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Kavitha Dispatch

Memories of My Days in Nepal
June 24, 2000

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Nepal is a kingdom of majestic snow-capped mountains as well as lush jungles of tigers and elephants. It is a land of sacred temples and mystical legends, and of sweet and hospitable locals living in beautiful untouched villages. Nepal holds a special place in the heart of anyone who has been lucky enough to visit it, and for me that is especially true. You see Nepal is more to me than just another place I've been before. It may seem that traveling is second nature to me, the way I've been trekking around the planet with the Odyssey, but I wasn't always like this. There was a time when I thought a lifestyle like this was impossible, when I was too intimidated to set out to visit places that seemed so very different from my safe, clean home in America.

Well, I had to start somewhere, and for me that place was Nepal. While I was a junior in college I decided to study abroad there. I knew it would be a challenging new experience for me, but I had no idea what a huge impact it would have on the person I am today. One semester I was living in a stylish apartment with five of my best friends, partying and going to classes on campus, and the next semester I was living in a home with no electricity or running water with a family who didn't speak any English! Talk about a change!

Vocabulary

intimidated - awed
looming - to rise up, large on the horizon
menial - servile

It might not sound like an appealing choice, but I very quickly came to love my new home in the village Beni and especially my sweet host family. Immediately I was like a child again. I had to be taught how to do everything: how to eat the right way, how to bathe in the river, even how to use the toilet! It was a very humbling experience for a college kid who thought she knew a lot about the world! Once I got the hang of it all, and started to learn the language, I became quite fond of my new lifestyle. There were four other American students living with different families in the village and after our classes we would hike along the cold rivers to find the perfect spot to bathe and wash our clothes. Our village home was in the foothills of the Himalayas, and beyond the green hills of our valley we could see the snow-capped mountains looming. Village life was quiet, but beautiful and peaceful.

My most vivid memory, though, was my last day in Beni. The family's mom, whom I called Bhauju (sister-in-law) sat down on the bed next to me and started crying. To this day, nobody in my life has ever cried for me the way Bhauju did. Not my friends, not my parents, not my boyfriend. Nobody. All of a sudden it hit me - for us college students from America, it was no big deal to pick up and leave. We were so privileged that we were curious about another way of life and were able to drop in on it and experience it for awhile. After a few weeks, when it was time to move, we packed up and said goodbye. For the students from America, good-byes were no big deal. In America, we are constantly saying goodbye to friends and family, whether it's going away for the summer for camp, or moving out to college, or living on our own. For the people of Beni though, goodbyes are not a part of their normal lives. Most people in Beni live their entire lives within that small village. They grow up there, get married to someone within the village and continue to live close to their parents and grandparents forever. These families opened their hearts and homes to us so completely, and now we were leaving. All of a sudden I felt so guilty. It's so easy for us to move on to other new exciting adventures, but for them to return to their everyday lives is not so easy.

"He who travels far sees things far from what he once saw as truth." -Herman Hesse

I felt so terrible. Was my time there so unbalanced? What could I possibly give back to these people in exchange for all they had given me? After thinking about it for a long time I realized that it wasn't totally unbalanced or unequal. I realized that we were not the only people being affected and learning from our time in Beni. Bhauju and her family received something from us too--a feeling of worth and pride.

I loved spending the days with Bhauju. I found her life to be so interesting and beautiful. She was always telling me to go with her husband to work, that his job as a doctor was much more interesting than her menial work in the home, but I loved learning how to cook from her and playing with the babies with her. I was sad to leave her, but happy that she will always remember how students from America came all the way to her village, and actually found her life and her home beautiful and enriching.

"The end of all travels is to return home, and know the place for the very first time." -Goethe

From our village homestays we had the opportunity to trek through the beautiful Himalayas, live with different families in Kathmandu while attending classes at our school, and spend a month doing independent studies in all different parts of the country. Every second was a learning experience, a memory that has stuck with me far longer than anything I studied in my textbooks at my university. By the end of the semester we had all fallen in love with Nepal and our families and nobody was ready to go home. In fact only three out of the eighteen students actually left on the last day. The rest of us stayed as long as we could into our summer holidays, traveling around the country and spending more time with our families.

When I finally did go back to Maryland, it was very hard for me. I didn't want the electricity or the running water or the air-conditioned cars. I'd trade all the comfort in the world for the mountains and the open people. I was experiencing what is commonly called "reverse-culture shock." As shocking as village life in Nepal was to me when I first arrived, returning to America was just as shocking. I had a different view of my own culture. I was able to see things from a new perspective. I realized things that I had always taken for granted, things I once thought were necessities, were actually privileges. But as critical as I was about the over-consumptive and wasteful aspects of American culture, I was also extremely thankful for the freedom and individuality the culture offered too.

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In time I was able to slowly readjust to being back. It was nice to see my friends again and have the freedoms I didn't have in Nepal. But I had changed too, in ways deeper than my family or friends, or even I, could ever realize. I was also more conscious of my actions and I didn't take so much for granted anymore.

I strongly urge all of you to study abroad or live abroad if you ever have the opportunity. Not only to see another part of the world and learn about a rich new culture, but perhaps more importantly, to learn more about yourself and your own culture too.

Now after five long years since my semester abroad, I have finally had the chance to come back to Nepal. I have missed Nepal and the close relations I made while I was there, and I've dreamed about coming back here for so long, and now after five long years I finally am doing so. It's good to be back but I must admit my return here has been bittersweet. Find out why in my next dispatch.

Kavitha

p.s. - Please e-mail me at ...kavitharao@bigfoot.com
 

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