It’s cold and it’s complicated

Posted on December 3, 2010


It’s already December, and I’ve been thinking about how to describe the onset of winter in the KTM valley. After much thought, this is how I’d sum it up: It’s complicated.

Ever since autumn hit in mid-November, the days have been like daily climate sandwiches: A slice of hot afternoon in between two hunks of early-morning/late-night cold. So that in itself is already pretty weird and very difficult to dress for. But no matter how warm it gets outside in the afternoons, it stays frigid inside our cavernous house all day long. We have no heating, and the entire place has hardwood and marble floors. Keeping the feet warm is a real challenge. In fact, it stays so cold in the house that I was prompted to a rash act of kindness that I now regret . . .

Sanshila, our didi (housekeeper/maid), comes over once a week. When she came this past Tuesday, the house was in an especially chilling state of dark-dungeon-like-ness. I was freezing, and I thought she would be as well. After all, she had recently started wearing a long-sleeved shirt under her work kurtha. I wanted to make her comfortable, so I approached her in the kitchen, where she was washing dishes.

“It’s so cold today!” I said, miming coldness to help get the point across. Our Nepali-English communication needs all the supplemental visual cues it can get.

Sanshila looked at me quizzically and said, “Yes?”

“Are you cold?” I asked.

“Yes?” she repeated.

“Do you want a jacket?” I said.

“Yes,” she said. But this yes was full of conviction.

“You want a jacket,” I said, pointing to her, just to confirm.

“Yes,” she said again. No question mark at all.

Happy to be able to be of use to someone who is so useful to me, I went to my closet and took out my very favorite fleece-lined gray hoodie. I love this hoodie. It makes me warm when I am cold, happy when I am sad, found when I am lost. Anyway. I brought the hoodie back to Sanshila and laid it on the kitchen counter.

“Here you go, you can wear this,” I said. She smiled, and I went about my business. But for the rest of the afternoon, Sanshila didn’t wear the hoodie. I was a little disappointed, but I chalked it up to my inability (yet again) to communicate effectively with her. When she went home that night, I felt slightly like a failure, but Sanshila cheerfully bid me goodbye and took off with a smile.

“Well good, I guess she wasn’t that cold,” I thought. I went back to the kitchen to retrieve the hoodie, which I thought would still be laying there, untouched. To my horror, I saw no hoodie! I checked the laundry line, all the other rooms, and my closet. No hoodie anywhere. It was then I realized I had unwittingly given away my favorite article of clothing to my didi.

I’m a little ashamed to admit that I was mad for a few minutes.

“Why didn’t she double check or say thanks or something to let me know she was taking it home?” I thought. But this type of thinking, I realized, is useless and mean. It’s not Sanshila’s fault. I wasn’t clear in communicating what I meant, as in, “You can borrow this while you work here because it is cold inside this house.” Plus, from the Nepali perspective of a proper didi, her job is to do everything I say and to never question anything I say. She was only doing what she thought was expected of her. My only hope is that she likes that hoodie and actually gets some use out of it.

As for me, the days are getting colder and now I don’t have a hoodie. It’s pretty funny that I decided to get rid of my warmest wear at the worst possible time of year. But this does give me an excuse to buy myself a new sweater. I don’t know if it will live up to its predecessor’s legacy, however.

So that’s what Himalayan winter is like. It’s cold and it’s complicated.