Thursday, March 3, 2011

Nepal in Numbers

In my post yesterday about festivals, I alluded to Nepal's different calendar. Well, I held back on you, because not only does Nepal have a different calendar, but it also uses non-Roman numerals, making for quite a doozy of an exercise if you ever find yourself looking at a Nepali date.

I should back up to a conversation I had with a friend last week. I was helping this young Nepali woman fill out a job application online, and when we reached the birth date part, she paused. And she continued to pause. She appeared to be thinking hard.

Now I understand forgetting birthdays once in a while. Brian and one of our closest friends were born just two days apart, and I have to admit that I have, once or twice, written her birthday down instead of his (sorry, Brian!) before correcting my mistake.

But forgetting your own birthday is an entirely different matter, at least when the person in question is young and presumably still with full faculties.

Not wanting to be intrusive (maybe she was adopted?!) but also not wanting to spend ten minutes on a basic biographic question, I ventured, "Um, is there a problem?"

My friend replied that she was trying to remember her birthday in the Gregorian calendar system. She was pretty sure that it was December 16, but we had to use an online date converter to double check.

It turns out that Nepal uses a solar calendar called Bikram Samwat, or B.S. for short (hold the snickers). The B.S. calendar is 56.7 years ahead of the Gregorian calendar. A year begins on approximately April 14, and there are 12 months, but the months have different lengths than ours (some 29 days, some 31, some 32).

Well, that makes things a bit complicated, but at least someone created a handy online conversion tool.

But wait; there is more. A couple days later I found myself staring at Kiva borrowers' passbooks and unable to make heads nor tails of the text. I of course already knew that Nepal had its own non-Roman numeral system, but I had never found myself needing to translate the numbers before. I more or less had already learned the numbers, but given that I was trying to read someone's handwriting, and the year for the date appeared to be 2067, and the month, well, the month I just had no idea about -- my head may as well have exploded right then and there.

So much for the technical assistance that I am supposed to be providing.

In the end, I learned, it is better to save the head explosion and just ask the loan officer to translate for you.

So you can have some sympathy for me, I thought I would share the Nepali calendar for the current month. Have fun figuring it out.

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