It is 4:20 in the morning. A gentle rain has been holding steady since 3, and I have reason to believe that one of the many pigeons outside the window is snoring… as I should be….
… On the last leg of our flight to Nepal, we reviewed our extraordinarily limited Nepalese, visited with tourists from Indonesia, and slowly woke from our jet-lagged stupor. Twenty-two hours in the air with in-between times spent in airports since Friday had been taking its toll. However, when we descended close enough to catch glimpses of our home for the next 27 months…..it made up for all the travel torture. Thirty-one friends who were strangers just a few days earlier squished together to peek out the small airplane windows. There was a stunned silence on the plane, broken every once in a while by a whispered voices saying, “Oh my God”, “We’re finally here.”, “I can’t believe it.” There was cheering and clapping upon landing and thirty-one tired, but enthusiastic smiles broke out.
A staircase was wheeled out to meet our small plane as we all fought to see, smell, and hear our new home. Nepal does smell different, similar to Southern Louisiana, but … well… more Nepali. Musty and humid heat greeted us between the plane and bus that taxied us back to the airport building. Upon entry, we were given Khatas (a ceremonial scarf) and met by the United States’ Nepali Ambassador Peter Bodde, his wife, and the staff of Peace Corps Nepal. As the dignitaries welcomed us, we were surprised that they seemed to know who all of us were and details of our background, such as where we were from and what schools we went to.
The airport was small for being so busy, and had a great feel of historical preservation with gorgeous woodwork everywhere. We posed for pictures, and then nervously waited at the baggage turnstile for our bags (last seen in Chicago, well before the transfer between United and Silk air lines). Luggage gradually appeared, and relieved Peace Corps Trainees (PCT) were shepherded through customs and out into the bright Nepali air.
We filled one small bus with our luggage before filling two more with PCTs. Some of us pulled cameras out, while the rest of us stared, eyes wide, out the bus windows traveling through the Kathmandu streets with little interplay between us and the Peace Corps staff riding on the bus with us…these strangers to whose care we had blindly entrusted ourselves and our belongings. It was awesome.
The bus trip was short but intense, providing some of the best ‘opportunities lost’ for picture after picture, due to window reflections, sudden swerving, abrupt stops, and enormous potholes. The people are gorgeous here. The architecture is unreal and spectacular in its decay, growth, and detail. The area is also verdant in super greens, glowing in the healthy plants growing from balconies and vacant lots jutting from overworked constructions. Sometimes we could see these spaces occupied with cattle, goats, or the occasional harried looking chicken.
The bus dropped us off at a training compound for the duration (five days) of orientation in a ‘suburb’ of Kathmandu. We have a room above the mens’ dorms, overlooking a small green space (with up to 4 cows), a beauty school, and a number of houses. One building across from our room window provides morning dance exercise… starting around 5A.M. every morning, and is very loud. So far, however, I’ve been waking up well before they start, so have been groggily watching them arrive before sun up, joining in a few motions before heading into the shower, and then watching them leave in the early dawn.
The crickets sound strange here and the corvids are not the same at all. They have grey hoods and are very (Very) large. Possibly Jack-Daws. We’ve also seen lizards, small spiders, many different birds, goats, chickens, cattle, and small white nocturnal animals that are jumpers. The rest of our group has seen big snakes and rats…..one that emerged from the toilet just as the volunteer entered the ‘charpi’(bathroom) There are a great many doves (pigeons) that roost around our windows, and we constantly hear them when in our room.
We’re hoping they keep the spider population down.
The Nepali people are as curious about us as we are of them, we have been exchanging stares, smiles, and “Namastes”, while observing and listening to this culture, so new to us. I think I see a strong relationship evolving with these wonderful people in the future.
This first week, we’ve learned how to use an eastern toilet, how to discretely bathe at a public tap, and how to wash tons of laundry by hand. Our awareness of the value of clean water has increased tenfold as we’ve learned to avoid letting any unfiltered water pass our lips. No drinking tap water, no eating fruit that might have been washed in tap water, and…..no brushing our teeth with tap water (tap water can’t even be used to rinse our brushes). We are adapting as quickly as possible to the Nepali world. Progress seems slow at times (especially learning the language), but we are actually moving at a quick clip toward integration. Today’s accomplishment was giving up silverware. We will often eat with just our right hand fingers during the rest of our stay in Nepal.
Today we also found out where we will be living for the next nine weeks and who will be in our cluster (the five of the 31 Peace Corps Volunteers who we will work closely with, through the rest of PST). On Friday afternoon, all of us will travel on the winding mountain road to our training site (it has been suggested that we take motion sickness pills for the trip if we even think we might need them) and meet our pre service training host families. Our particular host family consists of six family members, some who are vegetarians( a lottery win for us). Their home is 2.5 km from the training site. They own four water buffalo and five goats. We’re hoping to be able to say a few sentences to them by the time we meet. In our present state….that’s a very high hope.
Greetings from Nepal, y’all! