They Don’t Call it Reverse Culture Shock for Nothing (Goodbye, Nepal part 2)

As I began to disembark the plane, I found myself barking “MOVE” through gritted teeth at those in front of me, only to realize, I’m not in Nepal anymore and any amount of anger or impatience would not necessarily solve my issues now, in a land where people understand me and I’m not always needing to aggressively assert myself.  When I arrived home, my dog jumped and barked excitedly and I was afraid t0 touch her, or even go near her after 6 weeks of avoiding rapid dogs on the streets.  I soon drove with my mom to pick up sushi.  Throughout the drive, there were a few stop signs and one traffic light.  No one was walking around on the streets, as is typical with suburbia, but still……

Last winter, I talked non stop about my summer plans, until it looked as if it wasn’t going to happen, but even then, I was going to Nepal.  I had a feeling.  I usually know when I am right about things.  Weeks ago I said to myself, “I’m having sushi as my first meal when I get home.”  And I did.  I had my sushi and I went to Nepal.  As I stare at my bag, half full of gifts, thinking about how I got away with its heaviness without paying extra fees, thinking about what I’ll tell people as I distribute gifts, thinking about if people will care, especially care that some of my best memories weren’t all emotionally intense cultural experiences nor beatnik earth-embracing base camp treks.  I’m thinking about what they’ll say when I tell them that I am changed in the best way possible, that I’ve met individuals, Americans and Nepalis alike, who helped me to better realize what I want and don’t want out of life, that some of my best memories weren’t ones where I sat in solitude, celibate from spending money, but rather times when I took a break from whatever else seemed chaotic around me and spent a little money here and there on meals out, day trips, 4 green tea smoothies throughout an entire day spent at a cafe with a friend, mostly in silence, but still in one another’s presence.  Maybe I’ll tell people that one of the best parts of my days was coming home to blog about it, because certain days, it almost didn’t feel right just keeping it to myself.  I had to share.

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Nepal will most likely go down in the history of my life as the strangest place I’ve ever been.  Never will a place repulse me so much, yet give me so much to feel good about.  And I’m not talking strictly city versus country, although the country does win by quite a bit.  What I mean is the sense of empowerment I gained from learning to be fully myself in a house full of volunteers, in an office full of Nepalis, and walking around on a street full of maniac drivers and oftentimes creepy pedestrians.  Sometimes being fully myself meant yelling, “Oh, you think you can charge me this much because of my white skin!?  I want Nepali price, not white price!”  And sometimes it just meant freeing all the awkwardities that amount to myself rather than trying to put a cap on all those qualities and tendencies that make me the truest version of me.

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Self discovery also took place during interviews with teachers and young children.  I’ll never forget one brave teacher who told me that just because she is a counselor and teacher to child domestic workers and teaches them to voice their fears and concerns and sorrows aloud, just because she encourages openness and future-oriented minds,  because she encourages the children to have goals, because of this she fears that she will be persecuted. She is afraid to walk down the streets at times, fearing that people will see her as the revolutionary teacher who is untraditional in her methods.  As she said this, I remember thinking that every view I took would be stronger and stronger from this point on in.  Every risk I took would be more intentional.  Thank you to CWISH and my general work as an intern for allowing me the opportunity to think and feel and be inspired in these ways.

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Even for all the times I lied about myself, i.e.: I am 27, 25, 24, married, work for the government, study law, am married to a congressman, getting my PhD, work in human, own and operate an NGO here, am from Ireland, I still managed to feel more myself in the end.  I believe it happens most always when one gets out of where he or she is from, but there was something stronger about Nepal that pushed me to break away from feeling enclosed, quiet, nervous.  Whether I go back or not, I’d like to think that I’ll have a new adventure soon enough, and I’ll feel more confident, more excited, more ready to engage, serve, understand.

I’m not finished blogging, although some may be bored by blogs simply about life and not life in South Asia, but I have to keep going because one day, I will find the words and they will be simple.  But for now, I leave you again with these words:

“Travel is like love, mostly because it’s a heightened state of awareness, in which we are mindful, receptive, undimmed by familiarity and ready to be transformed.  That is why the best trips, like the best love affairs, never really end.” -Pico Iyer

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Namaste, Nepal

& Dhanyabad, & also, Dhanyabad to you guys:

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Love,

LR

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Goodbye to Nepal, part 1

I wanted this post to be written sweetly from my room in Kathmandu, while gazing out my window at that now highly-progressing construction project.  I’m a romantic for reasons like this.  Instead, I got my ear pierced then got a phone call from my mother the next instant warning me that I was under the impression that my flight was 2 hours later than it was.  So that was the end of my last blog in Kathmandu fantasies.  Although, here I am in Abu Dhabi where I started documenting this whole thing and I am still pleased to be logging this last installment.  30 blog posts later and here I am, simply gazing back, observing, like I’ve been doing this whole time, but from a different direction.

