It’s only love



 Last Saturday Ellie, Sasha and I were invited to lunch at a beneficiary’s house. This is the house of the woman who lost her husband in the earthquake, and who lives with the family of her sister-in-law. We finished this site about a month ago, and I felt a very deep connection with both these women and their extended family. The entire village were very involved in this site and kept popping in while we were working there to give us sweets, chocolates, cold drinks, encouragement, help and love.

Now on Saturday, when I had just about recovered from the ten day Giardia saga, and my stomach had just shrunk back to normal human sized portions again, we set off at 10am for our lunch appointment. We were joined by Kabitha, Soniya, Shrada and Roni, four of the Nepali staff members that work with us. And possibly four of the most beautiful girls I have ever seen.

It was a really hot and incredibly humid day, and after my ten days of walking only to and from the toilet, the short walk up to the village left me looking just about the same as I do when I step out of a Bikram yoga class. But the reunion was sweet. It felt exactly the same as when family comes together after some time apart. It felt right. It felt safe and it felt beautiful. Other than “Namaste Didi” (Hallo Sister), “Ramro?” (Good?) and “Danyabat!” (Thank you!) there was no language connection. But we understood. We all did. We understood the love and joy there was in seeing each other again. After spending some time just drinking in the atmosphere, we took off our shoes and stepped inside for some lunch.

It came as no surprise that our plates were overloaded with delicious dhal bat, aloo, atchar and all the other dishes that these people cook on one fire, often in one pot, in one small house, but with no limit to the amount of care and pride they pour into it. As is standard, they sat watching us eat, constantly walking around with serving bowls, and no doubt playing their game of “let’s see how much food we can sneak onto their plates”. We laughed, they laughed, we smiled, ate, took deep breaths, ate some more and had the best time.

Straight after lunch we were told that they are going to start preparing the snacks in the adjacent house. Snacks. Whatever. We have learnt on site that an afternoon snack is none other than a second lunch, in similar quantities and just as carbohydrate heavy as the first. We protested heavily saying that we could not possibly have snacks now, but they informed Kabitha that it will take about two hours to prepare the snacks and that by that time we are bound to be hungry again.

Sasha previously worked on a site just up the road and was keen to go and say hallo to those beneficiaries so it seemed like a good time to head up there while our snacks were being prepared. Having learnt a thing or two about Nepali hospitality though, and therefore fully expecting to be fed up there, Ellie and I chose to spend some more time with Prabati and her family while the others headed up. We sat inside their one bedroom house admiring their family photo and exchanging goofy happy smiles for a while when a beautiful teenage girl confidently walked in, took us each by the hand and summoned us up to the house where the others had gone. She guided us like a father would walk his bride up the aisle and we soon realised that no amount of protest will get us out of what was bound to be a second plate.

We walked into the house and were greeted by knowing laughter from our friends and the family. As soon as we sat down the feeding commenced. Obviously. Yep, you guessed it: some dhal bat, some vegetable dishes, some chicken and generally too much delicious food. Ellie and I had not met this lady before, but when she heard that two of the gang was nearby she had promptly sent her daughter to fetch us. That is just how it works here. The thread of generosity runs through it all.

We slowly managed to eat our food and still failed miserably at our attempts of preventing our plates to be refilled. As soon as we were done and wanting to say our goodbyes, we were faced with another “we are starting to prepare your snacks now” situation. It took a lot of explaining from the Nepali girls to decline this offer as politely as is possible.

My food baby was weighing me down by this point, but we made our way back down to Prabati’s house for our second lunch which would now in fact be our third lunch.

We got served more chicken, some chana (chickpeas) and more rice. Go figure. The raksi also came out. Raksi is Nepal’s answer to Saki and to me is not dissimilar in taste and effect of clean ethanol. Thankfully I was still on my medication so I had a legitimate reason to decline the offer. It was now nearly 3pm so we had been eating for 5 hours straight.

When it finally became time to say our goodbyes, we took a few pictures with the family which I intend to print and take back to them before I leave. Prabati’s daughter went inside the house and came back out with three pairs of earrings and three hairbands decorated with bright flowers. She had gotten these especially for Ellie, Sasha and myself, and took great pride in decorating our hair and putting our earrings in for us. When it was my turn she gave me one look, turned around into the house, came out with a stool and got onto it so that she could reach my hair. This made everyone chuckle. I am a little bit like the amazon woman in Nepal, and have gotten used to always minding my head when entering and exiting any house.

It is hard to put into words the way I felt after this day. The only way I can really describe it is that I felt full. Of food, yes of course.

But full to the brim of nothing other than love. I have never in my life been on the receiving end of so much gratitude, love and soul connections without language. This is true for my entire time in Nepal. It will stay with me forever and I am a better person for it.



