Tag Archives: Nepal

My last tales of Nepal!

Greetings, from Sri Lanka ! I am currently in the capitol city of Colombo, biding my time at a taphouse before my train leaves for the south. I know, a taphouse, how western of me.. but I did pass on the TGI Fridays so at least give me credit for that. I want to share a few more Nepali experiences before delving into the bustling, surprisingly modernized culture that exists in Sri Lanka.

So, after returning from my trek and mostly ridding the sweaty smell of success from myself, I spent a few days in Pokhara before going back to the village. These days in Pokhara consisted of mostly eating and drinking as well as a somewhat exuberant amount of relaxation. Seriously tough times. But hey, after enduring 9 days of trekking I allowed myself to embrace it. I shared these days with my trekking team, as well as a British friend Rachel (also a volunteer), and a new Swedish friend Emil. Emil had just arrived in Nepal from India, with the scam story of all scam stories. Between that, and my recent Jet Airways experience, I have no intention of ever traveling to India alone.

The highlight of these days was most definitely our encounter with a new friend. On our first night back from trekking, despite suffering from a high level of exhaustion, Jamie, Chanelle, Emil, and I decided to celebrate with some drinks at Busy Bee. Busy Bee is THE bar of pokhara, Live music, large crowds, strong drinks, and lots of fun. This particular night, Jamie decided to go after the gin with an appetite I didn’t know she had. I guess it was time for her to make up an entire month of sobriety in Jopati (her small Kathmandu neighborhood where it is not possible for women to drink). Anyway, let’s just say I would party with this girl any day. Well, one encounter leads to another and we suddenly find Jamie introducing us to her new Nepali friend Pradeep. Pradeep is a middle aged man, out celebrating a successful work week with his colleagues. This guy was happy, friendly, fun, and genuine. He was immediately our friend and we joined him for another round of drinks. Pradeep tells us that he is the general manager at the Fishtail Lodge in Pokhara, the city’s most luxurious and historic accommodation. As the night is winding down, he insists that we join him at his hotel tomorrow for a cocktail hour. The next night, after much debate if we should go or not, we do indeed show up. Only 2 hours late. At first it appears that we have missed Pradeep, so we settle in at the bar prepared to indulge on one of Pokhara’s pricier cocktails. Moments later, Pradeep shows up and we are instantly VIP guests. Wow. What is happening?? Well we have a few cocktails and share good conversation with Pradeep and his right hand man. During the conversation it is revealed that the lodge is in fact owned by the Nepali royal family and is now in a trust. About ten years ago, almost the entire Nepali Royal family was massacred by a loony nephew. Hearing this, I was fascinated by the history of the Royal family and began asking several curious questions. Pradeep changed subjects and it appeared this was not something he enjoyed talking about. After drinks, we were taken on a tour of the grounds by the two men. We even saw the rooms where Prince Charles and several Kings have stayed!

Now, the point- While Pradeep is busy sharing his love for the property with my friends, the right hand man fills me in on a little secret. “You know, Pradeep is royalty, right?” Um, no, of course I don’t know this. SERIOUSLY?!! “His Uncle was the last King of Nepal and his Father was a military commander” UM ROYALTY?!! Are you kidding?!!! Why did I wear my flip flops and yesterday’s t-shirt for this encounter? Wow. Anyway, I could tell Pradeep had not wanted to disclose this information during our cocktail conversations so I kept my mouth shut for the remainder of the tour. After Pradeep’s driver returned us to our lowly guesthouse (Pradeep did offer a free night stay for us, I felt unworthy), I immediately blurted out this information to my friends. Wow, we had just enjoyed cocktails with one of the few remaining members of the Royal family of Nepal. After an immediate google search, we discovered he was a member of the Rana dynasty. This was the last family in power before a democracy was established. So surreal. Anyways, Pradeep (or more commonly known Tiger, as he blushingly admitted to us) invited us back for lunch and cocktails by the pool the next day. He was far too kind and hospitable to us grungy backpackers. Anyway, we enjoyed a few days of fun with Tiger and his colleagues. I was even invited to meet him at Annapurna, Kathmandu’s luxury hotel, for a farewell cocktail. A pretty remarkable experience, Tiger still isn’t even aware that we know his secret. What a humble guy. I hope I will cross paths with this generous man again someday!

Okay, lastly, I spent four days back at my village home. Honestly, after week one did you ever imagine that I would willingly return to this place?? I know, crazy, but I had really missed it. I returned for the Dasai festival. Nepal’s biggest holiday. Children and government employees are given 15 days off during this time and much of the country is closed during celebrations. There are several festivities, but specifically I went for the goat sacrifice and Tikka. On the 12th day a goat is sacrificed to the Gods by each family. Although I did not get to witness the beheading, I did get to experience various body parts in my food for the next several days. I think I accurately identified- tongue, vertebrae, liver, and fatty tissue. I was not successful in eating all parts, but I did try. The next day we celebrated ‘Tikka’. A tikka is the red dot commonly worn by married women on their forehead. On this day, everybody gets tikkas. The tikkas (consisting of dry rice, dyed red) are ceremoniously placed on children’s foreheads by the elder family members. They are also given a type of blessing with good wishes for the future. Delicious sweets and a small sum of money are also provided. After celebrating within your immediate family, the Hindu version of ‘trick or treating’ begins. Family members, young and old, travel eagerly around the village visiting the homes of their friends and family. At each house they are blessed with more tikkas (I never knew so much rice could fit on one person’s face), about 20 rupees (more or less, depending on your relationship to the family), and usually a snack of sweet bread. At the end of the day the children return and anxiously count their earnings from the day. They also have a forehead covered completely by rice. Such a fun day to get to be a part of! The next day I said goodbye to Auma and Baba, as well as the rest of my village friends, so sad!! I will miss them, but I have promised to be back one day.

