Monthly Archives: September 2013

Base camp bound

Tomorrow I begin my next journey! Trekking the Himalayas. I am SO excited and a little bit nervous. Mostly I just can’t wait! I will be hiking to Annapurna Base Camp with 4 other girls who have been volunteering with the same program. If all goes well, we tack on a detour at the end and return in 10 days. If our legs and/or souls are just feeling completely destroyed by day 7 we will head home. Either way, will be an experience!

I officially moved out of the village on Friday afternoon and have spent the last few days in Pokhara. It was bittersweet to leave my home in Sarangkot. Definitely feelings of relief mixed with a sense of accomplishment but also a sadness to leave the kind people I called Mom and Dad for the last month. I learned a lot about myself and a lot about the people around me during my time in the village. I do think I became a stronger person, with a little bit more faith in myself! Have you guys noticed I haven’t cried in WEEKS? I mean, I must be doing something right. Oh and by the way (in case you’ve been dyyyying to know)- I settled on giving Baba a real authentic patriots hat for his thank you present. As previously discussed, the man has a lot, but he does not have a patriots hat… until now! The good news is that I will be returning to the village for a few days after my trek to celebrate Dasain, or the biggest Nepali festival of the year. It spans over about two weeks in the middle of October and culminates with goat sacrifices nationwide. Apparently, the country eats goat for this entire month- even the vegetarians! As of now, I have no plans to order any meat. Will you keep you posted on the festival events.

Story for you- Just a couple days before I left, Auma got me a going away present. I woke up as usual and was in the midst of completing my typical morning routine when Auma came home very excited and eager to show me something. She starts shouting “China mousa! China mousa!” and beckoning for me to come over. For those of you who aren’t yet fluent in Nepali, that means “No mouse!”. Hmm I am wondering where this is going as I cut my teeth brushing short and follow her across the terrace. We look over the balcony, where she is pointing at something excitedly. Okay, now I see a mouse curled up in the fetal position being the big spoon to much larger rock. Auma is so proud of herself. My jaw drops and all I can say is “Oh.My.God”. I’m trying to figure out if this thing is alive or not, so Auma throws a stick at it. The mouse responds with a delayed twitch, confirming its status as nearly died. Now, I’m feeling really sad for this mouse. Auma explains through unofficial international sign language that she caught the mouse scurrying across the terrace railing. Being as strong and quick as she is, she then proceeded to successfully launch a small boulder at the mouse. I imagine she has had practice. Anyway, now the mouse is laying here unwillingly cuddling with the murder weapon. All that’s left is for someone to finish the mouse off. I would have considered doing it out of pity but I am pretty sure the mouse was being presented to me for the opportunity of revenge. Needless to say, I couldn’t do the job. This left Auma thoroughly confused. Why did this weird white girl cry about the mice in her bedroom and now she’s crying because she her dreams have come true? I was left thinking to myself- it’s amazing how things come full circle. Life lesson #3650.

Anyways, it’s been a relaxing weekend in Pokhara. Full of hot showers, unlimited wifi, and western food. Happy Melissa. There are soo many tourists in Pokhara right now though its unbelievable. It’s weird to not be in the overwhelming minority (village white person population: 1) anymore. But it’s also fun to have lots of people around with whom I can communicate and it’s great to get to know other travelers. So, if you are lucky tomorrow I will begin a 10 day trek. Meaning it will be at least 11 days until the next post, enjoy. See you soon!

Why Nepalis are better than me, a top ten list

As promised, I will follow up my last post with an opposing look at my recent life lessons. For all that Nepal has made me appreciate about my own home, there are an equal number of things that they do significantly better. Hopeful that I can continue to bring these practices into my own life. Also hopeful that you’ve got nothing to do today, because this is a really really long post. I have always had a tendency to be long winded and I just really went for it on this post. Sorry.  So you should definitely take a seat, and maybe be entertained by my thoughts for a few!

1. Simplicity
Life is simple here, it really really is. In having so little, the Nepalis manage to have so much. I have wracked my brain trying to come up with a gift more my host father this week. When we arrived we were told by the program coordinators it would be a nice gesture to buy them something they might need at the end of your stay. Well, I have decided my Baba is the man who has everything. Yet, he has never touched a computer let alone owned one. Nor does he have a sports jersey supporting his favorite team, or a refrigerator to keep his beer cold, or a working television. Or even a mirror! His clothes are old and tattered. His flip flops are worn and breaking. I wanted to buy him a “topee” (nepalese hat) but when I realized he had 2 I knew he would laugh and probably tell me he would never wear it. As far as he knows, his clothes are perfect. In fact, I saw him sorting them the other day with ones he wanted to get rid of (I think he was frusturated he had too many). There is something to be said about people who own less clothes than I brought in my backpack and have no desire for more. I can’t help but think of my overly cluttered bedroom, with clothes i never wear and knick-knacks I don’t need. Such a life of excess. I showed some of the girls at my work a recent “People” magazine today. Jessica Simpson and a near nude Miley Cyrus graced the cover, none of the girls having any idea who either was. I am envious of this ignorance. People in the village walk around barefoot, in their tattered clothes, smiling, sharing cups of tea, living so simply and yet so happily. I can’t help but think, if we all simplified our lives a little bit, we might be better off.

