Day 1 – Kathmandu. Damn. There is no further contrast from the solace of Sheepscot Lake, Maine, that I departed from. Let me set the scene around me now: Bumper to bumper traffic everywhere, anytime. Not a single traffic signal to be found, yet apparently car accidents are rare. Though people drive fast and maneuver often, everyone works together, creating a chaos that seems to work Crossing the road feels life threatening every time, but in the same vein noone actually wants to hit you. The air is thick with exhaust fumes; as my buddy Jeff explained, the manufacturers cater to the market. No one will buy a fancy bike with a catalytic convertor if one without does the job just fine is what everyone else has, and there’s no regulation telling you not to. There’s smoke from the trash fires, the cremation ovens, and the Temple/Stupa offerings. The smell of cooking wafting from homes, restaurants and street vendors, and the pungent odor of trash which reaches an unbearable level when crossing the Bishnumati River. The kaliedoscope of color is dizzying. The day after my arrival was Teej so all the woman donned sparkly red Nepali dresses (Gunyou Cholo) en route to the temples where they’d pay honor to their husbands past, present and/or future. Multi-color prayer flags are everywhere, sending buddhist messages into the ethos with every gust of wind. Shops displaying handcrafted garments and pashmina scarfs are interspersed with outdoor goods stores for trekkers last minute needs. There’s car horns and occassional sirens and the constant buzz of conversation (Nepali people may win the “most talkative” superlative in the World’s yearbook – I’d love to know what they spend their hours discussing!) There’s Nepali and Baliwood and English Pop music coming from speakers left and right. The combination of this sensory overload and flipping my internal clock on its end (I’d experienced 9 hours and 45 minutes of a time difference, and then skipped Wednesday and had a 34 hour Thursday on my day of flying) leaving me exhausted by mid afternoon of day one.
Those are just the external sensory responses. Even harder ones to absorb are the internal ones. Visiting this third world country brings on continuous waves of feelings. There’s so much beauty in your surroundings: the layers of mountains and hillsides, the smiles on peoples faces, the colors of the dress and decoration, but in every idyllic landscape lies mountains of trash. Monkeys play with plastic bottles and bags on the temple statues. People mindlessly throw wrappers on the ground. It’s not all for lack of care, its primarily for lack of a better alternative. The only difference between us & them is we’ve got more money and space to collect all of our garbage in one place, and in many cases hand it off to someone else to deal with. Their best option is to collect it and burn it, which is so much worse for their individual health and immediate environmental surroundings than a candy bar wrapper on the ground. Then there’s the physical discomforts I experience, like not having a warm shower, having a constantly upset stomach due to who knows what, the aforementioned exhaustion, the standing toilet/no toilet paper situation, and above all else, the very understood guilt of being an entitled white girl in a poor society. In Necha I was so honored to have the town thank me for my contributions and I feel great being able to do so, and may people are overwhelmingly kind, but then there’s those looks that scream “you don’t belong here”. I want nothing less than for people to feel like they’re there for my “cultural expansion journey”. I don’t want to remind them of opportunities or resources they can never hope to have. Who am I to snap their photo like the tourist I am? I could say in an enlightened way that they may not want the life behind a desk like I’ve had, but who am I kidding. A comfortable life where there’s opportunities for you and your children to do more than slave away every single day just to maintain. The only thing separating me from the girl on the street in Kathmandu asking me for food is luck, And for that I feel the guilt that comes with the entitlement. So I’ll do my best not to take that entitled white girl life for granted, and take the opportunity to literally share the wealth. Which leads me to why I’m here in the first place – volunteering for a solar power installation in rural Nepal… Read on!