Friendship on the Annapurna Circuit

Jibn says namaste.
I say namaste.
He asks me where I’m going.
I say Chame.
He says: “Good we go together, we friends. This is my sister but she stops there, from there we are two friends. Yes?”
“Yes,” I say “good idea.” My first friend on the Annapurna Circuit.
“Yes very good, we two very happy arriving. I make you dalbat, you can stay at my home, no problem.”

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Jibn it is, or Andre in case I can’t remember his real name. He is two heads shorter but climbs the mountains twice as fast. Every village we pass he makes a small talk and leaves a trail of laughs along the Annapurna circuit. He has many friends, many friends!

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After four hours we’ve talked about everything that lies within his English vocabulary, I know he is not married and he knows I’m not. “Two people not married, very happy.” I got the feeling expectations take a different route to the same house. We arrive at a small wooden house in Chame. It has two rooms. One area about five square meter is covered with pans and plastic jars with spices and lentils. In the middle is a hotplate on a wooden fire. He has way too many pans for a kitchen this small and way too many cups and plates for a man without a family. The other room is filled with blankets, carpets and mattresses, more pans and cups and two televisions of which one is covered in blankets and one that doesn’t work.

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He has four kettles. One with cold water for drinking, one with hot water for tea, one with hot water for cooking and one with home brew rice rum. That rum is called roxy and tastes amazingly good. We drink in a fast pace with three other guys from the village. Above the stove rests a dead looking chicken and the smoked head of a sheep. It doesn’t resemble a head anymore. One of the guys tells me it is hanging there for quite a while now. It is not to eat, but for what I am drinking right now. Jibn makes a medicine from smoked sheep head and mixes it with the rice rum.

In between the fire and the sheep head stands a press cooker. Every minute the steam screams to get out until the whole thing almost explodes. Steam is coming out like a locomotive. “Dalbat is ready!” Jibn cheers.

It’s time for another round of Nepalese roxy. I try to reject, but I am under more pressure than the press cooker. One guy comes closer to me and touches my hand, a sign of a growing friendship. The touchy guy makes a joke in Nepalese and the men laugh. He is kind enough to translate for me: “I say: ‘you like chili?!’ Haha you know. He like chili!?” I laugh as genuine as I can, which is good, because now we are all laughing. It must be a typical Annapurna joke.

After dinner and four more roxies, Andre kicks the guys out and prepares our bed. He puts all the blankets and mattresses on the floor. The more he puts the clearer it becomes what he’s trying to built: a love nest. I make myself ready for another adventure and an uncomfortable situation. After 8 months of travelling I have gained some knowledge how to deal with willing men.

“It’s very warm in the small bed.” He assures me and puts his arm around my waist. I agree: a bit too warm, I tell him. He turns out to be an assiduous warm water bottle. I’m getting increasingly uncomfortable and tell him to stop.

“No English.” He lies.
I sigh. “Problem, sir?” Why does he keep calling me sir? I thought we would have left the formalities by now.
I say: “No problem, just very uncomfortable.”

“My friends always like this.”
“I don’t like men in that way.”
“I also no sex with men. Is normal in Nepal. Two men really happy.” He says with an innocent face.

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After five minutes with his hand on my belly and his heavy breathing in my ear, I decide it is enough. It is a bit too late to go through the icy snow in the a dark village I don’t know. So once again, less politely, I make clear he should really stop touching me. He turns his back to me like an annoyed woman from a snoring commercial. The roxy makes me fall asleep pretty easily.

We are woken by a woman yelling at the door. Andre orders me directly to go on the pile of other mattresses. It is apparently a bit frowned upon when a random man sleeps on the same square meter as a man twice his age.

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