This week, we headed to the Gorkha District of Nepal to prepare for our school building project. The community welcomed us with open arms and they are excited to work side by side the Americans heading over in just a few days. While their English is limited, their warmth is abundant.
We arrived late in the day on Tuesday after several hot hours in the Jeeps. Our driver, Baburam, is a genius with a steering wheel. He made navigating the bumpy and narrow dirt mountain roads seem like child’s play. We decided to hike the final hour of the journey and while we were walking, the sky opened up and it started to pour. The lightning sent us running for the nearest shelter and a wonderful Nepali woman invited us onto her porch under cover. There were about 15 school children on their way home that also ducked into her home for a respite from the storm. Some of the children were students of the primary school that I had met in the fall and while initially shy towards us goras (white people), they started smiling by the time the rain subsided.
We all slept at Kapil’s house (really, his parents’ house) for our short stay. Sarah and I got lucky with beds and Binod, Travis, Surya, Achyut, and Kapil slept on mats on the floors. We slept on the wrap-around covered deck upstairs so while sleeping under a roof, you could still see the stars. The beds in the village are straight up boards and the pillows are comparable to rocks so it was nice to have my sleeping bag for some extra cushion.
Wednesday morning, we woke up bright and early since the family begins their day around 5a. We had our morning tea and then headed to the school site to meet with the village. We met with the seven board members of Jarang Garan, the community based organization (CBO) that focuses on development in this region of the country. This CBO was founded in 2007 and has completed 22 projects thus far. Our building project will be their 23rd!
In addition to the board members, about 40 members of the community gathered around the meeting at different points to hear what was being discussed. We talked about the water supply that we are bringing to the village, the new toilets for the school, the building design, and the project timetable. Travis Hughbanks, our American volunteer architect from Coterra + Reed in Austin, created an environmentally friendly design that addresses problems that schools in this part of the world face. Conditions like extreme heat in the summer, loud drops pelting off of the tin roof in the rainy season, and poor air circulation throughout the building. The community offered feedback on a few areas of the design, we made a few adjustments, and we are all excited to break ground on Wednesday.
We are all adjusting to Dal Bhat, the Nepali traditional meal with rice and vegetables, twice per day. In Nepal, since families work hard for every grain of rice that is on your plate, it is considered rude not to finish your meal. Unfortunately, our host family thought we were training for an Iron Man and we all had difficulty finishing our meals. We’re going to encourage our host families to halve the portions next week so volunteers can go full clean plate club.
What the village lacks in amenities it makes up for with natural beauty. Yesterday morning, right after sunrise, I could see the snow-capped Himalayas behind the rolling rice paddy fields. I may not have showered in three days and was awake at the ungodly hour of 5a, but I felt lucky to be enjoying sunrise with my cup of chia (tea). Those moments make it easier to cope with toilets that are essentially holes in the ground, a constant cover of dirt on every exposed stretch of skin, and heat that has you sweating by 8a.
The drive back from the site to Kathmandu was quite the experience, as is every road trip in Nepal. The first three hours of the trip are spent traversing down the dirt roads. We had a 3 hour layover in Gorkha as we did a little sightseeing and picked up more supplies for the school. The final stretch should have been a 4-5 hour trip back to Kathmandu on the main highway but when we got to the entrance to the Kathmandu valley, traffic was backed up for several mountain turns (yes, I’m using mountain turns to measure distance). We sat and sat and finally got home to a shower after a 12 hour journey. It’s always an adjustment driving again in Nepal with drivers overtaking on hairpin turns and buses coming at you head on while you ingest the exhaust from the surrounding buses but it’s all part of the Nepal experience.
We’re running around Kathmandu preparing for the volunteers’ arrival tomorrow! We will pick everyone up at the airport tomorrow, do a little sightseeing in the afternoon, and then have orientation coupled with more sightseeing on Monday. Tuesday, around 6a, we’re headed back into the mountains to begin building the community’s school!