Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Home Again

Coming home has been lovely. Normally my return home from overseas adventures is a petulant concession to financial constraints, but this time I have been happy to return to my life of Western middle-class comfort, my family, and my lovely and long-suffering boy.

It has been, on the whole, a pretty good homecoming. I remember a conversation with my supervisor where she said she freaked out the first time she went into a supermarket when she returned from her first field trip. I figured I wouldn't have to worry about that - in Thailand I was able to reacquaint myself with tall buildings, shopping malls, obnoxious Westerners and air-conditioning. Also, although I liked to talk up how tough living in Nepal was, I really didn't have it all too bad there.

I was doing ok, until an adventure to Brunswick street for ice-cream last night. It was, for my jetlagged brain, to great a density of loud, drunk and vulgar 20-and-30-somethings. When we got to the supermarket I almost lost it when I saw there were no fewer than six (six!!) varieties of small tomatoes in plastic wrapping. We really are a stupid society to think that life is good because we can chose from six (six!!) different small tomatoes conveniently wrapped in plastic.

Hopefully as I get over the jetlag I'll become more immune to being back at home. There was a rather ominous present awaiting me - my bright yellow confirmation talk forms...

Friday, December 18, 2009

Tongue Thai-ed

I've been having a lovely time in Thailand, filling my days with green curry, temples, shopping, massages and air-conditioning.

It's taken me a few days to get used to the heat, big freeways and franchise restaurants - but one thing I've really struggled with is not being able to speak the language. I've once again become a tourist who can't even say thanks in the local lingo. I always make a habit of learning 'hello', 'please' and 'thank you' where ever I go, but right now my brain isn't even working to well at that.

I certainly don't want to overstate my proficiency in Nepali, but I always forget how unstressful a situation is when you can speak the language. I also forget how much of a guilt complex I have for being a native speaker of the tourism lingua franca. I don't know if anyone else feels foolish - it's silly. If English were my second language I'd be glad that I could use it all over the world, but as it is I just feel lazy and rude.

But still, there are 42 more hours to learn to be a bit more polite and indulge in a few more curries, temples and massages.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Farewell To Nepal

Tomorrow I'm flying out of Nepal after three months and six days of crazy fun-times rollercoaster adventures. I still have some things that I've been pondering that I'd like to share, but that will come later. Unfortunately there'll be no more stories like yesterday, where I accidentally had to pay three times more for a cab than I thought I was going to because I still can't count to anything past twenty in Nepali (the reasons for this, however, I will hope to blog about soon).

I'm sad about leaving, especially having had a week off - but I'm also looking forward to being able to head back to my own country, regroup and start making sense of the esoteric scribblings that constitute my fieldnotes.

I may drop out for a bit over the next few days, as I've only four days in Thailand to eat as much curry and get as many massages as possible.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

A Jog Around The Lake

I have a friend from Australia visiting me for the week before I pack up, make use of his excess luggage and spend a few days in Bangkok eating curry and relaxing.

It's been good to have someone from home to hangout with, and a bit strange as the two spheres of my life collapse into one. We've been doing lots of things I've kind of forgotten to do in the last few months - we drank beer, played cards and backgammon, went for a jog and slept in past sun rise.

It made me realise just how crazy my life has ben for the last few months. S. and I have had a lot of fun, and done lots of cool things, but just chilling out and forgetting about work eluded me while in Kathmandu. Hopefully I'll get to do some more chilling out before getting home.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

A Good Example?

My friend K. has arrived in KTM to hang out for a week and help remind me to do some tourism-ing. Today with S. we went to visit an educational program for at-risk youth in Nepal run by a friend of ours. We were very excited to see all the great work that his organisation does, and meet a bunch of the kids he works with. We weren't so impressed to be called upon to sing our national anthem in front of them all...

He was also excited we were visiting, so he could hold us up as paragons of the virtue of education. "Look, they've finished school, and then the finished university, and now they still study - isn't study great!"

I was very touched to be considered a good example, even if I won't have a real job until I'm almost thirty...

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Final Session

Today I had my final session with A. for this trip - I can't believe three months has gone already!

Although I know I'll have a million questions once I start analysing things at home, today's session wasn't actually that long or arduous. I spent the last week or so before heading to the country tidying up glaring questions, and this session was actually all the questions that came out of those sessions. If we were to go on this path any longer we'd be sucked into a black hole of endless questions.

It's interesting to compare it to the first few sessions, when I look back at how stilted and awkward they were, and how I missed such glaringly obvious things - I'm sure I do that still, but they're not obvious to me yet so I don't know...

Saturday, December 5, 2009

On The Topic Of Toilets

On thing I'm really struggling with at the moment is that the Nepali word for 'urine' is 'pisab' and the verb 'to urinate' is 'pisab garnu' (lit. to make urine).

'Pisab' is sufficiently innocuous to pop up in every day conversation, and when we were on the bus the equivalent to the driver shouting 'toilet break!' is to shout 'pisab garne!' I find it very difficult to use this word, as it's too similar to the much more taboo 'piss,' and I can't keep a straight face when anyone else uses it.

Unfortunately, I don't know if the Nepali word 'pisab' and the English word 'piss' are etymologically related. English and Nepali are both in the massive Indo-European language family, although at opposite ends of it, so the words could possibly be congate (ie from the same origin), but just as likely they could not. There is a big, beautiful Nepali Etymological Dictionary I could check, but I'm not allowed to buy it because I have too many books already.

Friday, December 4, 2009

In The Field

The flying visit to the country, although brief, was sufficiently action filled. I spent two hours going up the side of a mountain in the back of a jeep with 5 other people, 80 kgs of salt and sugar, 30 liters of cooking oil and 2 live chickens, I ate something that disagreed rather violently with me (really, it could have been anything) and I also got vomited on by an old woman on the bus trip home.

But apart from collecting hilarious and/or nauseating anecdotes (which on some fieldworkers' scale all go towards me being a better linguist) I was also there to collect some data, meet some people and check out exactly what was going on regarding K. in the area it's from.

To be honest, things looked pretty grim. Most of the people I spoke to used very little K. with their children, who had only a passive competency in the language. Many families had moved to other parts of Nepal, or overseas of work, or only the husband had. One village that apparently used to have over 50 families now has four. It struck me that maybe the speech community I'm working with isn't thriving, or even slowly dying, but already moribund (ie. it's not being passed on). Language death always makes me sad, although others write more articulately on the complexities and issues surrounding it much better than I ever will. The best introductions are David Crystal's 'Language Death' and Nick Evans' 'Dying Words'.

So there I was, feeling despondent, when a bunch of kids came up behind us and started pointing out the 'white woman'. Normally I try and ignore such prattle, as I'm enculturated to not point at people and make reference to their skin colour, and it generally makes me uncomfortable that I am such a freak here for being luminous under flashlight. Then I realised the kids were actually talking in K. (as I've said before, my passive competency is often better than I know). I've never been so excited to have a conversation about how white I am - 'white hands, white hair' I replied to them (as I said, I'm not very good at speaking). They headed off to their village higher up the hill. That children are choosing this language to interact with their peers, even when they're educated in Nepali, is an excellent sign of language vitality.

I would have loved to follow them, or visit their village the next day, but my stomach decided to put those plans on hold until next year