Like many, I have not felt great about American politics for awhile.
The Trump administration is a drunken elephant in an art museum. Congress is a monkey throwing poop at a battered women’s shelter. The Senate is a turkey that got hit by a car days ago and, horrifically, hasn’t yet died. It’s the world’s worst menagerie.
Living inside it has been exhausting. Working alongside it has been crazy-making. Back in October, I interviewed a few dozen people for a story about Trump fatigue, a phenomenon that, at the time, felt like it was cresting. I asked friends, family members, strangers on social media, regular strangers when they last spent an entire day without thinking about Donald Trump at all, and when they expected to have a day like that again. Most people were pretty sure it would all be over in a few months. It was a quixotic time.
Seven months later, America’s current political awfulness was impossible to escape, at least stateside. Every day was a wall-to-wall gawk at Trump, rivaled only recently by wall-to-wall gawk at the people whorishly trying to curry Trump’s favor. Both targets of the outrage seemed to wall-to-wall not give a shit.
As the Trump Train kept grabbing headlines with no sign of slowing down, I found myself wondering how far a person would have to get from the Beltway in order to completely free themselves of the madness that has seized this country. To stick their head in the sand, if only for a sanity-reclaiming moment. A Trumpspringa, if you will.
Costa Rica? Nah, they speak Spanish; the President probably thinks they’re Mexican. Morocco? Nah, Muslims. Antarctica? Nah, global warming.
But maybe there was some place, some place isolated from all the echoing sound-and-fury apoplexy Trump and his cabal of clowns incite daily. It’d have to be a place with, at best, semi-reliable internet and a low international profile. The Trump-saturation refugee—our test subject—would have to be there alone. They’d have to be completely unfamiliar with the language, so even if the locals were talking about the T-word, our subject would be oblivious. It’d have to be the sort of place President Donald Trump couldn’t likely find on an unlabeled map.
For a person like me, it’d have to be a place like Nepal.
When I booked a trip to Nepal over a year ago, I had no idea that Donald Trump would become the next President. But after November 9, everything changed. The date I was to fly halfway around the world for a five-week stint alone in a landlocked country of mountains and momos stood shining with promise in my calendar.
April 10, I’d think. That’s the day I get to jump off this ride for awhile. That’s the day I stop feeling both angry and bored, always, at once. The real estate occupied by Donald Trump in my brain would be vacated like the White House on a golf weekend, filled with new smells and sounds and people. I would be free, briefly. What would I think about? Would my brain unfurl like a sprouting seed? What space I’ll have to be a person again!
So: Is it possible to run to the ends of the earth, away from Trump fatigue?
The short answer is: No.
The long answer is: Kiiiiiiiiiiiiiiinda.
My time here hasn’t been totally Trump free. In fact, I only had about 10 minutes before somebody brought him up.
It was my cab driver, the first Nepali to spend any time alone with me at all, who immediately spoiled my Trumpspringa. As I hopped in his backseat, he asked me where I was from. I told him I was from the U.S. He made a sound a person might make while trying to lift a heavy object after major surgery—Urghhhh—as he darted in and out of traffic that seemed to follow no rules at all, or even lanes. I thought he’d hit something or busted an abdominal staple.
“Urghhh,” he said again, in case I didn’t hear it the first time. “TRUMP!”
He steered the cab around a cow that was standing placidly in the middle of the road, then braked suddenly, throwing his arm over the back of the seat to his left as though he was planning on backing up to have a word with the cow. Instead, he screwed his neck around and looked directly at me.
“Why did you vote for that man?”
I wasn’t sure how to answer.
Two days later, I was minding my own business, enjoying the memory of the pastry I’d just eaten at a cafe that had become my favorite when my Trumplessness was again interrupted. In a dusty street-facing stall that sells high powered speakers and cheap cell phone cases in Jyatha, Kathmandu, I ran into Dilli Ram Kander, the administrator of the biggest Donald Trump fan page in Nepal. I am aware that it’s the biggest fan page in Nepal because it’s one of the first things the 33-year-old told me about himself. The page has 97 fans.
Once Kander found out I was American, all he wanted to talk about was President Trump. He sidled up next to me, smiling and maintaining animated eye contact until I looked away. He told me he started his fan page eight months before the election, because he says he knew that Trump would win, he was sure of it. Unlike the American media, he knew.
He didn’t care about any of the President’s missteps thus far. He has faith everything will turn out great.
“Trump will restore the world,” he said, his eyes dancing with excitement.
To what? I asked.
From there, the floodgates opened. As I wandered past earthquake-ravaged temples in Patan, a man asked me if I needed a guide. I told him no thank you. He then asked why I helped elect President Donald Trump. I don’t know what to tell you, I said.
The next day, two security guards at the entrance to Kathmandu’s Durbar Square wondered the same thing. An Argentine backpacker at the Gaia Cafe, down the street from my hotel had questions. Same with the woman at the pharmacy, where I bought what felt like should have been an illegal amount of pre-emptive trek antibiotics. They were all thirsty for answers about what happened, and why I didn’t stop it. Why any American didn’t. Early on, it seemed my experiment would be a failure.
But the further from Kathmandu I got, the less people seemed to care, or even think about Donald Trump at all. Not a single Nepali I met on the trek to Everest Base Camp brought him up. I didn’t even hear his name, until one of our guides turned a teahouse television to CNN on the way back down. When we were in a place where the WiFi kind of worked after days of being mostly cut off, my Twitter feed was an anthill of Trump opinions, thoughts about events that had been occurring without my knowledge.
