Emily Fabiano, 2019 Humanitarian Mission and Cultural Exchange
While my friends were out partying and midnight struck, the plane I was on became filled with clapping and cheering. It was now 2019 and my Emirates flight was departing for my third humanitarian mission and cultural exchange in Nepal. I was excited to see my friends in Nepal again, but I had doubt about whether it would be worth it to travel to the same place for the third time this year, especially after getting food poisoning during my previous visit. I was unsure if the experience doing projects in Nepal would impact me as much as it did the first time I took part in this mission. Did I make the right decision to go to Nepal again? Myself and five other students from NJ have checked 300 pounds of donations for schools and orphanages, and our adventure started on New Year’s Eve.
After about 40 hours of traveling, 8,000 miles from home,I was reunited with my friends in Nepal and we picked up right where we left off. I remember our first day in Kathmandu, we were jumping from program to program, and ultimately, I think we met with five different Rotaract clubs in just the first day when normally, we meet with one or two. This showed how much our friends wanted to see us again now that we were back in their country, and how excited the new clubs were to meet us. I made a lot of new friends in these clubs, as every club met us with warm welcomes and we could see how appreciative they were to have us in their country. This is true for every village we traveled to, and every new club we met with. The Nepali have a phrase “Guests are Like God,” and this is extremely evident in the way the Nepali host us. I remember one of the Rotaractors that hosts us everytime we come to Nepal, Narendra, made a comment that stuck with us while we were there. He told us “You guys are not tourists to me, you’re my friends,” which was very comforting for all of us to hear. Despite Nepal being on of the world’s poorest countries, this country has the most generous people I have ever been surrounded by, and this is what brings me back to this country time after time.
For the first few days I remember having a hard time adjusting. I was not used to sleeping without heat, taking cold showers (if we even had access to a shower), or hiking to the top of a “mountain” to where I will sleep for a night. These experiences are what make the trip meaningful and memorable, and taught us to appreciate many of the things we take for granted. In these moments it is hard to keep a positive attitude, but looking back I am grateful for living a very different way of life for two weeks. To experience the lifestyle of one of the world’s poorest countries has shaped my character immensely, and has changed my outlook on life and what I want to do in life. After being exposed to how kids live in Nepal, it makes me feel like I have no right to complain about my daily problems, because unfortunately most of my daily challenges/complaints are nothing compared to the way people live in Nepal.
At every school and orphanage we went to, the kids melted my heart and I wanted to take them all home with me. We could not walk through a school without all the classes looking at us, clapping and cheering, overwhelmed with excitement, as if we are celebrities; these kids had the biggest smiles on their faces the second they saw us. It is times like these when I am reminded that this trip is worth it. It was interesting to find that kids would touch my hair because they have never seen blonde hair before, or to be amazed that they are seeing identical twins (I am a twin).The way that the schools and orphanages welcome us each time made us all feel greatly appreciated for what we came to Nepal to do. Everytime we went somewhere we were welcomed with scarves, hot tea, and biscuits. Seeing the circumstances of where some of the kids go to school is not always easy, but we are there to help the students in any way we can by providing them tools they need, such as notebooks, pencils, rulers, and even socks sometimes. I remember a little girl at a school in Pokhara, she did not have any socks or shoes on, and she just sat in my arms so content. Seeing this girl, and the way she responded to receiving a pencil we gave her was really touching to me. Another great moment was when we brought some blankets to an orphanage that we had stuffed in our checked luggage. The owner of the orphanage told us the kids were sharing beds because the orphanage did not have enough bed sheets. I remember thinking that there was no way I could pack these blankets in my suitcases, but I am really glad that I decided to squeeze them in when I heard the owner of the orphanage tell us this. It is always difficult to say goodbye to the kids when we finish a program and must leave. The kids always stand in a group waving goodbye to us. Although I only briefly meet and interact with the kids, saying goodbye to them feels like I am saying goodbye to my closest family and friends. Even when we went to schools with deaf and mute students, there was still an unspoken connection with these kids, which was really meaningful to me.
Our itinerary was packed from day to day, but the busy schedule was worth it to get the most out of our time there. While we did many projects at schools and orphanages, we also had a cultural exchange taking place, and attended a number of Rotaract meetings. For example, myself and the other club members from the USA had a recipe exchange with the Lalitpur Rotaract Club. This was a lot of fun because we (the Americans) got to help the Lalitpur Club make MoMo, an iconic food of Nepal, while us Americans made nachos for the Nepali club. Although nachos are not a true “American” food, the Lalitpur club loved them and thought the combination of food was interesting, but really tasty. The various clubs that hosted us took us hiking and sightseeing to many places including the World Peace Pagoda, Swayambhunath, Boudhanath Stupa, and so much more. For me, simply walking from one place to another is “sightseeing” because the country is so different from where I come from; everything is new and intriguing to me.
Although conditions were very rough at times on the trip, we all kept a positive attitude and made every situation enjoyable as we learned to become more innovative. For example, we did not have a warm shower in a village, so we used heating rods in a bucket of water to heat the water. Our “shower” for that night was a bucket of warm water to bathe. At another guest house, we did not have warm showers, but we did have hot water boilers designed to boil water for tea. So, we all combined and had a total of three hot water boilers, providing enough water for one person to “shower.” I am studying engineering in school, so I enjoyed having these opportunities to be innovative. Our mottos for the trip became “You have to adjust,” and “It’s fine we can manage.”
While pretty much everything is different in Nepal one thing that stands out is the transportation. Many times, a group of us would be travelling and we would need to take a bus to get somewhere. A COMPLETELY FULL bus would pull up, and our hosts would tell us that this is the bus we are taking. A lot of the time I would be thinking “Are we seriously getting on that?” and everytime the answer was “yes.” I remember being on one of these buses and it got stuck in a large hole in the dirt road in the middle of a lot of traffic. I was squished between people so it was hard to see, but the bus was rocking back and forth and there were so many fumes from the driver trying to get the bus out of the ditch. After burning rubber, and many people getting off the bus and standing in traffic, the bus was moving again! Another time, we were on a small bus going to a school and I was thinking back to last year when we went to this same school…we walked a chunk of the way. The bus got to where a lot of water was flowing across the dusty dirt road, under a footbridge and down the cliff. At this point I continued to wonder why we were not getting out and walking like we did last year; clearly this was not designed for vehicles to drive through, and the footbridge is there for a reason. But the driver continued, and we got stuck in the water. The bus was not moving, so a bunch of people had to get out and push the bus through the water, up the hill. Although these situations do not sound appealing, they are entertaining for people like me, and again, times like these make the trip memorable and exciting. Traveling from place to place was always an adventure in itself, as you never know what could happen in Nepal. Another thing I really love about Nepal is the breathtaking scenery. Seeing pictures of the Himalayan mountain range, and the tip of Everest is one thing, but to see them in real life is surreal. Where I live in American I cannot wake up every morning, and go outside and sip tea with a view of the Himalayan mountain range.
In the end, it was worth it.
It was worth it to travel 40 hours and it was worth it to bring donations that weighed more than me.
A huge thank you to all the clubs in Nepal that hosted us, and a special thank you to my friends Jyoti and Narendra who traveled to all the villages with us, I do not know how they handled being with us six Americans for fifteen days, 24/7. While I have summarized my experience here, putting my experience and satisfaction from doing the projects into words does not do justice. The only way to know how amazing it is to be a part of this mission is to actually go to Nepal and experience it for yourself. I am really glad that all the friends I make in Nepal stay in contact with me, and I am excited for future projects with the clubs in Nepal.
To all my friends in Nepal, see you soon. NAMASTE