A Nepalese Coming of Age Part 2.

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,

Kachina.

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!

A Nepalese Coming of Age. Part 1

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 …