Birthday Blog

I will start this blog like I start basically every blog I write from Pakistan – with an apology. I’m sorry I haven’t written more frequently. I’m sorry I haven’t quite had Nepal-level stories to share. “I’ve been working my ass off and I hate everyone and I want to drink wine and run with scissors while eating cake in my bubble bath” paints neither a sympathetic or interesting picture (though that is how I feel sometimes.)

Anyways, now that that’s out of the way. I turn 31 on Tuesday. I am unsure of how to feel about this, to be honest. I didn’t think I was too stressed about turning 30, but the number ended up bothering me more than I thought it would. Turning 30 also coincided very closely with leaving Nepal, which was a stressful/celebratory/weird time. I feel like I’ve grown a lot between 30 and 31, which is surprising when you look at this abbreviated timeline:

March 2015 – Turned 30. Celebrated by singing with children, packing up ALL THE THINGS and doing a final run around my favorite places in Nepal.

April 2015 – Moved back to America (temporarily). Felt so ready to be done with South Central Asia. Had many goals for my America time.

May 2015 – Home Leave. All I have done is eat all the things. And visit doctors. And spend money. And a month goes by faster than you would think.

June 2015 – FSI Training. Shit’s getting real for this trip to Pakistan. In true Katie fashion, I squandered basically all my time in DC worrying about the upcoming move.

July 2015 – Made it to Pakistan! It’s not really what I expected.

August 2015 – Omg so much work. I thought I knew how to be an office manager….maybe I don’t. Nope. Nope. I definitely don’t know anything.

September 2015 – working working working

October 2015 – still freaking working

November 2015 – Home Leave! Not enough time to do all the things and see all the people. However, I did manage to eat almost all the things, and see both of my brothers at the same time, which was the best.

December 2015 – Back at work. Also back to the gym after a loooong absence. I miss Nepal.

January 2016 – (while sweating profusely after 50 minutes on the elliptical) NEPAL WAS AMAZING WHY DID I EVER LEAVE? WHY AM I AT THE GYM AT 6AM? WHO AM I?!?!?! working working working working

February 2016 – working working working working hating everyone working working working working

March 2016 – Turn 31

Pakistan has taught me a lot about myself, mostly about my work self, since that’s how I spend most of my time here. I have always thought I was a pretty nice person to work with, and I take great pride in being helpful and customer service oriented. But the pace of work here has really challenged me. It’s easy to be helpful and friendly and timely and proactive when you are relaxed and calm and have a manageable scope of work. It’s another story when you are stressed and grumpy and overworked and the doorbell and the phone are ringing and you have 125 unread emails (even though you’ve been at your desk ALL DAY) and the printer is broken. I would really like to tell you that I never lost my cool and was always the happy, helpful Katie I strive to be……but that would not be true. I have promised myself that I will work on this between now and my next birthday.

That being said, 31-32 is looking to be a really good year. Kyle and I have another vacation coming up, and I won’t spoil the surprise but we are going somewhere awesome. I also have a fabulous girls weekend planned that will check another country off my list. Then we get to move to Europe, and going to Warsaw is going to fulfill a life-long dream for me – it’s so weird to look forward to a place you’ve never been and feel like it’s home, somehow.

If someone had told me when I was 15 that I would turn 31 sitting on a roof in Islamabad, I would have said “where’s Islamabad?” and never in my wildest dreams would I have believed them. So I guess you could say I’ve managed to exceed my wildest dreams (and in a mere 31 years.) I’m considering this a great accomplishment.



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Dear Diary…

Ya’ll. I have done a terrible job keeping everyone updated. I knew it had been a while, but then I went and read my last entry, it’s apparently been almost four months since I posted anything. Yikes. Sorry about that.

There are a number of different reasons that posts from Islamabad haven’t been as forth coming as posts from Kathmandu. First, I work a LOT more here, which is great and all, but not necessarily blog worthy or blog appropriate material. Second, we aren’t allowed to go out as much, and clearly my best stories from Nepal were when I actually got to go out and see Nepal. But enough excuses, I’m going to do my best to give you the almost half way update – if you can believe that.

Nepal was my first tour, and I have to admit, I thought I was a pretty bad ass Office Manager, once I got the hang of things. I felt like I was really an asset to my office, helping with projects, anticipating issues (the best customer service is pro-active customer service!) and just in general having a great time while simultaneously helping others do cool diplomacy work. I don’t mean to make myself sound perfect, of course I also made some big mistakes and sometimes got very grumpy (sorry), but in general I felt pretty good about my career choice. I left Kathmandu thinking “I got this. Bring it on, Pakistan. Let me show you how Office Managing should work”

And now I feel like a TERRIBLE office manager. Seriously. In Kathmandu, I had a small office to take care of and lots of time to make things perfect and try out new ways to do stuff and add cool, personalized touches to my work. Oh, and volunteer for extra things like planning entertainment and office parties and baking cookies and talking to school kids. Now I feel like I’m at work 10-12 hours a day trying to do a thousand things, doing none of them well, and working at a hair-on-fire kind of pace. I sent my boss to a meeting that didn’t exist. I SENT MY BOSS TO A MEETING THAT DIDN’T EXIST. Thankfully, he was cool about it. But seriously. Who am I? How do I do the thing? WHAT GOOD AM I IF I CAN NOT KEEP TRACK OF EVERYTHING THAT IS MY JOB?!?!?!

Anyways, what I’m trying to say is that Islamabad has presented a great challenge and learning opportunity for me. One thing I did do right was jump in feet first – some days I’m doing well, other days not so much, but at least I’m helping everyone else survive.  I’m just a tiny, tiny part of a massive operation that somehow, despite everyone’s best efforts, manages to do good work day in and day out. It’s been humbling. It’s occasionally be exhilarating. It’s mostly made me look forward to going back to a smaller place and a slower pace.