2. Food
Compared to what I eat here, I feel embarrassed about the foods I ate at home. So much take out, frozen entrees, greasy fried anything, and overly processed crap that probably came from China. In Nepal, my meals consist of rice and vegetables. I realize I have complained about this, yes. But it is the root of the food itself that I am appreciating here. My meals are pulled from the garden minutes before they are cooked for me to eat. Every single one them. It blows my mind! Like I said previously, we don’t have a fridge so there is no storing food or freezing a prepackaged pizza. We also eat what is cooked (which can be quite a challenge for me sometimes!). Auma tries to prepare only enough for what we will need at that particular meal, if there is too much we stay until it is eaten. Leftovers are not a thing. She has a small rack of spices, sugar, and salt. The rice is harvested from nearby fields and the vegetables are growing in the front yard. Although I’ll admit I crave certain foods from home (burgers, a cheesy egg omelet, a sandwich), I cant honestly say I have not opened a packaged food since I’ve been in Nepal. And really I don’t think I’ve missed it too much. No packages of crackers, bag of chips, or box of cookies. Those things are just not eaten here in the village. In the future, I will try to be more conscious of what I eat and where it came from.

3. Sense of community
Nepalis love their neighbors! I wish I had the connection with my neighbors that they do. I don’t think I even knew my next door neighbors name (but I did know he was divorced and had weekend visitation rights!). I am ashamed about that. I know his gossip and not his name. I imagine the lady on the other side of me is old, because I see oxygen get dropped of and home health nurses stop in. It would be kind if I stopped by to offer some help now and again. Granted, I grew up surrounded by fantastic neighbors that I have remained close with, but neighbors are something I will appreciate more. In Nepal, if you are sick in the hospital your neighbors come to bring you food and take care of you. I can’t imagine what visiting hours looks like from what has been described to me. Your neighbors are almost more important than your extended family. Actually, they almost are a family. If you can’t pay your hospital bill at check out, your neighbors pitch in until it is filled. Imagine? If there is a project going on at the neighbors house, you forget your daily tasks and work until their job is complete. When you die, your neighbors arrange you a proper funeral and help with cost. I imagine that neighbors are synonymous with “best friends” as the people that live around you are probably going to be who you spend the most time with when you don’t have a car or phone or enough money for a plane ride. My best friends live all over the country and I don’t seem them regularly. When I get my next house, I will make an effort to know my neighbors.

4. Cost
Everything is cheap in Nepal! It all feels so reasonable. And if you don’t think so, feel free to say so and the shopkeeper will do his best to match your requested price. Last week, I went paragliding for $50. At Jackson Hole Resort in Wyoming, it will cost you a steep $350. That doesn’t even make sense. So much money all the time for everything in America. Hey Patagonia- I don’t want to pay $150 for that jacket, so how about I buy two jackets and we’ll make it a deal for $200. Haggling can be a headache, but it’s well worth a couple minutes of pain for a good price. There is so much overcharging and hidden fees and inflation crap in America it is ridiculous. Nothing costs what it actually costs anymore. The health clinic here in the village is free. Free checkups, free pharmacy, free pediatrician, free dentist, free everything. People can actually pay for college here too. You don’t have to sign your first child away and maybe even your soul to get a degree. Just saying. Life is cheap, and good.

5. Appreciation of culture

Nepal has such a beautiful, rich culture based from the Hindu religion. There are many daily rituals and cherished festivals. Nepali people love their culture and completely embrace all of it’s history. When was the last time you REALLY celebrated Presidents’ Day? Or labor day? Huh? I mean, don’t ask me how to celebrate.. but we have the day off of school for pete’s sake so I suppose we should do something. Just kidding, that’s a bit of an extreme example. But I’m just saying I/we could get to know our own culture a little bit better. The United States has a unique and diverse culture, that changes somewhat drastically from region to region. Anyways, I think I should try to appreciate my own culture a little bit more. As eclectic as our culture may be, it’s still pretty cool and I want to learn more about it. Nepali people have so many fantastic traditions and I want some of my own dang traditions. I will learn to love American history and celebrate my culture. Yay Thanksgiving!!

6. Actions speak louder than words
I grew being told this, but don’t feel like I really understood it until now. In a place where I can’t understand the words, the actions are all I have. Nepalis smile all the time. It makes me smile and feel happy. I can’t even talk to these people but they make me feel happy! I need to smile at people more when I go home. I am so wrapped up in my own head all the time that I don’t acknowledge anyone around me. Now, I know how it feels to be acknowledged and I will try to spread that happiness around a little bit better. Laughing also, it is amazing how much fun you can have with someone just by laughing. Baba speaks only a few words of english, but he laughs ALL the time. It is better than english. He laughs at me, he laughs at himself, and he laughs at absolutely nothing. I can’t help but start laughing and then neither of us can stop. I am having so much fun and I don’t even know why.  My family and boyfriend have scolded me on separate occasions for laughing “too much” in a movie theater. I used to feel embarrassed but now I have no shame. Sorry guys. Laughing is great, everyone should do it more often! As I’ve said before, I have recently experienced the magic of a cup of tea and I am hooked. I’ve never ever been a tea drinker and probably wouldn’t believe you if you said I someday would be. But on my hardest moments in Nepal, Auma handed over a cup of tea and suddenly I could breathe again. I’ve never felt so comforted by such a simple action. Maybe I’m the last to the party on this one, but I’m telling you people- TEA! And here’s the key, with lots of sugar!! It will stop your tears or someone else’s and warm your soul from the inside out. Some of my favorite moments this month have been sitting on the porch with Auma, sharing the silence with only smiles and sweet tea.

