The Journey to Pokhara.

Journey to Pokhara

A swift exit from Egypt landed me on a night flight to Nepal.

How I came to be in a two seater plane flying around the Himalayas with a Ukrainian man named Artem begins with me standing on a kneeled camel named Pepsi on a brisk, February morning in Cairo. I was layered in thin articles of clothing, a smile plastered on my face as Mohammad, our guide, instructed me on how to pose. “arms!” he shouted, imitating that typical girl-traveling-world pose. I stretched out my arms as he took a series of photos with the pyramids in the background until I laughed nervously and said I’d had enough. 

Brian was looking off in the opposite direction of the pyramids towards the Pizza Hut in the nearby parking lot. Mohammad was either loving the photoshoot a little too much and completely oblivious to Brian’s demeanor, or had been too often placed in the role peace keeper in his upbringing. It was impossible to tell through his enthusiasm, though. Mohammad gave my phone back, proudly showing the shots he took. Clearly, the man had a talent. “Wow!” I exclaimed as Mohammad beamed, looking from Brian to myself. Mohammad snatched Brian’s donkey, that had wandered a few steps too far, transfixed by Pizza Hut as well. “A couple picture?” Mohammad suggested, yanking the donkey’s rope. Brian was even quicker than I to say no but I added a polite thank-you before I took my seat back on Pepsi and Brian back on his ass.

The donkey hawed a couple of times as Mohammad ran in front of the animals, pulling on both of the leashes to get them to trot. “What does Sahara mean?” Brian asked after some time of quiet, his donkey farting as it ran.

“Desert,” I said. “The Sahara Desert literally means…”

“WHAT does Sahara mean?” Brian tried again, a little louder. Pepsi and I sighed.

“Sir?” Mohammad called back breathlessly. 

Brian repeated the question one more time. 

“It means desert,” Mohammad responded. He had fallen back, the donkey and camel at his sides. “So Sahara Desert is Desert Desert!”

After our ride, Brian gave the guide four hundred U.S. dollars for reasons wholly unknown. Perhaps because the rug I’d liked but refused to buy back at one of the tourists shops was four hundred dollars. This was catty of me to believe but it did dart across my mind, as did the fear that Mohammad could get robbed if he continued to shout and brag, running across the desert toward his fellow workers who sat at the pyramid’s rubble, leaving Pepsi and the ass in the dust.

Our guide found us and ushered us back into the car to show off the rest of Cairo, cars honking incessant little burps of a beep to communicate lane departure, turns, or a friendly hello. In the afternoon we said our goodbyes to the guide and were let out at the Egyptian museum (pre King-Tut decapitation scandal). “Be sure to take a taxi home,” she urged us, “protests will begin later today.”

We were ushered out with the museum’s closing and emerged to sounds or protest ringing out in the streets. Army officers held close to their frothing dogs, giving their guns a sweet caress as protesters gathered, shouting at sunset. Given the recent Arab Spring and ISIS attacks within the country, I turned to Brian and said, “Let’s get a taxi back.”

“It’s less than half a mile to the hotel. We can walk.”

Men began chanting close to the foreboding road blocks as cars kept up up with their incessant bleating, dodging the spikes at the street’s edges. Before I could say a word, Brian began walking. “Brian, wait,” I called half heartedly. I neither enjoyed running after people nor begging for them to listen. Both seemed like fruitless, fool hearty ventures. “This dress is too short,” I said, taking to a healthy job. “Let me at least grab more layers from the backpack I…” but Brian nudged me away from the backpack and kept walking. 

He tried to cross the road but, with no traffic light, the cars continued speeding past. “Hey! HEY!” An Egyptian man ran up to us. “Hey,” he said grabbing on to Brian. Brian turned, his lips thin and face red, ready, or so it appeared, to have a proper tussle with this strikingly handsome, English speaking stranger. The guy backed off, wide eyed and alarmed. I shared in on the stranger’s alarm, our eyes cautiously and critically falling on Brian. “Nothing bad, brother,” he said hesitantly. “You can not be here. She can not be here,” he said, pointing to me. “You need to leave. Now,” he said and, for the first time since I’d landed in Egypt, a man had looked me directly in the eyes. His eyes darted down to my bare legs. “You can’t be here. It is not safe,” he said, addressing me.

“We need to get a taxi! Thank you,” I said to the man as he helped us cross the street.

“Yes, it is our day of protest. Be safe, you can not be here,” he said then was once more absorbed back into the crowd.
Brian pressed on, continuing his march towards to the hotel while I had cars pull up along side me, whispering, growing, whistling, and cat calling. One man flung open his door, revealing three others inside. “Come,” he demanded, attempting to take my hand and pull me in to the car. Of course, the parade of men could have all been well intentioned but, truly, in what part of the world is that ever true? I gave the gang bangers a forlorn look and scampered on, attempting to catch up with my keeper.

