BAAACK: A month away in Nepal, trekking and volunteering, has taught me about another corner of the world and given me some cornerstones which I want to fuse into my life back here in America. So, the first question that I’ll receive from people upon seeing them is the understandably cliche, “How was your trip!?” And how to describe 30 days packed with activity, discoveries, first-time’s, and new sights, sounds, and people every day? I’ll sum it up in one succinct blog entry: the most poignant aspects of my trip, and then I will break it down, day by day, over a series of entries. I feel that this is the only way to do this trip justice and document it in a way that I can look back on anytime and feel everything rushing back!
TREKKING: Make no mistake, for a sport that looks like glorified hiking, trekking can be brutal! Let me first simply define trekking. You are walking up a mountain. This means that the terrain on which you are traveling can range from a man-made road to a dirt path to heaps of rocks to bridges to rivers to waterfalls. Our point A was at 800 meters and our point B was at 5,400 meters. Whatever existed between these two points, we had to walk over, period. Firstly, we were in the throes of monsoon season, making the already strenuous activity just downright annoying! Secondly, it’s a marathon sport. We trekked for 10 hours on one day and 4 hours on our shortest day! It’s not like most sports where you’re engaged at every moment, where there’s an adrenaline rush, where things happen quickly. You look up when you are trekking and realize that you have to walk your way through all. these. mountains. Sometimes, you see a tiny cluster of structures in the distance and calculate that you’ll be at the next village in about an hour.
MONSOON SEASON: takes place during the summer months and we were right smack in the middle of it. This means that there are a lot of pretty waterfalls, but also means that we are drenched all the time. Armed with rain jackets, backpack covers, umbrellas, and waterproof boots, we still had to struggle with water pouring into our shoes as we crossed rivers, attempting to carry umbrellas and trekking poles simultaneously, simply seeing through the steady downpours, and many of our overnight items getting wet through our duffel bags. The sun didn’t come out for the first week and so I remember putting wet shoes on for several days. My feet were consistently wrinkled and white and blisters thrived in these ideal conditions. Our clothes would be put out to dry and taken down in the same state, if not worse, from the morning dew. For days, I packed and unpacked wet clothes. Monsoon Season. ;/
LEECHES: I have never even seen a leech, let alone hosted one! On the first day of trekking, I was the lucky recipient of 4 leech bites! eeek! I was innocently trekking when suddenly my guide looked at my leg and said “leechie.” As he reached down to pull it off, I looked down to see the horrifying sight of a repulsive brown worm on my leg, stubbornly staying put until it was forced off, but not before leaving behind a bloody mess. I squealed and did a scared girl dance and pouted as I was assured that it’s normal and harmless. I moved on. And then it happened 3 more times. They joked that I had sweet blood. I cried at one point, feeling helpless against and violated by these blood-sucking vermin. I was ready to go home. Our team leader had made us write letters of encouragement to ourselves that she would distribute if we were to ever falter in our commitment to the trip and that day, I was ready to ask for my letter. I never did. And I completed the trek. But I still hate leeches.
ROUGHING IT: No heat, no air-con, no plumbing, no running water, no hot water, no shelves, no hooks, no mirrors, no electricity…this was how we lived. For a virtual city girl, I squirmed and braced myself and sometimes had to fight back breakdowns as I struggled to maintain my civility in what I couldn’t help but feel were primitive living conditions. I stood outside the squat toilet our first night at Bhulbhule, dreading going inside the dark chamber that I knew held the waste of the multitudes who had gone before me. I whimpered in the bathroom at Lower Pisang as I struggled to shower in the dark, not touch anything, and fight off mosquitoes. I cursed out loud when the drawstrings of my bag touched the floor of one of the squat toilets which was brown and wet with what I’m sure was not simply water and mud. I thanked God for my hiking soap which I was able to carry around with me everywhere, offering me a fleeting, but wondrous feeling of cleanliness whenever I washed my hands. During one surreal moment, I found myself squatting outside of my room, pouring a pitcher of water over my face before turning in for the night. I learned to pee behind bushes and rocks, using my umbrella for additional coverage. I bucket showered. Without hot water. Or heat. I washed my clothes by hand. In a basin. And then line-dried them. I ate everything on my plate. Even pizza. Even fries. Even chips. I saved every ziploc bag, plastic bag, and napkin. I lived in a mentality of survival and discomfort during these days. And I’m more grateful than ever for my porcelain western toilet and the stream of warm water from my shower head.
