My first couple of days in Nepal were spent with me remaining in a somewhat shell-shocked/’oh-god-what-have-I-done’ state. After being introduced to Thamel, the area in which I would spend most weekends with other volunteers, I was sent off to my new home to meet my host family and taken to my work placement. My first impression of my home for the coming 5 weeks was literally ‘wow’. After driving through several back streets we pulled in front of a big, bright pink house that I was told would be my home. Bright colours aside though, I was welcomed into this new atmosphere with open arms and three gorgeous puppies, excited to be greeting their newest family member. After peaking around each room in the house and dropping off my bags, it was time to go to MSPN, the HIV/AIDS rehabilitation centre I would be working at. I was feeling very nervous and apprehensive. I certainly did’t expect to receive the greeting I got upon arrival. The gate only had to open ajar before I was inundated by a mass of the cutest children running up to me saying ‘Namaste Didi’ (Namaste is hello, and Didi means sister – what women older than your age are called). It was love at first sight. Looking at these kids, you couldn’t tell that there was anything wrong with them, they were healthy, happy children.
On that first day I was showed around the living quarters for the infected mothers and children, the office and the classroom. I was shocked to learn how ill-stigmatised HIV/AIDS still is in Nepal. It was like they were stuck in the 80’s. The office was plastered with newspaper cuttings of children who had been expelled from school for being HIV+. It was crazy. I remember looking at these articles and looking outside at this group of children, who were happily playing, being normal kids and wondering how a disease so devastating and out of their control could put them in such an outcasted group within society. This was the first of many eye-opening experiences I had.
After the quick tour of MSPN, I was sent back to my host home to relax over the weekend and get ready for my first full week of work. From the moment I got home that day, my first weekend in Nepal was different to any weekend I’d ever had in Australia. My roommate in Nepal had gone away for the weekend, so I wouldn’t meet her until Sunday. Friday night was spent at a local pub with two of my host brothers and a group of their friends. Every 10 minutes the lights would turn off because electricity isn’t very good in Nepal. Saturday was spent hiking around the mountains that surrounded my new home with one of my host brothers. And on Sunday I took a taxi into Thamel and met up with some volunteers I’d met upon arrival. Coming home that night was interesting. I was excited as I’d finally be meeting my roommate – a girl from New York who is still one of my closest friends to date. I’d got home and we’d been talking for all of five minutes when the house started shaking. We looked at each other and questioned why the other was shaking the table, we realised a few seconds later that it was an earthquake. Our host Mum, Neeta came running upstairs, screaming at us to get out of the house. It was a pretty frightening experience. Everyone on the street was lined up out the front of their houses. Needless to say, my start to Nepal was already very different to anything that I’d ever experienced before.
The next couple of weeks in Nepal I experienced a lot. To begin with, there was Dashain (the biggest annual festival in Nepal) which was also the reason for my vast weight gain – So.Much.Rice! Aside from this though, there were times that I felt sad and shocked – when I learnt that there was a hospital a 10 minute walk away from MSPN, but they wouldn’t accept patients who were HIV+, so instead these children had to drive over an hour to get to a hospital that would accept them as patients. I was shocked when I saw the state of the hospital – it was like a huge, dirty, over-crowded train station. I felt gratitude. Gratitude for living in a country where there is no societal division as obscenely cruel. Gratitude for living in a country that has medication available and affordable. Although, these feelings of gratitude were often swapped for feelings of disgust. Disgust at the first world for not funding more towards these countries that so desperately need it, disgust at all the things we take for granted. But above all of these conflicting feelings, I found myself feeling a happiness that I had never felt before, a love, passion so strong, it was unbreakable. I had a constant feeling of resonation with the land that surrounded me and the people who were there to share this amazing experience with me. There are really no combination of words that can describe the feelings I had whilst in Nepal. To put it most simply, I was really learning so much, about people, the world and myself.
To be able to recount my time in Nepal from beginning to end would take an infinity. Long story short, this trip opened up my eyes to a whole new world and has largely made me who I am today. Since spending time in Nepal and gaining an intense first hand experience of what it’s like to live with HIV/AIDS in a third world country has sparked a passion in me and has been the cause of many charitable events that I’ve participated in. Even four years later I am still acting on making a difference to what I saw in Nepal. Most recently, I donated $200 to the Bobby Goldsmith Foundation and have signed up as a volunteer with them – and can’t wait to start doing some volunteer work for them!
For me, my Nepal story was the beginning of really learning what travel means to me. It has shaped what I want to do in the future and has given me this drive to want to go out there, experience the unreal and make a difference. It’s these experiences and feelings that I want to share with everyone, I can’t be selfish in keeping this all to myself – it’d hurt to do so!
I hope this has sparked something in someone somewhere!
Have a happy and safe Easter,
If you have any travel questions or would like to know anything more about Nepal and my time there, feel free to contact me via the ‘Contact’ tab, I’m more than happy to help!