Saturday, August 12, 2006

Diary of a trip to Nepal.


July,4th 2006 : Departure and Arrival in Kathmandu

After a night in the sky, out of space and time, I woke up enlightened by the vast desert of Qatar on our landing to Doha. This was already another world.
From the window, you could see particular vehicules picking up the white-dressed emirs coming out of the plane. It was only 6 AM and the heat was suffocating. I tried to take a glimpse of this city built in the sand :surrounding the airport only some tiny yellowish buildings and the poles of the minarets pointing towards the sky. Doha airport is a tiny complex where the Duty Free reigns. Here most people are on stop-over to Manilla, Dubai, Karachi,the Maldive islands...I was desperately looking for some faces that could be from Nepal but all I could see were Filipino people and women in black burkas around me. Sitting at the restaurant I was drinking a tasteless coffee in a paper cup that cost 19 QR or about 5.50€ after conversion. I thought that everything around here, even "sock's juice" (tasteless coffee)must have an "oil" value
On the second flight,for hundreds of miles before arriving to Nepal, coming from Dehli, you could already perceive the snowy peaks of the Himalaya wrapped in a cotton-wool thickness of white clouds.The descent to Kathmandu was the most beautiful I have experienced.
Sailing among the clouds like a ship on the ocean : those soft, milky and opaque shapes designing an almost earthly landscape in a blue sky of light.
The plane was going down slowly and there it was ! Nepal with the Kathmandu valley circled with verdant hills and all around was pure peaceful beauty!I knew then I was on the other side of the world, far away from mine and in a deep ectasy feeling,I enjoyed that lucky life opportunity. My anxieties had suddenly vanished and my heart was beating fast like an impatient child.....

Sitting on the little terrace of my 6€ bedroom at the Peace Kathmandu Guesthouse, I couldn't realize I was there yet. I didn't even know what time it was, probably late afternoon and I wondered how our landmarks can be turned upside down just after a few hours spent on a plane.
On the right, some children in the courtyard were smiling at me.On a lower balcony, two old women with greyish hair and bare feet were chatting and weaving. On the left, the mucky road was flowed by the monsoon. The clouds coloured by the rain and the sunset on the hills enlightened those humble yet beautiful surroundings.
I'd just got back from a walk with Naibh, an Irish girl I met coming here. It was night time and we didn't know where to go. We simply walked straight forward on the Pajnakol road,passing by beautiful wooden doors and windows in the dark, stray dogs and goats' heads on the stalls of the butcher's shop . Our feet lead us to Durbar Square, the holy place of temples and prayers at night time. It was an unexpected discovery and we enjoyed the spiritual sight of the architecture lit by candlelights, the holy music and the smell of incense burning everywhere.
I feel physically very tired and don't know yet what to expect from this experience. I feel completely disconnected from my reality, my phone is not working and I worry about not being able to give and get news...

July, 8th 2006 : First day at the Orphanage.

I spent 3 days in Kathmandu at the Guest house for training. I met new friends also going to volunteer in Nepal, Bijen and Rabyn from Hope and Home organisation and took some intensive Nepali Lessons with Usina. The local people are so friendly that I feel secure.
On Saturday was my placement in Jorpati at the orphanage called the Buddhist Child Home.
Today I have just finished my first day working at the orphanage. I thought that coming back home in the evening I would cry but no tears have come. The only thing I have in mind is how I 'll make it in this environment for a month. What if I won't?
I think you don' t know what real poverty is unless you have seen it and lived among it.
The orphanage looks very poor and unsanitary. There are two girl dormitories inside and the boys sleep in another house outside which looks like an old stable. There is a classroom which is also the dining-room, a kitchen with a few pots and a small gas cooker laid on the ground. The boys work outside to build a new red-brick house, they are also a few corn crops, some hens and pet rats for the children.
The restrooms are very filthy (no toilet seats, no flush, no paper...)and everywhere I can smell like urine, dust and lack of hygiene. I don't know if my whole body, my eyes, my mouth could express the first feelings I had today.
Durga, the Chairwoman gathered all the children in the common room. They all introduced themselves in English and sang some songs for me, which was very touching.The end of the day seemed endless because I didn't really know what to do. I played with the youngest ones who wanted me to carry them all the time with their running nose and I had a chat with the oldest girls. Luckily, the children are great and I feel already close to them even if most of them don't speak English well. Here everybody calls me "Miss" and I have lots of "chorachori" now...