7. Environment
What a beautiful place I am in. But what an equally beautiful place I live in at home! Utah is one of the most breathtaking states in the US. Even in New England we have SO much beauty all around us! I am guilty of neglecting my surroundings. In the village, people live off the land and love it. The city (just a 45 minute trip away) provides so much more economically and beyond (running water, the potential for a refrigerator, a stove, etc). Yet, these people don’t have any interest. Auma and Baba hate the city. They do all they can to avoid it. It’s dirty, loud, busy, and ugly. They love the village- the serenity, the beauty, and the pace. I have so much of this all around me at home, there is no reason I should spending my saturday sitting on the couch. I do try to get out and enjoy it, but it wouldn’t hurt to appreciate it a little more. I have had much time to explore these past few weeks and my day almost feels incomplete without a hike after work. Often, I have no destination in mind (“m’am, where are you going??” “Just..walking” … thoroughly confusing to nepali villagers) but it makes no matter. Sharing the fresh air with the trees, sky, hills, and birds is so beautifully soul cleansing.  I can actually hear myself think, or sometimes I don’t even think at all, and it is so calming. I will seek out the beautiful places in my backyard more often, where I am, even if it’s just to wander. What do they say, “life is a journey.. not a destination” right? And its true, even in the smallest sense. Just journey out your front door today, to the nearest green space- breathe in, deep, and enjoy!

8. Hard work

The home I live in was made and is kept with the blood, sweat, and tears of its owners. Okay, maybe just the sweat, but it sounded good? There is no paying someone to fix your roof. clean your floors, tend to your gardens, or build your… anything. Baba is 60 years old and still wakes with the sun every.single.day. Every single day, he goes out to the fields to cut the grass to feed his animals or harvest the rice to feed his family. He returns mid afternoon with bushels twice the size of his body bursting behind his back. I have never seen such a little man carry such a big load. He makes another trip. And then it’s time to milk the buffaloes and make a trek to who knows where to sell his produce. He eats and then he sleeps, often fully clothed with the lights still on. This is a hard working man. I don’t imagine he will stop until he physically can’t do it. It is the same story across every village household. In the meantime, Auma has tended to all the animals, pulling out the dirty hay (soiled with many forms of excrement from nine non-potty-trained animals) and replacing it with fresh grass. She has cooked them breakfast (they eat dal baht too!) and lugged several gallons of fresh water up the hill for them to drink. You wouldn’t believe how much food is required by a buffalo. Then she tends the garden, fixes up the house, and also goes to the field. The bushels she carries are three times her size. Wow! My life is not hard. Sometimes, I whine that it is. These people are not afforded a sick day. They do not get to go their lake house for the weekend or take a road trip to the beach. They can’t complain to management that their load is too tough and the expectations unfair. If they don’t work, they don’t eat. My life is not hard. I will try to remember this, next time I am sitting in the staff room eating cookies and complaining about how crap my day is. I will remember a sweaty, tired, aging baba; still smiling though holding his aching back bones, on his way out to the fields on a Sunday. I will get up from my plush chair and work a little bit hard, relishing in the fact that tomorrow is a day off.
9. Ingenuity
Okay, whew, this writing thing is hard. So I may have to give these last two a little less love than number 1-8 or may fingers might fall off and my head pop. But as you know from my multitude of remarks about the struggles of village life, there are many many modern marvels that are lacking in this neck of the woods. The result, is a keen sense of ingenuity that would impress the likes of Albert Einstein and Thomas Edison. If they were alive, that is. Everything is used, re-used, recycled, and refurbished around here. I wish I had been born with a creative bone in my bottom and maybe my remote-nepal-village survival skills would be a little sharper. Maybe in the next life. For now, I will look on in awe at medical tape tubes that become water pipes and short lengths of rope turned backpacks capable of carrying a fifty pound load. And next time something breaks at home, I will try to think a little bit harder about fixing it myself or finding it a new purpose before I run to the store or toss it in the trash.
10. Self Reliance
Okay, now I’m seeing stars. I will finish this post, I will finish this post. So I’m sure you can imagine where the art of self reliance comes in handy in my remote nepali village life. From a young age up here in the hills, the villagers figure out they’ve got themselves and themselves to count on when the going gets tough. Hell, I’ve figured it out and I’ve been here a month. People are brave up here and they’ve got it figured out that they count on themselves. My four year old neighbor walks two miles home from school by himself. The last half mile down a steep stone path (refer to post #2 for further insight on this path) and through the frequently leech infested rice paddies that I once cried about (also- post #2). He is usually singing or laughing when he gets home. I’m officially embarrassed about that. Auma swats scurrying mice off her face in the middle of night. She’s not scared or panicked, just irritated. Baba spends the day in the sweltering heat of the sun by himself. If something goes wrong, I suppose he could yell.. loudly. There’s no hospitals, police officers, or shops of any kind around when you’ve got an issue. Few people have cars. My point is, if you’ve got yourself a problem it’s on you to figure out how to fix it. These people live in conditions far more difficult than any of ours, and they just have to make it work. Some times things are really hard, and they work it out and survive. So can I and so can we all. Sometimes its good to remind yourself how strong you really are and that when it comes down to it you have to be the person you trust most in the world. I was scared, challenged, upset, and worried during the past month. I had no friends and not even a fellow english speaker around. But I made it through, with a smile on my face. It was a good lesson in my own strength. Sometimes, you can find a lot of comfort in discomfort.
Queue the band and fireworks. I made it through, and if you are reading this, so did you! You are a good person for sitting through my stream of consciousness and reading my sometimes incongruent thoughts. Sometimes it doesn’t even all make sense to me, so if I’ve managed to get any points across I’ll consider it a success. Even when living my home life, my mind is up and down and left and right. You can’t imagine what traveling Asia on my own has done to it! But, it has been both fun and therapeutic becoming a “blogger”. So I will continue trying to narrate my experiences, maybe letting you see a little bit of life through my greenish brown eyes. Thanks for reading!

