May 22 2017

FINISHING THE UNFINISHED (Blog no. 2 / February 2017) - DISCOVERING NEPAL: Joining All Hands Volunteers Organisation

21.4.2017

 

 

I am sitting in my room in the hills of Nepal. It is worm. I am tired. Although I haven’t been doing much really. Well not today, but the past few months have been full of hard work. Although spending money (as I am actually on vacation) sometimes I was working a lot more than when I was earning money :)!

 

I arrived in Nepal on the 29th January. Since then my life has been full of adventures, learning and love.

Primarily I came there to do some volunteering work with All hands volunteers organisation. But it was way more than that. I fell in love.

Surely the first thing you wonder is if a fell in love with a local or a tourist. It is more than that. I fell in love with the whole country, the people, the nature and also with myself :). Yeah, the last is hard to admit but I appreciate myself more since my volunteering experience. Being able to help somebody who has lost so much and who actually didn’t have a lot of material things anyway. Being able to be a part of an amazing project where people put so much of energy, love and sweat to make some change for people they don’t even know. Making a safe place for kids to learn and have a chance for a better future. The work volunteers put into this project is amazing. I am sure most work harder than ever. They forget about their own pain and just make the best use of their hands. And soon you realise you have put so much in but you got way more out. Things you never expected. You get so much love it is impossible to describe.

 

Kathmandu is such a colourful city, from the time I was landing I already liked it and I was so excited :). I met a guy before upon check-in that had already been to Nepal and was so enthusiastic about it that I guess it was just contagious. We had interesting talks and his description of the trek to Mount Everest base camp and Gokyo was so vivid that it was the first time I started to think about doing it also. Before I thought only crazy people do it :). Well, that is also true :). I spend just a day and a half in Kathmandu most of which involved shopping for stuff I needed before going to the volunteering project (a sleeping bag, sleeping mats, a tent, …) - I spent a lot of time checking the prices which vary a lot to get some good deals.

 

Before starting the project I got a lot of information where to go and had some on-line contacts with some people that were also going there the same day. We met at the bus station, boarded the bus and weren’t aware yet we were heading towards an adventure that would impact our lives. Each in a different way but surely an experience that we will never forget. It was weird actually, I didn’t know what I was getting myself into, I didn’t know anybody there and didn’t know how the projects runs or what I will be doing. How my life will be for the next 3 weeks. But I just felt this was a place for me.

 

 

It was my first Nepalese bus ride and 3 and a half hours later we arrived about 60 kilometres (only:)) North from Kathmandu, to Dunche – Trisuli bazar. We were already a bit tired although the ride was actually easy compared to the ones I had later. But they needed us to clean a base they were using on a different project so we put on our gloves and started cleaning. After finishing we needed to get to the new base which was not far but very much uphill on a very bumpy road. Finally we arrived at Rate Mate (it means Red Mud which was soon all over our clothes), our new home.

We got a tour around the camp, saw our toilets which were opened at one side to make them fresher and also this way we got nice view while being in, which for me was kind of nice as I love peeing with a view :). I just had to forget the fact that actually anyone can hear you or also see you in there, but I don’t think this was the purpose or a wish of anyone there so I was pretty relaxed :).

I just wanted to put up my tent but next there was the meeting which took place every day. There was a discussion about the work, the rules and also time for the new volunteers to introduce. I was pretty uncomfortable standing in front of plenty of people, answering some questions. But here I learnt for the first time that this is a special place where I felt not being judged, like everybody has its own story and each one is ok. After the meeting it was time for dinner. What I didn’t know was that I would have to walk up a steep hill for about 20 minutes to get to the dinner place. After a long day it was quite tiresome but I made it and learnt that I will be eating quite good here. Finally, already being dark, I got a spot for my tent, which meant way more privacy I definitely needed there. There were some spots for tents but mostly people were sleeping in common tents with bunk beds.