NATURE’S CLOCK: The one welcome change of living in nature was that early to bed and early to rise was really, the only option. We slept earlier than babies. Earlier than grannies. Earlier than morning news anchors. We were sleeping at about 8pm. Insane, right? We were rising at about 6am, sometimes 5am, and once, 1am. This is because at night, when the sun set and darkness settled over the village, there wasn’t enough light to really do much except wind down. No tv, no computers, just your headlamp, which would attract mosquitoes when you tried to read with it on. And so you would turn in and surprisingly fall asleep that early! Then, in the morning, the roosters would crow incessantly at 6am and for me, that was the end of my slumber. I began to wake up naturally at this time and this is one habit that I hope to carry on, using the wee hours for daily quiet time!
NEPALESE LIFE: We have one-bedroom houses. They have one-room houses. Most families live in one room with an additional kitchen. Bathrooms were usually community ones outdoors. The “kitchens” don’t come with any fixtures. Burners are purchased and placed on top of tables for a “stove.” Propane tanks the same height as the tables are connected to the burners as a gas source. Water is brought in from outside and poured into basins for a “sink.” Upright shelves are used to store dishes and kitchen stuff. The other room is where the family does everything else: sleep, watch tv, entertain, and change. The belongings of a family somehow fit into a 100 square foot room. Incredible. In the mountains, the easiest way to travel is on foot. And if you want to transport items, they would be carried on your back with a strap that would fit over your forehead to center the load. And villages are usually hours apart from each other. People eat with their hands. They eat rice, noodles, soup…everything, with their hands. Tax for vehicles is 200%. The government is unstable and to most people, perceptively nonexistent. Rent in the city is about 10,000 rupees and rent in the mountains is about 1,00 rupees. The average income is about 40,000 rupees in the city. It’s normal for a family to be separated for years because fathers resort to traveling to different countries to find work. The lifestyle is very humble in Nepal.
NEPALI HOSPITALITY: Despite the inability for a lot of families to regale their guests with fancy decor and toys, they open their homes readily to guests. It’s common for neighbors to drop in and there is always time for conversation. This differs vastly from the pretentious American mentality of needing to impress guests. In Nepal, we were invited to sit in our friends’ one-room houses and 8 people were sitting on a combination of beds, seats, and laps, simply chit chatting. This too, is very different from the American mentality of always needing to rush somewhere more important then a casual conversation. This, too, is a mentality that I wish to incorporate into my life here.
GREATNESS FOR COMPANY: One of my main motivations for joining this adventure/service trip was to join forces with Professor Chi-Mou, an impressive man who I met last year. He founded these efforts and his story so entranced me that I just wanted to spend some time beside this man. Well, I got more than I bargained for, as I was also greeted by Pastor KC on the trip as well, who I had also met last year. This pastor of Every Nation Church in Taipei was a wonderful pastor when I met him and proved to be an incredible person once I got to know him. To be eating, trekking, and praying with these two men for 21 days was incredible. I learned how they are shameless promoters of God. I learned how they turn to God in the morning for quiet time and anytime they need His help. I learned about their business sense and their approach to their projects that are clearly successful! I experienced their talents and gifts and humor and can now say with confidence that I genuinely admire them.
UNIVERSAL YOU: Being away from your work, your hobbies, your projects, your environment, your element…you really get stripped down to “who you really are.” At this stark state, the things that really matter are your personality, your sense of humor, your ability to relate to people, your approachability, your boldness, your musical talents, your dancing skills, your knowledge, your conversation…the things that travel with you. No one really cares about your status, your organizations, your awards. And so I’ve decided that I want to focus on those things. I want to learn guitar. I want to speak more languages. I want to focus on the person that Jeanette is.