Okay enough about work. Kyle and I went on a simply lovely R&R home for Thanksgiving. We saw both of our families (PS, thank you families for living a mere seven hours apart, that really helps us out) and many of our friends, though not nearly all our friends, because we also desperately needed a break from the crazy pace we’ve been living at. We ate Five Guys burgers, Roncho’s, crab legs, ice-cream that had never been melted and re-frozen, and many other delicious American favorites. It was a wonderful vacation. In fact, the only bad part was that we had a lot of turbulence on the long flight home, which made me feel really ill, AND I left my new favorite sweater on the plane, AND someone stole a shoe (just one) out of my suitcase. Enjoy that shoe, creepy shoe stealing person. Darn you.

Our first and only Christmas in Islamabad was also very nice, we had some people over on Christmas Eve and went to a nice brunch on Christmas day, after which I took a fabulous nap and a bubble bath. We missed our families, but it definitely helped that we had just seen everyone for Thanksgiving.

Which brings us to the New Year. I must finally be old because I’m starting to feel the years flying by and blending together. Thinking back over this year, it seems like a pretty odd one, encompassing the end of our time in Kathmandu, our first transition from Post to Post (with some Washington time in between) and the first half of our second tour. On one hand, that sounds like a respectable amount of stuff for one year. On the other hand, I have this feeling that I wasted it, somehow – I spent my last months in Nepal longing for home leave and Washington DC, and spent all my time in DC worrying about Pakistan, and only God knows what I’ve done with my six months here, other than work a lot a take one great vacation.

So what am I going to do with 2016? Go to the gym a lot, hopefully, since I’m fatter than I’ve ever been. (Side Note: I’m currently eating leftover Christmas cookies.)  Buy an amazeballs carpet to tote around the rest of my life so I can point to it and say “yeah, I got that when I lived in Pakistan, #nobiggie.” Take another fabulous vacation (I won’t spoil the surprise here but it’s gonna be a big one) and then, in approximately six months, move to Warsaw, which has been my dream posting since the beginning of this whole shindig. I keep thinking of it as a “Return to the Motherland” but I can’t really return there because I’ve never been there. Does that sound like enough? Who knows.

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Two Month Check-Up

Well, as of tomorrow we will have been in Pakistan for two months, so I decided it’s time for an update. When you think about it, if you are only going to be somewhere for a year, two months is a significant(ish) chunk of time.

Probably the most exciting thing that’s happened recently is that we moved from our temporary to permanent housing and we got our stuff. Our house is interesting – tons of big bathtubs (yay!) the tiniest of tiny kitchens (boo!) and a stage/ballroom in the basement (???) but we love it. We also love having our stuff. This was our first post-to-post move, and we got at least a few things right. Getting our own bedding and pillows was at the tippy top of the list. For me, the Keruig came next – I was smart enought to pack some k-cups with it. For Kyle I think it was his video game systems.

I thought I brought a lot of things that I didn’t actually bring. I was sure I packed the cupcake ferris wheel, but apparently I made the adult choice there and sent that to storage. While in the USA, I bought a table cloth to match a gurgle pot I bought at Piazza ( – some of my best stuff comes from here!) but apparently I didn’t pack the gurgle pot. Sad face. I also forgot to bring any of my multiple halloween costumes. I did however manage to bring four shower curtains for what turns out to be only one shower.

Anyways, enough about stuff. Let’s see. We took our first trip outside of Islamabad, to a salt mine about two hours away. It was pretty cool, and it was discovered by Alexander the Great, which I thought was really neat. It is the second biggest salt mine in the world. When I pointed out to Kyle that the biggest salt mine in the world is in Poland, and we could visit that too, he was extremely excited (not).

We also joined an Improv group! Neither Kyle nor I has a ton of Improv experience, but it was fun to meet some new people from other embassies and play some theatre games. Wow that sounds so nerdy. Let me re-phrase. It was ultimately very satisfying to flex our artistic sides again. I am not sure what the group will turn into or how long it will last or even if we will perform anything, but it will be a nice part of our life here.

There is a great yoga class at the embassy, which I’ve been trying to attend regularly. I also switched to a stand-up desk AND I LOVE IT! Everything they say is true – you feel so much better when you aren’t sitting for the majority of your day.

Anyways, not much but there is the update. Kyle wants me to mention how awesome he is: Kyle, you are awesome. Speaking of awesome, I’m about to attempt some margarita cupcakes for Labor Day. I don’t know if you remember but my first baking experience in Nepal was a total failure, so I’m hoping I can improve on that with these cupcakes and at least make something edible and presentable (the Nepal cupcake failure was bad. I ended up throwing the whole pan away because I couldn’t even scrape the cake off.)

Happy Labor Day! We miss everyone at home very much.

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Islamabad: First Impressions

Kyle and I made it to Pakistan and finally have internet access at our house! Hooray! Sound the trumpets!

First, the journey here. Due to the wonderful, darling, stupid cats, we could not fly the most direct route. So we flew from Washington DC to Frankfurt, then from Frankfurt to Istanbul, and finally from Istanbul to Islamabad. It wasn’t too bad, over all, but we had a one hour connection in Frankfurt which was a BAD idea. The airport in Frankfurt is GIGANTIC and it took us forever to get to our gate. We made it in time, but the gate was hot, stuffy and uncomfortable. Also the plane from Frankfurt to Istanbul felt REALLY small after the big, DC to Germany plane. AND one of the kittens (grr) decided to poop. Kyle took care of that. Thank you, Kyle.

