This Time I am Not a Tourist 

I say goodbye to my fellow travellers of the past three weeks, and the hotel calls a taxi for me which takes me to Patan Hospital for R300. Patan city does not have the character of Kathmandu or the serenity of Bakhtapur. It is just Nepal at its most ordinary, with open drains, rubbish and plastic bags drifting around. Ordinary shops, ordinary bakeries and restaurants, bicycle rickshaws, potholes and plenty of ramshackle taxis.

img125 Jeanette, who was born and raised in Bakhtapur, meets me in a rickshaw, and then directs a taxi along narrow streets to a house with a small green patch of lawn and flower beds. Their flat consists of the storey above their landlord.

I dump my luggage in the spare room, and we walk the dusty winding streets for twenty minutes to a non-denominational church service. I don’t need to ask why they don’t drive their car anywhere; it takes less time to walk. Ron goes to work in the NGO bus every morning. He teaches adult English literacy classes and does a fair amount of editing too. I am in an expatriate NGO community, reminiscent of my days working for the European Economic Community in Nairobi.

On Monday I go with Jeanette to distribute toys in the children’s ward of the Patan Mission Hospital, and magazines in the orthopaedic ward. It is very clean and spacious. Such pleased faces, bright eyes and gratitude. Family members stay with the patients, bringing food and keeping company, just as eager to enjoy the hand-outs as the patients. A sixteen- year-old mother, with a malnourished gnome-like two year-old, tells us she has another child, aged three  at home. She smiles, saying how lucky she is to have a husband, and to work in a carpet factory.

Only one or two people speak English so I feel a bit frustrated. They have the same problems as hospitals in Kenya; patients are not allowed to leave until they can find the money to pay for their treatment. Some disappear, or leave too early for the same reason. I wonder why first-world hospitals don’t also allow patients to eat, or even buy, their own food. Think how much cheaper it would be! After doing our rounds we disinfect the remaining toys ready for the next day, when they will be swapped again. Small press-and-squeak toys are at a premium; invariably they “disappear”, as even the older children just love them and it is a joy to see their eyes light up.

We visit a Tibetan village carpet factory where the women sit chatting cheerfully, their fingers rapidly manipulating the wool on the looms, following intricate patterns with ease. They are paid piece-meal so can work in their own time. The finished products are more varied in design than in Pokhara, but the number of knots per square inch is limited to 100 here.

I take Ron and Jeanette out to supper at a local restaurant, which serves me my final delicious dal bhat. The price for three dinners is comparable to what I had paid for only one course for myself as a tourist – and there is no tax added here either.

My taxi to the airport to catch the plane to Vienna also costs one third of the price I paid as a tourist.


A temple in Bahktapur

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