Friday, December 14, 2007

Soaps and toothpaste

Over time, I seem to have developed a system of comparing countries I visit to the countries I know best. If I visit a developing country (waiting for the right time to switch to calling them “neo-colonial states”), I inevitably compare it to Nigeria; and if I visit a country in the “West”, I compare it Britain. They’re both countries where I spent many of my formative years, and much of my adult life. So when I landed in Kathmandu, all the comparisons were with Nigeria. The airport runway was strewn with hulks of rusted airplanes, and for some reason I thought of the Biafran War of Independence (let’s debate names of conflicts another time). I thought of how grounded bombed out aircraft must have looked in the red sand of eastern Nigeria. The loose parallel is that Nepal has had its own civil war, and I say loose because those planes were obviously not there as a result of war, but neglect.

A bus picks you up from the foot of the aircraft and transports you a mere 50m to the terminal. Heaven forfend an Aussie tourist should graze their knee on the hazardous 50m trek to the terminal! The terminal is a room, with a few counters. I didn’t get my visa in London, because I discovered it’d be cheaper if I got at the airport. I walk to the booth to take passport pictures for the entry visa, which is about $20.

In my previous post, I mentioned that it suffered from a bit of developing worlditis. In the duty free alcohol shop, smaller than the size of your average London offie, I saw one the most equitable examples of division of labour. There was a man to carry the alcohol to the check-out after it had been bought. A man to make photocopies of the passport. A woman to take the cash from the customer. A man to take the cash from the woman and get change from the till. A man to hand the purchased alcohol to the customer. And I’m sure there was someone else doing something else I couldn’t quite figure out. Who says Bolshevism is dead? Or perhaps it’s as a result of the Maoist inspired unrest in the country.

The route to the house had all the hallmarks of Lagos, yet it was remarkably different. I do not recall one single pothole on the roads. Not one. Even my posh New Cross has potholes (big ones). Not very Lagos, I know. But the roads were congested, and you’d see the drivers plough at hair raising speeds against traffic to get past jams. Quite Lagos. But it was the smell of exhaust fumes, and the realisation that when I got home, I’d be smelling of eau de Toyota engines, circa 1982. Very Lagos. The motorbike is the saviour of the developing world’s transport system. Without them, life would be unbearable for commuters, and Kathmandu is no different. The streets buzz with sounds of motorcycle horns, plus the primary riders all have helmets. I even spotted a woman rider, and thoughts of women’s liberation began permeating my thoughts.

At the house, I was again reminded of the importance of consumerism in my westernised psyche. I buy, therefore I am. In New York a few weeks ago, I bought, and bought, and then I judged its habitableness by whether I could buy Ribena or Copella there. Whenever one travels, one compares what is available at the destination with what is available back at home. My thing for liveability is internet. But I spotted some other curious things: blue Dettol soap, yes, blue; Colgate toothpaste with “mint crystals”, which tasted just like Close-up. Those were available thanks to the manufacturing giants, China and India.

Showers are one of life’s glories. A good shower can awaken and soothe both at once. A shower that makes you think of the source of the hot water is even sexier. The water in the house is heated with solar power. It’s not complicated, it’s just some panels on the roof! Nigeria, are you listening? So I had a sexy shower, had lunch, slept, woke up, had dinner, slept, woke up, slept. Woke up, wrote this. Life is good. All the interspersed sleeping is as a result of jetlag. Kathmandu is 5hours, 45minutes ahead of GMT – making it 15minutes ahead of New Delhi. So I'm watching BBC, CNN, Al-Jazeera, and the headlines are at quarter to the hour. Weird, I know.


Anonymous said...

Ok, so it looks like you're back. Welcome back.

Anonymous said...

what's in kathmandu?

Sara said...

I love your blog

Bitchy said...

So true. I've done a lot of traveling this year (oops, I guess I did it last year) and when I was in a developed country, I compared it to England, and when in a developing one, I made comparison after comparison with Nigeria. China was where I got a little stuck though. In some parts of Beijing I felt forced to hold it up to London, and in other parts, I was thinking about Lagos (probably even Shomolu or Ajegunle). I thought I'd have the same issue with India, but even though I was so impressed with it, there was so much it had in common with Nigeria, that it really was such an eye-opening experience. Where else are you going? What was happening in Kathmandu? Were you there because of the Beeb or was it personal?

Anonymous said...

wtf is ribena, dude?

Anonymous said...

The best blackcurrant drink ever made.