There is a by-the-hour hotel in the Istanbul airport, so we managed to get some rest during our six hour layover there. The flight from Istanbul to Islamabad was quite nice and uneventful. When we got here, it was early in the morning, raining, dark and HOT. Though not as hot as it could have been thanks to the rain.

Anyways, the rest of our first day is kind of a blur, so on to some overall first impressions….I apologize that I don’t have any pictures yet.

Islamabad is beautiful! It’s a very green city with nice streets, lots of gardens and plants that are very well maintained. The air is clean – no air purifier needed. In some places, I feel like I could be driving down the road in South Florida. There are also a ton of exotic looking birds (they say you should take up bird watching when you join the Foreign Service) which the kitties really enjoy. There are also some “hills” – mountains to a southerner – to the north which are very beautiful, and remind me a lot of Kathmandu. But I know there is no chance of seeing the Himalayas behind them, even on a clear day, and that is sad. There are of course some Himalayan mountains in Pakistan, but they can’t be seen from here.

It’s already obvious to me that Pakistan has the advantage of a seaport (Karachi) we have waaaay more food available in our commissary and cafeteria than we did in landlocked Nepal. I am excited to get out to the local markets and stores, but we haven’t really had time for that yet. Expect more updates on local shopping and dining to follow!

We are in a temporary house for the moment, our real house is not quite ready. But this house is very nice and very big – I have a primary and a secondary kitchen. The only downside is the many lizards that are sharing the house with us. Most are tiny, but a couple are too large for my comfort. The cats love them though, and they’ve already killed a couple. I don’t think they mean too, they just want to play. Kyle doesn’t like it, but I’m considering putting a bounty out on the ugly brown lizard in the den.

Kyle and I are still learning the ins and outs of the diplomatic life here. The community is much larger than we were used too, so it’s been a little overwhelming at times, but I think we are finally making friends and figuring out how it all works.

I know this isn’t much of an entry, but now that we have internet I wanted to let everyone know about our first few weeks in country. More to come!

PS – My new “headline” photo is a picture of the the hills that you can see north of the city – I think my Kathmandu friends will agree that the landscape is very similar.

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Shake, Rattle and Roll – The Earth is Moving Around

That was the title of a report I wrote in fourth grade on Pangea. Or at least, it was the final title. The first title I came up with was “Pangea” and my mom told me I should be more creative than that. She suggested the shake/rattle/roll thing. Clearly, since my mom thought it was cool, it was definitely not cool, and I remember we had a big, crying fight over the title of my stupid report. But eventually I gave in and called it “Shake, Rattle and Roll – The Earth is Moving Around” and I think I got an A. Definitely a B+. And I remember thinking that perhaps being creative wasn’t so bad, and perhaps my mom was a lot cooler than I thought she was.

Oddly enough, my report on Pangea was the first thing that popped into my mind when I woke up on April 25th. I had been home from Kathmandu for ten days. I was still having dreams about being in Nepal, one in which I was making very specific plans for a dinner party with my friend Kate, and when I woke up I was thinking “better call Kate to work on the invite list”……until I slowly remembered that I was at home, and that I didn’t live in Nepal anymore. Honestly, I didn’t live anywhere. I was a visitor in my hometown. Anyways, I woke up on April 25 to a barrage of text messages, and I quickly realized that something was wrong. Way wrong.

My just ten days ago home had suffered a large earthquake while I was sleeping – something that we’d been planning for and dreading the entire time we were there. The Embassy kept us very prepared, with “Go Bags” (bags you kept at home in an easy-to-reach location filled with the essentials: passports, clothes, contact solution, cadbury eggs, you know what I mean) with “Stay Bags” at work under our desks (in case we had to stay at the embassy for a while) and tons of training: Earthquake preparedness, medical emergency response training, CPR, light search and rescue – we were ready. I remember while leaving Kathmandu thinking that one day I would be far, far away and hear about an earthquake happening – it was bound to happen eventually. It never occurred to me that it would happen so soon after I left, to all the friends and co-workers I had just said goodbye too.

I want to write something about the earthquake here but I can’t – I wasn’t there. I don’t know what happened. I was glued to the news and to Facebook and to the State Department website. It was pretty easy (thank you, Lord) to quickly determine that most of the people I knew were at least physically fine. It took a bit longer to check on some of my Nepali friends. But it seems that everyone I knew is more or less okay, and I am so thankful for that. I keep finding myself thinking about people and places that I didn’t know very well – what about the nice couple I passed on my way to work almost every morning? What about that cute little town Bandipur, right near the epicenter? I still feel some survivor’s guilt – part of me is so glad I had already departed, but part of me wishes I could have been there to help – I know everyone at the embassy worked very, very hard and had a LOT of challenges to face, and I wish I could have been there to help them in any small way. But I wasn’t. And I couldn’t. Doesn’t make a great story really, it just is what it is. I gave money to the Red Cross, and if you are interested, please consider donating to one of the many reputable donations helping Nepal recover.

It feels silly to tell you about my home leave, but for continuity’s sake, I will – It has been a lovely time. Kyle and the kitties and I made it here just fine, we got to see my tiniest brother graduate with his masters, we have eaten ALL THE THINGS. I can’t believe that it’s about to come to an end (for me, anyways – Kyle has more free time – so unfair) in less than a week I’ll be heading to DC to start my training. I love DC, and I love my job, so it’s not a bad thing. It’s just hard to believe that my first home leave is almost over. For everyone who I didn’t get to hang out with – I’m terribly sorry. You would think five weeks would be plenty of time, but between the doctor’s appointments, and family visits, and all the eating that had to be done, some things just didn’t happen, even though I would have liked them to.

