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Living in Nepal - Part III

Some years ago a good friend visited India for the first time. He told us of an incident when he was traveling with a couple of foreigners. He was quite horrified by the driving on the roads, and the lady said to him: “If you accept that you can die any minute in this traffic, you can really start to enjoy it.”

That is, to a large extent, a good description of traffic in Nepal as well. There are apparently not many rules except for a rhythm – known to locals – of intimidation and submission (or maybe a willingness to surrender.) I realise that surrendering control does not come naturally to people from the West. We want to control situations and determine the outcomes and have rights. I realised that in order to survive here, you need to find a balance between fighting the whole time and just letting everything go. Both these extremes are visible if you just look around.

The traffic here works because the speed of the commuters are pedestrian compared to most other places. The consequences of most accidents are therefore not lethal but normally it is just excused by an “I am sorry,” and then people go on with their lives. Insurance companies and police are not usually involved and most people accept dents and bumps to their cars as part of everyday life.

This is such an surreal experience to most Westerners visiting for the first time. One of our friends were advised by another foreigner who had been living in India for a long time - when he bought a new car - to take his car key and scratch the one side of his car with it just to get it over with. He thought his friends was crazy, but soon after, when a donkey cart took more than the paint off his new car, he realised some of the truth in this. These things become relative and I wondered if our friend Einstein had not made a trip to Nepal before he wrote some of his ideas on relativity.

As we were traveling from Kathmandu to Pokhara in a tourist bus, I was reminded of the concept of relativity repeatedly. You see, your fear of a head-on collision becomes relative after you have seen countless potential collisions flash before your eyes. You develop a nervous grin, which is rolled out each time you see another vehicle swaying to the safety of its side of the road milliseconds before impact. It is like being in a trance - you see it, but it does not feel real.

One encounters strange things on these roads, like someone stopping his truck in the middle of the road to speak on his phone or to smoke a cigarette, despite any rules there might be.

One of my great fears was the knowledge that one day I would have to take the plunge and drive myself and my other half through this chaos that made no sense to me whatsoever. I fought this for a long time before we bought our electric scooter. We had to learn the rhythm; we had to submit and surrender. However, we made some exceptions, like the necessity for both people to have a helmet and not only the driver, as is required here. We also allow only two people on the bike at a time, a decision made easy by our combined weight. In Nepal whole families easily fit on a bike and having your small baby in front on the petrol tank will worry nobody.

Before we left South Africa, my other half’s brother urged me to first let her ride a normal bicycle before allowing her to get on a motorcycle. That she blatantly refused, and I thought that the probability of somebody dying was high. That, too, was relative, because she deftly maneuvres our scooter to wherever she needs to go. So even this mountain became relative in size as we started to climb it.

As we continued our journey into the intricacies of local traffic, I realised that the size of the mountain is relative to where you stand when you look at it.

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