Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The Jew of Kathmandu

"And at the end of the day, I'll take you to see the Jew", he announced at 8am in the morning as we drank our chai on the dusty street. I just smiled and nodded like I knew what he was talking about. I had no clue, and I was nervous. "The Jew?!?", I thought. "Does Kathmandu have an honorary Jew? I just don't get it".

Sudeep--along with his wife Sunita--was my host when I first lived in Kathmandu. He was a small Nepalese man with legs built like pencils. He always had the brightest half moon smile and loved wearing turtlenecks and polyester pants that were so stiff and unmoved by the wind. It was the second day of my life in Kathmandu. He wanted to show me the sites--including the Jew--and he was so proud.

He took me everywhere, and I found the city of Kathmandu to be quite exotic with its strikingly contrasting Buddhist and Hindu architectures and robed monks and shamans everywhere. Chattering monkeys jumped around the rooftops. Traffic signs were more like suggestions instead of rules. People burned candles and incense and sang Sanskrit prayers at the temples in the morning. Strangers warmly and whole-heartedly greeted me all day as we walked the streets.

The city's distinctive smells ranged from intoxicating to ghastly. I enjoyed the whiffs of incense, flowers and fresh curry that permeated the city until they mingled with and dispersed into blasts of unmitigated exhaust fumes and the stench of open sewers.

It was a fabulous tour, but the Jew of Kathmandu gnawed at my consciousness all day. What on Earth did he mean?!? Finally, Sudeep brought the Jew to light.

"And finally" he said with a twinkle in his eyes, "the best for the last. Now I take you to the Jew!" I was scared and confused. I knew there was some language barrier that I just couldn't climb over. The taxi stopped. I hesitantly stepped out, squinted my gaze, and finally realized what the hell he was talking about. The Jew! It was there in front of me. Amazing! But it wasn't a Jew. It was a Zoo! AHAHAHAHA!!!! Sudeep's final act was to take me to the zoo!!! This is what our day was leading up to. What a relief to know that all he wanted to do was show me tigers, monkeys and deer inside cages. This is how I learned that the Nepalese can't pronounce the letter Z. It usually comes out as a J. Oh that Joo. What a moment that was. Cultural confusion is so entertaining sometimes.