The next day at 7 o’clock we already had to be at the building site for the morning meeting. I woke up earlier to make my own breakfast, I could choose from sweet toast with jam / peanut butter or eggs. I tried to make different breakfast every day: rice with egg, rice with apple and cinnamon (I loved this), rice with a banana, pancake with orange (actually quite good), pancake with apples (very nice), pancake with peanuts and even pancake with fake Nutella. I bought rice and corn starch (I wanted to buy corn flour but got this – actually pancakes with this are very nice :)) and improvised to make my mornings nicer. We also got one fruit a day and we could buy more at the local shop – I love fruits so I was there often :). Sometimes it was quite hard to eat a lot so early but we needed a lot of food to keep us going through the day :).

 

I don’t actually remember what I did on my first day as I did so much stuff there, every day was different.  But I surely did some shovelling :). In the morning we could choose from the jobs that were available and they changed often. Sometimes we could put our name only under the gravel team because others were taken and this meant we got to ride a truck 20 minutes downwards on the same bumpy road we came. This happened to me on my 2nd day and our job was to fill up two trucks with gravel, luckily there were plenty of us so we exchanged often. I actually like this although it involves really a lot of shovelling the gravel up on the truck. In between we were waiting for the next truck and we got to rest, talk and some did even some acroyoga :).

The jobs were different every day: sometimes I was shovelling sand from one place to another, shifting the sand (nice for relaxing but can get quite boring soon), carrying different stuff that needed to be moved. Once I signed under the name of team which was landscaping – when I realised this actually meant digging behind the school to level the ground I quickly changed to another team. There were days when you felt you can do the crazy shovelling but that was not one of those day- the team leaders were sometimes quite inventive with the names to get more people to sign up for the works nobody wanted to do them :).  One day I was playing with a sledgehammer to make bigger parts of used wood smaller for the fire – well, this was fun but it was quite heavy, sometimes some boards were covered with cement and I needed to use the sledgehammer more than 30 times on the same spot to break them. Then came the pour day when we were pouring first floor. I heard about pour days that they are so much fun as everybody works together like one big oiled machine and that is exactly how it was. In the morning I was “lucky” to get a job to clean around the base, we were two and were cleaning until lunch, after the Saturday feast and Friday pizza time (which was amazing – we had an improvised pizza oven there) there was so much cleaning to do. After lunch I got to be a part of the gravel team which meant quickly putting the gravels in a bucket and then also moving them, so carrying heavy buckets of gravel which were then put in a mixer together with sand and water to make cement. It was fun and in between there were some dancing, singing and passing / throwing the buckets. It was so incredible – everybody played an important part, no matter how small it seemed to be, and we finished in a good time to see the first floor poured! Incredible!!

 

For the pour of the roof we needed to make a lot of wooden forms to support the concrete that was poured on it. I was working on them 3 days and these 3 days went by so fast, I loved it. I loved learning more about working with the wood and making “a puzzle” from all the used pieces that weren’t the best but were all we had. I have learnt so much and realised it is quite easy to learn new skills, of course if the motivation is there. I also liked tying the rebars to make the columns and later for the roof top. It was fun using a snake but I got frustrated sometimes when there were so many different informations about the way we were supposed to do this – a lot of people have different opinions, which is natural, but that meant sometimes we spent quite some time to make it like we were told and then realised masons are doing it a bit differently :). One day I was again in the movers & shakers team which meant moving stuff from one place to another and just doing some other stuff that needed to be done. Carrying bamboo wasn’t so hard although carrying 2 long death sticks (which support the forms) was quite challenging, but sometimes we were carrying heavy two- by- twoes (long pieces of food which were the size of 2 by 2 inches). And in between when the truck came we were unloading 50 kg bags of cement. I could carry a few of them but not much – they put it on your back as this was the easiest way to carry it as they were so heavy. And also working with dry cement you realise you need to be really careful. If it mixes with water or sweat on your skin it makes an reaction that makes burns on your skin. So after working with cement we needed to wash with vinegar that helped not to get the burns. I got some really small ones but I saw on others what it can do and it is not innocent! I also loved working with the bricks, mixing masala with water, watering the bricks, cutting them and then helping the masons to build a wall :)! When later I saw the wall that we built it felt so good to be a part of it!  I also did scaffolding – building a safe place for people to stand outside the building. It seemed crazy dangerous at some times, especially with previous work at the court where I saw a lot of claims because of the injuries that happened while working on a height ("objektivna odgovornost!" :)). I started being very cautious but soon got more relaxed and did some tying on a height of about 4 metres, just standing on another scaffolder with one foot. I was very careful and felt safe to do more adventure stuff. Luckily nobody got really hurt although they were some injuries, but nothing serious. Considering that about 70 % of the people working there hadn’t had previous experience with construction work it is a great result. In the middle of my days there was an instruction to wear hard heads all the time on the construction site – I actually didn’t mind because I have been thinking before just about it how it would make it a bit safer even though it is sometimes annoying.