July, 10th 2006 : New habits
My second day in Jorpati was not easy either.
Day after day I have to get used to new habits here.
Day after day, I have to forget about my own and I know that appreciation will come later but now I am experiencing some type of "cultural shock".
I have to wake up at around 6 o'clock and have a cold shower in the smelly bathroom, the only place at home where I don't feel comfortable. Then I have breakfast- forget about the coffee, here with drink Chiya, which is a sweet milk tea . At 7 o'clock I go to the orphanage. The children are already awake and some of the boys are working on the building of the house. I still don't really know what to do so I go towards the "open- air bathroom", which is just a water tank and a tap outside. Cold water, a tiny piece of soap, no towels. I feel that if I can help on something here it will be about hygiene. It's somehow difficult to see those children dressed with dirty clothes, with their dirty faces, smelling like dust and urine and having to get ready for school. My nose and my eyes are not used to that.
This morning I feel a bit sick too. I have stomach cramps and hot flushes but I try not to focus on that . I am going to the "dining-room" where the children are eating the Dahl Bhat (national meal that Nepalese eat twice a day : white rice with lentil soup and vegetables). Here people eat with their right hand only, the left one being considered as juhto or "contaminated". Seeing this is also a new experience. The oldest girls help with the cooking and service, the youngest ones are sitting on the floor and try to eat as they can. The children are loud, they shout and eat at the same time, calling each other or asking for more food "Dahl, Didi, Dahl, Didi!". I get close to Sati, a two -year old tiny boy and try to help him eat his rice with the spoon. Now I can feel tears on my cheeks running down and I can't stop. All the tension I had in the last few days is coming out now and there is nothing I can do about it. I feel bad, scared and not at ease. I wonder why I have chosen to come here and face so much poverty. I realise I will need to be brave to do this for a month but at the same time, I know I'll never be as brave as those children who live this life everyday and will probably all their life...

July, 14th 2006 : Departure for Chitwan
I have lost all notions of time over here, not knowing which day or date we are. I feel so far away from home that I barely realize that today is Bastille's day, no big deal after all. In Nepal, we are in the year 2063 and it's funny to think we are 57 years ahead but still in the middle ages somehow. I do the same thing everyday and time flies. I start getting used to cold and stagnant water showers, poverty, and the nauseating smells of the place.
Jorpati is like a small village but for us, it could look like a "slum" area too. I live on a tiny dirt road, muckied for the last couple of days since the monsoon season has just started, with a few hours of torrential rain everyday.
Today, I have taken an extra day off to go to Chitwan National Park with my mother and her friend who are visiting Kathmandu on their way to India. I am happy to get away from the orphanage and see something different for a couple of days...

July, 18th 2006 : Getting involved.
I have been in Nepal for two weeks now. The last week has gone very fast since my relatives were here. I was going back and forth everyday from my little poor village to the luxury place of the Hyatt hotel. What a contradiction ! But in the end, it was great to be able to eat something else than Dahl Bhat. I think my stomach is getting sick of it. I have had stomach cramps every other day and I have already lost 2 kilos. Now I know how lucky we are to choose whatever we want to eat back home and enjoy a great variety of meals...
The two days spent in Chitwan were a gorgeous experience. We went on an elephant safari under the monsoon rain, went bathing with the elephants in the river, enjoyed a typical jungle lodge with no electricity, quiet dinners, good red wine, exciting private talks with our naturalist at night time, birds songs in the morning and not to mention the enraged mosquito bites!
Back to the orphanage, I decided to do something to help children with hygiene. I went to the store and bought 40 toothbrushes, toothpaste, soaps and shampoo. There were only 10 toothbrushes that they use a nail brush as well, all left on the dirty ground. I also brought two plastic pots so that they can keep them in a clean place. The children were very happy and excited to have shampoo to wash their hair and they seem to take their responsibility to keep everything clean. Every morning from now on, I will give them their share of shampoo, toothpaste, soap and cream. Now, what will happen when I go away? I have no idea...
Today a new volunteer woman came to the orphanage and she is going to stay with me at the host family. Her name is Christina, she is 47 years old and comes from Montana, US. I am happy to have some company over here.

