Raj & Champa in Kathmandu


I arranged to spend three months in Kathmandu studying Nepali. Raj Shresha was my language teacher and I’ve stayed in touch with Raj and his family for years. In 1994 I brought him to Seattle for six months and arranged for him to stay rent free at my old friend Betty Jane Narver’s. I got him an under-the-table job, and he saved enough to go back to Nepal and buy a house.

I’ve always loved languages. If I were to be reborn, I would want to attend the American University in Beirut during, say, the 1960s. I’d study Arabic, and learn the script. An then I would join the foreign service and be posted in Aleppo, Syria.

But I’d need a different brain for such a life. I struggled mightily with Nepali, and got good enough to get around in a simple sort of way. I did the “learn the language” strategy of every day stopping and talking to shopkeepers, hotel clerks, and waiters. I took every chance I could to converse. My brain would hurt at the end of the day.

I fancied myself to be talented with languages when people congratulated me on my accent. But while I could hear and pronounce the sounds well, I came to see what a huge task it was. My memory is abysmal. Much of what I was learning just didn’t stick.

Then, I spent several years in the late 1990’s seriously studying Spanish, and finally realized that it wasn’t in me to speak another language well. But learning and practicing another language is one of the great endeavors, and my pleasure in travel is closely related to my struggles and rewards of using languages.