Living in Nepal…how was it really?
I can’t think of a country I have traveled to that has kept me on my toes as much as Nepal has. And I’ve found it impossible to sum my time here into a few short paragraphs.
I think the best analogy I can come up with is that Nepal is like being in an Alice in Wonderland dream. As soon as I thought I understood how the people or the culture or the shopping or the festivals or the schools or the buses worked, something would change and I’d have to reset my bearings.
For example school is held 6 days a week, except when there is a festival or a strike or a celebration. The festivals and celebrations are usually set in advance (like Christmas) but occasionally another one will pop up. And strikes happen at random for all sorts of reasons. Sometimes some schools stay open while others close. I couldn’t pick up any patterns and still haven’t figured out how word gets around that you don’t go to school. So I figured there was some type of ESP thing happening that I simply didn’t manage to tune into.
At the start, I found it easier to just observe as much as I could around me rather than try to understand what was going on. I would wander around simply soaking up the atmosphere, the smells, the noise and the colours around me.
There was the busy-ness of Kathmandu followed by the relative calmness of Pokhara. The dusty roads and traffic fumes, beeping horns, hawkers selling traditional musical instruments, jewellery and hash, western bars and restaurants alongside simple traditional Nepalese places, cows and buffalo wandering aimlessly across the road, people collecting water from communal taps, bamboo scaffolding holding up new building floors, bright colourful clothing, men breaking rocks with sledge hammers (not part of a prison chain gang), women toiling in large vegetable fields in the hot midday sun, green hills and snow covered mountains, calm lakes and fast flowing rivers.
When I returned to Kathmandu after 2 months living in Pokhara, I felt more relaxed with the chaos and less overwhelmed. I was able to enjoy myself more, I was more confident going to less touristy places and I could even communicate with the locals in basic Nepalese (meaning they knew they couldn’t pull the wool over my eyes the same as they could a virgin tourist!)
There were several times when the Alice in Wonderland dream changed too much. I thought I’d reached the end of my tether and wanted to throw my trip in. But giving up is not my style. Sometimes a rest with a good book was enough to put me back on track. Other times, coffee or a gin and tonic was called for. And once, having my teachers give me big hugs when I started crying at school (not in class:)) is what it took to refresh me and remind me that I was helping the kids learn!
It wasn’t until I started writing my highlights and lowlights that I realised just how many more highlights I’ve had during the last 2 months compared to the lowlights. And plenty of events I thought were ‘bad’ at the time, in retrospect, have actually turned out to be cool learning experiences.
So, in no particular order, here are some:
Meals at my teachers homes… with Badan, Nanumaia, Rama and Bimala
Going to the Newari festival with Bimala, meeting her mum, sisters, nieces, nephews and various other friends and getting back stage to see the festival performers
Trekking up to the Peace Pagoda…3 times!
Watching the sun rise over Fishtail mountain from the warmth of my bed
Getting dressed in a sari or kutha every day for school
Learning to tie a sari (I still can’t tie it properly!)
Going to Teej (women’s) festival parties, dancing with lots of women and eating far too much keer (rice pudding)
Realising that my 55 wild school kids I teach are actually not wild and most want to learn
Seeing how kids will do just about anything for a star or 6 in their books
Discovering great coffee and cake in the centre of the local shopping area (not in the tourist area)
Mosquito nets, bedroom fans and an ensuite with a western toilet
The 30 minute walk to lakeside, the tourist area when it’s fine
Lighting fires in the front yard
Getting the kids to yell answers to questions instead of at each other
Being able to have simple conversations in Nepali
Getting taught Nepali by my teachers
Dance parties at my homestay
Having conversations with HajaAma (Grandma), even though she speaks no English and I speak only a little Nepali
Finding out I am really tall
Ambika’s cooking (my host mum)
Nepalese night and day tablets…I slept for 11 hours straight!
Travelling on the top of a bus (and driving one…;)
Hanging out with other volunteers
Jumping off a 1600 metre cliff with a strange man strapped to my back (paragliding)
A few Lowlights…
Getting bitten by a dog
A hard bed with a dip in the middle
The 30 minute walk to lakeside, the tourist area when it’s raining
The first 2-3 weeks teaching and wondering if I was ever going to get the kids to stop yelling and fighting
Being constantly asked for money or chocolate
Lack of animal welfare
Getting charged random, extra rates on local buses and in shops
8.5 hours to travel 198km on a bus
35 degrees and 80% humidity
Dhal baht twice a day, every day (it wasn’t bad, I just like lots of variety!)
And a few more highlights…
Watching lightening flash all around the valley from the dry safety of my balcony
A long weekend in Chitwan with great mates, elephants and a hot shower
Staying a night in a mud floor home in a tiny village with a couple who spoke no English…and we still managed to have good conversations
Making new friends every few weeks
Watching the sunrise over the clear, snow-covered Himalayan mountains
Splashing around under a fresh, cool waterfall
Rowing around Phewa lake and trying to avoid clumps of water lilies (unsuccessfully)
Finishing a 3 day trek, seeing some beautiful scenery (forest, waterfalls and mountains), relaxing after climbing all those stairs, getting to know friends better and sitting in front of a hot fire at night
No doubt about it, Nepal is a tough place to live for an extended period of time. I was lucky to be able to have some pretty open discussions with lots of local Nepalese people about their culture, their traditions, religions, arranged marriages, family life, teaching, schools, politics, food, jobs and their views on the future of Nepal.
While this gave me a greater understanding of the country and everyday life, many of the customs and norms and their values and beliefs here still don’t fully make sense to me. Not that they are wrong, they are just so different from what I have been brought up with that I find them hard to comprehend or understand.
Could I live here long term? No, I don’t think so. The culture and way of life is so different from what I know that I wouldn’t feel comfortable changing so many of my own ways of life to fit in. (And there’s no ocean nearby!!!)
So what did I learn? (Extra things from what I learned in the Maldives!)
I am much stronger mentally than I believed.
I am more resourceful than I knew.
People of any age need love and emotional support more than anything.
It is important to retain your humanity and compassion, especially when the place you are in tries to sap this out of you.
I so appreciate simple things I take for granted back home (continuous electricity, hot water, fresh drinking water, fast and reliable internet (yes, it is in NZ!).
I really do need to live somewhere near the ocean!
Will I come back again? Maybe! If I do, it will be to do some more trekking or perhaps attempt the summit of Everest!!!
I’m off to trek to Mt Everest base camp in a few days so this will be my last post for a while. I will post pics and stories of my Everest adventures in early November so keep an eye out for the next instalment then!