Learning to appreciate what I have, the Nepali version

I have been in Nepal for 3 weeks now, not very long by any standard. Some days it feels like I got here yesterday and other times I could swear I’ve been here for a year. One way in which it feels like eternity is in the lessons I have learned about the way I live my life. Things I will no longer take for granted, after experiences in Nepal-

1. My home
Any home, I have had or will have. In the United States I know that no matter the size or location of my home, it will be a good home. The floors will not be made of dirt. The bathroom will not be a  hole in the ground, located out the door, down the steps, and around the corner. My walls will not be made of mud, with scarves and blankets serving as sufficient patchwork for the areas that have given away. My roof will be insulated, and not a thin sheet of metal who’s strength is not always a match against regular weather forces. Spiders, rats, mice, muskrats, flies, and lizards will not be able to come and go as they please, treating my house as their own. My walls and my roof will be built in a way that keeps the outside, outside. In the United States, we worry so much about the size of our home, the style of couches, the chicness of the decorations, and they currentness of our technology. I have come to find that a good home does not require many, or any, of these things.

2. Language
Oh my! The day I can walk down the street or into a shop or anywhere, and understand what the heck the people around me are saying, will be joyous. I take for granted that I speak the most universally spoken language in the world, and man do I realize how fantastic that is now. I sit at my health post and can only discern what is wrong with any of the patients based on actions. Is it a cold or is constipation? Sure would be nice if I could understand them. On the street, villagers stop to make conversation and no matter how hard I try to listen I almost always end up nodding my head in hopeful agreement or expressing my regretful lack of understanding. How nice it would be to chat with a passerby! At my home, Auma and Baba have heartfelt and humorous conversations over dinner, what I wouldn’t give to participate! From experience, I know these are two kind and caring people but I know if I could understand their words I would appreciate their personalities so much more! And everywhere, people talk about me. I’m sure they say nice words and they say not so nice words. But I don’t know who says what. Friends come to visit the house, I hear “america” and I know they are talking about me but that is all I know. Patients at the health post ask the workers about “volunteer”. People in shops and on the road stare or point and speak about anyone foreign. I will be a better listener when I come home and I will be more patient with those who don’t speak my language.

3. Toilet Paper
Such a simple, but necessary luxury! It does not exist in this country. It is BYOT nationwide, and bring your way to dispose of it while you’re at it. Nepalis use water to clean themselves. It’s not like I can ask for a demonstration so I don’t really know how it works. But my appreciation for toilet paper as never been so great until now. Many Nepalis literally don’t know even what toilet paper is. To think, I will someday be back in a place where toilet paper not only exists, but is available everywhere. What a commodity!  

4. Electricity
The entire country looses electricity multiple times a day without warning. It just happens and its just part of life. Sometimes, while you are cooking- the kitchen becomes dark. Other times, when you are reading a book before bed it becomes no longer an option. My cell phone is dead and I have no electricity to charge it, the inconvenience! I have learned to have my head lamp within reach as soon as the sun goes down. A necessary part of life in Nepal. At home, I will stop cursing the electric company next time I lose power or internet or television for whatever reason.

5. Water
Nepal is a country where the water you drink can potentially do you more harm than good. As a foreigner, I have no choice but to avoid the tap water. But even Nepalis have become accustomed to boiling their water, the consequences of not boiling have become to unpleasant. I walk 30 minutes uphill every time I want some water. If I didn’t buy enough and run out in the evening, I have to wait until tomorrow afternoon after my day at the health post to get more. I literally have to ration my water on a daily basis. There is no faucet in my kitchen or water bubbler at my work. In the future, I will be less wasteful of the seemingly endless supply I have available to me.

6. Cleanliness
I have had to accept a new type of clean for my hygiene standards. I shower in a public faucet, while wearing a dress- you can only get so clean. I wash my clothes in the same faucet, inside a bucket caked with dirt. The same stains I started the wash with, are there when I finish. Once the clothes are “clean”, I lay them to dry on a dirty, rusty roof that is laden with gifts from various animals. Sometimes my clean clothes have more spots than my dirty clothes did. My dishes are rinsed in rain water with chore stained hands. My bedroom floor is made of dirt, so that’s that. My hands and my feet are brown, always. I scrub and I scrub to get them clean, then I walk by the buffalo stalls on my way back from the faucet and they are dirty again. I eat my dinner on the same floor that I frequently walk and sit on. This too, is made of dirt and is where my food is prepared by hands that have done things today that I can only guess. I have pulled bugs from my rice, and on one occasion a pebble from my teeth. A hot shower (with a curtain), a washing machine and a dishwasher (even a sink), have never sounded so good.

7. Variety
Dal Baht, dal baht, dal baht. All day every day. This is what we eat in Nepal. Fortunately it is tasty, but still, all day every day. Breakfast and dinner monday-sunday, we eat the same thing. So Stephen, stop complaining that mom always cooks you “the same thing” because, literally, she doesn’t. I think my taste senses are slowly shrinking and dying, they only know dal baht now and aren’t really necessary. To imagine having anything I want for dinner- a juicy burger, a spicy burrito, an indian curry, a vegetable rich pasta, sounds too good to be true! 

8. Paved Roads
I wish I could really explain the roads here, but I can’t. Some have been paved in the past, some have never been. Most have potholes the size of a small child, many have obstacles of broken boulders and various other hazards. They are small roads and the cars are fast. It is terrifying. There are frequent mudslides and many mountain roads. A quick stop or tight turn could send you off a cliff. To get from Kathmandu to Pokhara (the 2 largest cities in the country) can take anywhere from 5-8 hours by bus. It just depends on the roads that day and if you or someone else gets stuck in an inconvenient location. To describe a 9 hour (thats how long it actually took us) bus trip on Nepali roads as nauseating and bone bruising would be an understatement. You better take a dramamine and hold on tight. This really is the only way to get between the 2 largest cities! I will try to complain less about traffic in the states, as long as a can have a smooth, flat road with several lanes and a guardrail.