Not sure if I will blog from DC or not, but I will definitely let everyone know once we arrive in Islamabad. Thanks for listening and checking up on me – it means a lot to this wanderer.

“While natural disasters capture headlines and national attention short-term, the work of recovery and rebuilding is long-term.”

Sylvia Matthews Burwell

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Goodbye, Chundevi Road

Wanderlust is a strong desire for or impulse to wander or travel and explore the world.

It’s hard to believe (despite my countdown) but my time in Nepal has almost come to an end. We have packed up our things and bought all our last minute gifts and have started saying goodbye to friends.

Also recently I turned 30, and it went exactly as expected: I am now a total hag with grey hair, a crackly voice, and tons of wrinkles. Just kidding! Actually, at the exact moment of the 30th anniversary of my birth, time and space stood still and I was transcended. I reached nirvana, and now I know all the answers AND all the questions. Okay…it was probably a little bit of both.

I have really struggled with this post. I don’t want to be gooey and emotional – “Nepal has just changed my entire outlook on life and everything about it is perfect and everyone should do exactly what I am doing!” It’s not like that. And yet, living in Kathmandu for two years has really opened up my eyes – both my normal pair and that previously little known third eye that looks inward.

I feel like my time here has had two parts – the work part, and the place part. The work is the constant. Even though I will move to other posts and other sections, the core of my job stays the same. My office at the embassy was (is) totally amaze balls. They took me from a newbie who was basically terrified of everything to someone who is actually an asset to the Department’s greater goals – a small cog in a huge wheel, for sure, but that doesn’t make me any less happy about finding a place that I fit. I have made so many friends in two years – the Foreign Service is so great. “Let’s put a bunch of nerds who like the same stuff together and make them do work to better the world! YAY!!!!”

Then there is the place – I will never forget Joanna and Sittaram picking myself, Kyle, and two frightened kitties up from the airport for the first time. It was HOT. It was dusty. It was my first true “we aren’t in Kansas anymore, Toto” experience. I’m not going to pretend that I did a wonderful job getting to know the great truth of Nepal. I didn’t climb Mt. Everest (or even get to base camp) and it turns out, Nepali food is way too spicy for this Southern Girl. But I did my best to soak up all the lessons Nepal had for me:

1. Hiking is not for you.

2. Seriously girl, just stop walking, you are falling way behind the rest of the group.

3. You actually thought you could go on a trek here? BAHAHAHAHAHA.

4. Why yes, we have leeches. And spiders as big as your face. (Take that, Australia)

5. Yak Cheese is not Cheddar

6. Yak Butter is not butter

7. The Holy Trinity – Pepto, Immodium and extra soft toilet paper

8. Our mountains make your mountains look like crap.

Okay. Seriously though. Nepal taught me that I can use a squat toilet (though I still hate it) and that I can even pee outside when there is no alternative (also not for me but the view was beautiful). It taught me that I can kill bugs when there is no one else there to do it for me, and that I can actually sleep in a hotel room full of lizards. And even if hiking isn’t my thing, I can still accomplish some fairly decent hikes in order to see the Himalayas, and it was worth it. I can also happily pay $200 and get up at 5:30am for the Mountain Flight that takes you to Everest and back. I can find where I am going and get there in a taxi even if my Nepali is non-existent and the taxi driver’s English is limited, and there is no address.

Nepal has made me a stronger person, a more understanding person. As my first post, it’s the lens through which I will view all the rest of them. Thank you, Nepal, for teaching me some very important lessons. Perhaps we will meet again some day. I look forward to hearing about your progress and successes, and celebrating them from a far.

photo 2 (4)

Pokhara 057 Pokhara 072 Dhangadhi Trip 016 Pokhara 081 Photos for Blog 4 Photos for Blog 6 Photos for Blog 3 Photos for Blog 2 Damang Photo Spider(2) Sheep Hat

Trishuli River

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Climbing and Caving – or – That Time I Cried in the Largest Cave in South Asia (and Saw Mountains!)

Kyle and I went with some of our more athletic embassy friends on a “Climbing and Caving” trip this weekend. It’s sort of funny how we ended up being a part of it, we got an email a week or so ago announcing the trip and I knew Kyle was at his computer, so I sent him a “do you want to go climbing and caving?” message, thinking he’d say “No way, Jose.” But he said yes. And I thought, oh, okay, and I emailed the CLO (basically an amazing, wonderful person whose job it is to set up trips and fun outings for the embassy folks) and said we were in. Then later I was talking to Kyle about the trip and he was like, what the hell are you talking about, and I said – you know. The Climbing and Caving thing. I asked if you wanted to go and you said yes so I signed us up. Well apparently he thought I was just asking in a general way if climbing and caving were things he would do (he had not read the trip email.) Anyways. We were signed up. It was a long weekend. We decided to stick with it.

We got up early on Saturday to take a bus to Bimalnagar. Driving outside of the valley is pretty. Here is a shot I took while we drove of the Trishuli River and some nice morning fog.

Trishuli River

Trishuli River

When we get to Bimalnagar, things look nice……

Our first stop, Bimalnagar

Our first stop, Bimalnagar

But then I realize that this is the “wall” we are climbing.

Seriously. What?

Seriously. What?

You will see that this is more commonly known as a gigantic mountain not meant for humans. Anyways. I was seriously wishing I’d brought a book because I did not see how there was any way I was gonna climb that thing. But after watching a few people (all of whom, I have to say, did a great job, including Kyle. I am fairly sure I am friends with the actual Spiderman) I gave it a shot.

I'm Climbing! I Climbed! So sporty.

I’m Climbing! I Climbed! So sporty.