A woman drinking alcohol from a plastic guitar strung around her neck…a couple huddled drunkenly over their plate of limp lo mein…a couple staggering to the street music as their young child lays wide-eyed in his stroller…such are the sights of Vegas. This is not to deny the luxurious architecture, high tech games, mouth-watering fares, underestimated street talent, and constant buzz of activity that abound here on the strip, but Vegas wasn’t dubbed Sin City for no reason. With the highest unemployment rate of any state, an epidemic of addiction to gambling, and a host of other related issues, Nevada’s plan to lure in the luck-seekers hasn’t left out its own residents.
Perhaps it’s the increased oxygen pumped into the casinos, the lack of windows and clocks, the endless offers for free drinks, the lively sounds of the slot machines, the all-you-can-eat buffets at value meal prices, or the ease with which one can get lost in the flurry of it all. Whatever the formula, it succeeds in creating an atmosphere not unlike Spring Break, just for grown-ups: a ticket to dress scantily, speak lewdly, drink voraciously, and leave all that is real behind…just for a few hours or days.I am genuinely concerned when I see evidence of escapism. I believe that Vegas is a unique form of fun that is amusing and impressive and memorable. But if you have to be hush hush about what “happened in Vegas,” then you might want to get that checked out!
After staying in any country for an extended period of time, one gets immersed in the culture and learns about the country beyond the hotel room, resort, and/or tourist attractions. Today was my day…and I can’t say that it’s all good…haha! Here is a little taste about what the real life is like over here:-No traffic organization! I can count the number of traffic lights that I’ve come across on one hand. The traffic consists of a mixture of jeepneys, tricycles (someone pedaling with a small cart attached to him in which they can cram about 4 people!), mopeds, bicycles, jaywalkers, and stray dogs, cats, goats and chickens! It’s crazy. There’s a “conductor?!” who hangs off the back of the jeepney and actually steps off and on at each stop. It’s crazy -No rush. Lines lag, customer service is non-existent, the pace is snail-like here. It’s hard to describe. For example, I was at the post office today. I walked in and there were a bunch of windows and tons of people on the other side. Some were chatting on their phones, some were unloading things, some were doing paperwork, and some were just hangin’ around. Someone eventually moseyed up to the window and decided to see what I wanted! I wanted to mail something to London. She gave me an envelope and pushed everything back to me! I stuffed it, labeled it, and pushed it back. By then, she had walked away and was chatting on her phone. I eventually found out that I was supposed to seal the envelope myself when someone pushed some packing tape at me. I needed scissors. I was handed a stapler. I needed scissors. I got a broken pair which I managed to do something with. Still operating on New York mentality, I tried to get confirmation from the lady that I had written the London address correctly. Blank stare. I even tried to see if I could get a tracking number. Yea right! That’s what it’s like. T’hey kinda just go through the motions here. No motivation to really rush or go the extra mile. It’s like this…if I were to picture a McDonalds commercial here, instead of the person hopping up to the counter an d smiling, “Hi, welcome to McDonalds!,” I would imagine a bunch of Philippino workers milling around and then one of them casually looking up finally to say “next please.” Oh yea, they take a long time to look up at you too…haha! Language: They say “ma’am” at the end of EVERY sentence and do a Vanna-white like gesture. it’s really polite but so consistent it’s hilarious. And they say “ma’am” like “mom.” “This way ‘mom’,” “Thank you ‘mom’,” Good morning ‘mom’!” Other funny phrases: The candy and gum is in that “portion” of the market “mom” Please “transfer” to that chair for your pedicure “mom” Prices: Some things are comparable…some things are suuuuper-cheap! Comparable: Korean food: a seafood pancake: 250 pesos=$7 Jetskiing: $1,500 pesos/half-hour=$37.50/half-hour Cheap: 1 hr full-body massage in boo-ti-ful spa: $450 pesos=$11.25! mani & pedi: 50 pesos=$1.25! haircut: 50 pesos=$1.25! an entire pizza from the street (ham, raisins, and corn on it): 50 pesos=$1.25! a 25 minute taxi ride: $175 pesos=$4.38 more to come! one thing I know for sure…I couldn’t live here…too slow! haha!