AUG 17 - Ten weeks ago, I stepped into another world. It wasn’t quite as magical as falling down the rabbit hole into Wonderland or climbing through a wardrobe to Narnia, but it was both strange and awe-inspiring in its own way. It was my first time in Nepal, my first time in Asia, and moreover, my first time travelling alone.
Ten weeks ago, I was sitting in the backseat of a taxi—in a complete state of shock—en route to my new home in Kathmandu. I had just been scammed by two airport luggage carriers, and my surroundings were alien. My first 15 minutes in Nepal can only be described as a raging whirlwind, an attack on the senses. Why are there cows in the street? Why is that bus so crowded? Why is my taxi driver so intent on swerving into oncoming traffic? I wanted answers, but all I could do was gape in amazement.
Ten weeks ago, I was a different person. I was a relatively sheltered, small-town American girl diving headfirst into a culture so vastly different from my own, and turns out, very unprepared for the same. I had wanted to experience something new, and my wish was granted in ways I never could have imagined.
For most of my stay in Nepal, I volunteered and lived in a Christian orphanage in Dhapasi, with 13 children, a grandfather, a host mother and father, their two babies, a cook and many other relatives and friends who came and went as they pleased. As an only child, it was exciting to be welcomed into such a large, loving family.
The transition into my new home wasn’t easy, though. There was a shortage of running water—and hot water was a rarity—so I had no choice but to take cold bucket showers twice a week. Power and Wi-Fi were also unreliable, and there were times my mother panicked because I hadn’t been on Facebook for three days. Eating became a challenge because I quickly grew tired of daal bhaat after having the same dish twice a day, every day. Sleeping was no painless task either, and this night owl had to morph into an early bird, waking up every morning at 5:30 am to the sound of children singing—as part of their daily worship sessions. The lack of street signs in Nepal was another frustration, like the day I took the children to school and couldn’t remember how to get home. I spent five hours in a café sipping beer and watching TV, all the while cursing myself for having such a poor sense of direction.
But after a week or two, I began to get the hang of things. The neighbourhood and walk to school became familiar, and the school children excitedly called, “Hello, Emily!”
every morning and afternoon when they saw me. The children in the orphanage started referring to me as ‘auntie’, and were thrilled when I introduced them to Michael Jackson’s music videos and read their palms (a skill that I don’t actually have, but a little white lie never hurt anyone). Taking the bus to my internship at The Kathmandu Post became less intimidating, and my transport was made much more enjoyable when locals struck up a conversation with me. I learned a great deal about Nepali politics while working in the Op-Ed section, and admittedly, it made me feel more hopeful about the state of American government. I still can’t muster up a hankering for daal bhaat, but I suppose you can’t have it all.
Nepal is a beautiful country. I will never forget my first glimpse of snow-peaked mountains at Nagarkot, riding an elephant in Chitwan or gliding in a boat across Fewa Tal in Pokhara. But the main reason I’ve grown to love Nepal so much is the people here. Nepalis have been so hospitable that, at times, I have even forgotten I’m a foreigner—no easy feat. Whether it was my host mother dressing me in a sari and covering my hand in mehendi, or a retired schoolteacher on the bus teaching me to count to 50 in Nepali, or strangers simply offering a smile and a “Namaste”, Nepalis have made me feel accepted and welcome.
Another peculiarity of the Nepali culture that I’ve observed during my stay is that the nature of time is better understood by people here than most Americans I know. The ‘time is money’ mentality that is so prevalent in everyday American life simply doesn’t exist in Nepal. While Nepalis are hardworking people, they also make sure to take tea breaks at work, to have meaningful conversations—not just small talk—with neighbours and family and, most of all, to take their time with things. Life in Nepal isn’t a mad dash between one deadline and the next. It’s about living in the moment, which is something that stressed, overworked Americans can learn from.
My last weekend in Nepal was spent in Pokhara, and it was beautiful and serene, just as expected. Pokhara is the kind of place I could imagine myself raising a family or retiring to when I am old and grey. It’s the kind of place you don’t want to leave, which makes my departure all the more difficult.
Ten weeks ago, I was just beginning my journey. Today, I am ending it. My suitcases are packed with souvenirs, and my heart is filled with love and gratitude for all the people, places and memories that Nepal has given me. More than anything, Nepal has shown me that a place can change you. An aggravation—even the public bus—can become a quirk that you grow fond of. A stranger can become a lifelong friend. A distant and foreign land can feel like home.
Lastly, one of my favorite things about the Nepali language is that there is no direct translation for the word ‘goodbye’. Goodbye is much too permanent, so it is with an optimistic ‘pheri bhetaula’ that I will be leaving Nepal. We shall meet again.
Posted on: 2012-08-27 05:28