I wonder.

So they say “third time lucky”, and I truly hope they are right, because I have managed to lose this blog entry twice already. It is a challenge to write it all on Notes on my phone, and I was close to throwing said phone in the Trisuli river on Tuesday evening, but here goes again. Fingers crossed.
I have not posted too many updates since arriving in Nepal, and I feel guilty about that, because my blog’s whole purpose was to act as a news feed to my friends and family. 

Truth is though that I am finding it hard to narrate the colourful experiences I have had on a daily basis since arriving. This is possibly because of the plethora of revelations and questions this trip to Nepal has raised in me, that seem so much bigger than the beautiful details of my days. 

I wonder about so many things. I wonder how the East got so far removed from the West. I wonder how a whole world can turn a comfortable blind eye to the huge disparity that exists in this separation. I wonder at Divine connections and Divine timing. I wonder how I have not yet tired of dal bhat, cold showers and squat toilets. I wonder how and when the measure of success in the Western world became so closely linked to material wealth. I wonder at how spiritually elevated the Nepali people seem to me. I wonder at the human spirit, and just how much it can endure. I wonder about my future, and where my passion and purpose will meet. 

Heavy stuff, granted. 

But, despite my borderline inner-Virgo desperately wanting to arrange these questions and their as-yet-unknown answers in neat columns, I have not been this happy and at peace in a very long time. And it’s hard to pinpoint why exactly.

Six days a week we get up at the crack of dawn, gather our tools and walk through the villages to our work sites. We rubble, shovel, throw rocks, break down walls and slowly but surely help people clear their land in order to rebuild their lives. I have been lucky to be on two sites that we finished since being here. The beneficiaries spoil us with literally all they have. They invite us into their modest homes for lunch, they give us the sweetest milk tea, they provide us with their own pillows when we sleep off our rice-comas, and they get involved with the bittersweet task of breaking down for new beginnings. They work with us, laugh with and at us, and I am sure they wonder at us as much as I am fascinated by them. 

The local community has embraced our loud gang of westerners with open arms. Maya’s has the only wifi connection in town so naturally she draws a good crowd. Sanu, at the other edge of town, does washing for us and has a pancake breakfast menu on Saturday’s for our benefit. There are fantastic Momo’s to be had at “the place on the left”, while “the place on the right” serves a chow mein that is second to none. Our landlord, Krishna, has opened a little shop next to base where we can buy beers, chocolates and a few other bits. Everywhere we go, the kids run at us with an enthusiastic “Namaste, what is your nâââââme?”, and of course a universal high five. 

There has been only one incident where I have felt slightly scared and vulnerable. Five of us girls had a great need (using the word “need” lightly here) for pizza a couple of weeks ago. We set off on what would be a 45 minute hike, including a very steep set of zig zag stairs at the end, in order to reach the only place remotely nearby where we could find pizza. Arriving rather ravenous, we were told that there was no cheese, so pizza was not an option. Unless of course we wanted to take the owner up on the offer of making us pizza with butter (?) instead. We were feeling less than adventurous by this point and opted for burgers. Oh wait, no buns, because the bun factory is not open on Saturdays. Fail of a dinner really, and we ended up having standard Nepali food which we could have done locally had we known. After dinner we got our headlamps ready and started to head back down the steep drop of dark, rocky steps winding back into town. Out of nowhere, some fist sized rocks started flying at us from above. Our screams to stop had no effect, and we had no choice but to start running down, all the while trying to cover our heads and not trip over loose stones. This experience made us feel anxious and exposed, but I am convinced that it was purely youngsters trying to scare us, not for one second realising the potential danger of these flying rocks. The bottom line is, I have not experienced anything other than love, kindness, generosity and friendship since arriving. I am in awe of the Nepali people.

I have been here a month today, and while on the one hand it has flown by, I feel as though I have been here forever. In a good way. I am yet again having a chance to evaluate what really matters in this life, and I am yet again coming to the conclusion that kindness is indeed what makes my world go round. I am getting so much from this experience and I feel ashamed about the naive arrogance of my ways in the past. I feel humbled by all I have seen so   far and cannot wait for the rest to unfold.  