While Trump was flopping around the deck of American democracy like a snared catfish, I’d been eating fried noodles, shivering outside of the common bathroom at 3 am for the chance to urinate into a porcelain hole, forcing my entire trekking group to listen to Stop Making Sense over and over, because I was the only one with Spotify. I’d been dutifully hanging my socks on the hooks provided in the bare-bones lodging where we slept, I’ve worn the same disgusting Nike bra every single day. I’ve discovered new types of muscle pain I didn’t know could exist. I hadn’t been thinking about Donald Trump at all. I’d just been carrying on with my life as it exists out here. Not knowing or knowing hadn’t made a lick of difference.
At that moment I knew I’d been living in a state of unparallelled luxury.
The swing through Annapurna that followed the Khumbu walk had been similarly bereft of Trump, but now, something’s changed. Everest was crowded; this place is a ghost town. One night, I lie awake in bed listening to chunks of ice hit the roof of my room. We were the only ones staying at the lodge.
I began to feel jittery. I even tried bringing Trump up to my guide, hoping he’d chime in with some Trump opinions of his own. My guide had never seen Star Wars or eaten at McDonalds. He doesn’t concern himself much with what’s going on outside of Nepal. I could tell he was only feigning interest. It was very polite of him.
In the rooms in my brain where Trump once lived, there was no sudden renaissance. I was not writing symphonies, making discoveries, working through my own psychic knots. In the empty space where Trump once lived, there are only small sprouts of what could end up being interesting thoughts. Substitute inanity, at best. Thoughts like:
Why are the pigeons the same here?
Imagine the string section histrionics if Aaron Copland had ever seen the Annapurna in person.
Are my hands freakishly tan, or am I just filthy?
Is this the most beautiful place I’ve ever pissed? Every day it seems I piss in a more beautiful location. Isn’t that something?
I understand why Jack went crazy in The Shining, although I believe he’s a pussy for going crazy in a place based on Estes Park, Colorado. The real shit’s here in the Himalayas. What is Estes Park, 8,000 feet up? Sweetheart, I’ve been 12,000+ feet up for two goddamn weeks, and I’m not crazy. Even though I do find myself speaking aloud to myself in my tiny room, once I get there around midday every day. It’s because it’s lonely out here. Solitude and loneliness bleed into each other. Who wouldn’t talk to themselves when they got lonely? I wonder if anybody can hear me through the walls. I wonder if the women from Taiwan in Khangsar, the high-voiced giggly one that turned out to have a rumbling baritone snore, could hear me. I wonder if the Israeli backpackers in Manang, the ones who were meowing late into the night and laughing hysterically at themselves, could hear me. I hope they could hear me when I woke up at 5 am and passive-aggressively started slamming my trekking gear around as loudly as I could, as punishment for the meowing. I wanted to roundhouse kick a hole in the plywood wall to shut them up, but I’d never do that, because I’m a kind-hearted individual. I’d never hurt anybody. Especially all this way up in the mountains, so far from where anybody would ever find me, or even suspect I’d done anything at all. Anyway, I get it. All work, no play, etc.
I kept a journal, but the journal is heavily weighted toward me comparing the ways various tea houses prepare fried macaroni and yak cheese. I found myself craving the shot of adrenaline I used to get when I’d read the newest batty story about Donald Trump, when I’d be a ready participant in the rounds of social media mocking that would ensue. In Muktinath, I saw Anderson Cooper on a television through the window of a lodge where I wasn’t staying. I stopped and watched, though I couldn’t hear anything. It just felt good to see that Anderson was still concerned.
Has the part of my brain that was devoted to thinking about Donald Trump become so customized to him by now that it’s my mind’s gold toilet? Something only he can use? Do I need him in order to function? God help me.
After Trump fired acting FBI director James Comey, I stopped enjoying my time away from the news and started feeling about the U.S. how a person might feel when they know they’ve ignored an unpaid bill, or if they’d left the garage door open, or if they’d forgotten their credit card at a bar.
Sitting alone in the second-floor dining room of a guest house in Jomsom—for me, the end of the Annapurna Circuit trail—I sighed with impatience as the slow WiFi connection made it impossible to load a story about the clusterfuck at the FBI. In the courtyard, the innkeeper was chattering loudly with her friends. The fattest cat I’d ever seen in this country prowled the periphery. The omnipresent straight-line southbound wind whipped prayer flags hanging from the balcony above them. It was a beautiful and peaceful moment.
All I could think about was whether or not the women had any idea how crazy things had gotten in the U.S. Did they even care about Donald Trump?
The next day, I flew to Pokhara, the second bigly-est city in Nepal. When I planned that portion of the trip, I imagined aimlessly strolling along the lakeside, coming up with cool jokes about things that aren’t politics, taking interesting photographs of unfamiliar birds. But by then, I was practically jonesing for a copy of an American newspaper, an English language news broadcast. A conversational partner who could really get into it about the FBI, about James Comey, about Russia. But the place was teeming with westerners toting trekking poles with the same casual desire to be noticed as 23-year-old girls who work in PR and tote their first Marc Jacobs bags to brunch, and my hotel’s TV only got channels that played cricket and Bollywood. I left the resort town a day early, too wound up with the knowledge that America was resembling the People’s Republic of Trumpistan more than ever to relax.
I’m ready for my Trumpspringa to be over. Whatever chaos the president wrought during my time here will still be chaos whether I’m back at home or somewhere far away, trying to pretend, briefly, that it’s not happening. I was lucky to be here, alone in my head for a few days. I wish I could turn the news on and off in my brain like a sitcom that’s been bad for several seasons, but that I hatewatch anyway. But now, I want back in.
Besides, it feels like we’re about to arrive at the season finale. I wouldn’t want to miss that.