My Nepal stay is already half over, a month has passed quickly and there is much to write… Maybe some of you are interested in how things have been so far.
Leaving Korea was more difficult than I thought. Although I know it was my time to go, it’s been 1 ½ years there already, realization sank in when I had to say farewell to those I’ve become very close with… (and when Kimchi stopped being served with every meal). It was a bit daunting going off alone to another far-away country, and the first week especially, I felt quite alone. I knew what to expect, having traveled in developing countries before, but coming from Seoul’s downtown commercial district full of high-rise buildings and neon lights to Kathmandu was, well, let’s just say, a big change. My first impression was chaos, dust, cars, motorbikes, street vendors. I was taken to my host family/volunteer director’s house which is located in “Pepsi-cola” – a district named after it’s nearby cola factory. Some names in Nepal have been pretty funny – I lived in “Pepsi-cola”, went to restaurants such as “Be happy” and hostels such as “The end of the universe” (“umm excuse me, where is the end of the universe??”). Nepal is also a very colourful country – red sari’s, lush green rice fields, bright blue skies, white mountain tops, golden temples.
Although Nepali people work Sunday-Friday, there are so many festival holidays to make up for the six day week. The day I arrived was Krishna’s birthday and there was music and singing in many houses. Two weeks later was the womens festival, in which all women wore red saris and danced from the morning until the evening, as well as fasted all day for the health of their husband. I didn’t know how they could be so full of energy with eating and drinking all day. At the time, I was volunteering at the womens centre, so for the festival preparation we had a ‘well-being’ day, which included facemasks. The women at the centre were all really nice and enthusiastic to learn English, Math and Nepali from volunteers. Many women never had the opportunity to attend school and never learnt even basic Math. Some came as enthusiastic learners, whereas some came for fun and to have a good time, which everyone certainly did.
In Nepal, people rise very early and also go to bed very early. I am usually in bed falling asleep at 9pm. Nepali people wake up with the sun at around 6am, and head home when it gets dark at about 6pm. Dhaal Baat (which is rice with lentils in curry sauce) is eaten in the late morning and evening. People here eat really big amounts of rice, which I haven’t quite got used to, especially right before going to bed. Most people eat no or very little meat (goat and buffalo meat). Many foreigners get quite tired of eating the same meal twice every day… At around 8-9pm everything is quiet, even in the centre of the city. It’s a bit strange at first, especially coming from Korea where we’d be out until the early morning. I guess another reason for early nights is the daily power outages. Because Nepal doesn’t generate enough power, it is rationed out to different areas. Every evening, the power goes out and if there is no generator, you have to make do with only candles and flashlights. Many nights I spent in bed reading with a head torch, or listening to audiobooks on my mp3 player in the dark. During monsoon season there is power most of the daytime, but my friend told me that in winter there is less power and thus only about 5 hours of electricity a day, and very cold houses. Up to now, I have also never once experienced warm water, although I heard it does exist in some places. So only cold showers… At the orphanage room I was staying in, the toilet also didn’t work and only the main shower tap did. But in a way, you still get used to it – I don’t expect things to work but when they do, it’s great! 🙂
There are animals here everywhere. Little creatures from cockroaches, spiders, lizards, to big ones like goats, cows and buffalos walking the streets (killing a cow comes with a prison sentence). The other day we were biking and avoiding oncoming cows, potholes and other vehicles was like a game. Traffic in Nepal is an interesting experience/a nightmare. My first experience was being stuck on a bus for 7-8 hours going a relatively small distance. We were on a local bus which was very old, bumpy and had goats loaded on them. Buses and trucks here look like 1970’s hippy buses/circus caravans, full of colourful Hindu pictures and decorations hanging everywhere. A friend spent 17 hours from Kathmandu to Pokhara due to a landslide. The road between the two biggest cities is the main highway, but is traveled along at between 10-70km max./hour, due to heavy traffic, cows and potholes. On the way back there was a truck that flipped sideways and the whole road was blocked. When we were rafting I saw some trucks that crashed down the river banks… But I made it back well!
Middle of September I went to Pokhara, which was a nice break from Kathmandu’s chaos. Pokhara is very beautiful and situated at the Phewa Lake, and surrounded by the Annapurna mountain range. While I was there, monsoon season was nearing it’s end but most days were cloudy, so the mountains were covered by clouds. But in the morning, when skies are clear, the white mountain tops peaked over the clouds – a very beautiful scenery.
In Pokhara I volunteered at an orphanage for two weeks, and the kids there are so awesome! Always kind, welcoming, funny and hard-working. There are about 20 kids there and we spent time helping them with homework, daily tasks and a lot of playing. The orphanage houses children with very sad family backgrounds. In many cases, their father died, became ill or ran away with another woman, and the mother was unable to care for her child/children. In some cases the mother re-married but in order to do so, had to abandon her child. Most were found in very poor conditions, begging and with not enough food. One three-year old was picked up walking in the jungle without shoes and alone, having been rejected by his family. But when you meet them, you see little evidence of this, as they are now very happy and in a great environment. Because they had such scarce food available to them in the past, they often eat like it may be their last meal for a while. I am not exaggerating when I say they eat about three times as much rice as me, even the small kids! It is so funny watching them eat with their little hands. They were also very hard-working – when I got up at 7 in the morning, the kids were already sweeping, cooking and doing house chores.
I really love the kids there and hope to see them again. For my farewell, we had another dance party (during the two weeks, we had quite a few of these) and I was given a traditional farewell with a Tika (red colour on the forehead) and a farewell scarf and flowers from the garden.
Now I am back in Kathmandu’s Thamel district, being hassled by all the street sellers calling out and following me (i.e. a walking dollar sign). Aside from annoying street sellers, the people here are very welcoming and warm. Tomorrow I am starting a half month trek with Bhuwan, a good friend of my sister’s fiancé, who has been taking good care of me. He works as a guide and tomorrow we fly to Lukla together, where the trek to Everest base camp starts. After having read some Everest-related books I can’t wait to actually be there. I don’t know why, but I have always wanted to go there… maybe I lived there in my previous life 🙂 It’s at an altitude of 5400m, and I know it won’t be easy…
Anyway, more later!!!