Monday, April 27, 2015

Thank you Nepal

The death toll in Nepal keeps rising. 

The news is changing all the time and I can't give a comprehensive summary. I can't tell anyone what to do. I don't know what the country needs, or where people should donate too. I am trying to keep up to date on the news, hoping everyone is alright, and praying for those I haven't heard from yet. The past few days have caused me to reflect on my time in Nepal, and what it meant to me. I once spoke with my friend Jade about sacred spaces. Spaces and experiences served as catalysts for us, and helped us decide what we wanted for our futures. For her, that was Iceland. For me, that space is Nepal.

The edge of the lake in Pokhara

So while I don't really know the best way to help the people of Nepal, I feel like I need to share some of my experience there. All these photos were stolen from my Facebook, hence the fuzzy quality. You can see more of them here and here.

I came to Nepal to serve. But like practically every young upper-middle-class-white-kid with a couple years of college under their belt, I quickly realized that I knew nothing. I knew nothing about who I was, or what was needed from me (if anything), or what I should be trying to do. Nepal was in it's young adulthood, politically, but on the right track. I was still stuck in adolescence.

My first few weeks in Nepal were especially frustrating. I quickly realized that I didn't have the skills or experience that would make a lasting difference for these kids. I wished I was a nurse, or a teacher, or had lots and lots of money. They tried to get me to teach an English class at the local school. I was terrified and unsure. Just 19, and hadn't yet mastered the art of improvisation and false confidence that I used while serving an LDS mission.

But that's all the stuff that was going through my head. These are the kids. And everyone that goes on these trips, talks about "the kids" and how they're just so sweet and happy with anything, even playing with garbage. Which is true. But they were more than that. They were smart and inventive. And they could be mean and petty and cruel like any other kid. And they were some of the first people I learned to love. 

While I was in Ghattagar (a town on the eastern edge of Kathmandu), men with guns came searching for Lama, the head of the orphanage I was staying at. They were members of the rising political party, and Lama owed them money. Tsering brought me into the room, I think to serve as a sort of distraction. I smiled and laughed. They took my picture with their flip phones, posing next to me with their guns. It diffused the tension. 

This is sweet Tsering.

Tsering was the one who was really running the show. She loved the children, and would do anything for them. In the years that followed, Lama abandoned the orphanage, and Tsering was left to hold things together. Most of the children were not truly orphans, they were from surrounding villages and came to Kathmandu so that they could get receive an education. Eventually, Tsering ran out of money and she and the children had to leave the orphanage and rely on the generosity of others. It's a familiar story, apparently. I haven't yet heard how they fared through the earthquake.

From Kathmandu, I was moved to Pokhara. I don't even know how to begin to describe Pokhara. It was simply heaven. Beautiful, and green, and clean. Surrounded by green hills, and craggy mountains that I promised myself I would come back and climb. It was on the edge of a huge lake. And there was a sweet peace there that I hadn't felt anywhere else.

Arjun is a smart, effective leader. He runs an orphanage in Pokhara where the children are encouraged to embrace their heritage and keep their customs and beliefs. Many of them were of Tibetan heritage. The mother of the family was 27 when I met her, a year younger than I am now. I can hardly believe it.

Thinking of Nepal makes me heartsick. When an experience is so much, and you can never finish unpacking it.  I hope I get the chance to return again. My first trip to Nepal was fumbling and anxious. I imagined returning to the county, with an apology in tow. Now I'm just hoping for the chance to go back and to bring with me a warm, fearless embrace.

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