Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Journey to Nepal! (Dec 14th - 27th, 2011)

So we meet again! I just drank a whole pot of ginger lemon tea (I'm sick again), so let's hope I can make it through this post without peeing myself. I'm not going to bother with dates, everything has blended together anyway :)

I left for Sabiha Gocken in Istanbul a few hours after Khalid left and made sure to ask the flydubai desk if my flight was cancelled. The lady checked and said it was not, so I began my journey in an excellent mood! The flight to Dubai was, in a word, uncomfortable. I didn't really sleep because there was a big burly man behind me that kept tapping my seat, but I arrived and the flight was cheap, so what can you really say? Upon my arrival I was informed that yes, duh, your flight has been cancelled, so they re-booked me on a later flight and so began my 7 hour wait in the Dubai airport (which, if I can be frank, is not the best airport to be stuck in). I tried sleeping on the seats, but each seat had an armrest, so you couldn't exactly stretch out. I sort of draped myself over the seat and rested my head on my arm (I got bruised armpits from this endeavour. Have you ever bruised your armpit? It's totally ridiculous). But! Let's skip ahead to the good bits, I arrived in Kathmandu and was picked up by the staff coordinator and taken right to dinner where the other volunteers were already waiting. I don't even know the name of the restaurant, but they had traditional Nepali music and dancing all through dinner, so it was a great first night! Almost every volunteer at dinner was from Australia, save for me and Eladio (who was from Brazil). Canada, represent!

The next few days were spent wandering around Thamel, bargaining for socks and eating coconut tofu curry at Ork2. In there we also went to Patan and saw the Golden Temple and Durbar square (pay attention, apparently there are 3 different Durbar squares in Nepal!). The first time I went to withdraw money from the ATM it told me I would be charged a 400 rupee service fee. 400 rupees! I canceled the transaction and whipped out my calculator. 400 rupees was only $5. I restarted the transaction (it is still bizarre to me that something can cost 10,000 rupees and it's not very expensive). I had banana porridge every morning for breakfast, and it's a good thing I got my fix in because outside of Kathmandu "porridge" is made with oats and wheat.We were also supposed to visit Bodnath on our last night, but there was a strike so we were stuck. We sat inside and did sporkle quizzes instead, which to me is just as exciting :)

I ended up being placed in Pokhara, which is about 7-9 hours outside of Kathmadu (depending how many over turned trucks and goats are on the road the day you leave). I'm pretty sure I had eaten an entire chocolate bar by the time we actually left, and I mostly read and watched out the window during the ride (and ate trailmix, lots of trailmix). Mostly the ride wasn't too terrifying, but then I'm also aware that I picked the good side of the bus. Every once in awhile though you happen to glance out the window and there just isn't any road beside you... just abyss. But then you go back to eating your trailmix and try not to think about it. The organization that we volunteer with in Nepal is called Hope and Home and does orphanage placements in Kathmandu, Bhaktapur, Pokhara and Chitwan. I was placed in Pokhara in the Himalayan Children's Care Home (HCCH) with Brittany, Rachel and Alyssa (who are all totally great and like to pass the time telling me horrifying stories about Australia... like the fact that you can't out-drive a bush fire, and that they had a 14 year drought, and that there's one town in the desert that has to live underground because it's too hot to go outside. They also told me about drop bears, but I think they may be a fable...).

The kids here are so great! Every morning you wake up to the sound of roosters and honking, then they ring the gong downstairs and the orphanage erupts with the sound of 51 pairs of feet cascading down the stairs (we're staying in the orphanage with the kids). All the kids are Tibetan refugees from the area of Mustang, which sits on the Nepal/Tibet border. As I understand it, most of the kids still have parents and family that live in Mustang, but the area is so remote and harsh that the parents have the kids come to the orphanage here so they can receive a good education. For the first few days it was our task to walk the kids to and from school, but now they are on winter holidays, so we teach them for 1-2 hours in the morning to help them with their English. You'll see lots of photos of them on facebook, and I'm slowly trying to learn all their names (which is aided by the fact that there are lots of Tserings and Tenzins). Essentially it holds that kids and kids wherever you go. They like to play, they have perpetually snotty noses, they want to climb things you'd rather they didn't climb :) They are exceptionally well behaved though! The staff at HCCH have their routine down to a fine science and they move through the day with lots of structure, which makes it easier for us. On Christmas Day we took them to the World Peace Pagoda and spent the whole day with them there. We also decorated the orphanage with snowflakes and made them all Christmas Cards! It didn't really feel like Christmas (I mean, when do I ever get a sunburn on Christmas?), but then I got to talk to Mom and Khalid via skype later that evening and that brought the Christmas spirit back :) I still can't get over that I can skype with family in Canada for only 81 cents an hour. What is this amazing place?!

Everything in Pokhara has kind of blended together, but if I had to paint a picture for you, it would be of a hippie town sitting beside a nice lake, with the backdrop of the Himalayan mountains. They're gearing up here for the Pokhara street festival, so all the lanes and alleyways are strewn with prayer flags, which just adds an extra special touch. It's easy to go for walks along the lake, or just sit in a cafe and drink tea while overlooking the mountains. The weather is nice and warm during the day (the night is freezing, but we shan't mention that) and the streets are filled with local women doing their washing and lots of roaming cows (most Nepali people are Hindu so it's illegal to kill a cow). Every once in awhile you can even happen upon goats or chickens being slaughtered, naked old men wearing Santa hats, etc. etc. I try at least every other day to do some sort of exercise, whether it's on the roof of the orphanage, or going for a run (the altitude kills me). At night I like to go up to the roof and do stretches. You can see all the stars and the lights of houses on the hill look like stars because the actual hills themselves disappear against the sky. I am here until the end of January and then my next move is up in the air. The laid back attitude of the city doesn't lend well to actually making decisions, it's much easier to chill out with a book and drink masala tea :)

Lots of love from Pokhara!

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