Well, thats all for Nepal. I am in love with this country and everyday I am gone I miss it more! I highly suggest you all take advantage of any opportunity you have to visit this beautiful place. See you tomorrow, from the beach!

Getting my tikka from Baba!
Getting my tikka from Baba!
The tikka ceremony and offerings
The tikka ceremony and offerings
Babu, with a forehead full of rice!
Babu, with a forehead full of rice!

 

Asis, proudly displaying his day's earnings!
Asis, proudly displaying his day’s earnings!
An unfortunately blurring photo, but this is me with my village family just before I left!  The smallest boy is the grandson and the 2 other boys are the neighbors I spent a lot of time with
An unfortunately blurring photo, but this is me with my village family just before I left! The smallest boy is the grandson and the 2 other boys are the neighbors I spent a lot of time with

 

Until we meet again, Nepal

The end of my journey in Nepal. What a bittersweet day! Bitter, because- I have said goodbye to a new family, I have left friends from all over the world, and I have had to leave a country from which I still want more. Sweet, because- it was a success in every sense of the word, I will take many memories/moments/lessons with me, I am a better person for having been, and I am on to new adventures. If I could capture my experience in just a few words it would be- Challenging, inspiring, hilarious, and humbling. But because it has been far too long since my last post, I will gift you with more than just a few words today. Since we last spoke….

I have completed the Annapurna Base Camp Trek! It took nine days total, even with an extremely grueling detour to the top of poon hill that may or may not have been worth it (Jury’s still out). We started our trek on Tuesday October 1st, late in the afternoon due to an illness delay (Jamie had a pretty severe case of the sniffles). Our international trekking team included- Lauren (USA), Jamie (New Zealand), Chanelle (Australia), and myself. Day 1 was cloudy and we began by ascending at least 7685 stairs. We only walked for about three hours on this day, but based on how we behaved when we arrived at our first lodge you would have thought we had been walking for a week. In other words, we consumed our body weight in food and I think the kitchen was genuinely concerned they were going to run out of pringles. Once we made it to the top of ABC, there may actually have been a national shortage.

Okay enough about pringles and I also changed my mind about recapping each day, because I’m already bored writing about it so I can’t imagine how you feel. Lets try again. We decided to do our trek without a guide and without any porters. We were one of the few groups along the trek that had made this ambitious decision. Generally, a guide is hired to help you navigate the mountains, keep you safe, encourage and maintain group morality, etc. A porter serves the purpose of carrying all of your crap up the mountain. Porters have been the subject of much controversy in Nepal, although I think the feeling is generally improving. While guides have (or should have) significant knowledge about the the Nepali mountain ranges and generally a lifetime of experience trekking; porters are often very low class citizens willing to do just about anything to feed their family, including dragging upwards of 60 lbs to the top of some of the world’s highest mountain ranges in unreliable clothing and broken flip-flops. Many times, the porters have never hiked this mountain, are malnourished, and are not in any type of outstanding physical fitness. Nepal guidebooks warn travelers of porter abuse and report horrific tales of porters being left behind to fend for themselves in bad weather conditions because they are too sick or injured to go on. On the contrary, without foreign clients accepting the services offered, there would be no source of income for hundreds or thousands of Nepali families. To ensure safe and appropriate care of porters, the general rule is that you are expected to treat your porter like an employee- providing safe working conditions and fair wages. Although ultimately I was glad I chose not to have a porter, I did see examples of both good and bad porter hires. I saw a large Finish group invite their porters into the dining hall (generally, porters are not allowed into the dining until all the foreigners have finished their meals and left) to buy them tea and teach them their favorite dice game. I also saw a porter limping with a bamboo cane, his flip flops taped together, carrying two client’s loads on his head while they ran ahead with nothing but the weight of their camera’s on their backs. My overall impression is that there is still much progress to be made in the respect and care of porters. As for guides, we had a good map and in the few instances where we had to guess (do we go under the fallen telephone pole or down the waterfall/steps?) we got lucky. The only times that a guide would really have come in handy was when we got into the villages. We frequently followed the well marked signs (Next village this way…) because well, who wouldn’t. The signs did indeed take you to the next village, but not before taking you on a sometimes strenuous uphill detour to the guest house of a clever owner. I imagine the guides were intelligent enough to avoid these sneaky traps.

