It’s hard to reconcile being on a computer in the middle of nowhere, Nepal. It’s almost as difficult to reconcile as hauling 30 pound stones on a mountain top overlooking miles of stepped rice paddy hills, as coughing back the dust cloud that erupts after a team of barefoot Nepali men demo a primary school with their hands and a chisel, and as bizarrely wonderful as eating local cucumbers dipped in the Old Bay seasoning that I gave my host family as a thank you gift. There are these moments of clarity and comfort miles away from what is comfortable. I think that’s what I love the most.
We arrived to the project site on Tuesday night after an arduous day of travel. In typical Nepali fashion, our Jeeps that were due to depart at 6a on the dot rolled out of the Kathmandu valley around 8:15a. Nepali time is my favorite. The drive to the hills of Jarang, while only about 200km in total, takes an entire day. The first leg is from Kathmandu to Gorkha on the paved highways that connects the major cities in Nepal. The highway has two lanes, one in each direction, and winds over the rivers and through the stunning valleys that consume Nepal. Any passenger on this road also has to deal with the air pollution and exhaust which also consumes Nepal. Bring your bandana – you’ll need it.
We stopped in Gorkha for lunch, arriving around 1:30p. The volunteers were spanning the range of emotions: excited, nervous, and ready to just get to our final destination. After an hour reprieve from the Jeeps and the heat, we traded paved for dirt roads and started the climb. The final leg takes anywhere from 3-5 hours, depending on the roads. Unfortunately for our project, rainy season is striking early this year. Usually, the heavy rains do not begin until July. This year, we’ve already seen quite a few crazy thunderstorms and monsoon rains. As a result, the dirt roads turn to mud road at several points and we need to take it super slow and walk the final 2 hours into the village.
When we FINALLY arrived to Jarang around dusk, after 12 hours of travel, the village welcomed us with tikkas, flowers, and smiles. The display was overwhelming. After celebrating our arrival with the community, we all headed to our host families to get settled in. There are at least two English speakers staying with each host family since most families speak very limited English. We have clustered volunteers into two compounds – one at the top of the hill near the school and one that is a 20 minute hike down the hill. At night, you can hear the chatter of volunteers and families in the houses next door. While living is simple, beds that are made out of boards, squat toilets, and water out of a bucket to wash with, it always surprises me how fast it can feel like home.
We have almost accomplished our goal to complete the foundation by the end of the first volunteer phase. Travis, our volunteer architect, has been an instrumental part of our progress, overseeing the daily work flow of both skilled laborers and volunteers. I have been incredibly impressed by his ability to turn a design into reality without the Western building resources we typically use. We’re not even talking power tools – we’re talking wheelbarrows. When we left on Friday, our site actually looked like a school in the making.
The first group of volunteers has been incredible and I’m sad to see them go tomorrow. They are hard working, culturally sensitive, positive, and flexible. They’re also hilarious. Despite the fact that we were hauling boulders for hours in the steaming heat, we laughed hysterically at least a few times each day. It has been my personal pleasure to work side-by-side each one of them.
Yesterday morning was particularly emotional for many as volunteers said goodbye to a community that has treated them like family from the moment they arrived. I was deeply touched by the impact that the volunteers and community had on each other in such a short period of time. Ramas (Ryan), Pradeep (Dad), Kamala (Katie), Krishna (Kevin), and Soppana (Heather D.), you will be missed.
We are back in Kathmandu for a few days to send off the current volunteers and welcome Kierstin, Quentin, Holley, Ann, and Tiffani tomorrow. We’re also here to stock up on cold showers, any foods not involving rice, and internet for the next three days. Heaven. We trek back to the site on Tuesday morning to begin working on the walls, windows, and structure of the school. I’m anxious to get going again!
In closing, I’d like to share a few of my favorite moments over the past two weeks:
- Watching my Dad dance with the Jarang villagers upon arrival, taking pictures of Heather dancing with the “neighborhood” children on our front porch, and watching Travis bust an old school move in the middle of a circle to the roar of Nepali laughter
- Hearing Ramas’ Aama (host mom) scream “RAMAS!” every time he arrived home and from my bed at night, hearing him cackle as his host mom forced yet another meal upon him
- Running to greet the Jeep after Sarah took a day-trip snack run to Gorkha to give everyone a much-needed break from the Dal Bhat diet
- Drawing inspiration from 17 year-old Katie and 18 year-old Kevin as they slid into village life without hesitation
- Enjoying countless cups of chia and conversation with Heather J. while sitting Indian style outside overlooking the mountains and sunsets
- Stalking the Jeep as it made its way up to Jarang with our new volunteers, Quinnen, Carrie, and Aileen, on Day 7
- Sharing this once-in-a-lifetime experience with my father; for a generous parent, quite possibly the greatest gift he has ever given me
- And finally, as always, the countless moments that just move you – the currency in Jarang