I can’t say it was easy doing all this stuff. Our work day started at 7 and finished at 15.30, with an hour break for lunch. I actually loved lunch at Ram Krisna’s, Dal bhat power 24 hour :)! We also had tea break in the morning and some water and toilet breaks in between. But nonetheless it is a lot of physical work. If you also consider we had only one free day (Nepalese have only Saturday off) you can imagine we were tired. Sometimes exhausted, annoyed, upset, in some pain. But I loved the fact that just when I was feeling a bit crappy another volunteer or a mason came across and gave me a big smile :)! That reminded me again why I was doing all this. To do some meaningful work, to help to make a safe environment for kids who don’t have much. The motivation was even greater when we had a presentation about the All hands project and about the earthquakes that happened 2 years ago. If it wouldn’t have happened on a Saturday there would have been so many children casualties because a lot of the schools collapsed. So scary! And another person was for me very motivational, although she probably wasn’t aware of it she is an inspiration to us all. Ama, the lady who gave her land so the school could be built. But she gave so much more than that. She shared so much love that is indescribable. She doesn’t speak English but when she looked in your eyes there was so much love and warmness in them, I have never seen anything like that! If you don't believe me check out her video: https://youtu.be/bz8rpbSDUuk! 

 

This is one thing I noticed and I love about Nepali people. They look you in the eye. Usually they don’t look what you are wearing or how “messy” you are but look in the eye when saying Namaste. I feel like in the West we hurry so much most of the time we rarely take our time and look into each other’s eye. I am not saying just a quick glance but a real look. To acknowledge the person, the divines each one has. And that is just what Namaste means – “I acknowledge the God in you”. We spend too much time judging and having opinions about others and not enough time just listening, hearing each other. Without judging. I know we are so busy and our mind can be full of thoughts what still needs to be done and what wasn’t done right so we can be distracted. But I shall try my best to be more aware of the present moment just as it presents us. With people who are there, with the words they are saying, not trying to change but just accept it as it is. It sure will be a challenge ;)! Usually when I “see” a problem I try to solve it. Help. But sometimes the situation doesn’t need my help. It just needs my attention.

I remember when I was trekking I was talking to one of the lovely Sherpas I met and he told me: for you people in the West it is so hard not to do anything. You have to be busy all the times. Busy with doing something or thinking about something. Why not just do nothing? I don’t really know what is the answer, it might have something to do that if we don’t do nothing we can feel useless and that other’s will perceive us as lazy. Or when we don’t do anything our mind gets unleashed and out of control and we really don’t want that :)!!

 

 

With All hands experience I couldn’t feel lazy. There was just too much to do. Such a busy schedule. And after work we hurried in a line for showers – they were quite nice improvisation. First you needed to fill a bucket with water which was warm for the first days but later not so warm anymore. Sometimes pretty cold. You get used to showering using a bucket but after a week of showering with cold water I was a bit fed up. And it got a bit annoying when one of our two toilets on the base was full and we couldn’t use it anymore. That meant only one toilet for about 60 people. It is quite weird but actually two toilets were enough for us. I never had to wait long for it but this all changed when we were left with one and just at the time that our community was growing. Toilet lines were quite annoying but we somehow managed. Sometimes I just went early to the building site and used the toilet there and also did some stretching in peace there (out in the field, not in the toilet :)).