9. Social Appropriateness
In the United States we are raised with an awareness of what is appropriate in a public setting and what is not. We are raised with the understanding that it is rude to speak to people in a certain way while other behaviors are considered polite or socially acceptable. In Nepal this type of construct does not exist. I am told I am fat, I am asked why I have so many “pimples” (aka moles) as if it is some type of disease, I am talked about loudly (in Nepali of course) when I am sitting right there. Strangers have asked me how much money I make, how much did I pay to come to Nepal, how many boyfriends have I had and why did I break up with them, do I share a bed with my boyfriend, there is no line for a Nepali to cross when asking about your personal life.  My foreign friends have had similar experiences, one guy was asked to move to another chair because he was “too fat” for the one he was sitting in. He promptly sat right back down. My blonde friend gets met with weird looks and “why is your hair white?” assuming she is much to young for that. As much as talking behind someones back is considered unkind in the US, I have decided I would much prefer it than be continuously dissected while present. And to have people consider me fat, and keep it to themselves, would be so kind! 

10. The list just feels totally incomplete without a #10! But I can’t seem think up a real good one. So, I will conclude with a couple minor grievances. Addresses- they do not exist here. Dead serious. It makes things very difficult to find! Apparently no one has ever wrote a letter in this country, ever. On friday we walked and walked and walked until we found the paragliding company that we were looking for. The only hint we had was “lakeside 6”, which it turns out has a several mile radius. Other friends have been on the hunt for a lonely planet recommended yoga center. Its been over a week and they are not any closer to knowing where it is. At home, I’m in a panic if my GPS isn’t in the car with me at all times. Such a technology would prove completely useless in Nepal. Next, Heckling. Please let me walk down the street in peace! Shop owners, handicraft peddlers, tour guides, waiters, taxi drivers, sweets-seeking children, and those without a discernible cause- when I said no the first time, it did not mean I would change my mind when you asked me for the 20th time. I get it, they are trying to make a living. But it still gets tiresome, if I was interested in what you had in your shop I would come in! Promise! Also, I don’t know who spread the rumor that foreigners carry chocolate at all times but apparently that’s what all Nepali children have been lead to believe. “Miss, chocolate?” “Excuse me, sweet please?” I don’t think I have ever even bought a chocolate bar in my life, let alone carry one around in my back pocket at all times. Doesn’t matter if the kid is homeless and hungry or from the wealthiest family in the city- they still want your chocolate. 

 
Well, I will stop there and promise that my next post will be my thoughts on things that Nepalis do way better than us westerners. Because there are plenty of those too. I have learned a lot about what I will appreciate more from my own culture and what lessons I will take back with me from this culture. The country of Nepal is a unique place that has already taught me so much in 3 weeks. 
 
Quickly- went paragliding on friday and spent the weekend in pokhara, a great weekend out. Had a $25 2.5 hour body scrub/massage/facial yesterday… it was as amazing as it sounds. So. good. I even got a pair of souvenir one size fits all undies! Score! One more week of village life. Will be sad to leave my family, but pretty ready to be done with my “volunteering”. Apparently I signed up for a community health nursing clinical, I literally get excited when I get to give someone a shot. Next week I leaving for the “Annapurna Base Camp” trek with a few friends. Should take us just over a week, then spending a couple more days with my host family to celebrate Dasain. Nepalis get a month off work for this festival, apparently it entails numerous goat and buffalo sacrifices- more on that later! Then a quick stop in Kathmandu before I’m off to Sri Lanka on the 17th of October!
 
Wow, a long winded post.. sorry. Hope you all had a happy weekend! xo

Conversations with Nepalis

Some of the more interesting/entertaining/insulting moments of my day occur when I have conversations with various villagers. Between the little Nepali I speak and the broken english they speak, you never know what’s gonna happen. What really makes things interesting is their brutal honestly and lack of social appropriateness. A few excerpts from recent days-

Today was Bunda (Bundai?) in Nepal. I found this out while brushing my teeth in the community shower. “Bunda Nepal! Bunda Nepal! No school, no health post!” my young neighbors yelled up to me. “huh?” I had no idea what they were talking about. “Bunda!” Aneel yells again, now while making a gun with his hands and shooting at various things, his little brother his shooting what I can only guess to be a bow and arrow. I am so confused. At the moment I am thinking Bunda is either- a) a serial killer on the loose in our village or b) a hunter or hunters (maybe the crying tiger was finally spotted?) Either way I am apparently supposed to stay home. I return to my house, to find auma and see if she can shed any light for me. Her definition of Bunda is “no taxi, no bus, no school…. Bunda!”. Again, what? I called Krishna (her very helpful son) and he tells me there is a strike. OH, now I get it. Kind of. How did everyone find this out? Is there like a special smoke signal or something that tells the whole country to stay home from work? Who woke up and decided this? It’s not like anyone knew about this yesterday. One villager tells me “the students decided”. Sorry, but I highly doubt the students collectively got together has a country and said we’re not going to school today. Anyway, we did open the health post, but only had about 3 patients in 2 hours… so we locked the doors and went home. Bunda!

