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Posts Tagged ‘nepal’

One year ago today we landed in Nepal.

We haggled (badly) with our first Nepali cab drivers, threw our overstuffed packs in the car, and set off toward an unknown address.

(Seriously – we had no real directions. We were just told by Umbrella to, “head toward the Monkey Temple.”)


monkeytemple2

We took so many narrow back roads that I wasn’t sure we weren’t being kidnapped – until I realized that those “back” roads were main roads, and “narrow” was all relative. Which was proven when another car careened around the bend toward us, managing to pass without clipping a mirror.

We arrived at the volunteer house, exhausted after two days of travel, but still ready to go out to our first Pub Quiz night to raise money for the organization.

pubquiz

When we got back to the house that night, had no electricity, and crawled into our separate, differently-leveled (but not bunk) twin “beds”, I don’t think we realized quite how much our lives were about to change.

Rather, I know I didn’t.

monkeytemple

But I knew, without a doubt, that I had stepped out of my comfort zone.

And the adventure just got better from there.

adventure

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As soon as we solidified our plans for going to Nepal, I knew that 2013 would be a big year in terms of adventures.

Traveling halfway around the world to work with kids and live with strangers in a completely different culture and environment? That’s practically the definition of adventure.

nepalboys

elephantbath

Tack on a trip to India (and the headache of getting there), and you’d think we had enough adventure in the first 5 months of 2013 to be set for the rest of the year.

tajmahal

But wait, there’s more.

In June, nearly as soon as we got back, we celebrated two friends getting married (and had two more weddings scheduled for July and August).

In July, we decided it was time to buy a house.

newhouse

And then we found out we were pregnant.

In September we marveled at all the crap we’d accumulated in the apartment as we hauled it all off to the house, and we settled into our new roles as homeowners.

In October we had our first real taste of suburbia with trick-or-treaters, and in November we dove even deeper into the suburban lifestyle and adopted Manny (and, I should add, bought an SUV, because I’m not sure you’re allowed to live in the suburbs without one).

mannycopilot

Now, as December winds down and transitions into the new year, our little family of three is anxiously awaiting its newest member – the baby boy that will be the biggest adventure of 2014.

familyphoto

And I couldn’t be more excited to see what else the upcoming year has in store.

As long as I can enjoy it on minimal sleep.

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I’ve never been much of a poop talker.

And it’s odd, considering I find potty humor hilarious.

But Nepal has changed all that.

Or rather, I still find it hilarious, but now I’m involved in the conversation. In Nepal it was hard not to be.

There were at least 10 of us in the volunteer house at any given time, and I don’t think a week went by when someone didn’t have the shits. It actually got to be a common greeting among some of the volunteers with more consistent problems.

Hey! How’s the poop situation?

Not an uncommon phrase to hear. Nor was it uncommon to hear (or ask for) detailed descriptions of bowel movements. Because everyone had suffered at one point or another, we all felt qualified to offer our opinions on dealing with the situation. And we all knew the elation felt when one girl answered the poop greeting with, “It’s a good day! I can actually fart without pooping!

It’s truly amazing how much bowel movement chatter can bond a group. Maybe it’s along the lines of misery loves company, but there’s some humor in there, too.

There’s the look on someone’s face when he knows he needs the toilet ASAP, but he’s at least five minutes away from the volunteer house. And running makes it worse.

There’s the frantic tone in someone’s voice when she calls out, “I’ll be right back!” to her boys, as she’s already sprinting out of their house and to the safety of a Western toilet.

There’s the grudging admission that someone won’t be leaving the house at all, for fear of being too far away from the bathroom, just in case.

And then there’s the realization that you have to poop, but there’s absolutely no toilet paper left and you’re out of time.

Maybe some of those are only funny later on, or maybe you had to be there. But the bottom line is that poop talk (among other things) bonded us as volunteers.

I haven’t tried this bonding technique with friends back here, yet. But it might be worth it if only to see the reaction to, “How’s the poop situation?

Just out of curiosity – how would you respond?

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Sneak attack

I feel like my birthday just snuck up on me this year.

Usually I’m prepared. Usually I’ve evaluated my old birthday list, and I’m ready with a whole new set of goals.

This year I’m running on Nepali time, where everything is delayed for, well, however long it takes.

I don’t have a new list.

I barely remember what’s on my old list.

And part of me kind of doesn’t care.

(The other part, of course, is still the same old OCD Elizabeth and wants to make a new list.)

Maybe I’ll come up with a new set of goals. Maybe I’ll even revisit the old ones.

Or maybe I’ll just celebrate my birthday this year by listening to some of my favorite Nepali songs on repeat and dancing at my desk.

My boys would be so proud.

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Resilience

Western culture especially seems to think of children as needing constant protection. And perhaps there is some truth in that. But, because we are always so careful about what kids do or see or experience, I wonder if we sometimes forget how strong children can be, how resilient many of them truly are. If I’ve learned nothing else from my time in Nepal, I’ve learned that much.

I learned it from the former street children that we visited, who are now in school instead of sniffing glue and begging for money. They could easily have stayed on the street, intimidated by gang leaders, hooked on glue, and unwittingly encouraged by well-meaning tourists handing out food and money. But they didn’t.

They accepted the offer of a refuge away from all that, and they continue to thrive. And when you see them interact with adults, and with one another, it’s difficult to believe that they once led such hard and seemingly hopeless lives. The smile and the laughter and the excitement at visitors would imply a much happier past. But, in truth, it just proves how strong they are.