I followed Brian back to the hotel, watching a security dog sniff for bombs around the taxi cabs parked just outside. His elevator silence was made all the more excruciating as a joyous couple heartily laughed and tried to include us both in their inside joke. The husband took a long look at Brian’s livid face, a short, scornful look at me, and smiled gently back to his wife who refused to make any further eye contact with the harlot in the short, western dress behind her. Back in the room, Brian huffed over to his bed, snapping open the New York Times. I sat in silence, grateful that I was, so far, still alive. The sounds of protests could be heard from the balcony. I stepped out to hear the call to prayer, watching the waters of the muddy nile, before returning inside. “That… wasn’t okay,” I said, attempting to laugh it off. “I um… some guys tried…”

“Oh what did they try to do?” He said in a whining voice, folding the newspaper back enough so that I could see his thin upper lip retract above his teeth.

I paused, momentarily. “I felt unsafe,” I finally said.

“It’s always about fucking YOU,” he spat. 

“Oh! Uh…”

Now, to be clear, I knew Brian was going to freak out. He’d been boiling up to this point since I met him in the Newark airport for our connecting flight to Cairo. He’d flown in from Portland, Oregon and I’d flown in from New Orleans having celebrated Mardi Gras with a couple of friends. Side note? If you’re outside of the French Quarter, Mardi Gras can be downright family friendly. 

Meeting in Newark, Brian’s mood had already begun to sour. Maybe it was because I was slightly hung over and exhausted from my five am flight. Holding a cup of coffee and The Economist, I didn’t give him a super warm greeting. But I never gave Brian warm greetings. He was my lover at best and an acquaintance at bare minimum. Brian, like many men, had always imagined me warmer and more in love when I wasn’t around. He’d often remember events differently, state that I’d jumped into his arms previously. 

Me? Jump? Him? His arms? I’d listen, a grotesque smile pasted on my face attempting not to grimace in horror. I’d always prided myself on being matter of fact with my lovers. It was always a don’t ask don’t tell policy wherein if monogamy would pushed I would blandly respond with a, “no… thank you…” The only men whose arms I would jump into where those of a half-drunk cadet I’d studied abroad with, my five year romance with a high school sweetheart, and the man I would intend to marry. 

In the meantime, there would be no jumping, no gushing, no pleading, no whining, and no demands, which made for a pretty friendly affair for both parties. I would give a brief, half hug, and ask how the weather was back home. 

But Brian expected more in Newark that fateful afternoon. He’d given me this trip to Egypt as a birthday present and expected to reap romantic rewards. And now, after two days of bottling up anger, snubbing friendly flight attendants, flipping open newspapers for the duration of all meals, refusing eye contact and conversation as I maddeningly carried on monologues that ranged from optimistic to inquisitive in tone, Brian had finally. Lost it. 

“What’s wrong with you?” Was all I could ask, only half interested in the response. 

“What is wrong with ME?” He sneered. “What the FUCK is wrong. With YOU?”

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Loads, I suppose.

“And what did I do, Brian? You’ve been ignoring me this entire trip. I don’t get it. In Newark I asked you if we should even go, if you were up for it. You said you were. What’s up? Who stays angry for no reason for two full days?”

And then he started in with the screaming. Men who scream are always sad sights to behold. Their petulant faces crinkle and become childlike. It doesn’t hold nearly the same sophistication and doom as an angry woman who can, and will, make you believe she will smite you and your unborn children for any minor digression. Hysterical men are never articulate, therefore they aren’t worth listening to, which is probably why they end up resorting to violence. So I stood there for a moment taking it until I realized hey, I can leave. So I left the room and went down to the lobby. I was quick enough on my feet to bring a change of clothes and changed in the nearest bathroom to an unappetizing display of baggy jeans and an oversized sweatshirt. After doing so I thought hmm, I have nowhere to go where I can go alone. The US embassy had casually erected a brick wall on the street leading up to their gates. 

I watched the security dogs take another sniff around a taxi cab out front as two armed guards stood, whispering sweet nothings to their guns. My adrenaline was still pumping from the heat of the moment. I called a couple of friends recounting my tale and thinking of my options aloud. “Hey, I’m in Egypt. Yea. Yea, I know… yea, it’s great but I’m kind of afraid my lover might kill me here. Right… right?! It was just my birthday!” 

Sure, I’d miss the Nile cruise to Luxor, but I’d make my way back to Egypt another time. Hostels didn’t seem like a great bet in such a tense city… maybe I should fly away. Looking at Google flights, a whole world opened up to me. A one way ticket in any direction, to Europe, deeper into Africa, to Asia, they all cost around 300 to 400 dollars. I could go anywhere. “I think I’m just going to… leave?”

“No shit,” my friend said desperately. “Leave. Now.”

I recall going back upstairs, fully engrossed with a world of new possibilities. I didn’t look twice at Brian and instead weighed my options on the bathroom floor. The tiles were cool. The tiles were soothing. The bathroom fan rumbled. I recall coming down to two options. What the other was, though, is lost to me now. I decided on Kathmandu. When else would I have the opportunity to go to Nepal? 

I booked a flight to Kathmandu for that night, which was the best deal compared to the following day. Then I booked a hostel next to the monkey temple for two dollars a night. Then I got up. My heart was no longer beating rapidly, my adrenaline at ease. I was at peace. I told myself that I would go back to Egypt someday, when it was under less civil unrest… with a love, not a lover at best. 