The colour crazy! 

This blog entry comes to you straight from the “comfort” of my top bunk where I have spent the last five days in a pretty dazed state. What started as a mild stomach bug in Kathmandu nine days ago, has progressed to the point where I had no choice but to venture to the makeshift clinic in town yesterday for some advice. Turns out I have Giardia, a nasty little parasite. I am going to spare you the details, but suffice to say this has not been the most fun I have had in a while, and I am currently tripping on some very strong medication. I have been out of action work wise for the whole week, and have found this unbelievably frustrating to deal with, because I am simply not in Nepal to be sick, but to work and improve lives. I complained about this to my friend, who in her infinite wisdom replied that I have already helped many lives change, including my own. And that made me remember again just how lucky I am to have already had such life changing experiences, in addition to adding some value for others. Besides, getting some form of stomach related illness has almost become a rites of passage to Nepal. I feel as though I have earned my stripes! Now let’s hope it clears sooner rather than later so that I can get back to the rocks and dirt I have grown to love so much. 

Since I last blogged, I have joined one of the mobile teams for a week at a school rebuild site, called Jalpa Yuwa. This was without a doubt the best week since I have been on project. We have a mobile base set up with tents, outside showers and toilets built with bamboo and tarpaulin on a rice paddy at the top of a mountain. 360 views of more beautiful mountains were my office view for a week. (I am pretty sure that a Nepalese person would describe these as hills rather, but for me they are pretty magnificent mountains.) 

We arrived to this base on the back of a truck, which was a dusty, bumpy, crazy experience, and there were more than a few times I silently thanked the dhal bat padding I have gained for soft(er) landings. I saw the most spectacular sunsets which no amount of words or pictures will be able to do justice. The school rebuild is taking place in partnership with a local organisation called Room to Read, working on retrofitting and building schools. On Thursday we mixed and poured concrete all day. It was good to do something construction related. We work right next to the temporary school and the kids entertain us throughout the day (and we them, I am sure). 

The small village at Jalpa have embraced us and welcomed us into their community. Here too, the generosity that is shown to us is unlike anything I have ever experienced. On our last night, Sunita, the local lady who cooks our dinners, arranged a party for us. She laid on a buffet dinner in front of her corrugated iron house and we had the entire village watch us eat this feast. As soon as we all had more than our fair share, the music started and we had the best time dancing the night away. I have never experienced so much love and happiness in such simple surroundings. It rates as one of the best nights of my life. 

The next morning we were heading back to our Nuwakot base, and had to walk down the mountain to meet our van in town, as it could not make the drive up to base on the damaged roads. After having walked down, my mind is somewhat blown as to how we got up there in the truck in the first place.

Last Monday the entire Nuwakot base trekked en masse to Kathmandu to celebrate Holi, the Hindu spring festival of colour. I was also due my break after Holi, so had an entire week of downtime to look forward to. To celebrate Holi in Nepal is as authentic as it gets, and it did not disappoint. Everywhere you walk people rub paint on your face, hair, clothes and arms. Water guns and buckets of water tipped from balconies above also make for a fun mess. We walked to Durbar square where a massive party was underway. It was a sight to see, the colour crazy literally everywhere I looked! I have never had as many people touch my face as during this one day, everyone saying sincerely “Happy Holi” as they added yet another colour to the layers and layers of paint already on me. It was a weird and wonderful experience. 

After Holi, my friends Emma, Ellie and I spent another day in Kathmandu just relaxing, before setting off for two days to Nagarkot. This area of Nepal is about 20km from Kathmandu and is famous for its views of the Himalayas, especially at sunrise. After a four hour trip including three local buses, and an ascent of about 1,200m during which I was standing the entire way, we got to Nagarkot and checked in to the Mount Paradise Hotel. It’s a good thing that relaxing was high on our agenda, because that is all we ended up doing for the next 48 hours. Sadly not because we had much choice. 

The three of us were all down with this bug, and pretty much slept and slept and then slept a bit more. Having heard about the famous, breathtaking views, we did however plan to at least make the trip to see this. So on our last morning we got up at 5am, walked 3km to the viewpoint, saw absolutely nothing due to the smog and haze, nearly dehydrated on our way, walked 3km back to the hotel, slept some more and then traveled back to Kathmandu. And ever since then I have been woman down with this little parasite. Today I am finally feeling so much better and I am hopeful that the end is in sight and that I will get back to rubbling next week. One of our previous beneficiaries invited us to lunch tomorrow, it will be good to go and spend some time with them.  

When I first got to Nepal, I kept thinking to myself that signing up for two and a half months was maybe a little bit ambitious. Now I just desperately want time to go slower. I am getting so anxious about leaving this country, this organisation, these friends I made and of course the daily dhal bat. It’s been nothing but a privilege.