My final larger-scale venture took place this past weekend in a small village above lakeside Pokhara at Sadhana Yoga Center.  My friend Devyn and I spent 2 nights and 1 full day relaxing, eating phenomenal food, taking in incredible views, meditating, chanting, mud bathing, doing yoga, but most importantly focusing on ourselves, in ways that westerners are often not taught about.  Our full day of yoga may have been the most mentally peaceful day of my life.  I may have been an abomination of a meditator, as I am incapable of sitting still (probably rule 1 in meditation), but all in all, the day seemed to be not so much of a pampering sort of day, but more of a day of mindfulness, of understanding where I was and where I had been, of how many gifts I had, though sometimes it seems like I have more bad than good.  I felt reminded of what I wanted out of life, and I realized it was, in fact, much less than I sometimes thought I needed.  My trip gave me so much in terms of experience, understanding, learning, self-expression and self confidence, but it was small moments like centering in, learning about myself, listening to what I wanted, hearing myself, spending time with others that made me realize how very small, yet big in impact, that which I longed for was.  The day before I left, so yesterday, I had a late lunch/early dinner with one of my closest friends and housemates, Devyn.  This was another example, and perhaps the best ending memory to have left with.  We ate at a wonderful Israeli place where the seats were cushions and the lighting was mood-setting, and the food too was actually quite good. And for sometime between 2 and 3 hours, my favorite thing occurred.  Conversation.  I realized why I would miss spending my time in Nepal for the summer.  It was because of the people I’d met who had reaffirmed to me the meaning of time spent together, whether in silence or in conversation.  I can honestly say I was so grateful to have had my last meal out was relaxing, long, and full of love and openness.  This was something I wasn’t sure I’d be getting as often when home.  My dates may be a different story, but meals with friends are more than often quick, and you barely have time to do more than eat.  Maybe I’ll take these things back with me: meditating, quieting myself, conversation, lingering.

 

Moral of the story for now:  I’m happy I went, I’m happy I’m on my way home, but I’ll always remember that feeling of walking away from my office, driving away from the volunteer house.  For as much as I dreaded some days, the men on the streets, the smell.  I am grateful.

 

Love,

LR

“One day I will find t…

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“One day I will find the right words, and they will be simple.”
― Jack Kerouac, Dharma Bums

I have two gifts that come to mind upon seeing this quote.  These are gifts of mine, of course.  On is my gift of gab and one is my way with words.  Now while I had to beg borrow and steal popular idioms and phrases to convey this, I think I speak for myself and almost everyone around me when I say, if there is anything that is evident it’s that I like to talk and I like to write.  And when I can’t seem to do one, I usually do the other.  I started writing poetry, and I think I constructed a style for myself in which words were numerous and sentences were long and descriptive.  What I mean by all this is one day I hope to find the right words, the ones that can stand without much extra coloring.  That will be right.  Like this experiences and many other experiences, encounters, and relationships in life, I can’t seem to color them.  They stand quite right on their own.

Age is opportunity no less, Than youth itself, though in another dress, And as the evening twilight fades away, The sky is filled with stars, invisible by day. ~Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Morituri Salutamus

Today is my 21st birthday.  And apart from it being filled thus far with great food that I have purposefully sought out for myself as well as some great jade earrings, which, again, I purposefully sought out for myself, it has been filled with great thoughts: thoughts of my own, of course, and thoughts which have been inspired by individuals and instances, like the great quote from Mr. HWL which I have spelled out above.  I cannot help but think to myself how very far behind me that awkward and ugly egg I once hatched out of is.  Age is tricky, you see, because some, my mother in particular, would like to argue that I’ve been acting 21 since I was 4.  While I can’t argue with much of this, it is interesting, still, to be perceived as older.  I usually love this and bask in it gloriously, but now I find myself both excited yet shocked.  I am smiling to myself at the thought of my first legal drink, regretfully spending money on a too-expensive bottle of wine I’d probably buy just to say I bought it, and that sort of thing, but another part of me is shaking my fist at the heavens, pleading “WHY!?  Slow it down, Jesus and Zeus and the court of Mt. Olympus!”

But sometimes, ex-poet laureates come around and they pull some tricks out of their back pockets and say LISTEN:

“And as the evening twilight fades away, the sky is filled with stars, invisible by day.”

