Nothing could have prepared me for the initial culture shock that set in while touring the streets of Kathmandu on our first day in Nepal. It may have been because I just finished a 24+ hour trip to the other side of the world and had nothing more than a few hours of airplane sleep, but I was extremely overstimulated. Walking (and driving) in Manhattan is a breeze compared to Kathmandu. To put things into perspective, imagine a narrow roadway that looks like it was designed to be a one way (partially paved) road. Now, imagine that same road being used as a two lane street, full of cars, buses, and motorcycles and all the vehicles moving, turning, and stopping wherever and whenever they want. There are no stop signs or stop lights. Now, fill this same road with people. This is what driving/walking in Kathmandu is like. Cars pass each other whenever they want, most times playing chicken with oncoming traffic. In areas with sharp turns, vehicles honk their horn around every corner to alert oncoming traffic of their existence. However, even amid all this chaos, no one is yelling. No one is angry. Everyone is patient. It is unlike anything I have ever witnessed.
The people of Nepal have such an appreciation for everything around them. We had dinner with many of the people from Build Change on Monday night, which was a great opportunity to chat with them about everyday life in Nepal. There was one story that really stuck with me. I mentioned to one woman that I was surprised at how calm everyone is, especially in Kathmandu where it is so crowded. She instantly asked me about my meditation habits. I gave her a slightly embarrassed look as I admitted that I do not meditate. She then proceeded to tell me that mediation is very common in Nepal and it gives people full control of their own minds. She personally went on a 12-day meditation journey where she could not speak for 12 days and only had one meal per day. Each day, she woke up at 4 AM to begin her 2 hours on, 1 hour off meditation sequence. The first 3 days she spent focusing on breathing. The remainder of the time was spent focusing on senses. She explained how difficult the journey was but how much it taught her about herself and her mind. She did admit that she cried during the first 3 days and wanted to give up, but she stuck with it. There was so much passion in her voice as she described her journey. She believes that everyone should experience that journey at some point in their lives and challenged me to begin meditating, even if I started with 5 minutes per day.
After getting to know the people at Build Change, it was time to go into the field. Today (Tuesday) was our first day on site at the Build Change field locations. We were given a choice between two locations: Dhunkharka or Sindupalchowk. Matt Nielsen, Megan Arnold and I decided to go to Sindupalchowk. Matt Bussman and Alastair Norris chose Dhunkharka. Each location is approximately 2.5 hours from Kathmandu. Mansi from Build Change is joining us while we are in Sindupalchowk.
Sindupalchowk is naturally beautiful. It is surrounded by rolling hills, rivers, and lots of greenery. Driving through the winding roads, it is easy to get lost in the beauty that surrounds you. Unfortunately, Sindupalchowk was one of the worst-affected districts as a result of the April 2015 earthquake. Many homes and schools were completely flattened. It is devastating. As we drove into town, we noticed a long line of people outside a building that overlooked a river. We came to find out that was a line of people asking for aid to repair/replace their damaged homes, even over a year after the earthquake.
When we arrived at the Build Change field office in Sindupalchowk, there were two Nepali men waiting inside. They were there to design their homes with Build Change, as they unfortunately lost theirs in the earthquake. We had a chance to interview them on camera (with Mansi from Build Change as our translator), which we hope to share with everyone after the trek. After the interview, Mansi told us how excited the men were to be interviewed by us and kept telling her they “were there are the right time”. Even though they were discussing something so heartbreaking as rebuilding their destroyed homes, they were so pleasant and positive. This is a common characteristic of the Nepali people.
We also had a chance to see a school that Build Change recently rebuilt. Everything but the roof of the school collapsed during the earthquake. At the same site is a second school with the same damage that they are planning to rebuild. While there, we met additional people from Build Change, as well as people Build Change is collaborating with from World Vision. We had a great round table discussion with the whole group while sitting inside the school. We learned that the Nepal building codes were adopted from India, which were adopted from the British. Because of this, a roof built to code needs to be designed to sustain 47 m/s wind speeds in Nepal. This makes new roofing extremely expensive. As part of my project with Build Change, they have asked me to help lead them in the right direction to prove that 47 m/s is too high for Nepal. If we could do this, this would help them reduce cost in building new roofs, making it more affordable for more people.
We ended the day at the field house, where we were served a delicious meal prepared by one of the caretakers of the field house, who they call “Didi”. Naturally, I can’t write a blog post without commenting on the food. I have been quite impressed by the Nepali cuisine. It is delicious! The most common meal is a Nepali set. It is essentially a large gold plate with rice in the center, surrounded by smaller portions of vegetables and curries. It is always served with dal (almost like a lentil soup), which you mix with the rice. A full set ends with yogurt, which I’ve been told helps with digestion. We have eaten this for most meals since we’ve been here, with each place having slightly different variations of the dal and side dishes. The drinks are even more amazing, especially the tea. There are many variations of tea to choose from, my favorite being the iced ginger lemon tea and the hot masala chai. I have yet to discover any chocolate, but will be sure to report back when I do!
Overall, my experience in Nepal so far has been wonderful. The people at Build Change have been so warm and welcoming. They are a wonderful group of people with a real passion for their work. They are so kind and are making us feel right at home. I am extremely grateful for this opportunity and am very thankful to be sharing this adventure with this group of the trekkers. Even though the five of us have only been here for 3 days, I already feel like I’ve known them forever. I cannot wait to see what adventures the next few days bring!