In September 2009, I took off for Nepal, India, Thailand, and Cambodia for five months to volunteer and explore. The result: Edge of Seven. During my adventure I blogged weekly and from time to time, on the “professional” Edge of Seven blog, I’d like to kick it back to my roots. Enclosed is my post from November 7th 2009.
For the last week, I am woken up every single morning around 6a by a man feeding the pigeons on his roof. He is chanting, at an even pace, “HA. HA. HA. HA. HA.” I use periods for punctuation intentionally. He is not laughing. He does not sound jolly. He is literally just sounding out, at top volume, fake laughter. The first day, I was totally confused and asked one of the Nepali instructors that also lives at our hostel what the deal is. He smiled and said the guy decided that he wants to be a happier person so he begins every day by forcing himself to laugh out loud. I’ll be honest, for the next day or two I thought it was totally wierd. But on the third day, I peered out of my window to see what he looked like. And for the last few days, I’ve just smiled in bed as I’ve heard the first “HA” erupt from the morning silence. Sure, it’s bizarre, but I also find his determination to find the positives in life admirable. Refreshing. Don’t worry, I’ll keep my fake laughter limited to my phone calls with EF customers, but I’m certainly taking a life lesson from my new neighbor.
This week was great! I’m working with a new project in a different part of Kathmandu – I’ve moved from north of the city to southeast of the city. New bus routes to learn, new vendors to haggle with…but fun to explore another area of town. In this project, all volunteers stay in a hostel that’s owned by the organization. There are huge upsides – I’ve been sharing a room with a German woman and another American who have become fast friends. It feels like camp! But there are also plenty of downsides:
- I retract my earlier statement about cold showers. They are not refreshing. They are torturous when it’s winter and cold in the morning. You actually get a brain freeze.
- I’m pretty sure the sheets haven’t been washed since ’92. Cleanliness has become relative.
- Our hostel cook, while a nice guy, thinks that westerners like pasta for every meal. He typically mixes the pasta with either mayonnaise or ketchup. Try not to be too jealous.
- Our cook also loves to blare Nepali club music at 7a through breakfast. Nothing like oatmeal and a little bump and grind.
- While my roomates are awesome, some other volunteers are clearly here for the wrong reasons and I’m tired of hearing them complain about all of the above 24 hours a day. It’s funny to acknowledge and joke about but it’s toxic to have people around that constantly harp on the negative and how much they miss the western world [when they have been here for all of 2 weeks]. Volunteering in Nepal is not romantic. It’s educational, humbling, challenging, and incredibly rewarding on a daily basis. But if you are looking for romantic, go back to Paris.
This week, I spent one night in a village with a Nepali family to get a better understanding of “real” village life. It is MUCH different than city life, as in the U.S. In the villages, it is quiet and picturesque. Life moves much more slowly and most extended families live together – grandparents, parents, siblings, and children. The men work in the fields and the women take care of the home by cooking and cleaning. I had tea about 5 times a day, went for a beautiful hike with views of the himalayas, and read for hours. Not too bad! Amenities are basic, of course – no heat, no hot water, fire “stove” to cook, squat toilet (if a toilet at all). But the relaxing pace of life and the amount of time they spend with their loved ones makes you stop to think what’s really important. I loved it.
Tomorrow, I’m off to the jungle for 2 weeks to work on a variety of different village projects. Chitwan [the jungle part of Nepal], is much more rural and there are quite a few construction, conservation, and education projects currently underway. After a month in Kathmandu, I’m ready to take a break from the pollution, noise, and pollution. I hope to have internet access sometime in those 2 weeks but if not, I’ll write an extra long blog around Thanksgiving time.