Ok, so my lights are far from burning out, I’m 21, I may, in fact be my brightest, although I’d like to think my brightest is me every day for the next 80 years.  Nevertheless, age is kind of a cooler thing than people assume it to be.  At least past a certain point in life, age means ugliness, death, and the newfound inability to do anything exciting or rewarding.  I am not yet at this point in life and some may say who am I to judge, but believe me, 1) I’m wise beyond my years-we’ve already covered this, and 2) I have a superbly and ridiculously cool mother (oh, have I mentioned this before?), who never ceases to amaze me with her goals, dreams, and endeavors for the future and the present.

So here’s the thing, I’m kind of excited to get older.  I don’t need to skip a year or anything, but I’m pretty excited for this year.  After all if I tried to hold it all back and succeeded, if Zeus and Moses and Buddha were all like “Hm, okay Leah, stay little, that’s cool with us,” I’d be frizzy haired and scared hiding inside my little egg, pleading for it not to break open so I wouldn’t have to face the kids in middle school, even the kids in high school, so I wouldn’t have to speak my mind, or seem sensitive, or seem weird.  And let me tell you guys and gals, trying not to seem weird, especially if you are weird (and I know you’re all secretly weird in some way), is the hardest thing to do.  Wanna see pictures of me trying not to seem weird?  Okay, yeah I didn’t think so.  Because my lips covered in concealer were WAY cooler than my lips tinted red.  But on a serious note, as I get older, more and more people are acquiring knowledge of the real me.  It’s almost to the point where almost every friend I have never knew the Leah from a few years back, the one who didn’t actually exist as her real self.  But now, there’s something different about me, and I have the wonderful gift of years to thank for it.

So I’m 21, I’m in Kathmandu, I’m jumping off a bridge tomorrow, and on Sunday, I’m dying portions of my hair blue.  I’m just being the youth itself, in another dress (Thanks, Sir Longfellow).

-LR

Post yoga on a rooftop and waving an incense stick in my face, my head is clear so I think I’ll write…

I’ve found that in some sense, I’ve gotten a bit carried away with these posts.  I came to realize this when skyping with my wonderful roommates from back home whose most curious question was, “What do you do everyday?” Alright, boys and girls, here we go.

What Leah Does every day:

1. Usually I wake up anywhere between 6 and 7:15.  I set an alarm.  That is not needed.  There is enough naturally-occurring chaos in Nepal to keep one awake.

2. I usually get ready and eat breakfast all by 8-8:30.  This leaves me anywhere from a half hour to hour before I have to leave for work.

3. I recently realized the beauty in going into town to have a nice coffee before work.

4. Depending on my current state of activity/inactivity, I will either walk and take a bus or take a cab to work.

5. Cultural cue #1: for all those who fear for the worst in terms of danger in Nepal, the most dangerous thing I’ve encountered thus far is actually traffic.  Everyone drives in such a way that you feel as though you are going to lose your life at any moment.  Sometimes you must tap a slowly moving car to stop.  There are more motorbikes than cars.  Those are good too.  They play a game called drive real fast often bolting in the direction of a pedestrian and then swerve.  What fun! The other part is the horn honking.  Often necessary, but not this often.  Believe me.  If they had a fine & 2 points in Nepal…….oh the hell with it they don’t even have spedometers.

6. At work I like to blog update, e-mail, and oh yeah! do my work, of course.  The project I mentioned I am working on before is coming along.  I will be finalizing the victim profile on Monday which is great news.

7. Tea time at work around 11-11:30.

8. Go out to lunch. Just found a place with smoothies and cake.  Need I say more?

9.  Doze off.

10. Depart from work around 4 each day.

11. Do a jigsaw puzzle

12. GOTCHA!

13. Embark on a variety of activities

14. Avoid buying things. *Note: this does not always work*

15. Relax after fighting off life-threatening traffic again

16. Listen to loud noises, some of which include dogs, kids, and people hocking loogies (a favorite pastime in Nepal) out my window

17. Dinner, which is usually served family-style

18. Hang out with people and then eventually go to sleep.

Ok, so this may not have mattered to most, but this is the day’s schematic.  Even if it doesn’t sound all too riveting, it’s sort of interesting enough just having a normal day but in such a different place.  Since I realize I can’t just leave you hanging with part one, I’ve decided to map out a few more things I’ve learned about Nepali culture while here.  Ever heard about how relaxed they are in Europe? Okay, well, Nepal may take the cake on this one.  This is sometimes good and bad.  Good when it comes to work because I have no deadlines really and bad when it comes to walking down the street and I get passenger-style road rage.  Their formalities are similar to those of Italian mothers.  They offer, you take.  For the most part toilet paper is not used, enough said, people…enough said.  In general, every Nepali I have met is so nice and so curious to know about my life and what I think of Nepal.  There’s “I wanna sell you things” nice and there’s genuine nice.  Most of the time I get the genuine nice.  Like I said, the girls from work are even taking me to get a traditional Nepali outfit tomorrow.  Honestly, the cultural differences cannot separate you from a lot of the liveliness and love in this country.  That’s my best cultural clue-in: search for the love and the generosity.  It’s here.

