Lessons Learned?

Lesson 1: Street Food

Since we arrived, we have been experimenting with the many different types of food available.  In general, we have found that the cheaper the food, the better.  Also, if the restaurant does not have a sign, and if the locals are eating there, the food tends to be cheaper (and, ipso facto, better).  This policy hasn’t led us astray yet, and we have had some amazing meals, based around the cardinal rules of eating here: [A] don’t drink the water, [B] don’t eat anything that has been rinsed in the water and not cooked, and [C] don’t eat anything that has been sitting out for hours after being cooked.  In general, if it’s served steaming hot, it’s safe.

Without even realizing that we were straying from the rules of the game, we purchased breakfast from a street vendor.  Everything seemed fine, as she was cooking it right there in front of us.  We got a delicious meal of flatbread, and eggs, rolled into a sort of burrito, complete with hot sauce and veggies.  The veggies did us in.  Neither of us had thought of the fact that the shaved cabbage and carrots in our wraps were not cooked, but it soon became apparent that we had strayed over the line, and compromised our pampered western G.I. tracts.  Two days later, we are mostly back to normal, and eating only the hottest of freshly cooked foods.

Lesson 2: Street Kids

A common theme of our time in Kathmandu has been that everyone, everywhere, is trying to make money off of us.  This is understandable, in a nation where 82% of the people live on less than $2 a day, and where tourism is the main industry.  I do not blame the people who see us as business opportunities.  That being said, we cannot be handing out money, foods, or goods with wild abandon.

It is easy to bypass the peddlers of goods and the pedalers of rickshaws.  It is, however, not easy to walk by those who sleep on the streets and beg for food.  I am not even sure, rationally, what the “right thing to do” is.  If we give anything, there is a literal flock of people, wanting more.  If we do not give, I feel a pang of guilt for not sharing the resources that we have.  The entire point of being here, in Nepal, for the better part of a year, is to give.  To help improve access to health services for those who need them.  To put to use the experiences and education that I have gained.  I am here with the intent of giving, and it pains be to not be able to give to each little child that follows us in the streets asking for something.

Today, as we finished our piping hot, safe-to-eat meals, there was a little boy waiting outside the restaurant, staring at us and smiling.  One return smile from me, and he had found his target.  The shopkeeper had already shooed him away a few times, and a security guard had walked him down the street.  He was back though, and as soon as we left the restaurant, he was right between us, holding up his little hands like an empty bowl.  I was watching Ryan’s pocket, as I knew our money was in there, and didn’t even think about the bowl of leftover fried rice in my hands, which I was saving for a light dinner that my stomach could handle.  Before I knew what to say, his hands were in the bowl, grabbing rice and stuffing it in his mouth.  I, of course, instead of being angry, told him to put his hands out, and filled them the rest of the way with rice (I wasn’t ready to give him the stainless steel bowl, which we had scoured the city to buy a few days ago).  He hungrily ate all that I had given him as we tried to walk away, but he came running after us into our hotel, at which point the front desk manager picked him up and put him back outside.

The moral dilemma here is this: if I had freely given him the rice from the start, he would have still followed us inside and asked for more.  He would still have been thrown out by the guard.  He would have still been begging.  Being that he took the rice of his own accord, and that I then gave him more, I reinforced him stealing.  I don’t know what, if anything, is the “right thing to do.”

Either way, at least he got his dinner.

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