It’s hard to be hard

November 14, 2006

Man living under a staircase in Kathmandu, NepalI am sitting on the roof top patio, above the trash and hassle of the Kathmandu streets. The constant honking below was still audible enough to make sure I didn’t think I was in the Italian hill country, but the normally abrasive staccato was softened to a mere city soundtrack.

Now, I’m walking out of Dolce Vita, a charming Italian restaurant and pizzeria in the heart of Thamel, the tourist center of the city. I have just enjoyed a lovely dinner of an insalta mista — all vegetables soaked for 30 minutes in an iodine solution, a thin crust Margarita Pizza and a Diet Coke with Arabic writing on the can priced at three times that of a regular Coke. The Diet Coke is expensive because it has to imported, since locals only spend money on beverages that provide nutrients and calories.

A sad looking mother of no more than twenty approaches me, and I see a flash of an tiny empty baby bottle. It is not the first time I have seen a tired looking woman in brightly colored, but dirty clothing, with a baby on her back. I know what’s coming, so I look past her to the busy street of rickshaws, touts and tourists as if I were seeing it for the first time. I keep walking, pretending not to hear her call of “Milk, for my baby. Baby milk.”

My guidebook has warned me that I’ll be taken to a special store where I’ll pay double the normal cost for milk. After I leave the milk will be returned to the store and the money divided between the “mother” and the store owner. A former peace corp volunteer who has lived in the city for a number of years tells me that the many women who practice this trade are employees of a local syndicate which provides new babies every three months.

I stride into the night as her calls are covered by the traffic. I feel smart and savvy. I wasn’t taken. But, then just as quickly as I passed the woman in the street, my feeling passes. I feel hard, like I have been taught to see right through undesirables. Even though I know I avoided a scam no local would fall for, I don’t like feeling smart for looking right past poverty. Is it worse to be taken, or too well trained not to be?


  1. This actually took place a few weeks ago, but I haven’t posted in a while and I am playing catch up…

    Comment by Jonathan — November 14, 2006 @ 10:56 am

  2. Wow, Jonathan, I am amazed at the insightfulness of your entry here. I found you on Linkedin and was interested in working with you on Lead Generation because I am a large email publisher…

    But I was curious and read and skimmed your adventures here and you’ve really inspired me to go and see the world like you have. But what most inspired me was your thoughts in this entry.

    When you’re back, I’d love to discuss working together, but I am in no hurry to rush your travels, so take your time! Shoot me an email and we’ll connect eventually.

    Comment by Pete Maughan — January 17, 2007 @ 2:10 pm

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.