I arrived back in England at the end of April, forever changed by this experience. This country and its people offered me so much more than the daily dal bhat and the modest bicep muscles I now sport.
I experienced love in its purest form from the beneficiaries, who would never ever allow you to leave their homes without feeding you their best, and who would always greet us with the biggest smiles and softest eyes. Even if you pop in unannounced like Ellie and I did on my last Saturday to say goodbye to some of these families who I feel became my family while I was there.
I have never worked as hard in my life before, and I have never been more smelly, dirty and tired. But I would go as far as to say that I have also never been happier. I lived with a bunch of likeminded lunatics for three months. We slept on plywood bunk beds, had cold showers, shared multiple conversations about each other’s bowels (those who tell you never to trust a fart in Nepal have a point, mind), and dodged snakes, scorpions and multiple rodents at the work sites on a daily basis while working like people possessed.
We had to come to terms with a bizarre dynamic where new volunteers arrived daily, and some said goodbye every day, making attachments so much more intense. But we shared a common goal, we experienced the same gratitude and we adopted the same sideways head shake of the Nepali people.
I ended my time in Nepal by going to Pokhara with a few volunteer friends. It’s a beautiful place with a huge tranquil lake and it was the perfect end to my stay. Getting to Pokhara was interesting though. For that matter, getting anywhere in Nepal was interesting. And scary, and hair raising, and dangerous, and hot. Come to think of it, my travels between places almost deserve a blog entry of its own, but let me share a few highlights.
I have explained the phenomenon of a bus in Nepal in a previous blog entry, but to recap: it is a vehicle with four wheels (ideally). No other similarities to the buses you and I know. On my first trip to Nuwakot from Kathmandu a man hopped on, pointed at my water bottle, took it, drank half and handed it back.
When Ellie, Emma and I went on our break we somehow managed to travel a mere 20km distance by getting on three different buses and on the last one we stood crammed at the back of the bus going up a very high mountain on a rather non-smooth road. Bear in mind that I am taller than the average anything in Nepal and you can imagine what that trip was like.
After our break we thought we would treat ourselves to get a “deluxe” bus back to base, seeing that we were all having serious concerns about our bowels at that point, and a four hour journey on anything other than deluxe was going to be pushing it. (Pun most certainly not intended).
Turns out, there was more than one person on that bus with stomach issues, and the gentleman sitting right in front of us got the attention of the driver to stop just a tad too late. Luckily we were stuck on a mountain in severely backed up traffic, so he could hop off, change trousers (came well prepared) and get back on only for the driver to order him to sit on some car part that was hitching a ride on the same deluxe bus. He then ordered us to close all the windows (?) and sprayed the entire bus with toilet spray (again he also seemed well prepared). It made me sad for this poor man, but I had some serious similar concerns of my own so had to stay focussed and not get emotional.
Now, most volunteers have had some interesting bus experiences while in Nepal, so when about 14 of us were heading to Pokhara at the same time, we thought it wise to hire a little mini van to take us there. Simples, we thought. Or not, as the case may be.
I don’t know what our driver was trying to achieve, but to arrive alive was most certainly not high on his to do list for the day. The road is pretty much like a mountain pass with no clear lanes for a big part of it. Going round corners are therefore already a challenge and the reason for the extensive use of their horns. Add to that the fact that this man was intent on overtaking anything and everything on said corners, and every time we all got to see the oncoming trucks and feared for our lives. It didn’t help that I saw four abandoned, damaged vehicles on the side of the road by this point. If I wasn’t sitting right at the back I would have most certainly made him stop so I could get out.
Speaking of, I l was struggling in the back of this small, hotter than hell van, applying all the mind-over-matter principles I have ever heard of to combat my claustrophobia, when something hit the back of our van and my earphones went flying out of my ears. I turned around to see a truck had hit us. Nice.
Now from what I understand, the Nepali way of dealing with incidents like these is for the drivers to come to a financial agreement there and then to settle the matter. Our van therefore pulled up at the first convenient stop on the side of the road which happened to be at the appropriately named “Cock fight restaurant”. I kid you not.
We spent about half an hour trying not to melt, before finally getting back into the sauna van and making the last stretch on flatter road, but still dearly missing some shock absorbers.
My last week in Nepal involved working in a very remote village at the top of a mountain near our base. To get all of us up there we took a big blue truck every day. Or that was the plan anyway, until it got stuck after a night of heavy rain and we ended up hiking up that mountain instead until the next morning when we took up some shovels and dug it out. There were a few moments where I knew that if the brakes of that truck failed we would be goners, but it was nevertheless an adrenalin rush for most of it.
That all said, here I am, alive and well and able to tell the mostly humorous transport tales, so all good I suppose.
I have a lifetime of memories from this time and I will be forever grateful for it. If I have learned one thing this year it is that in giving to others, we are ultimately the biggest beneficiaries. I am so incredibly humbled and I am a better version of myself due to my time in this spectacularly beautiful country.
Namaste, Nepal. I owe you.