July, 22nd 2006 Being sick.
I was supposed to go home in three days but I have extended my stay for another 10 days. I have been here for three weeks now. I spent the last 48 hours in bed, feeling very sick, with fever,shivers, stomach cramps and undercoastal pain. I got scared having to go to the hospital or going back home before the end of my stay. The night before, I hadn't slept. I could feel something wrong was going to happen. My legs were like frozen and I could hear the flute player, the barking dogs and my running clock with increased sounds. I was probably hallucinating with the fever.
Today I feel better but Christina is sick and has to rest.Saturday is my day off so I'm thinking about taking a tour to Patan by myself which I don't really feel like but I have to get out of the house. Eventually I took a taxi to the Hyatt Hotel to download my pictures and had a an expensive coffee on the terrace. Then I walked to Boddhanat, the Budhist Stupa. This is one of my favourite places around here and it is so peaceful. Today was a beautiful day with no rain. I walked around the Stupa several times like the budhists do for prayers and I had a chat with Birendra in his little shop. Nepalese people are very curious about foreigners and their way of life. One of the first questions they ask you is if you are married. Being 35 years old and not married is something they can't really understand. Therefore I usually say I have a boyfriend back home which tends to comfort them a little. I was trying to explain to him that people have their independence and don't have to live with their parents when they earn their living. This is also hard for them to understand . In Nepal, most marriages are arranged by parents, respecting religion and castes and the son has to stay with his parents to take care of them. Therefore the bride has to move with her in-laws. Birendra was very curious and also open-minded and we had an interesting chat together. Then I walked up the Stupa which becomes a ritual everyday I come here. I just sit there and enjoy the semi-circular view on the Tibetan houses and all the mutli-coloured prayers flying in the wind. I love watching the budhist monks or the tibetans refugees with their typical dresses walking around Boudha. All I can hear from there is the wind and the "Om Mani Padme Hum" incantations in the background.
Today I went inside the Monga (budhist temple) for the first time. There I met a Tibetan man who could barely speak English and almost no nepali. He greeted me with a white silen scarf, showed me the place and asked for medication to cure his sister with tuberculosis. All I had was a few roupies to give him.
I went to the Stupa View Restaurant where I had my first pizza in weeks! My stomach was still fragile and I could only eat a few pieces but I enjoyed that quiet moment staring at the Buddha eyes, the roofs, the monsoon clouds and the mountains in the background.
I am now back home, alone in my bedroom, after chatting for a while with Christina on the terrace. Well, alone is not really the right word since I have been sharing my room with different kinds of species such as : mosquitoes, bed bugs, spiders, cockroaches and even a little lizzard..
I know dinner time is coming soon with the usual Dahl baht... I have managed to avoid it for the last two days being sick... but no choice now, I have to eat something. I have lost 4 kilos.
July, 23rd 2006 : Frustration
Departure Day -7.
This morning I woke up feeling nauseous. After my dhud chiya and few salty biscuits, I'm on my way to the orphanage. I am not very motivated this morning and in the dark pathway coming out of the house, I almost stamped on a dead rat, which reminds me where I am at...
I think we eventually get used to everything, even the worst.
I arrive at the child home and I am puzzled to see that half of the children have been shaved because of lice. When I first saw them, some skinny, with their dirty clothes on and head shaved, the image of concentration camps came to my mind....
Two days before I had spent a full day trying to organize the storage room where they keep the children's clothes. I had sorted out the different garments in cardboard boxes so it would be easier to find everything. This morning, everything seems back to the usual mess and I can't find the boxes anymore. I feel angry and frustrated somehow that whatever action i try to take here seems useless. I guess people are used to their own disorganized life and they don't want to change their habits. After all, who am I here to try to transform this place? I'll be gone in a week and I know now that my efforts will not change the chaos of the place. I just have to accept it, accept the frustration and go with it.
This afternoon, Christina and I went to the internet café in our village. You only pay 10 roupies an hour but but it's worth for a very slow or impossible connection and today I couldn't even acces my mailbox. My feelings towards this country are somehow controversial. Sometimes, I feel so good here and I love the people, the culture and the place and sometimes I just abhore it and I all want is to go home.
Walking towards the Stupa is sometimes a terrible experience . You have to stand the suffocating heat, the dust that comes into your mouth, the loud never-ending traffic, the disgusting smells of gas mixed with the meat of goats freshly slaugtered, the rotten garbage left on the pavement, the dark smoke of corn cobs burning, and the sound of people scraping their throat to spit.
When the monsoon rains come, the air freshens a little and some of the smells vanish in the humidity. The water flows very soon in the streets and dirt roads and it becomes impossible to know where you are walking. Your feet bathe in a running muddy water carrying all you can find on the ground: rubbish, spits, human and animal dejections, dead animals...
I walk, not looking forward but staring at my feet, not knowing what's under the water but I have too keep on going...