A few days ago I decided to hike from my mountain top village down to the city of Pokhara to visit with friends. The path descends from the touristy part of my village ( a 30 minute walk from my home) down to the valley, along the lake, and to the town. It starts right next to a little shop who’s owner I have befriended. I stop for some water and to say hi. I ask him “About how long to Pokhara by walking?” He says “For us, 30-40 minutes. But you… you a little, fat.” Chuckles, “So maybe one hour” 

A similar experience at the health post. The “waiting” area of the health post is actually more akin to a town pub, without the booze. The villagers come here daily, to see what everyone else is up to, catch up on the latest gossip, and complain about their problems. Granted, I don’t speak Nepali- so this is all speculation, but it seems likely. A few days ago, There were three middle aged guys sitting on the bench across from me, a few of the other health post workers sitting to my left. They were deep in conversation for about 30 minutes, I was completely tuned out because I haven’t any idea what they are saying. All of sudden, Rishi (my coworker), turns to me and says “How much do you weigh? They want to know” Um, what. “Why?” I asked, a little defensively, glaring at these weird 40 year old men. “They just do, they wonder” “They think I’m fat? In western culture it is very rude to ask someone their weight, especially a stranger” Rishi laughs, “Not in Nepal, we all know each other’s weight. It’s not rude. Please tell.” Rishi then proceeds to guess a few kilos more than I actually weigh, adding insult to injury. Also- everyone back home who is thinking WOW she must have gotten really fat. I have not, and have actually lost weight, just not enough by Nepali standards apparently. A few days later, Rishi is genuinely offended when I have only half a piece of pound cake that is offered to me. He can’t figure it out. I say “You think I’m fat, I don’t need a whole piece” He says “No if you’re heavy, you need more… eat!” UGH.

Yesterday, I went to the village center to use wifi. I look at the menu and order veggie momos (my favorite! a little steamed, veggie stuffed dumpling). “No momos today” says the waitress/chef/owner. Apparently there are no momos on sundays, good to know. I look through the menu and decide on french onion soup, don’t ask me why. “Uh okay, I try!” She says. Interesting response. 20 minutes later, I am served a steaming hot bowl of veggie broth with extra extra onions. French onion soup. It costs 75 rupees more than the veggie soup.

Every Nepali ever, when I walk in the village in any direction other than towards the touristy spot “Where are you going?” “Where are you going American???” “HEY!! Where are you going??!” It kind of ruins the peace of the mountains when I have to answer this question at least 20 times per walk (NOT exaggerating!). Doesn’t matter if their 5 years old or 90, if a Nepali knows any english phrase- that is it. And they all insist on knowing where I am going and more importantly, why. 

I have been asked to please stop writing about the Nepali wildlife (Sorry! Tough crowd, told ya I was afraid of blogging). Anyway, I’m here to please so I guess I will stop. So besides crying about creepy animals, there are plenty of other great things I do here in Nepal. A typical day looks like this-

I live in this house, with my auma (mother) and baba (father and/or grandfather) and sometimes babu (a grandson with 2 working parents in need of constant supervision). It is made of mud and on a large plot of farm land.

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I sleep in this bed (unless I choose the porch) and in this room. My bed is become a sort of makeshift panic room/animal shield. Auma is sometimes my roommate, mostly when the mice are really misbehaving. She's the best. She subjects herself to the mice for my protection.
I sleep in this bed (unless I choose the porch) and in this room. My bed has become somewhat of a safe house/wildlife shield. Auma is sometimes my roommate, mostly when the mice are really misbehaving. She’s the best. She subjects herself to the pests for my protection.

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Most mornings, I wake up and head down to the shower. Where whichever villagers happen to be in ear shot of me promptly accept their unwritten invitation and join me for a bath. Well, they just watch and say things in Nepali that I don’t understand. The faucet is about up to my shoulders, so I have to squat to wash my hair. My thighs are getting really strong. The water only comes in one temperature so if it’s a cold morning, I forfeit my cleanliness.

ImageImageAfter my shower, I dance by the cows to avoid their piles of stinky mess. The goats just stare. I don’t think they like me.

Auma makes me tea as soon as I am dressed or sometimes half dressed but apparently that doesn’t matter. Most mornings, I sit on the porch and study my Nepali (thanks Melissa Hay!) while I wait for breakfast.

Then I have dal baht for breakfast. For every breakfast. And also for every dinner. But I can’t complain, Auma and Baba have been eating this for decades and they don’t seem to be sick of it yet. It’s a mixture of rice, lentils, and vegetables (carbs+protein+vitamins, as they say) and it is literally what everyone eats every day.

Then I walk to work through the rice paddies. Where the path is as wide as my foot. I haven’t fallen over yet but it’s bound to happpen..

I reach the main path and get to enjoy this view every morning. On school days, Anil waits for me and we walk together to our various responsibilities. This morning he says “are you my friend?” “Yes” I say, “Give me money?” He asks hopefully. I respond with the same 2 questions and I think he’s figured out my answer.

I work at this building, where sometimes we open before 10 and other times closer to 11. This is called Nepali time. I haven’t quite caught on to it yet, but everyone else seems to run on the same clock.

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This is where I watch Rishi do consults. He is officially a ‘health assistant’ and unofficially, a nurse-surgeon-pediatrician-family planning specialist-pharmacist-nutritionist-secretary-questioner of all things western. I think we’re friends.

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After work, I sometimes hike 30 minutes to the village at the top of the mountain (by the end of this I should be in shape) to use the internet and have a cup of coffee.

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Otherwise I go home, where Auma makes me a snack.

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I spend the afternoon hiking or reading and trying to make conversation with auma and baba. Mostly we just laugh. Or Baba mocks me and pretends to cry. It’s perfect. I also have some after school friends who like to stop by and hang out.

