Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Nepal - Kathmandu

Our last week in Nepal was spent in the capital city - Kathmandu. It was busy and big with so many people, it took me a while to enjoy it. I was used to being in a tiny village, under mosquito nets, without running water. Now I'm racing across the street to dodge the six lanes of traffic (which is actually only the width of two normal lanes, but somehow they make it into six) and eating American food at touristy restaurants.

I eventually learned to love it. Our guest house was amazing - it was a 3 story house turned into a hotel of sorts. Along every hallway was a never ending bookcase, packed full of books! I am the biggest bookworm, and was going through reading withdrawals, so to have hundreds of books at my fingertips was such a simple joy.

I had so much fun that week. We took taxis, watched movies, played games, took plenty of walks throughout the city, washed our clothes (finally!), and went to a huge marketplace. And after the previous three weeks of constant hiking, we treated ourselves to a much needed massage. And did I mention that the coffee in Kathmandu was great?!

My favorite part about being in Kathmandu was the city tour. Our tour guide took us to both Buddhist and Hindu temples, explaining every statue we passed, explaining every ritual. We went to the old castle, where a royal massacre happened just a little over ten years ago. It was amazing to see how much that effected the people of Nepal, especially those living in Kathmandu at the time. There was one temple named Swayambhuanath, which we climbed 365 stairs to see (as you look through my pictures below, you'll see a view of the city which I took from the top of the staircase, so yes, the climb was worth it). At all of the temples (and especially at the one nicknamed The Monkey Temple) there were the cutest little monkeys running around. I absolutely love monkeys, but as our tour guide said, "You can take pictures. But if you look them in the eye, they will attack you." I had a close call with one monkey as I got a little too excited and broke into his personal space (Can you blame me? He was so cute, I just wanted a closer picture). After both making eye contact and getting hissed at, I'm lucky that there were no monkey attacks. Also, bonus points to whoever can find the monkey in one of my pictures.

But it was most humbling to watch these devoted people coming to pray at the temple, men in business suits giving offerings to their gods, women lying face down in the doorway crying out their prayers, children spinning prayer wheels over and over and over again. I watched as a family burned an old man's body right next to a holy river, in the hopes that he would be reincarnated into a good thing. I watched starving bodies walk past a dozen temple cows, which are too holy to eat.

Out of the whole month of adventures that I had in Nepal, what sticks in my memory the most are the faces of these Nepali people at the temples, waiting for their god to do something. Waiting for their god to save them. Not knowing who the real Savior is.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Nepal - Dadhuwa

We left the busy, adventurous, touristy city of Pokhara early one morning, with fresh bananas and lychees in hand to snack on on the way. After hours of speeding through rough mountain roads, we arrived in a village totally opposite of our last week. Dadhuwa was slow and simple, and we were the only foreigners around.

We stayed in the community center, built a few years ago by members of our team, and were hosted by the most beautiful local woman, who we affectionately called Didi, which means "big sister" in Nepali. She cooked us two meals a day - daal bhat for lunch and daal bhat for dinner. Daal, which means "beans", and bhat, which means "rice", was a plate of white rice and a bowl of bean soup. You pour the soup over the rice and eat it with your hand. The first time I tried it, I think most of the daal bhat landed in my lap, not in my mouth. It's definitely an art, and I am proud to say that by the end of my two month trip in Asia, I had it mastered. In the early morning, and in the afternoon, she would serve us hot tea. Even though it was over 100 degrees outside, we would never pass up a cup of Didi's tea. I still crave it, hot and milky and so spicy.

This was the most simple village that we were at. There was limited electricity and I went a whole week without showering (thank God for baby wipes and lots of deodorant). We slept in bunks underneath mosquito nets, and here's the best part - no toilets. We used a "squatty potty", which was a hole in the ground, with ridges to put your feet in, and a bucket of water nearby to "flush" with. The people don't use toilet paper (that's what your left hand is for!) but we brought some to spoil ourselves. It's really not as bad as it seems, but it did make me gain an appreciation for Western toilets.

The people here were such hard workers. They were awake early - I saw them up by 4am every day and went to bed late - after dinner, which was usually at 8pm if not later. I often saw women carrying heavy containers of water in baskets which were secured around the head. Inspired by the work ethic we saw all around us, the team and I carried firewood up a hill to bless the widows of the town. I was way too weak to carry a whole bundle, so I picked up the stray pieces of wood that fell out of the other bundles. Even just carrying a stack in my arms was such hard work. Blame it on the altitude or the hot weather, but I give major kudos to all those who live and work in Dadhuwa.

The days were so hot. Even in the early mornings, sweat would be dripping down our arms as we prayed for a breeze. There was no relief. The nights were so cold, the coldest out of all the villages we stayed at (except for Jomsom - Jomsom wins for coldest, but that was thankfully only one night). We lived right across from a sheep pen, right next to chicken pens, and on the road where cattle and goats often were herded by. Needless to say, there was never a quiet moment. One afternoon, the sky went dark and we experienced the loudest thunderstorm. My roommate, who slept in the bunk directly beneath me, was shouting something, but I could not understand a single word. The rain on the tin roof, the thunder echoing through the village, the wind forcing the windows open with loud crashes, and the lightning lighting up the whole room. It was humbling and drew my thoughts to the Creator.

I think most of my Nepal stories come from our stay in Dadhuwa. From Didi's famous tea to the struggles of the squatty potty to the children we fell in love with. I can't write a post about Dadhuwa without mentioning the beauty of it. There was the most spectacular view of the mountains, the brightest stars, and so many different types of trees that it made me want to take another biology class (hear that, Dr. Guevin? Teach me more about tree recognition!). I loved this week so much - the simplicity won me over.