 

I admit, for me it was a challenge to live in such a big community. People coming and going often. Some groups were formed and I felt the best with the people I came to the project with, I guess there was just some special connection between us. Of course I met also a lot of great and interesting people. But I also need a lot of privacy and some peaceful time so I often went a bit away, to the fields, to read a book or do Tai Chi. This was precious moments for me because I need peace although I love company. But I need both. Because of that I didn’t get to meet so many people there intimately but I did feel some nice connections. Sitting in the afternoon and in the night by the fire was nice, talking, discussing the day and our lives in general. For me it is just hard to live in a big diverse group like this for a long time. I guess I prefer smaller groups where you can get to know each other more. But it sure was a great experience!

 

Saturdays were workfree. The first Saturday I went to Trisuli – Dunche bazar which meant walking about an hour and a half to get some groceries I couldn't find in the village shop. It was quite hot and my backpack was full of stuff so I was lucky as my hitch-hiking back was successful. Although that meant I had to sit on the roof of a truck, having to hold really tight not to fall off, so I would say it wasn’t the most comfortable or safe ride I have ever taken. At one point I had enough and went down, walked some more and then luckily got another ride. This was perfect because otherwise I would have to do a long walk uphill. I concluded that this would be the last time I did such a hike on an off day which should be reserved for relaxing. Although the next Saturday I worked a few hours because we needed to finish some things – it was funny:  quite a lot of people decided to spend our only off day like this. But I admit I was a bit tired, although we didn’t work so much but still – rest time should be rest time. And the next Saturday I was forced to rest :). Like usual when I had too much of everything my rest came involuntarily. I had been feeling a bit more tired and out of energy for the few days and then I got a cold. It wasn’t that bad but combined with some digestion problems made me feel like crap. It was the day we had a party with the community – I even helped cooking then just went to bed. The food was great but I skipped the party – it was more a volunteer party with drinking, dancing and shouting instead of a volunteer – community party I was expecting: Nepali music, dances and not so much alcohol. Over all I would say there was a lot of alcohol consumed after work, every day, beers, Roxy (really bad liquor that was very cheap and with combination with a juice was actually drinkable) and one day we had a nice sangria party. I didn’t drink much there, for me it would have too exhausting to do it often. But I did enjoy a beer some times, Commando, extra strong, with about 6 promille alcohol. One was enough for me :). Saturdays were nice because we had Saturday feasts which were cooked by volunteers and were really diverse - from American to Izraeli and Spanish cuisine! 

We were lucky we had a chance to be a part of some local parties – there were 2 weddings so we could see a part of the community gathering. It was quite nice when we came the ladies made us dance with them and some girls danced like almost being one of them! I like Nepali dance it is so alive, singing, playing the drums and moving the hands a lot. This is what made this experience more real, living close to the community, working with them, walking by the school to the worksite where little children shouted: hello and wanted to give us “high five”. Just seeing them reminded us why we are doing all this. It was real. Sometimes when somebody was leaving we would make jokes and ask them: "Why do you hate kids?!?" :)!!

 

I planned to leave the project after a bit more than 3 weeks, just after we were supposed to be pouring the roof. We were so excited, a lot of us waited for this day to leave because the pour days are fun and every hand is really appreciated on that day. We woke up pretty excited, after baking pancakes I went to a mason’s house for tea – Bhoj Dai is such an amazing guy, always smiling wearing “Dal Bhat power 24 hour“ T-shirt :)! I met his wife and draw the shape of my hand on his table, wrote my name, country and the date there so when I come back he will remember me :)! But sadly it is Nepal so the mixer we needed for the pour didn’t arrive although they tried so hard to get it. We were disappointed but had to accept the reality and leave for Pokhara a few hours sooner.

