Thursday, February 26, 2015

Flora, Fauna, and Merryweather

(I wrote this several days ago. Today, the weather consisted of a storm that lasted the entirety of the school day. Always fun, to be sure, but you try teaching in a classroom where the shutters are both the only way to muffle thunder and the only source of light).

Today, on my walk to school, I was inspired to write a blog post about the plants, animals, and truly lovely weather of Nepal. Those of you who are arachnophobic, who hate puppies, or who have a tendency to be envious of people experiencing better weather than you, stop reading now.


If you live in America’s northeast right now, I pity you. I truly do. Reports of temperatures hovering around -5 degrees Fahrenheit and snowdrifts five to eight feet high make me realize that I don’t miss snow as much as I thought I did. I mean, I do get to see it almost every day…from a distance of roughly 100 kilometers. Maybe when I finally get up into the mountains, I’ll understand your pain. For now, it’s 18 degrees Celsius and sunny—that’s about 70 Fahrenheit, my American compatriots. As I type, I am wearing a cotton Nepali shirt and cotton, not wool, socks with my Chacos.

To be fair, my Nepali coworkers seem to find it cold: almost all of them are wearing at least three layers, which tells you a bit about how hot Nepal gets during monsoon time. Speaking of monsoon, we had a glorious thunderstorm last week. It was the first time it’d rained in several months.


My posts have included many pictures of animals, but I haven’t spent too much time talking about them, with the exception of my trip to Chitwan (still waiting on that elephant-back picture). The three unique climates of Nepal lend themselves to a verifiable rainbow of wildlife. In the mountain region, you can find mountain goats, red pandas, and the rare snow leopard. In the jungle region, you can find elephants, rhinos, bears, deer, crocodiles, wild boar, tigers, and more.

In the hill region, where I live, you can find lots and lots of dogs. The streets are littered with strays. I actually consider these mutts pretty lucky, because Nepali shopkeepers and butchers make sure they are fed, and there is even a special day set aside for the worship of dogs—they get covered in flowers and tika. Cats are much more rare, and the only kittens I’ve seen have been dead. Puppies are also rare, so spotting a puppy is often the highlight of my day (as is, you know, rescuing one from being run over). There are roaming gangs of dogs that fight over territory, though, and puppies often get caught in the crossfire. There are few things more disturbing to hear in the middle of the night than an unlucky dog being torn apart by other dogs.

The hill region is also home to plenty of farm animals: buffalo, goats, chickens, goats, ducks, goats, and sacred milking cows that get to sleep wherever they damn well please. For some reason, one section of my path to school is littered with poultry. Now I think of it, I’ve probably eaten some of them.

Other animals include big honkin’ rats and mongoose…s…geese? The jungled hills apparently hide leopards. There are many creepy-crawlies as well. As a snake enthusiast, I was thrilled to one day encounter a small black snake the size of an earthworm. As a respecter of spiders, I have had many interesting encounters in my bathroom, garden, and bed. The biggest I have seen had a legspan the diameter of my palm. And I thank God every day that I have not yet encountered a six-inch long khajuro (you can look it up the English meaning, if you dare, but I don’t recommend it), although I encountered one of their brethren a little shorter than my thumb.

Soooooo many legs. Ugh. However, I’m not alone in my phobic loathing of khajuro: in northern Nepal, communities with Tibetan-based languages call this foul creature “that which shall not be named.” It’s the Voldemort of the arthropod world.


This is what inspired my blog post today. Now, Nepal has many beautiful plants, full of exotic flowers and fruits. Depending on the season, you can find banana, guava, mango, pomegranate, oranges, and more. The country is also famous for its rhododendron forests that begin blooming around this time of the year, and for its fields of sunset-colored marigolds. There are bamboo groves. There are varieties of cacti, the needles of which are also used for piercing noses and earlobes. The tiered farmland around my village alternates between rice, wheat, mustard, and peas.

But this morning, I was more interested in what was growing among the wheat, and along the side of the dirt path I follow to school. You see, within the last two or three weeks, a certain weed has been sprouting up that I can bet 98.6% of you have never seen growing in the United States. It is a very famous plant, although it took me a moment to realize that I was seeing the real-life version of that famous leafy hand that adorns so many bags, shirts, and hats in Kathmandu’s hippie-filled Thamel. When my host brother picked a sprig and tried to hand it to me, I swatted his hand away with a “put that down before you get arrested.” I actually don’t know Nepal’s laws for such things, but why take chances?

You can tell from my stubborn determination not to write the name how unwilling I am to take chances. Although, I will say this: watching goats eat it is hilarious.

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