“Remember that everyone you meet is afraid of something, loves something, and has lost something”-Ancient Proverb

Up until now I’ve had a tendency to speak about what it is I am doing.  Well, kids, I’m not doing it all alone.  I present you with, the people I’ve met, or at least a deep and well-construed reflection on surrounding oneself with the company of others while in a foreign country…

I knew one of my fellow volunteers before I arrived and that was about it.  At that point we hadn’t even known eachother too well.  Naturally, most if not all people who decide to take this sort of leap of faith and immerse themselves for a summer into the Nepalese culture must be interesting and must have their own interesting story.  Just in the same way as everyone else on the planet, but still one must wonder:  why is this person spending their summer in the third world?  This question and answers pulled from this question are enough to build bonds.

Sometimes you have to wonder, especially as a gal who always seemed to be the cliche of a square peg, how do I work well with others if I can’t seem to figure my own self out half of the time?  Fitting in or meshing is something I try not to hold my own abilities up against.  Just bein’ Leah tends to work, well, as well as it can.  And if it doesn’t work, and the meshing or fitting in was the only way to go, then you know how the old proverbial saying goes, it wasn’t mean to be.  And I have had many “It wasn’t meant to be’s.”

(Shoutout) Last year when I went to Poland for a service experience doing conservational work in the concentration camps, though I was with a very small group, I came out with friendships–one in particular.  Isn’t it interesting that I would get to know a person for only 10 days and then stay in contact with her quite often for the next year, and even still I consider her to be one of my closest confidants?  There have been some relationships I worked at for years and years and it didn’t seem quite as right as one like this.  There truly is something about sharing the company of a person when one chooses this sort of experience, an immersion.  You could have more in common in the first minute of meeting one another than with someone you’ve been faking it with for years.

First coming to Nepal was like Kindergarden.  The fear of the experience itself equaled out exactly to the fear of making friends throughout the experience.  Sounds like Kindergarden doesn’t it?  The important part of Kindergarden isn’t making macaroni necklaces, per say, it is the strength and solace found it knowing that you will have a buddy who will purposefully get in trouble for shoving a piece of macaroni up their nose just to make sure you don’t spend your time-out alone while everyone else makes macaroni necklaces.

While I realize many blog readers want to hear more about me bargaining in the markets or my plans to go paragliding in Pokhara, this is what you’re getting for today, because honestly whether you’ve traveled a ton, very little, or not at all, the company–those you’re with and those you meet–can impact you more than anything else.  For instance, If it wasn’t for one of my friends here, I would not have gotten up on stage and tribal danced with the Tharu dancers in Chitwan last weekend.  But seriously, there’s no way I would’ve done it.  I’ve also had friends convince me to buy things–which, who doesn’t need that in their lives.

I feel as though I have so much more to learn from my fellow volunteers and friends.  Sometimes, we just snuggle, sometimes we talk, we even work out, which is sometimes productive and sometimes just messy–at least when it goes unguided.  We talk about uneventful and eventful days at work, we talk about food we miss back home (sometimes to no avail), we talk about our futures (boy, do we talk about our futures), but mostly, even if we won’t admit it, we really do enjoy our time here…together.

Yesterday at work for the first time I began to feel the most in-touch I’ve been with the Nepalis here.  I have met one girl who I plan on visiting soon.  She had a very inspiring story; she even wanted to go to New York City one day to pursue fashion design.  Yesterday, though, I talked to the Nepali volunteers who are about my age in the office.  I had a really great conversation with one–comparing our cultures, how we live on our own after age 18 and they never really do, arranged marriages, the school system.  We even planned a time for her to take me shopping to get a traditional Nepali outfit, comprised of a short sleeved tunic with tighter pants on the bottom and a scarf with colors to match…I think it’s called a corta (?) There’s a special feeling one gets when forming a connection with someone who really is of another world, in many ways.

I can’t really explain it, but just now that everyone you meet is afraid of something, loves something, and has lost something.  And know that if you meet them in Nepal, their story is one you probably one you want to hear.  The ones that are most dissimilar from your own tend to be that way.

Namaste,

Leah