 

Leaving the project was happy and sad and the same time. Because of all the chaos I didn’t get to say goodbye to the locals and maybe it was for the best as it would have been harder to leave. It was time for me to leave, I was ready, especially after feeling sick I needed time off. But at the same time it was sad. Giving a goodbye speech I still didn’t realise how this project effected my life. I have learnt so much and received so much love. The next days when I saw a cement bag, rebar or bricks I became so nostalgic. But it was time to get some other experiences and the memories remained in my heart. Although I wasn’t aware at that time that I would be back to Rate Mate soon, yet only for a day.

 

Pokhara and the surrounding

 

Pokhara was a great place to relax – not so many people or traffic as in Kathmandu, much more relaxed and laid back. Still it is quite touristic which meant a lot of shops, good restaurants, nice fruit and good massage (at Seeing hands clinique). It was nice hanging around with some of the volunteers from All hands – just enjoying being there and not doing much. We were a bit lazy after all the work we had done. Some came to Pokhara just for a two day break – just relaxing and eating some good food :). It was nice hanging out in a bit different environment. By this time I somehow decided to try to do Everest base camp trek and I was so excited about it but I needed to buy almost everything for the trek as I didn’t plan this adventure before. Luckily I met this guy in his shop and he made me a good deal so I got shoes (great ones which didn’t give me any blisters), waterproof trousers and jacket, thermal underpants, quickdrying t-shirts, poles, sun hat, a head lamp and later I also changed my sleeping bag for a warmer, super down one. All this cost me about 150 EUR and most of the stuff I brought home so I guess I got a good deal. When I got to one big supermarket that sold so many stuff I was so overwhelmed I stayed there just looking at all the stuff for about half an hour. It was weird seeing so many things after spending more than 3 weeks in a village with very limited supplies. I like the food there. Soon I found a nice fruit market with delicious papayas.  I guess I didn’t have enough of dal bhat at the project (only one every day :)) so I ordered it also here. I loved the food at Sukra bar, smoothies and deserts at AM / PM café and pancakes with buckwheat flower at Metro. When we came there was Shivaratri celebration which meant that they burn fires outside, put sugar cane inside for a few minutes which made them explode when hit on the floor. People were smoking weed on the streets which is quite common for this holiday. I was offered more times to share a smoke from complete strangers, mostly older, but I was satisfied with hitting the sugar canes on the floor :). We were staying at Sunflower hotel which was a nice place and quite cheap because of the special price for the All hands people: only 400 NPR for a single room. They were very friendly and the daughter of the owner liked talking with us and we drew together. I tried to draw Jorge, a friend from All hands, just for fun but it worked out so nice that later I had to draw also the Nepalese family – the kids and the grand father. They were so happy and I was so satisfied with the results of my drawings,  I didn’t know I can draw faces so well! It was a lot of fun!

 

Before going to meditation I wanted to do some trekking but had only few days so I did an easy trek. I took a bus to Hemja and walked to Astam and slept in Hyangakot. It is a nice small village with two simple homestay, I had nice hosts who cooked me good food. It the morning I went to a nearby hill to do some tai chi overlooking the Anapurna mountains. The second day I continued slowly to Dhampus and slept in Pothana before going to Australian camp and descending back to Pokhara the next day. It was a nice trek, I met some friendly locals and sang some Nepalese songs with them (my improvisation of Resham firiri song :)). I enjoyed walking slowly from village to village without any tourist crowd or any hurry. The views were mostly cloudy but early I the mornings I could see some snowy mountains not so far away. But for me it was time to experience a different adventure, a 10 day silent Vipassana meditation. Driving a local bus to Begnas lake to the meditation retreat was nice – I love local transports, although not the most comfortable but always quite interesting. I took my first local overcrowded bus uphill – they waited the bus to be completely full and that meant we were squeezed together like sardines in a tin. I had a lot of luggage by that time that made it even more difficult to get off the bus. As I walked to the retreat I was amazed by the surrounding beauty – Begnas lake, surrounded by mountains. I knew I was at the right place although I was a bit worried what this adventure would bring me!! And it sure was an interesting adventure!!