It still feels like it was only yesterday that I bid a teary farewell to my family at the Sydney Airport in September of 2011. Not only was I embarking on my very first solo trip abroad, I was starting a new page that was to commence a new chapter in my life that I could have never predicted.
Every traveller has a trip that stood out to them, that will always hold a very special place in their heart. At the age of 19, I was naive and ready for a good time. I had been travelling with my family for 17.5 years and had experienced and seen a lot for someone of my age. Even with all of that in mind though, nothing could have prepared me for what I would learn and experience in Nepal. From the very beginning of the planning stages, Nepal was a special story. I finished high school in 2010 and had decided that I wanted to take a year out to travel before starting a University degree. The early months of 2011 saw me travel to the Gold Coast, Europe (Italy, Germany, Switzerland and France) and Port Macquarie – I wasn’t short of adventure and achieving my gap year goals. Although I knew I still wanted to travel elsewhere. By that point, I’d known for a couple of years that I wanted to work at an American Summer Camp. Once I’d returned from Europe, I started looking into what was available for me in North America and was finding a position very difficult – turns out that Camp America preferred people with more ‘life experience’ to help run their camps. I felt very deflated, and started looking into what other options were available outside of Camp America. It was at this point that my father came home from work one day and was telling me about a co-worker whose daughter had just returned from doing volunteer work in Nepal. Out of curiosity Dad and I googled Nepal and were amazed by what we saw. The endless supply of pictures online of this country were amazing! An outstanding beauty that can only be explained by seeing it for yourself. Before even giving myself a chance to think it through, I quickly looked up volunteer companies in Nepal and sent off an application form. Within a fortnight I had a response saying that I’d been accepted into Project Abroad‘s volunteer program in Nepal, working with malnourished children. I was stoked. In the small gap of time between sending the application off and receiving the acceptance I had spent hours researching Nepal and purchasing travel guides online. I knew it’d be a different kind of adventure that I hadn’t experienced before and was excited to be going somewhere new.
The next couple of months were spent working my butt off and preparing for a 5 week stint in Nepal (followed by 6.5 weeks in North America) helping to look after malnourished children. Two weeks before I was due to leave Australia I received an urgent email from Projects Abroad stating that my position was being changed from working with the malnourished to working with HIV+ children in an HIV/AIDS rehab centre. I freaked. I hadn’t been taught a great deal about HIV/AIDS. At them time, all I knew about it was that it is an extremely contagious sexually transmitted disease that can also be transmitted through intravenous drug use and sharing of saliva and it can kill you. I got so worked up and anxious about this change that I wanted to cancel the trip. Luckily, both of my parents work in hospitals and were able to sit me down and explain HIV/AIDS to me properly and were able to make me realise that I didn’t have anything to be afraid of.
So come mid-September, I was off. I remember getting on the plane and being so dumbfoundingly confused. Catching an International flight was something that I had done countless times, I knew the process like the back of my hand, and yet I still managed to sit in the wrong seat. Whoops. From that moment on, I felt that this idea to go volunteer in a third world country was doomed. My flight had a stop-over in Guangzhou … which was delayed. Not what I wanted to hear. I got even more wound up again by the fact that I couldn’t get in touch with the Volunteer Company who would be picking me up at the airport in Kathmandu. I went to the bathroom and cried. Already, all I wanted was my Mum. Although, I knew I had to keep on going.
Finally, I arrived in Kathmandu. It was late at night. I was shocked to see that the International Airport was literally a giant shed in between a few mountains. There were taxi drivers harassing people at the baggage claim (which surprisingly didn’t worry me as I’d already read about what to expect at the airport in my new bible – the Lonely Planet‘s Guidebook on Nepal). Eventually I found the people who were picking me up and was kindly surprised by how welcoming they were – I received a special traditional Nepalese scarf. As we drove into Thamel (the main tourist hub in Kathmandu) I was disappointed to see that everything was so dark and dreary looking. I kept wondering ‘what have I got myself into?’. That night I cried myself to sleep. I was so overwhelmed and already experiencing culture shock.
Unfortunately, this spiel of negativity didn’t disappear in my sleep. I was woken up in the early hours of the morning by loud street noises and a sweltering heat that had me feeling uncomfortably nauseous. I grabbed the first thing I could (my only packet of zappos) and ate what was left of them, trying to fill my body up with much needed sugar and was beyond disappointed when I vomited them all back up again five minutes later.
Luckily, this was the end of my beginner’s bad-luck. Later that morning I had my orientation and met another volunteer (a girl from Melbourne named Kaveeta) who I became good friends with. After being shown around the city, we decided to do some of our own sightseeing and went to Swayambhunath Temple (aka Monkey Temple). It was beautiful. Although being new to the area we got lost. While trying to get ourselves back on track we passed some children who were lined up in a row, squatting. Immediately I told Kaveeta to start walking faster. This wasn’t because seeing these kids openly pooping in public made me uncomfortable, I was scared (ironically) shitless that they’d then throw their poo at us and rob us. A situation that I had read about in the Lonely Planet Guidebook. Of course, Kaveeta looked at me with a strange look but did as I said and stepped up the pace.
It’s funny looking back on that situation now, how absurd it was that I was so frightened of these children going about their business. Little did I know then that this was a turning point for me and that the rest of my time spent in Nepal would include some of the happiest moments of my life.
To Be Continued …