Everyday I’m shoveling…

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So I made it through the first working week in Nuwakot. So far, it has been a trip. We are split into teams on a daily basis, and work on different sites. Typically, these are homes of people who were badly affected by the earthquake. The majority of work is breaking down of walls, and clearing an unbelievable amount of rubble for people who simply do not have the resources to do it themselves. (The pick axe has become my friend!)All the sites I have been on so far have the families living in temporary shelters, with their buffalo, goats and chickens nearby. The site I started on week is of a 39 year old woman with three children, whose husband was killed in the earthquake. It takes about 9 of us a week of heavy work on average to clear a site ready for rebuild, so you can imagine that for one woman this is simply impossible.

It is hard, dirty work, but so incredibly rewarding.

The beneficiaries cook lunch for us on site. This is where it gets interesting. In Nepal it is considered incredibly offensive to leave food on your plate. But in Nepal there also seems to be no limits to the amount of food they think we can eat in one sitting. I learnt this the hard way, but the best way to deal with this is to take some food off your plate onto a clean plate before you start eating. Not a day has gone by where we didn’t get served ample amounts of dal bhat, which is rice with a type of lentil soup you pour over it. We usually get this with a variety of other dishes and sauces. The beneficiary keeps walking around with serving bowls and the second you let your guard down they will sneak more food on your plate. It really is incredible how generous they are and how much pride they take in serving us. What strikes me is that those with nothing to give, give everything.
Life at the base is communal living at its best. It is a super well organised place, but with absolutely no frills. We are about 80 people on base, and live in what was previously a guesthouse complex. It is basic to say the least, but then I guess it would totally defeat the purpose of what we are trying to achieve if funds are spent to keep the volunteers cosy. We get breakfast and dinner at base. Dinners are cooked by two locals. Our work t-shirts are also rotated on a daily basis and a local lady comes to wash these by hand every second day. We have cold showers, and take turns in pairs to do housekeeping.

There is e-coli in the water (yum), so we take care to not get any of it in our bodies, even brushing our teeth with bottled water. We work 6 days a week from 7am each morning, with Saturdays off. I have seen more than one mouse and rat (in the base!) and there is also a red panda doing the rounds at night. I have a top bunk, which is supposedly less safe in an earthquake, but I prefer to be out of reach of the rodents! This might sound irrational, but those of you who know me well will know that I have previously moved house because of a mouse so this is the next best thing I can do to manage my fear.

Speaking of earthquakes: there has been two tremors since I arrived, both at night. We have an evacuation procedure which is prompted by a whistle. I have slept soundly through both of these, of which one was a 5.5 on the Richter scale, with its epicentre nearby. I was a little bit unhappy that my roommates didn’t think to wake me for the evacuation and had a word with my top bunk roommate, Gabe, who is this really lovely, crazy guy from Seattle. I asked him to please wake me in future when they all evacuate. To this he looked at me as if I was really losing my marbles. He said, in his very American accent: “Dude are you kidding me? I was lying in bed when I felt the earthquake, and I was like totally freaking out, thinking this is my first night and there is like totally an earthquake happening; what do I do?? I was shaking you by your shoulders asking what the protocol is, but you looked me straight in the eyes, shooting daggers at me, then turning around and carrying on sleeping. I was thinking, man she is totally chilled and here I am freakin out! Either way, I am out!”

So he has promised to not leave me again in a similar scenario unless I actually physically register movement! It was hysterically funny to hear his version of the story, and a blessing I guess to sleep so soundly.

The tremors have freaked me out a little though. I had to have a long hard think and a word with myself as to how I was going to deal with it. I came to the conclusion that I am here to help people whose lives have forever been changed by the earthquake of last year. I cannot live in fear of when the next one will be, it will cripple me and steal all my energy (which I really do need for rubbling). There are many different theories about the increase in tremors, but the fact is that nobody will ever be able to predict these things, and in the meantime I am having faith that I am exactly where I need to be. I am blessed to be able to experience this in a beautiful place with beautiful people.
That’s all for now folks, I will tell you a little more about the local community in my next post, but until then be good. And if you can’t be good, be careful. Wise words from my late grandmother.

Oh, and side note: Prince Harry is set to visit Nepal in March just when I am due my break in Kathmandu. Told you I don’t believe in coincidence!