A Cautionary Tale
I’ve always wanted to go to Nepal. Ever since I can remember, I’ve wanted to see the Himalayas and explore the crooked, rickshaw-crowded streets of Katmandu. When I finally went with my (new) wife and her kids a few years back, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I’d spent some time in Korea and Thailand as an English teacher before I got married, so I was relatively confident I could handle anything that Nepal had in store for us.
I was completely wrong. Nothing could have prepared me for Katmandu. It was a different world, completely unlike anything I’d ever seen before. Barefoot children competed with mangy stray dogs for scraps of food in enormous piles of rotting garbage that spilled haphazardly into the street. Humpbacked cows wandered free and unmolested, lying down in the middle of intersections and ignoring horn-blasting drivers and the press of passerby.
Electric rickshaws sprouted clouds of thick, black smoke as they chugged past street corners where hawkers sold kukri knives and bead bracelets carved from sandalwood. Lepers, their faces ravaged by crusty, greenish-yellow scabs, crawled through the crowds on whatever was left of their limbs. Sandwiched between buildings were Hindu shrines—statues of Ganesh and Shiva decorated with bright red tikka powder and garlands of orange chendumalli.
Then there were the monkeys.
The first thing you need to know about the monkeys that live in Kathmandu is that they don’t look anything like the monkeys you see on television. The monkeys that live in Kathmandu are rhesus monkeys—ugly, tan monkeys with dark, beady eyes and vicious teeth.
The second thing you need to know is that Rhesus monkeys are violent scavengers. They hang out in packs, in plazas and on top of temples, screeching and snarling at anyone who gets too close. They will not hesitate to attack anyone foolish enough to carry food on their person. Needless to say, rhesus monkeys are dangerous—but no more so than raccoons. If my wife and I had been traveling alone, monkeys would not have made our list of top five things to worry about.
We were not traveling alone. We were traveling with my wife’s kids, both of whom were exposed to Disney movies like Tarzan and Lion King at a very young age, and were consequently raised to believe that rhesus monkeys are friendly, humorous creatures.
We did our best to keep Daniel, my stepson, and his sister, Hanna, away from the monkeys we encountered. If you’ve ever taken small children with you to Southeast Asia, you know that this is actually much more difficult than it sounds. So it wasn’t long before Daniel and I met a man who’d managed to get a leash around one of the little monsters and was offering to sell it for 500 rupees (about $6.00).
Daniel immediately asked if we could buy the terrible little creature. I tried to explain to Daniel that it would be impossible to take a half-wild Rhesus monkey home with us, but there are certain facts that ten-year-olds simply refuse to accept. When I told my stepson that they wouldn’t let us bring a monkey on the plane, he suggested that we mail it to our home address back in the states. When I told him we couldn’t mail a monkey to America, Daniel tried to convince me that we could smuggle it onto the airplane in a duffle bag.
This conversation went on for some time, mainly because the man holding the monkey’s leash kept lowering the price, insisting that the monkey was tame and that it’d make a great pet. Eventually, my wife and her daughter—who’d been exploring a jewelry shop across the street—wandered back to join us.
Before I had a chance to explain the situation to my wife, the monkey decided that it’d finally had enough. It leapt from the man’s shoulder and landed on top of Hanna’s head, where it got tangled in her hair and panicked, scratching and biting before stumbling to the ground and scampering as far away as its leash would let it get.
The whole thing was over in a split-second, before I or my wife had a chance to react. Hanna screamed and started crying, frightened but still okay. My wife scooped her up and tried to comfort her while I bellowed angry curses at the man holding the leash, who’d suddenly lost the ability to speak English.
My wife managed to calm Hanna down and the four of us piled into a nearby taxi. We told the driver to take us to CEWIC (a nearby clinic that catered to expats and tourists) so we could get Hanna a rabies shot.
There we were, dealing with a frightened, sobbing eight-year-old who’d just been attacked by a wild animal and Daniel still wouldn’t give up—he absolutely insisted on listing off more reasons we should buy that damn monkey.
According to Daniel, the monkey’s violence against his sister was not a reason to refrain from purchasing the animal. With the impeccable logic of a ten-year-old who won’t take no for an answer, he explained that the monkey’s ferocity was actually a good thing. The animal would double as both a pet and an extra source of protection, attacking any burglars who tried to break into our house.
Needless to say, my wife and I had finally run out of patience. While my wife dealt with Hanna’s rabies shot, I dragged Daniel outside and explained to him, in no uncertain terms, that if he didn’t shut up about the monkey, his mother and I would sell him to the man who’d been holding the leash.
I have to admit, it was not my proudest moment. I’m ashamed of how quickly I resorted to deceitful fear tactics, but cut me some slack—I’d only been married to his mom for six months and I was still getting the hang of the whole parenting gig (which, for the record, is absolutely nothing like teaching). In my defense, any day that includes an animal attack and a visit the doctor qualifies as an incredibly stressful day—especially when you’re in a foreign country.