About a month ago, in a bout of frustration, I started a blog post about the less glamorous and unwritten about aspects of travel. For better or for worse, it took me way too long to publish, and so, with the benefit of time and distance, I now write with a more balanced perspective.
I was hesitant to write this article and apprehensive about how it would come across. Often times, I read travel articles that report fabulous, enviable, bucket-list worthy adventures, but I want to emphasize the reality of my long term stay. Below are my musings:
There are things about home that I crave and miss and things about Nepal I will be sad to leave behind.
Food and Transportation:
I miss traffic lights and signs; any signals really. I miss pavement. I would like to take a stroll, on paved streets, inhaling clean air. I would like to walk home at night, on lighted streets while not being followed by seriously terrifying feral dogs.
I would love to have a gigantic salad with fresh vegetables and fruits right now. I miss having ice. For now, everything is soaked in iodine, skinned, and cooked. The eggs come with feathers still attached, the potatoes so fresh they’re still covered in dirt, and the butter has a wild zing to its taste.
Nevertheless — I don’t have to drive anywhere! In spite of motor traffic’s cozy, flirtatious, and dangerous treatment of pedestrians, most places are in walking distance and public transportation abounds. I can pick up a weeks worth of veggies for $4.00 and can buy a dusty bottle of wine, from a family who warmly greets me. Early on Sunday mornings, as I jog up Chobar, I can hear the hindu songs of men and women participating in their prayers. Afterwards, I pop into a bakery that supplies delicious confections for many of the restaurants and markets in town. Aside from the occasional grinding crunch, it is still soft, stretchy, and warm!
A few weeks ago, I took a trip with Elizabeth down to Chitwan. Chitwan is a jungle in the flat lands of Nepal. Over the course of four days, on narrow and winding roads, we saw 6 car accidents; we witnessed one with a truck that had fallen off the side of a cliff where people were climbing out. (We decided on taking a private car back.)
The weather in Chitwan was Houston hot with rain interspersed. Schlepping through the muddy jungle and watching our guide pick leeches off his body has no appeal to me. I did not enjoy a single moment of existing in the jungle, it was straight up agonizing. In the evenings, I would come back to a shower, in which I could never feel clean, only to slather on more bug spray. At night, I hid underneath the mosquito net listening to sound of water as it leaked through the ceiling and onto the floor.
Even so — I woke up to the Jurassic Park like sounds of elephants talking. I saw a one horned rhino and sat bareback on an elephant while it showered me in a river (and almost rolled on top of me as I jumped off.) I visited Lumbini, the birthplace of the Buddha, and felt a connection with my Chinese half.
A week ago, I got back from a 10 day trek to Gokyo Ri. Catching a flight to Lukla, the most dangerous airport in the world according to the internet, is quite frightening and seems to function on a first-come-first-serve basis. I didn’t shower for nine days, pocketed my used toilet paper in pieces of litter, and wiped myself down with freezing cold water and a handkerchief.
However— It was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. I felt that I could walk forever. I saw the sunrise over the highest peaks in the world and got to know incredibly happy people who come from extremely humble backgrounds. I felt overcome with awe and beauty and gained an inkling of understanding as to what inspired the mountain people to worship the mountains.
Living Conditions and Housing:
Among the 6 administrators at work, approximately 3-4 are sick at one time. I have been sick a number of times. I have had severe stomach issues, a cold, intense body aches, headaches, fevers, and some CRAZY rash in which all the flesh on my palms and fingers came off then started bleeding. Even for a person like myself who is working in relatively good conditions, I have gained an appreciation for those in Nepal who work with/and in spite of these health problems on a regular basis.
In a gentle voice, I want to communicate that some of the living conditions here are tragic; unromantic, crippling, squalor. In the states, the rich and poor are relatively segregated into their own neighborhoods; it is easy to be blind to the living conditions of others. In Nepal, we all live together. Brushing up to the intimate, vivid, and unfiltered lives of the destitute can be dispiriting and psychologically taxing. Sometimes, I envision myself living in the same conditions; without choice and freedom, and I feel its menacing terror in the pit of my stomach.
Someone once described her visit to Kathmandu “like camping — all the time.” And in a way, it sort of is. Sometimes the power is out, sometimes the water runs out, sometimes the gas is out, and sometimes they’re all out at once. For all of my complaints, coming back to the guesthouse in Kathmandu is a luxury. I am immensely grateful to have a washing machine, a stove that works, hot water, and an inverter when the power goes out.
There are a daunting amount of social issues that plague Nepal. Unemployment, systemic political corruption, human trafficking, substandard healthcare, poor education, and lack sanitation are just a few that come to mind. As an example, it took my employer 18 trips to a government office to complete his taxes.
In spite of many obstacles, I have never met so many friendly people. They are quick to invite a stranger into their homes and share their food and tea. For the little that many of them have in materials, they are rich in their hearts and generous with their smiles.