In all honesty, I took the easiest route and only got about half way up. It was probably about 20 feet. In retrospect, I wish I’d tried again to get a little higher, but hey. For someone whose previous climbing experience was limited to the Rock Wall at Frankies Fun Part, I felt good.

Then we drove up another mountain to a place I’d never heard of called Bandipur. It was adorable. It was like, the Nepal section of Epcot. When we arrived it was already dark so I didn’t take any pictures (well I did but they looked awful) but we stayed at an adorable hotel, and it really felt like we’d gone back in time. And maybe it was just the climbing, but the food was AMAZING. I still wish I’d been able to eat more mashed potatoes.

The down side of the adorable inn was that, despite it’s adorable-ness, it did not have heat. Or heaters. Or comfy beds. Or double beds, which are a rarity in Nepal (most rooms come with two twins, Ricky and Lucy style) our room had FOUR twin beds, none of which could be pushed together to form one larger bed. Kyle took one for the team and let me sleep in a twin bed with him, and I was very grateful, because Kyle is the warmest human being I’ve ever met. I still slept in two pairs of pants, two pairs of socks, three t-shirts, a jacket, a sweater, a scarf, gloves and a hat. It was not the best sleep I’ve ever experienced. And there was this freakin’ rooster crowing at like, 4:30am….anyways. I was not in the best mood when I woke up at 6am, but I was rewarded with this:

Our view from the inn. THEY ARE REAL!

Our view from the inn. THEY ARE REAL!

It happened! It finally happened! I finally saw mountains for more than a few seconds! It was so beautiful. My camera doesn’t do them justice (side note – If I am going to continue in this lifestyle I should probably invest in a decent camera.) Especially early in the morning, when they were pink with the sunshine, it was just amazing.

Drinking milk tea with this view is not bad, even after you spent the night freezing on a wooden slab.

Drinking milk tea with this view is not bad, even after you spent the night freezing on a wooden slab.

Anyways, we had a lovely breakfast and then gathered outside the inn to start our “30 minute hike” to the cave.

So cute.

So cute.

First, we went the wrong way, but not too badly – just a slight back-track required. Then we got on the right path and landed on top of this hill with an even BETTER view. I was sweaty, I was kinda gross, I was still wearing two pairs of pants – but I was pretty happy.

You'll notice I am above the cloud line but the Himalayas are still much, much higher.

You’ll notice I am above the cloud line but the Himalayas are still much, much higher.

The view was amazing. We took lots of photos, and then we pressed on – and on – and on – the “30 minute hike” was definitely measured in Nepali time, which means you take whatever number they say times three. And in our case, you add another half an hour or so because the stone steps we were walking on were quite slick and slippery. I don’t think anyone actually bit it, but most of the steps were in a downward direction and things were slow going. My knees were killing me. And then we took a wrong turn and had to go back UP many steps, which, as you may know, I hate. Steep inclines are not my friend. ANYWAYS. We finally made it to the very welcoming cave entrance:

This is when I started to get nervous.

This is when I started to get nervous.

It was basically a tiny hole in the ground, which they had fenced off, for good reason. It definitely looked like a place people were not suppose to be. The main guide started explaining how we would rappel ourselves down and different knots and things, and I have to admit, I was kind of not feeling it. But I told myself I could do it. No one else seemed interested in the alternate, non-rappeling route where you entered the cave in a different spot and just walked around, and I did not want to be the one person who wimped out.

The first rappel down - maybe about 15 feet?

The first rappel down – maybe about 15 feet?

The cave was a series of three rappels down. The first one is pictured above – we went from the spot of light at the top down to the guy in the headlamp. I was nervous-talking to myself all the way down, but I did it without incident. We went down one by one and landed in fairly spacious area where we got to look at cool rock formations, some of which I tried to take pictures of but nothing really turned out.

Once most of the group was down, we moved to the second rappel, which was short, but included some weird sort of turn/jump, and then you switched ropes (ahhh) and continued down to the longest rappel, which was like, ridiculously long. 150 feet or something. Into the dark, black, horrible cave-ness.

A not that great picture of the horribleness to come.

A not that great picture of the horribleness to come.

I was even more nervous now. The first two people to go (very brave) both had a few issues, and anytime someone with a much greater level of bravery than you says “I don’t like this” – you may or may not start to be scared. Also the ledge we had to wait on for this one gave you a perfect view of the black depths into which we PAID to descend. At this point, I was straight up scared. But it was my turn and there was no going back (literally – there was no other way to get out) so I tried to get myself into the right head space. I’m JUST ABOUT TO START and I realize that this weird knot thing we are suppose to have as a back up (which also lets me know where to put my hand on the rope as I go down) is NOT on me. I repeat – this thing we were told is for our safety is NOT on me and the guide is telling me to go. I was like – no no, I need that thing. And the guy said “no this one is short you don’t need it.” !!!!!!!! Apparently one look at my face told him I did need it, and he tied it on for me. Okay. here we go.

I’m starting to descend and trying to use the same technique I used the first time, which is basically to sit back into your harness and just use your feet to guide you along the wall, your legs need to be sort of, 90 degrees to the rest of your body. But the guides are telling me that’s not right. And to put my hands on this rock to my right and move over. And I’m like….NO OMG I AM NOT TAKING MY HANDS OFF THIS ROPE YOU CRAZY IDIOTS…..and then I started to cry.