I’ve also learned about resilience from each and every one of my boys in Umbrella, and from the Umbrella kids overall. In the first month I was here, I would catch myself thinking how much fun it must be to grow up in a house with so many brothers and friends. My boys love each other so much and are so constantly entertaining themselves that it was too easy to forget the circumstances that brought them to Umbrella in the first place.

It was too easy to forget that some of them were rescued from poorly run and exploitative children’s homes – ones that were doing more harm than good. It was too easy to forget that some of them had witnessed a parent take his or her own life – or the life of a spouse. It was too easy to forget that some of them had no parents at all, and no family willing to take them in. It was too easy to forget that some of them served as house servants, a position little better than a slave.

And yet, even knowing all of that, and even thinking it as I look at these kids, it seems like an entirely different lifetime for them. If I had seen or experienced the horrors they have, I imagine I would find it nearly impossible to smile, laugh, talk, or trust. But these kids do that every day.

They are strong and they are resourceful. They are determined and intelligent and deserving of the brightest futures. They are welcoming and friendly and trusting, when they have every right not to be.

These children are more resilient than I could have imagined, and more inspiring than I even believed possible.

I have spent nearly three (short) months learning from them, and I realize now that that’s not even close to long enough.

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Since deciding to visit India after our Nepal stay is over, we’ve faced a series of challenges that lead me to believe that India may actively be trying to keep us out.

Challenge #1: The Visa Process

Getting an Indian visa is a lot like a trip to the DMV, but slightly more painful. The office for applications is open only from 9:30am to 12pm. We arrived early, but not early enough – we were still numbers 55 and 56 in line. And, although the office opens at 9:30, the ticket counter apparently doesn’t open until 9:45. Or maybe 10:00. Or, really, whenever they feel like it.

On top of that, there are four ticket counters at the visa service center, which sounds promising. And with a line of 50+, you’d expect at least two of them would be open. Even the DMV would concede that much.

But not Nepal’s Indian visa service center.

There was one ticket counter open to process applications. One counter was open to process payments. And with no visa costs posted anywhere, there was a backup in the payment line since people had to keep leaving to hit up an ATM.

Did I mention it was cash only?

This was all just step one in the visa process.

  • In step one, you pay.
  • In step two, you find out if your application was accepted, what kind of visa you get (which may or may not be what you requested), and you leave your passport with them.
  • In step three, you collect your passport and visa in utter chaos, because during the pickup hours the ticket dispenser doesn’t work.

You know what, though, India? We did it. We got your stupid visa, and paid more for it because we’re American. Fine.

But wait. There’s more.

Challenge #2: Booking a Flight

The flight from Kathmandu to Delhi should take less than two hours and be direct. We found one we liked (the only one for less than $100 per person) and proceeded to checkout. Except…the credit card was declined. So was the check card and the backup credit card, all of which have travel alerts set AND sufficient funds.

What they don’t have is membership in “visa verify,” which is apparently a very popular verification program among Indian airlines. So maybe that one’s on our banks and not India.

But that didn’t make it any more fun to find the airline office and go book our flight in person – with cash.

Challenge #3: Booking Trains in India

Before this trip I reached out to a friend who had lived in and traveled through India. She recommended using Cleartrip to book trains, and, thus far, I’ve found its listing of the train schedules super helpful. I’d even found the train to get us from Delhi to Agra and was ready to book.

Not so fast.

In order to use Cleartrip, you have to register with Indian Railways IRCTC. In order to do that, you need an Indian cell number and address.

If you don’t have those things, you need to scan and send a copy of your passport. Then you need to send another email requesting that Cleartrip email you a password instead of texting it.

After all that, you can book your train tickets online. But only if you have American Express. (We don’t.)

We will get all of this sorted out eventually. Maybe before we get there, maybe not. But either way, I’m not really feeling the love from India.

And if they keep this up, they won’t feel the love from me, either.

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Well, that’ll have to wait a little longer.

This past Sunday we were out at a festival in honor of Shivaratri at the Pashupati Temple, and I decided to get some shots of the celebration.

I was hyper aware of the vast crowds, and of the possibility of pickpockets in such a jam-packed space. In fact, I was so paranoid about the pickpockets that I wouldn’t even keep my phone in my front pocket for easier camera access. Instead, I kept it in my purse, which was zipped and in front of me at all times.

I was vigilant.

Or so I thought.

Toward the end of our time in Pashupati, I took just a couple more photos and put the phone away for good. As we joined the stampede to leave, I was effectively pushed through the crowd, but still managed to stay behind Husband, with my purse between us.

Which means that this pickpocket was phenomenal.

When we finally got back to the volunteer house, my purse was zipped and my phone was gone.

There was no money missing, no IDs taken – just the phone. And with it, all the photos from the previous 10 days (and more if you count the touristy photos I took during our layover in London).

I lost photos of my boys decorating crowns and posters for St. Patrick’s Day. I lost video of Husband’s boys dancing to Gangnam Style – and of me dancing with them.

To say that I’m bummed would be an understatement.

I’ve since blocked the number, and bought an actual camera, but my paranoia levels have shot through the roof.

My purse is sitting on my lap as I type this, and I keep one hand on it whenever I walk by anyone.

I know it’s not the worst thing that could happen. And I know that it’s better to happen at the beginning of the trip instead of at the end.

But I’m especially bummed about those videos.

Though, if I know these Nepali kids the way I think I do, it won’t be the last time they have a dance party. Not by a long shot.

Note: I tried “find my phone,” but since my phone wasn’t set up to use internationally, and wasn’t online, it didn’t work out. Luckily, the passcode is on and the number’s now blocked. And the battery is probably dead by now.

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