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Dinner is Dal Baht, on the kitchen floor, by the stove/fire. It’s usually dark as there are only 4 light bulbs in the whole house and electricity is cut country wide multiple times a day. You learn quickly to always carry a headlamp with you after sunset. We sit on mats and I am given ‘the’ spoon (okay they might own 2 but thats it). Nepali’s eat with their hands, actually their right hand only. Want to guess what they do with their left? I haven’t tried the hand thing yet but I’m slowly getting up my courage, and my immune system. There is no refrigerator, so what is cooked, is eaten. I think they have probably gained 10 lbs each since I got here, because I eat a measly portion (you can only eat so much dal baht in a day) and they are stuck with the rest. Auma does the dishes and I still haven’t figured out if I should or can help.

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Before it gets dark I try to make one last visit to the bathroom, outside around the corner of the house. So this is my toilet. The water bucket is supposed to be my toilet paper but I simply cannot bring myself to do it. Thanks mom, for sending me all those tissues I swore I wouldn’t need. The positioning takes some getting used to, but all in all it works out.

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I usually get to sleep around 9, once I’ve crawled in to my safe room and put my ear plugs in (there’s no mice, if you can’t hear them). And that’s that. I spend my weekends in Pokhara (the closest city) with friends and do touristy things. Despite some adjustment, life in the village isn’t all that bad! I’ve really started to enjoy it! My friends in the city who hear about my misadventures can’t believe I’m still here. But now, I mostly just feel silly about all the things I cried about and feared. The whole village pretty much yells “mousa!” when they see me. Life is good 🙂

ps- the hardest part of life right now is trying to post ANYthing to my blog! I have been trying to post this for 4 days now. Internet connections are few an d far between… and when they are available, they are usually not any good!. So hope you will bear with my sporadic posting, I have so much more to write about… I just don’t always have the patience for the internet!  Also please excuse my editing (or lack there of), another casualty of a poor Internet connection!

I Don’t Even Know What to Call This One

I will never complain about spiders or leeches again. Ever again. I swear. My problems are so much bigger. Wait for it…. RATS. BIG FREAKIN RATS. Except the Nepali people refuse to call them that, they are “just mouse”. Are you kidding? They are size of a small child and wake me up from my sleep. That is not a mouse. And “they don’t bite ever, but I do this one lady…”. Oh, okay.. so they do bite. Needless to say I did not sleep last night. And yes this morning I cried. Many times. First, when my sleepy eyed father opened his bedroom door at 2am to find me sleeping across it on the porch. Very confusing moment for us both. I decided the porch was safer than my bedroom, for some reason. Then a lady told me today that she heard a tiger crying last night. First of all- tigers cry???? Second of all- are you sure you didn’t just hear me??? Whatever. Anyway, sobbed some more over breakfast when I finally found out the nepali word for ‘rat’ (it falls under the same definition as ‘mouse’. ugh.) and tried to relay my odd behaviour to my mother. I couldn’t tell if she was scared for me or of me. She tried to be sweet about it thought…. tea!! Then I went to my volunteer post and and balled when my two middle aged male coworkers asked me how I was this morning. NOT OKAY!!! They immediately regretted it and I don’t think will ever ask me again. I did tell them I was sorry once I got myself together. Now I am down in the city, eating tabbouleh and drinking lemondade with my newly purchased mosquito net aka mouse net sitting next to me. I don’t know who I’m fooling. A mouse will claw through it in a half second but I’m gonna just pretend we’re all good. 

Hopefully I fall asleep before the roid-raged “mice” come out to play tonight. Or I will have to take an elephant dose of sleeping pills. Also am considering asking mom and dad if I can move into their room? Yay? Nay? Last night I saw the first one scurry across the rafter just before I got into bed, it was game over from there. I took turns between breathing and saving myself from the mice under my sauna sleeping bag. Saving myself would have won everytime except that suffocating kind of hurts. A few people offered to let me stay at their homes in the city tonight, but I declined because I’m either pretending to be a lot braver than I really am or I’ve just totally lost it. Dunno. But I do love the village and I want to make it work. I just wish night time didn’t exist. Or the super mice. Whichever. 

PS- Had a GREAT weekend! But too amped up on the animals right now to write about it. Came to the city (Pokhara) and stayed at a little hotel ($7 a night!) right in the central area. Went exploring and sightseeing with friends and then to the Nepali women’s festival yesterday! 

Makura massacre

Thursday there was a massacre in my room. Of makuras, or better known as spiders. They are the most massive I have ever seen in my life and I am trying desperately to be okay with them. Anyways, on my first night I went to use the bathroom (a small shack, outside the house, with a porcelain hole in the ground. Seriously!) and there was a HUGE spider just staring at me. I managed to use the bathroom without incident and crossed my fingers that I would never see one again. Anyway, thursday night I go to my room and there is one just hanging out above my bed! NOO, this is not happening. I know you’re all assuming I probably started crying, but really, I didn’t! I went outside and gestured to my house father (Baba) anticipating him to start laughing at me. But he did not! And then the massacre happened. I wish I’d gotten it on film. My little old parents jumping up and down and under my bed, chasing this makura, yelling at it (I think), and not giving up til every last one was killed. I just stood in the corner helpless, feeling like a big moron. I was silly to assume there was just one, because when all was said and done they had captured and killed at least 5. 