July, 30th 2006 : Last day at the orphanage
Today is my last day at the buddhist child home. Tonight I am going back to the guest house and enjoy my last few days in Kathmandu. I feel sad to leave the children but on the other hand I feel relieved to experience something else. The last week went fast since I got sick again and had to go to the international clinic and had different medical check-ups. One day, Christina and I took six of the children to Bodhanath and invited them at the restaurant for a drink and pizzas. It was a great moment we shared together and they really enjoyed it. As days passed by, I got very attached to the kids. I enjoy being with them, playing, taking care of them. They greet me every morning with hugs and an enthusiastic "good morning Miss!". The morning ritual of shampoo and cleaning teeth is a moment I enjoy a lot. The youngest kids love to play with my hair and every morning I have a new hair style. Now they know how to sing a French songs, we play cards learning English words and just spend time together laughing and having fun. I am very attached to Sagun, a 6 year-old girl at the child home. We don't communicate much with words but there is something special happening between us. She has touched my heart deeply with her beautiful face, her discreet attitude, the way she hides her toothbrush under her bed and the determination and temper in her eyes. Everyday, she comes to me and kisses my hands and my forehead. I had never thought of adopting a child before but meeting Sagun has made me changed my mind. I know I will miss them all, but I will have special thoughts for her.
My last few hours there were intense in emotions. The children performed a small party for my departure with songs, dances and messages they wrote. I couldn't hold my tears for all the love they had given me and thinking I might never see them again.I was also sad to leave my host family, I think I was attached to them as well and they had always been very nice to me.
We said "good bye" with sadness and sweet words and the promise to keep in touch.

Last days in Kathmandu : Meeting Progress.
Last Friday, I had taken Christina to Pashupatinath, the holy place of temples and cremations. It was my third visit to the place and that's where I met Prajesh or Progress. I had told Christina we would be harassed with Nepalese people to guide us around and I told her just to ignore them because we wanted to be at peace and moreover I already knew the place . Progress was the first to come to us. I told himI was not interested in any guiding tour and after a few exchanges, he left us alone. A few moments later, we were sitting down in front of the ghats, watching the cremations and as Christina was talking to some stranger, Progress cane and sat down next to me and we started to talk again. We made friends and before leaving he took us for lunch in a dodgy restaurant where we had very spicy noodles.
We agreed to meet again in Thamel on Sunday at the New Orleans Café.
Progress was with me for my last days in Kathmandu and I can say he is probably the sweetest Nepalese person I have met over there. He has taken care of me with great respect , has guided me all around the city, invited me over at his house for typical Dhal Bhat dinner and helped me all the way to make my last days so special. On the departure day, he was there at 5 AM to take me to the airport with flowers.
Progress is only 23 years but for the last 10 years he has taken care of his relatives being the only son . He has the freshness and craziness of his young age and the maturity from going through life hardships . He has enlightened my days with some beautiful spiritual talks and a new vision of life. Besides all his human qualities, he is also a man wishing to perfect his good karma. If you ever visit Nepal, I could only recommand you to call him because he is surely the best cultural and spiritual guide you can find in Kathmandu. Progress is an adept of meditation, can take you trekking in the Himalaya and can speak Nepalese, English, French, German , Hindi and some Spanish.
Progress, if you ever read this, you know how thankful I am to you and I will never forget that precious loving time with you.
Back Home...
Coming back home after such an experience is not easy and I expected it somehow. I feel filled with beautiful memories, faces, landscapes, music and conversations.However I feel some type of emptiness inside and I think it is a normal reaction. After being disconnected from your life for a month, you can only come back disconnected again, not knowing where your landmarks have gone.
I have discovered a new country, a new culture and also I have learnt so much about life, the essence of life. As I believe that there is a reason for every step we take in our life, good actions as mistakes, I wonder now what personal lessons I have learnt and what I am going to do with this knowledge.
I would have probably not had that experience if I hadn't met a special person who made me realize that I need to see the reality of life and experience the dark side of the world. Shon, you probably didn't do that purposely but that is the inner message I heard from you. Probably my soul and heart were ready to listen back then.
Also, I wouldn't have had the chance to go to Nepal without the help and care of two very special people : Rabyn and Bijen from Hope and Home organisation. I am so grateful to you both for giving me that opportunity to get to know your beautiful country. I think you belong to the rare people I know who are dedicated, gentle, sweet, attentive and generous.
Thank you for your greatwork , for your help during bad times, for your presence and caring, for welcoming my family so nicely. I just wish you the best and I hope your organisation will grow and be prosperous to help all the people in need in your country. Danhyabad and Pheri Betaunla! Hope to come back one day....
To Rabyn and Bijen from Hope and Home,
Rudra and Durga, my host family,
All the children of the Buddhist Child home,
My sweet Sagun
Christina
Progress
Bikash from the Peace Kathmandu Guest House
my family and friends
and all the lovely people I have met in Nepal...