It was so lame. But I was really scared. And just about the time the Katie faucet started, I slipped. Not like, actually slipped, because hello, I was tied to the ropes, but my feet slipped and I did a full body slam into the wall of the cave. It didn’t hurt, really, but it scared me even more. I continued to cry as the guide at the next stop moved me from one rope to the other and got me ready for the longest descent. I should have paid more attention, but I was kinda freaking out at this point. He gets me all ready to go and again – they have forgotten my special safety knot thing!!! I was like, “Excuse me sir, but I need that special safety knot, it will make me feel much better to have it.” Except because I was mid-cry it came out like “Where….knot…..(sniff)……need……..wahhhhh.” The guide tried to tell me (AGAIN) that I didn’t need it, which, in retrospect, was true – the person at the bottom is watching you and if you freak out and completely stop lowering yourself down, all he has to do is pull on the bottom of the rope, and because of some science knot magic, you stop. However, if that’s the case, WHY did they teach me about this special safety knot in the beginning??!?!?!! I needed it. I was terrified.

The guide tied on the knot, and I started down, and it was horrible. I cried all the way and never opened my eyes. My friends were very nice and encouraging to me, and (obviously) I made it and lived to blog about it. But I was pretty embarrassed.

Another picture of the terrifying thing I did.

Another picture of the terrifying thing I did.

Anyways. I did it. I made it to the bottom of the cave, where Kyle was waiting for me, and was very nice about the whole thing. Other people explored the cave, but I just sort of sat there until it was time to go – I was pretty shaky at this point. But I did take this:



Please tell me you see the horrible Voldemort face sticking out of the side of the cave. And the weirdest thing is that I now have a scar on my forehead (thanks Nepal) very similar to Harry Potter, and that morning in the hotel I TOLD KYLE MY SCAR HURT. No kidding. I thought it was because I slept in a hat which covered it directly, but no. Clearly it was because I was about to encounter Voldemort in my very own Chamber of Secrets.

After escaping from He Who Shall Not Be Named, we climbed out of the cave, and then had to walk down many more slippery steps to the bus. We were suppose to leave Bimalnagar at 2pm and be home by 6pm – we were eating lunch near the bus at about 4:30pm. Everything hurt, especially my knees. But I was feeling better. I mean, yes, I cried and it was embarrassing and gross, but I also rappelled down a fucking football field. In the dark. I still wish I had held it together better but, eh. Everyone expected me to cry at some point, it’s what I do when nature confronts me (see my blog entry on the leeches.)

We didn’t get home until very late (and riding down Pokhara highway in the dark was no picnic) but Kyle played DJ for the whole bus and that was fun. All in all, it was a great weekend – I’m so glad that we went. I finally saw the mountains, in person, not from a plane, for more than a few minutes. WINNING!

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The Vacation/Wedding Blog – Finally!

It’s been a while since I’ve written, and I apologize. In my defense, I actually already wrote this entry. It was the weekend after we got back, and I was super excited to write down everything I could about the wedding, so that I would have this entry to go back to later when I started forgetting stuff.

18 pages in, I realized instead of a semi-interesting blog, I was writing a really bad short story that no one other than myself would ever want to read. So in an effort to make this more manageable, I’ve written a top ten list.

DISCLAIMER: The following top ten list contains a lot of positive adjectives and is basically me telling you how awesome my wedding/vacation was. I realize that it isn’t very fun to hear about someone else’s awesome-awesome-awesome-ness of a vacation, and I apologize. But it’s all true, so I had to write it that way. If it makes you feel any better, I ate something a few days ago that’s made me feel pretty terrible, and all food and food smells make me feel nauseous, and I look and feel gross.

DISCLAIMER TO THE DISCLAIMER: I am not pregnant. Promise. I may have a parasite though. Blech.

Katie’s Vacation/Wedding Top Ten List

(in no particular order)