Next they decided that it would be to my benefit to put up an ancient mosquito net that I swear was made of lace and probably older than they are. They had obviously never used such a thing before, made clear by the 30 minute process and final outcome. When all was said and done, I had a lopsided yellow tinted net that was more effective as a decoration that anything else. They had managed to place the “entrance” of the mosquito net directly against the wall, leaving my entire bed exposed to spiders and no real way for me to get in or out. “Thanks!” I said “This is great!” They appeared to be quite impressed with themselves. Needless to say, I did not use the mosquito net that night. 

I wish they had not killed the makuras. In fact, I am surprised they did. The Nepali culture is very much centered around a belief of karma. It can not be good karma to murder innocent makuras. I am sure there must be a gang of them coming for me now. Everyone in Nepal assures me they are harmless and there is no such thing as a poisonous spider in this region. I can only assume I will find out.Image

Sarangkot

Wow! So much has happened this week I don’t even know where to begin. I spent Saturday through Tuesday in Kathmandu, then took a 9 hour bus ride (5 hour nepali time) to Pokhara up in the Himalayas. I am now, quite literally, sitting on the top of the world in a tiny little village located at the very peak of a very massive mountain. The village name is Sarangkot and this is where I will live for the next month.

I like to consider myself well traveled, and I think I can honestly say I have never truly experienced culture shock until yesterday. Oh. Man. After arriving in Pokhara, myself and the 10 other volunteers were all whisked away to our various home stays with nothing more than a few seconds for goodbyes. It was monsooning, so I guess I understand the rush. A ‘taxi’ who also happens to be the neighbor of my homestay family, drove me up the 20 km dirt/rock path to the village. Not before taking a detour to pick his daughter up at school, then a pit stop to pick his cousin’s aunt (I think) up from the side of the road. 30 minutes later, we pull over to the side of the road where my homestay “brother” meets me and tells me this is the way to my home. uhh, I don’t see a path anywhere. So, he puts BOTH my suitcases on his head and leads the way. The “way” is climbing down rocks that have basically turned into a waterfull and then balancing one foot behind the other between rice paddies. I only fell ONCE, woo! He, however, fell zero time and neither did my bags. What the heck!

We take a quick corner behind a “buliding”, where there are some cows hanging in a little hut around their feeed. “This is your home!” my brother Krishna says. He’s serious. The next room over is where my host my parents will sleep, and the one after that is mine, then the kitchen. So my housemates are cows, yes. Oh and goats and chickens I discovered this morning. I unloaded my stuff and Krishna offered me a seat on a grass mat. Luxury. Then he says “oh, don’t forget to check for leeches”. WHAT. Now I see a leech, swelling up from his feast on my ankle. This is the second time I cry since leaving Boston. I cry because I have no idea what I have signed up for. Where is the water for me to drink? Seriously, I have a leech on my leg? I just walked 20 minutes through a rice paddy to find my home occupied by cattle. I cry because the mother and father speak no english. And Krishna is leaving me in a few minutes to return to his family in Pokhara. I hide my tears (I hope) but they keep coming and I am doing everything I can to stop them. Krishna leaves me and tell me everything will be good, just be patient, text me if you need help with nepali. Oh, okay, sounds easy. Then auma (my host mother) offers me tea, I move my straw mat to the kitchen and sit on the dirt by the fire. The tea is like magic and I instantly feel better. This isn’t forever, they are kind, and they have like this their whole lives. I decide I will survive.

This morning I wake up happy, and take a “shower” in the public faucet fully clothed in my awkward excuse for a sarong. The neighbors are excited and come and greet me, seriously someone needs to invent a shower curtain in this country. I have rice and lentils for breakfast and go to the health clinic. More on that another day!

Anyways, all is well, despite being crazy and weird and completely foreign to me. But I will enjoy, and I am! It is beautiful, I can’t wait to post some pictures. Now I am sitting in a little cafe on the tippy top of the hill… which I nearly had a heart attack and must have climbed at least 6,000 steps. But it is the cutest and I will come here when I need a cold beer and a good view! Got to get going before my family worries I am late, I don’t think I had any success explaining my hunt for internet would be taking place after work and I would be home for dinner. Oh well.

The view from my little cafe  oasis!
The view from my little cafe oasis!

Kathmandu

Hating technology right about now, thought I made a post last night but apparently I was just typing to myself. I would say first world problems but I am in a third world country so that would be innacurate. It’s AMAZING how the world has changed, even since I was in Asia 6 years ago. Wifi in my hostel, are you kidding me?? I can’t imagine that will be the case when I move to my village, so I will enjoy it now.  I arrived in Kathmandu (30 hours, 3 planes, 0 showers, and 2 lost luggage bags later) last night around 7pm. It was mostly uneventful, despite my lack of sleep I only cried once, and that was because the flight attendant refused to let me have eggs for breakfast since I had ordered the “vegetarian lacto-ovo” meal. My “special” meal included ravioli and broccoli, which they insisted was indeed a breakfast. What can I say I like my eggs and I get emotional (okay, REALLY emotional) when I’m over tired.

It was pitch black when I arrived so I have not really yet seen what is around me. Lights are far and few between in this city. There was another girl that came in on my flight whos bags were lost as well (quick laugh- me: “My luggage got lost in Dubai, but there’s another girl in the same boat so it’s okay” mom:”You took a boat to Nepal???”). So I guess I will be the smelly girl at orientation today, good thing I wasn’t trying to make friends. Also glad I chose a white shirt.. it really hides the dirt well. One thing going for me is that I did wear yoga pants, SCORE. My utah friend slept in her jeans. I managed to trick my body into going to bed last night, but could not convince it to sleep past 6 this morning. Small victories. Alright, well I’m going to go see what they serve for  breakfast here at the Kathmandu Peace Guest House (eggs if they know what’s good for them) and maybe convince someone to make a drive to the airport. Later, friends!