After a brief recovery in Pokhara and Kathmandu from the trek, we wasted no time in tackling our next challenge: the home stay.
A three-hour bus ride from the capital, simple yet quaint Kakani is a breath of fresh air — no persistent shop vendors or hectic traffic patterns here! The town itself is modest, and the majority of its citizens are just distant relatives of the same family; what it lacks in infrastructure, however, it compensates for in breathtaking views, both of the forefront valley and the Himalayas beyond.
Each day, from around 9:30 AM to 4:00 PM, the team convened to collaborate on the upkeep of a local school. Over the course of the week, we sanded down rusty surfaces, re-painted gates and fences, replaced shattered windows, dug a hole for the disposal of trash, and designed an expansive mural. We also gifted educational supplies, such as notebooks and a computer. When we weren’t working on the school, we’d either help elsewhere — weeding strawberry fields, for example — or simply play with the kids. Elliot spearheaded soccer, Mia and Lauren oversaw badminton, while Annie corralled any stragglers into a mass game of Sharks and Minnows.
In the evenings, we returned to our respective host-families. I can’t speak for others, but on the whole, Hugh’s and my home-stay can be described as an alternating series of really awkward and really fun moments. The first night, for instance, we offered to help prepare dinner. After a few minutes of silently staring at us with a blank expression, our host-brother took back the produce and dismissed, “You’re doing it wrong.” We found greater success on the living room make-shift dance floor, throwing back to Gangnam Style, Despacito, and Cotton Eye Joe (which they initially mistook as our national anthem).
A similar interaction took place the following morning during a walk to the family’s “backyard” strawberry field. Hugh and I spent the next fifteen minutes apprehensively evading an ocean of spider webs, each home to some of the biggest and fuzziest arachnids we’d ever seen. Our host-brother, I assume somewhat amused by our theatrics, taunted, “oh, those are tiny.” As soon as we returned home, we spent the next hour meticulously searching our bedroom for any creepy-crawlies.
Other highlights include me convincing our host-brother that Hugh was engaged in forbidden love, Hugh vengefully persuading our host-brother to feed me a Nepali chili pepper (let’s just say I cried), and trying to explain that Fourth of July celebrates not independence from our parents, but independence from Britain. All in all, it was a great time.
As a way to wrap up the week, and the month, the team gathered for a final bonfire reflection. The Sun had just set, coating the sky in the most stunning gradient of indigo, orange and red. The stars, numerous albeit, found an unconventional reflection on the ground, as a million Kathmandu lights shimmered, in the words of Hugh, like “diamonds in a mine.” I doubt anyone could have asked for a better send-off.
As I look back on our greater time in Nepal — what some might call an eternity, others the blink-of-an-eye — two somewhat contradictory thoughts come to mind. On the surface, it is evident this country has a keen desire to differentiate itself from the rest: it boasts the world’s only non-rectangular flag, its calendar claims we are in the year 2075, and its time zone differs not by the conventional hour, nor even the exceptional half-hour, but by an arbitrary fifteen minutes.
A closer look, however, reveals a contrary image. Whether it’s the teenage host-cousin who diligently practices guitar in hopes of one day becoming a musical celebrity, the Buddhist monk who combs library shelves with an insatiable thirst for learning, or the Sherpa who labors tirelessly to give his kids a bigger world than that which was offered to him, Western and Eastern similarities shine. I am reminded of Maya Angelou’s assertion that “we are more alike my friends than were are unalike.”
Nepal has certainly prompted the widest spectrum of emotions within each of us: adrenaline, confusion, serenity, frustration, curiosity, gratitude. And therein, I believe, lies the greatest gratitude of all. Not that we were thoughtlessly content nor that we cherry picked the most comfortable experiences but that we embraced this country in-full, with all its ups and downs and every glorious silver lining. Ultimately, in doing so, we were embraced to a greater degree as well.
We must now set our sights to India, but it’s safe to say this place won’t leave our thoughts any time soon.
Thank you, Nepal. Till next time.
Marco and Hugh