  1. Food– I ate ALL THE THINGS. And it was amazing. My stomach was so happy. Tons of dairy – cheese, sour cream, yogurt, cottage cheese. I had a bagel with cream cheese almost every morning. Lobster dinners, steak dinners, all my favorite appetizers and desserts, and the best chicken sandwich EVER all eaten by me. Also, while I didn’t get enough of it, I thought all the food at my wedding was really good. I feel like not everyone can say that.
  1. Friends – Seeing (almost) all my friends in the same place at the same time and knowing that I was the reason they had all come together, it was emotional, man. I tried to hold it in but I think I got a little teary the first time I saw each of my bridesmaids. Definitely the first time I saw them all standing together in their Saris. I sort of wish I had tried to coerce my local bridesmaids (who were so incredibly helpful in the less glamorous but very important planning stages of the wedding) into staying at the hotel with us so that we would have had more time together. I am so pissed that I didn’t get more time to spend with each person, especially the ones I hadn’t seen in a long time and who had traveled a long way. Now I understand why some cultures have weddings that last weeks and weeks. I never want to get married again (you are stuck with me, Kyle) but if I did, I would want a whole month of celebrations, where I got to sit down and share a meal with each of my friends.
  1. Family – Some people think it’s silly to make a distinction between family and friends, and I get it. But there is a different between my college girlfriends and seeing my favorite aunts and uncles that I haven’t seen since, I dunno, my high school graduation or something. It’s a warmer, fuzzier, remember-y feeling of Christmases and summer vacations past. Also, there were people who were meeting Kyle for the first time, and that meant a lot to me. At one point I heard one of my brothers call Kyle “my new bro” ….cue the tears again. Don’t even get me started on the moment when Dad walked me down the aisle. There is something in my eye. I’ll be right back.
  1. DziaDzia – You thought everything on this list would start with “F” didn’t you? Sorry. I tried but my alliteration skills just aren’t good enough. Anyways. DziaDzia is the Polish word for Grampa. My DziaDzia died when I was kind of little – I was in sixth grade, so what, 11 years old? It’s been a long time. But I have to tell you – he was watching over me at this wedding. You know how I know? My uncle Kris, whom I haven’t seen in a reallllly long time, came down from Minnesota for the wedding, and at one point he asked me to dance with him. I don’t know if it was his cologne or what, but as soon as we started dancing, I smelled this smell and thought “DziaDzia!” I have a very strong smell memory. Places like the church we grew up in, my middle school, and the Buckner Theatre green room have VERY distinct smells to me, and the minute I walk back into them, or occasionally in a place that smells very similar, I will get this strong smell memory. I know it sounds a little weird and wonky, but I swear to goodness, I haven’t smelled that smell in a long time. And before you go thinking my uncle is smelly (he is not!) I had seen him and hugged him a few times before we danced, and I never got a smell memory….call it what you want, I call it a little sign from DziaDzia that he was thinking about me.
  1. I got a KitchenAid Mixer. (Sorry – things were getting sad and serious and I had to bring it back to something humorous.) Yes, I am officially an adult with a mixer that says I am serious.
  1. The Father-Daughter dance. I was really looking forward to this one. It was funny, we didn’t really talk about it before hand. Part of me wanted too, but I was so far away, it’s not like we could have practiced, and for some reason, when you are a daddy’s girl like me, it’s slightly weird to admit to your first love (your Dad, duh) that you have a second love that you love in a totally different but dare I say equally important way. Anyways, I knew we had to dance either to the Little Potato song, or to Frank Sinatra’s “I Get a Kick Out of You.” One was a little girl favorite of mine, one was a song frequently sung and danced too by dad while he was making pancakes. I figured no one else would find Little Potato as cute as I did, and it’s kind of hard to dance to a hammer dulcimer solo, so we went with Sinatra. And it was great! We didn’t plan it or anything and it happened and it was wonderful and fun and funny because my Dad is a great dancer and he loves me. Love you too Dadders.
  1. Because sometimes people get things they don’t really deserve, I had PERFECT wedding weather. Seriously. You can’t plan that shit. It either is or it isn’t, and the weather that day WAS. I wish I had had a little more time to stare at the sunset over the creek and enjoy it. But I feel like that about the whole wedding and vacation in general – I just want to stretch each moment out and double it.
  1. Day of Coordinator – This was the smartest decision I have ever made. Being someone who plans things and organizes for a living, there was a part of me that was like “I can save this money. I can handle this. I don’t need a coordinator.” Thank my lucky stars I did not listen to that voice. I looked in the mirror and went “Gurl. You need HELP.” And I did. And Jill was amazing in every aspect, and I shudder to think how it all would have happened without her. If you are interested in specific details of her amazing glory, let me know and I will point you towards the many glowing reviews I have been writing on wedding websites.
  1. Post-Rehearsal Dinner Ben and Jerry’s – In a nod to my college days, a bunch of my wonderful friends and I went to the 24 Hour Bi-lo near our hotel after the rehearsal dinner, and bought a ton of ice cream and sprinkles and wine and beer, and went back to our hotel room and sat in our pajamas and ate it and laughed. You can’t plan really good friend moments, they just happen, but I think that was one of them. It reminded me of being young and poor and going to IHOP and ordering one banana pecan pancake, and an order of cheese sticks, and an ice cream sundae, because that’s what I wanted, damnit.
  1. I got married! To my best friend! Yes, technically I already was, because Kyle and I strongly believe in the separation of church and state. But it did feel different, how could it not? It was everything it was suppose to be – stressful and crazy and waaay more expensive than I’d planned – but that half an hour listening to the amazing Reverend Sarah B. Miller and reciting our vows and looking out into the faces of our friends and families come together as one……I really don’t know how to describe it, except that it felt exactly like it should.

Leaving my list now – I feel like I’ve left a lot of parts out. There are so many more people I want to single out and thank and hug and give credit too. But I think I’m just going to have to try to do that in person, when I am home for home leave. Be prepared people – Katie and Kyle move back to America, for a limited engagement, in a mere 145 days.


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I am not an Opera Singer. And I’m okay.

Recently I was sitting in the Cafe at the American Club drinking a “Lemon Love” (frozen lemonade) and a table full of little girls was staring at me, hard. I thought it must be my forehead (long story-basically it looks like I ran into a wall or attempted to give myself a Harry Potter-esque tattoo and failed miserably). But as they were leaving their Dad said “they know you are an Opera Singer – you’re famous!” It was pretty sweet. I taught a group voice class in June which seemed successful, I know at least one little girl very eager for me to start again. I think I will – even though I don’t think I’m a very good teacher. I try.

I’ve been meaning to write a blog about singing for a while now. These last two years (ish) definitely represent the least amount of singing I’ve ever done, although I do sing for outreach trips, events at the embassy, and the national anthem – that sort of thing. The girls in my voice class obviously heard me sing a lot, and I enjoyed teaching it both  because they were so sweet and eager to learn and because it gave me a reason to sing more. Anyways, here are some conclusions I have come to over the past months:

1. I really miss my voice lessons. I’ll be honest, sometimes going to voice once a week wasn’t something I loved. Well….I always enjoyed it once I got there, and when I left I felt better, but on the way there I sometimes thought “ugh look at all the traffic, I have so much to do, I’d really rather be resting….” but I never, ever felt that way afterwards. It always felt so good to sing and learn and talk with Mr. Stoudenmire.  Reserving time in my week for something I love – for me time – I really miss that. The next time I live in a place where lessons are available, I am definitely taking them. (Probably Warsaw.)  And even as I realized that a professional career was not going to happen for me, I was still learning and improving myself and participating in shows and operas around town. Which brings me to point number two….

