Life in the Bubble, winter in Kathmandu

20 minutes left until our generator turns off, as I’ve set the timer, give or take 15 minutes. You know how those little plastic pegs on the timer can be a bit imprecise. It’s winter in the ‘du and that means load-shedding (or on-purpose power outages to the layman) for a large part of the day. We get a schedule sent out by the power company, conveyed to us by one means or another, as an excel spreadsheet. I’ve set it up on our Google calendar or course, just to make it a bit more predictable. It’s up to 14 hours a day in two seven hour blocks, hopefully it won’t get much worse. We heard that one year it got up to 22.

15 minutes. The wall-mounted AC/Heater unit tousles my hair and warms the room. The “OOOHHHMMM” of the diesel generator out front makes the windows rattle a bit, and nearly drowns out the crows calling. The kids are drinking tea from their miniature illy espresso cups after a lunch of leftovers. Jean is out controlling a VIP visit from Washington, the whispers of her politically-coned career aspirations drawing her in like a college student coming alive in a life-changing lecture, and I’m baching it for the day.

The pollution and chill in the air weren’t enough to keep us away from the farmer’s market downtown today. Strawberries, farm-raised eggs, a small side of bacon, farm-house sausages, soft goat cheese, some chocolate croissants and an italian loaf. Not too bad for Kathmandu.
(Lucas on the climbing wall in Thamel)
5 minutes. Our battery backups need new batteries and I know the internet will cut out within 5 minutes of the power outage. Then it will be time to run an earthquake drill, write some thank you letters, and have the kids play outside.

Our NGO (Non-governmental organization. Some people work for international ones and people say their name-O. -INGO) friends don’t have generators. They have car batteries with inverters. And passive solar water heating. And yet they are still making that choice, to live that way, for whatever reason. We live in a bubble. It’s good in the bubble. I choose to have my power off. Like that song by Pulp, Common People where her daddy could make it all go away with just a phone call. Like Basquiat. I’m choosing. I choose to give my kids a little character, and also choose to have a hot shower in the morning. Choice is good.

The kids go back to school Monday after a three week hiatus, if you can believe it. Six am wakeups, school lunches, after school activities and bus pickups. I’ll get a lot more done during the day though, and can look forward to planning social dinners, our spring vacation, and getting our documents converted into all digital (scanning into PDF our entire filing cabinet to reduce on weight and make natural disasters not matter when it comes to that stuff.) before we leave Nepal, seven months from now.

The generator just turned off. Time to post thi-

Units and Measures

Jean found our UAB* (Unaccompanied Air Baggage) list yesterday, scratched onto an 8 1/2″ x 11″ lined sheet of paper. After 16 months in Nepal, some of it holds up. This being our first post, you’ll forgive some naiveté.
*UAB is air freight that follows the employee (Jean, the Foreign Service Officer) and is alloted 150 pounds to her, 100 pounds to me, the spouse, 50 pounds to each additional person, giving us a total of some 400 pounds allowance. This could be wildly inaccurate, so see the FAM for details.

  • Clothes (that fit now)
  • regular everyday dishes, flatware, glasses
  • spices/oils/vinegars, etc
  • sheets/towels/pillows,etc
  • pots,pans,dish drain
  • toiletries
  • candles
  • cookbooks
  • ice cube trays
  • cleaning caddy and sponges
  • transformer
  • toolkit
  • toys

Clothes that fit now. Yep, your UAB might not arrive for a few weeks, but you certainly don’t want your clothes in your HHE (household effects/household goods) which might not arrive for months. Even then, if you’re close to the turn of a season, you might want to pack some out-of-season clothes.

Toys. Your kids need to play with stuff.

What were we thinking?
Dishes, sheets, towels, pots, pans, dish drain, ice cube trays, etc. These are all provided as part of the welcome kit (which one gets here as part of your “welcome to post” on loan until your HHE arrives, may differ slightly from post to post)
*The transformer should have been avoided entirely, and actually was (Kathy and Bob gave us two, that we are pretty sure are in storage!) and it’s a good thing, since we get a few with the house.
Oils and vinegars are available here at post, we should have just skipped that.
Candles. Why on earth did we pack candles?
Cleaning Caddy and sponges. It was our hope that we would school our Didi (maid) in the ways of using washable sponges, and Shaklee cleaning products. To this day, she refuses to use a sponge mop, instead swabbing the decks with the string mop, doesn’t use our sponges, and can’t tell the difference between one spray cleaner for general cleaning and one for glass. Not that she can see dust anyway. Resistance is futile, oh expat.

Skip UAB, these should have been in our luggage
Spices. Sure there are decent spices here, but being a Penzey’s nut, you just can’t replicate the Fajita seasoning with a $3 packet of McCormick spices from the commissary. We live for our spices.
Toiletries. We should have taken a measure more in our luggage than just travel-sized toothpaste and shampoo. We had to buy all new stuff and then our UAB showed up after we’d run out and spent money on clove-flavored toothpaste.
Cookbooks. Should have packed our two most favorite. Food is a comfort thing.
Toolkit. Get the cordless drill in there. And a hammer. And a screwdriver. And duct tape.

To do it again

  • more clothes for adults. Kids don’t have to go to dinner parties a week after arriving
  • Laptop (sell the desktop before leaving this post)
  • Projector (sell the large LCD TV before leaving this post)
  • a novel or two (or just go eBook)


  • Movie screen (to go with above projector, a wall will do for a few weeks)
  • multi-season kids’ clothes
  • multi-season adult clothes

Somehow all that needs to be 400 pounds or less. And then there’s our HHE, for which we get a 7200* pound allowance. (*this year, State added a 2,000 pound allowance for packing materials, as paper, bubble wrap, wooden crating and metal banding can add up quick!) That’s right, nearly four (4) tons! An insane amount you say? Even after deciding the majority of our furniture, the heaviest of our things by far, were to go to storage, we managed to be overweight and had to make game-time decisions on which line item on the chicken scratched bill of lading marked “misc” would go to storage.
How consumerist, how hoarding, how on earth can anyone actually possess that much stuff? Here’s a start:
(rough estimates)

  • Clothes, linens: ~1000 pounds.
  • Books:~1500 pounds
  • pots, pans, flatware: ~700 pounds
  • computer, DVDs, TV, electronics: ~500 pounds
  • sewing machine, fabric, accessories: ~500 pounds
  • tools, car ramps, bikes, sports equipment, camping equipment: ~1000 pounds
  • filing cabinet papers: ~200 pounds
  • toys (including my star wars stuff, yes): ~500 pounds
  • dishes, glassware: ~800 pounds
  • beer brewing: ~300 pounds
  • misc: ~200 pounds

That’s 7200 pounds. Some items might be a couple hundred pounds off, but these are rough estimates. Kinda crazy.

And so with each thing that comes into the house (tibetan style furniture: 100 pounds) we have to think where the tradeoff will be (donated books to Embassy: 100 pounds) and if we can get down low enough to get our trampoline out of storage for Zimbabwe 🙂

Crazy Rides

Went on a couple bike rides over the past couple weeks. Today:

Last week: