yet another airport in a line of airports, unaware of how much more wandering was a head of us.
A lot, it turned out.