2. I miss shows. There is so much wonderful theater in Charleston. Yes, there were times that I took things too personally (Charleston Stage why will you never cast me) and that was childish of me. Just having the opportunity to audition for shows (ugh which I do not miss) even if I didn’t make it, someone did, and I see now that being able to have a thriving theater community means that so many other needs of your community are already met. Here in Nepal, they do have a couple of theaters, but it’s hard to get people to donate or spend money on a ticket or participate when there are much bigger community problems – terrible air pollution, poor roads, not enough jobs, hunger and poverty. Instead of seeing theater as this awesome/fun thing that talented, cool people get to do, I am seeing it as something totally different – it’s hard to describe, but I hope that one day I am back in Charleston or DC (or Warsaw or Berlin) where I get to participate and observe and support the arts. I will not take it for granted.

I sometimes think if Opera Charleston had worked out, and had done four operas a year where I could have been in the chorus, maybe small parts, I probably wouldn’t have taken this job. I liked working at the financial service center, I would have moved up eventually and made a little more money, and I would have kept taking voice lessons and gotten to sing all the time. It would have been lovely, but it just didn’t happen that way, and that’s actually a good thing because it brings me to point #3……

3. I was a snob. I didn’t know it or think I was, but I seriously was. The best thing I could have done was exactly what I did – join the foreign service and gone out into the world. This seems like a big statement, so let me try to explain. The thought starting becoming clear to me a few months ago  when I bought myself an awesome Kate Spade wallet (on sale). I hadn’t gotten a new wallet in years and it’s so fun to get mail here. Anyways, I’m opening the box and it’s so nicely packaged and wrapped, and I get to the wallet and it’s so awesome (pink cheetah print what!) and I think “this is the sort of wallet an opera singer should have.” That’s a weird thought to have, right? So I started thinking about all the things I thought I an opera singer would have – an apartment in Manhattan. Drinks at the Rainbow Room. An entire Kate Spade wardrobe. All this, of course, on top of a “job” where you get paid to sing. And I realized – guiltily – that at some point in my life I wanted all that stuff just as much as I wanted to get paid to sing, if not more. Hmmmm. I thought. I am really a snob. Or, at least I was. Without meaning to be, not that that’s a great excuse.

Now that I’ve lived in Nepal for a while, I still that getting paid to do what you love is a great goal….but for most of the world, it’s more of a far off fairy-tale dream. Many people would be happy to have a steady job that pays the most basic and necessary of bills. Most of the world wouldn’t even dream of an apartment in Manhattan and a Kate Spade wardrobe, much less think that they deserved those things. It is good that I have learned this. Seen a new perspective. Otherwise, I might be in Charleston, not fully appreciating the arts community there, and secretly resenting the fact that I didn’t have more roles, more recognition, a better apartment. What a waste that would have been. Besides, no one “kept me” from being an opera singer but me. It got down to the tough part and I folded,  I just completely broke down. I don’t have the spirit to be told “no” over and over and still be myself. I got scared to try, I started performing very poorly, and I questioned myself over and over. Nothing makes me miss that, or want to go back to that place.

I feel confident that I made the right decision – my new dream career is White House Chief of Staff, by the way – being a diplomat who sings and has a fan club of second graders is the best. Seriously. I love it. I can sing anytime, anywhere in the world, but it turns out I can only sing joyfully and truthfully if I’m not trying to make it my job. I’m not trying to advise anyone or tell anyone what the right choice for them is – I have tons of friends still fighting the fight to be a professional and I am SO PROUD of what they are doing. But the next person who asks me how I feel about “not being an opera singer” is going to get a strong eye roll. There are people here in Nepal who have never heard opera before and never will again, but the one time they did I sang it for them – that is special to me.

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Sheep Hat

Two cool things happened this week that I wanted to share. First, I used a jackhammer at my power tools training. Yes, I signed up for a power tools training. I know, I know. Who do I think I am? But they offer so much cool training here, I figured I should start signing up for some, and I’ve made it a personal goal to sign up for the stuff I would be the absolute worst at in real life. So yes, power tools made that list. But now I have sawed with some sort of scary electric saw and used a Jackhammer. In heels. 

Anyways, that was cool thing number one. Cool thing number two is even better. I got to go out with our Public Affairs officer to do some grant monitoring. We had given out some grants to an organization that helps women entrepreneurs, and needed to do some follow-up to see what they were doing. It was awesome! I met some women with what they call “micro-level” businesses who do tailoring and sewing from their homes. I also met a women who was moving her business (felt and handbags) from a micro-level to a small level, and see some of the things she was making that helped her move from micro to small – mostly shopping bags (the nice, reusable kind) and tote bags for local businesses, NGO’s, and schools. She was also trying to work on some of her own designs. 

Then I got to meet Sabita, who started her knitting business in 2010 with 8 employees. She now employs at least 125 people, sometimes as many as 300 when she has lots of orders. She knits beautiful sweaters for a major US/UK retailer, and designs other things to sell at a local level – I saw women knitting gloves and finishing some trekking pants in her shop. It was so cool to see someone who was moving from a small business to a medium business, and who was responsible for so many other people’s employment. Super inspiring! Seriously, an amazing person who has overcome a ton of obstacles. It is difficult for a women to own and operate a business in Nepal, which is one of the reasons so many organizations are focused on helping specifically women entrepreneurs.  

And then, while we were looking at some of her other products, I saw THIS:

Sheep Hat


Yes, that is a glorious sheep hat, hand knitted and designed by Sabita – who kindly agreed to take a picture with me. It even has a tail!!!! Best. Hat. Ever. If you are like me, then you have at least one friend who is super obsessed with sheep. I knew I had to have one. I asked Sabita where I could buy it on the local market, but she was willing to sell me one from her workshop. So, Sarah, if you are reading this, there is an amazingly warm sheep hat heading your way. 

SHEEP HAT!!!!!!!

My job is cool. 

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