“Are you hungry?” I asked, emerging from the bathroom. 

Brian took a few breaths to answer, looking at me with this incredibly condescending expression. Truly, it was incredible. I’ve seen very few men able to do accomplish the look when staring at a woman and, I hypothesize, the look itself is one only male Gen-Xers are able to fully master. No Boomer would dare look at their significant other that way without the fallout of a repressed woman forced into an inordinate amount of child baring, having survived multiple oven gassing attempts, finally, fully, go off.  

I waited and watched as he took those breaths, noting that those were precious seconds that I will never get back. “Yes,” he said finally. “But first, come sit.” I sat. Not where he had patted, but on the other bed. His condescending expression doubled down. His eyebrows were lifted in that cartoonish academic way, ironic, given his vast, unending canyons that proved detrimental gaps in his education. I attempted to recenter, to respect him. After all, he had bought up a great deal of Portland post 2008. “I think we should talk about you leaving early.”

“Oh yea, I already booked a flight.”
“What?” He snapped, sitting up fully. 

“Yea. I just booked a flight to Nepal. I leave tonight at 11pm so I have time enough for dinner if you want to get it.” 

“Wait, you booked a flight?”

“Yea, that’s what I was doing in the bathroom for so long.”

He nodded slowly. “Let’s order in.”  Brian ordered a cheese burger, his go-to whether wrapped in the hearty, full-bodied cuisine French Alps or engulfed in the complex spice aromas of Egypt. He always. Ordered. A cheese burger. “I didn’t know you’d actually leave,” he finally said as he scarfed his french fries. 

“Well, yea.”

“I… well, I just thought you’d figure it out.”

“I feel like I did figure it out.”

“No I mean… figure it out,” he said, his eyebrows raised in that cartoonish way again.

I couldn’t read into this cryptic sentence so I just sighed. “I really did try, you know. You’ve been acting really mean since we met up in EWR and I just can’t. I can’t seem to make you want to talk or be happy and we’re in Egypt you know? So I should go and you have fun on the Nile cruise. Problem solved.”

“I mean, I’m in love with you. I want to marry you.”

I stared at him. You could hear a pin drop if it wasn’t such an ornately carpeted room. “Huh.”






“That’s… not how you should act if you love anyone, let alone someone you would want to uh… marry?”

It was quiet again. Maybe I should have seen this coming. He had started calling me his “wife” on flights for no reason. “Oh,” he’d say, “here comes my wife,” or “oh, my wife needs to switch her seat so that she’s next to me,” or, “oh, you’re trying to abduct my wife?” I recall changing the subject to something where he finally cracked and gave me a laugh, where he let his guard down a little. I left in a taxi with my lightweight backpack wearing baggy clothes and a baseball cap. He waved goodbye as I got in a taxi after it had been sniffed thoroughly by the hotel’s bomb dogs, and boarded a plan for Kathmandu. 

Landing well after midnight, I printed out a visa and haggled a taxi price down enough to believe I was getting a half descent deal across town and smiled out at the narrow streets lit with colorful lamps and peace flags as the taxi quietly zipped down uneven streets. That night, I drifted off to sleep on a cot next to a South Korean girl, listening to the comforting sound of feral dogs fighting outside of the monkey temple and in the morning, I passed young monks who slid their hands across prayer wheels, spinning the loving mantras on their way in to the temple. 

I spent days exploring Kathmandu, steering my way towards the best lassi and momo spots around town. Curious young children found it their civic duty to deliver me, the young, unwed, pale woman to the bus bound for Pokhara. “But why aren’t you married?” they asked one last time, their eyes searching mine for reason the way a holy man attempts to grapple with an angry atheist’s actions. On the bus, I slipped on a gold band that I had picked up during my layover in the Abu Dhabi airport. I examined my left hand curiously as an attractive Sikh businessman sitting next to me gave me a knowing smile. But in the next city the question the young, well-meaning children would ask became, “but where is he?” 

Before dawn the following morning I climbed on the back of a young Nepali man’s motorcycle and was driven to Artem, my Ukrainian pilot who was waiting with his two seater plane. We lifted off effortlessly, rocking with a couple of small coughing bumps, climbing steadily into daybreak. We circled the rice fields and made our way up into the snowy Himalayas, the Annapurna region circling a stupa in the high mountains and, after nearly an hour, landing back to solid ground in full morning light. 

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“Wow,” I said again, taking off my headset. 

“Yes, wow,” he said. “This is why I am here. For the wow.”

A young Nepali woman in a clean, starched uniform politely asked how my journey was and to sign one last form. Then she asked if I wanted a picture with the plane. 

“Oh… I guess so… sure, why not?”

Artem, who had lit a cigarette and found himself a minuscule cup of black coffee grunted. He stamped out his cigarette and took my phone. I posed. Artem grunted. “Arms!” He said, then with my phone in one hand and coffee in the other, imitated the typical girl-traveling-the-world pose. I smiled brightly and leaned into the pose as he snapped a few pictures before getting in one himself.