9 comments:

LouXIV said...

Thank you for sharing a wonderfully moving experience in such a way that I feel transported by your words to Kathmandu: The conflict of the squalor with the respite of a Hyatt, the dull food making pizza sound exciting, the beauty of the valley from the plane contrasted with the rats and grime of reality in the mud below -and especially the frustration of knowing that a contribution of hygene (toothbrushes or order) will most likely disappear like froth on a wave, too soon after your departure. Most touching of all is your connections with people - will you see Sagun again? Will the Internet come to Nepal, so that such contacts can be sustained? How fascinating the transformation of Progress from an annoying beggar/guide to a sensitive and loving human being - makes one remember that every human has a heart, a mind and feelings.... Thank you again for your lovley and touching account of the paradoxes on the other side of the world.

cendrynne said...

Thank you so much for reading those humble memories and comfort me in my feeling that sharing experiences is the right thing to do.Luckily, there are people and you are definitely one of them, with great sensitivity and interest to receive and perceive emotions felt on a far away land.
I do not know about the future, but I do hope to meet those wonderful people again in my present life, or as Progress would say, then in our next life...
Thank you again for your beautiful and touching comments!

Philippe said...

Very interresting and thanks to write your comments and your personnal experiences.I am very touching by this have you a link with the children and it's possible to help the orphanage ?

Sudarshan said...

It was nice to read your experience.
I am doing similar programs in India. The programs are in Health, Education, Micro Credit, Traditional Medicine, and we have prepared specific programs for interns comming on a longer duration. If you plan to visit India do let me know we can send you a typical program in Education that we are doing in a remote rural area its called Teaching in the Himalayas. my email id is sudarshanpandey@vsnl.net

Mariana Flamenco said...

Querida Sandrinette !! c'est tellement joli et touchant se que tu nous partages là, on est avec toi à chaque coin de rue et devant chaque si beau visage qui t'a donné tant de soi... merci.

il faudra que je m'organisse pour un jour partir avec toi et apprendre à VOIR. A quand un livre avec tes superbes photos accompagnées de ton texte...il y a tant de spirutualité et de partage ??? BRAVO !!

kumud said...

i read ur intresting story about nepal. i guess u enjoy my town more than i did in 22 years. But my country is a bit different from france, i dont like france so much even i am living in bordeaux... if u want to talk more about nepal u can contact me kumudgautam@yahoo.fr.
hope to get words
-kount of kath.

Anonymous said...

i read ur intresting story about nepal. i guess u enjoy my town more than i did in 22 years. But my country is a bit different from france, i dont like france so much even i am living in bordeaux... if u want to talk more about nepal u can contact me kumudgautam@yahoo.fr.
hope to get words
-kount of kath.

Anonymous said...

Sandrine,

Nothing that i tried intentionally to make you visit Nepal, but i am happy you did. A day away from the comfort of home could give you experience of life time. Hope is what you have given these children, now it becomes your responsibility to keep it going. You have freed yourself from the constrains of time, and on your path to become immortal. BUT remember its a very very long journey, and you have just taken your first step. Keep this blog alive, and add to this every month. Let it not become a flower kept in a book.

and "YOU KNOW WHO :-) "

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