Tribal Gap Year, Rural and Urban Reflections

"My first impression of Kathmandu is complete chaos. I thought Arusha was pretty interesting but this tight medieval city has turned my expectations up a few notches. Motorcycles are packed in until they create a sort of liquid formation on the busy streets, and most people are seen wearing a mask to keep out the incredible amount of dust that is kicked up. You can rarely see the snow capped Himalayas from the light brown haze of dust hovering above the city. 

But back to the streets. In the past twenty or thirty years, Nepal tourism has exploded, and the small country has rapidly westernized, filling the main towns and cities with hotels and bars, trash and billboards,  and I assume a lot of migrants and traffic. Coming from “the west” where roads were built wide, the cars big, and social customs and laws are naturally formed around industrialization,  it has been very interesting to see how other cultures and places handle the rapid growth. 

Recycling isn't even a concept, you throw your wrappers on the ground just as casually as you warm yourself around a pile of flaming plastic, and complaining about jaywalking is like complaining to a Louisiana swamp-dweller about mosquitoes. I have seen packed, free for all, four-way intersections that my taxi driver somehow handled with ease. 

The first time I went to Arusha in Tanzania,  a fairly large city about forty five minutes away from Longido, I was amazed at how the landscapes completely transformed. The mountains start to rise up out of the red dirt, turning the land brown and lush as we go from the desert to the jungle. The city itself is unpredictable and chaotic as there is no rhyme or reason to the mass of signs and traffic. Things are not formulated and grid-like, and the bus station is always on the edge of a gridlock of vans, or "dolla dollas", as full sized buses try to make a three point turn amongst the mass of pedestrians and vendors. Despite all of this, it's  amazing how things seem to run very smoothly, and you can just trust everyone knows what they are doing. 

In some of the back neighborhoods of Arusha, where the roads turn to dark red dirt, I noticed none of the houses had addresses, most of the buildings were hastily made. It turns out you are totally free to build a little shop or shelter provided someone loans you some land, paperwork not necessary. This caviler attitude towards urban society and culture, creation and navigation, is rooted in a very nonpolitical and rural mindset, a stable simple lifestyle with fewer rules and more freedom to do what you please because there is less to go wrong or mess up, and less to do.It’s what happens when an agricultural society suddenly has access to sodas and shoe styles and the vehicles to get them. The result is a very organic and chaotic atmosphere to the structure of the city's and particles in them, an ecosystem from the street vendors to the cats and dogs scavenge the overflow. You might have to navigate around pairs of shoes that are radiating out from sidewalk corner while ducking under vines of hanging scarfs. It really demonstrates how well reserved I think Americans are in their commitment to a tight mathematical flow and function in our towns and cities and interactions.

I witnessed this transition in the low but spread out the city of Pokhara in Nepal,  where I stayed in a small Waldorf school/farm on the outskirts of the town. The place has about eight acres of land that they use to graze a herd of eight cows that I spent many hours trying to keep out of the large garden of greens and veggies. Next to the property is a bunch of rice fields that lead out to the looming Himalayas. But they pointed out to me a few time that the view was slowly being filled in by these interesting checkered apartment buildings, about three or four floors divided by balconies. They were sort of randomly scattered across the landscape, occasionally congealing to create small proto neighborhoods. This development was pointed out to me by farmers and taxi drivers. 

Pokhara is the second most visited city in Nepal and has developed a tourist playground known as "Lakeside" of the edge of town next to, well, a lake. It's a fun stretch of small shops that sell everything you would want to bring back from Nepal, gongs, incense, cloths, hemp clothes and backpacks, while classic rock cover bands drift out of the bars and restaurants. As a tourist and adventurer I actually really appreciate the familiarity of all of this with action created by the all-out utilization and exploration.  It is interesting to think about this place a hundred years ago, while we in the west were were ramping up to the roaring twenties and the rest of the world was still very slow paced and simple, sitting around on stoops and in cow fields.

Theo, Tribal Gap Year Student.