Organization: Volunteers Initiative Nepal
Chills traveled down our spines to our fingertips like lightning bolts of excitement as the realization that we were about to sit on a plane for the next 24 hours started to settle in. Rewind back to October 25, 2016 and we were all a bunch of strangers sitting in our introduction meeting on the fifth floor of the SLC. Fast forward to May 2, 2017 and we are a family of 12 Ryerson students about to begin our journey to Kathmandu, Nepal.
Walking into the Kathmandu airport was a surreal experience. We carried the next month of our lives in 60L bags on our backs out of the airport and were immediately faced with what seemed to be an infinite amount of Nepali people asking if we wanted a taxi. We found our in-country representative, Dinesh, who took us to “Hotel Premium,” our temporary accommodation in the Thamel district of Kathmandu. After 24 hours of airplane food we were starving. Even though it was late at night, the hotel staff brought us up to the dark rooftop patio and made us steaming plates of chow mein before we tucked into bed for the night.
The next morning we were woken up by the crows of a few nearby roosters and the crisp, dusty Nepali air seeping through our windows. We quickly dressed and rush to the rooftop to watch the sun rise over the mountains surrounding the city. Mary Anne Radmacher once said, “I am not the same, having seen the moon shine on the other side of the world.” This became true for us with the sun, and little did we know that our first morning in Nepal would foreshadow a month of magnificent sunrises.
After a few days exploring the main city, we hopped into cabs and made our way up through the mountains into our home for the next month: the village of Tinpiple, Jitpurphedi. After about an hour of winding, bumpy dirt roads, we arrived at our host family’s mountainside farmhouse. It was a dusty pale pink with a large blue tarp over the outdoor living room area. Our host family had cows and yaks as well as their dog Saru.
Our accommodations were basic; we slept on mattresses on the floor underneath flowing white mosquito nets. Our meals were made by our host mother Chandra and consisted mostly of daal bhat, a traditional nepali dish of lentils and rice.
Our typical day would consist of getting up around sunrise, which was around 5:00 to 6:00 am. If we were feeling up to it, we would walk in our pyjamas into the junction and watch the sun peek out from above the mountains from the roadside. After breakfast we would grab our lunch tiffins and put on some tunes to walk up the mountain to one of two work sites. Most days we would walk about 45 minutes to the school where we would play with the school children and help with the construction of a new school building. During our month there we did a lot of foundational work and ground levelling with the help of the local workers. On other days we would walk over an hour up to a local family’s home, where we helped take down the remnants of their house, which was destroyed by the earthquake. After salvaging as much as we could, we began doing foundational work there as well.
The second weekend we were there we embarked on our weekend excursion to Chitwan National Park. The drive there can best be described with a quote from our coordinator Alana Ferguson, “it was like putting 12 people in a box and shaking it for eight hours straight.” The bumpy dirt roads in Nepal do not make for any smooth rides, but this did not dampen our spirits by any means. We stopped a few times on our way there to grab snacks, and spent our time in the car chatting, listening to music and napping. Once we arrived, we checked into our beautiful safari lodge situated in the middle of the town there. We unpacked and were immediately taken on a mini walking and canoe tour of the area and had time to hang out with the elephants near our lodge. The next day we headed out on a full day safari where we had the chance to view many species of birds, elephants and a wild rhino!
By the end of the month we had many new Nepali friends, both young and old. We got to know the names of all the school children and enjoyed taking work breaks to play Stella-Ella-Ola with them in their classrooms. On our final day in the school, we were given butterfly shaped paper badges that read, “you are special” as thanks for our month of work there. The children adorned us with flowers and lots of goodbye hugs, and the workers and school faculty extended their gratitude and gave us many hugs as well. We thanked them for allowing us to live in their village and spend our month there. Although they thanked us for our work we did there, what we were thanking them for was not any sort of tangible thing. They gave us a month of pure happiness, an incomparably immersive cultural experience and life lessons and memories to last a lifetime.
As we were leaving our host family’s dusty, pink mountainside home, our host father Saaila Dai held our hands and said to us, “when you come back to Nepal, you come home.”
Although we all had three more months of summer adventures ahead of us, Tinpiple stayed in our minds and hearts. After all, there is no place like home.