So, on the way to ABC we traveled up and down mountains for four days. There are small villages about 2 hours apart from each other where you can find a guest house for $1 a night. Sounds good until you pay $8 for your dinner. Ouch. Food prices understandably increased the higher you go due to the fact that man power is the only way to transport food beyond the road from which we started at on day 1. Porters are responsible for this as well. We even saw a porter carrying what appeared to be a bed on his head. It was easy to pay the higher prices when you saw these guys running up and down the mountains with everything from new pots and pans to toilet paper and bottles of whiskey. We made it to Base Camp on the morning of day 5. We woke up early to see the sun shining for the first time in a few days so we decided to stay in bed and head up to our “summit” a little later. Unfortunately, the weather did not cooperate and by the time we made it to the top we were in a complete whiteout. This was unsurprising, as the previous three days had given us spectacularly terrible weather. We stayed an extra night at the top and the next morning woke up early enough to steal a few brief moments from the sun to take some photos. The day after we left the top, the sky decided to open up magnificently blue for the remainder of our descent. Oh well.

Highlights and lowlights from a trip to ABC-

– You will meet AMAZING people. This was one of my favorite parts of trekking. We met people from all over the world every single day. So many cool stories and adventures. Specifically, we performed a very unofficial Nepali sun dance with aging American Marty, his taiwanese wife, and his adorable assistant guide “Eric” in the very middle of a trail through the himalayas. We helped a young Irish-Argentinian couple prepare for their ambitious ascent from base camp to the summit of Annapurna. We donated our spare beds to a middle aged Australian couple who met online three years previously and had just experienced some of the more difficult days of their relationship. Anyway, the list goes on. But it was so much fun to meet people and often see them again, all of us on the same journey.

– Lemon Ginger tea is a natural analgesic for sore muscles and cold bodies.

– There is no sense in being miserable about the weather. We had about the crappiest week of trekking in the history of Octobers I am pretty sure. But overall we had an incredible experience that I would do again in a heart beat. I can’t say the same for everyone else we met along the way. Specifically an older British couple who decided the country of Nepal had conspired against them to put a rain cloud over their trek and therefore hated anyone and everything that had to do with Nepal and/or trekking. We met quite a few people who’s everest treks had been cancelled due to terrible weather and they had therefore been re-routed across the country to ABC. Most of these people had traveled all the way from Europe just to reach Everest and despite the massive wrench in their plans were still some of most enthusiastic trekkers I met. A situation is certainly what you make of it.

– Chinese people visit ABC by the thousands. They also have the most stylish and technologically advanced gear on the entire mountain. Which unfortunately does not make up for the fact that they are also the least physically prepared tourists around.

– You will happily pay an exuberant amount of money for a bowl of ramen noodles at 4,100 meters. This will be the best bowl of ramen noodles you have ever had in your life.

– Beds are hard to come by during peak season at ABC. Even harder, when the everest treks are cancelled. I am grateful to have not spent a night on the kitchen floor like some Germans I know or been the Korean lady who showed up in the dark proclaiming desperately “PLEASE give me spot in dining room! I’m old lady!” only to be turned away.

– If you successfully arrive at the top of ABC, you will have completed more stairs than you have ever walked before in your entire life and your ass will look amazing. If you then proceed to Poon Hill, you will curse the inventor of stairs and not give a sh*t about your ass.

– Going down hurts more than hiking up. I think it’s a sign I’m getting old. I’m pretty sure if I had walked one more minute my joints would have actually popped and more than one of my bones would have broken in half.

– When you arrive back to civilization, you will not have any inkling as to how awful you and your belongings smell. Although you knew along the trek that your things we’re starting to stink pretty bad, you are surrounded by others in the same situation so it seems a little less insulting. You won’t realize the aggressiveness of your stench until a few days later when one of your honest friends finally mentions she can’t go in your hotel room.

-Trekking is one the the most personal journeys you can have. It is scary, challenging, amazing, gratifying, fun, awe-inducing, and overall incredible. I want to trek again and again. There are few times that I have really felt so connected to myself. You should all do it to.

Here I am again, being long winded. Growing up, I was always one of those students who threw a fit about word limits on my essays. I could not understand why someone would want me to stop at page 12. Do you believe it? The good news is you are not my professor so you can stop reading at anytime. Well, I will end there for today. Currently en route to Sri Lanka via India. That’s another story in itself that I could summarize with my complaint letter to priceline.com. Did you know if you have a connecting domestic flight in India, you are required to get a visa? Yeah, neither did I. So my original booking of Kathmandu–>Mumbai–>Chennai–>Sri Lanka was completely useless when I got to the ticket counter. So here I am $270 later, preparing for a 9 hour layover in Mumbai so I can get a direct flight to Sri Lanka and avoid my domestic layover. It’s not like I had any plans to leave the airport! Ugh. Fortunately a met a Canadian hippie named Tom who shared in my plight and overcame this problem of international law with me. Well, I will write again soon because I still want to tell you about the Dashain festival (I ate goat tongue, for breakfast) and my last few days in Nepal. I guess it’s a good thing I have 9 hours in Mumbai. Watch out, there are so many blog posts coming. If all goes well, Sri Lanka here I come!

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. 

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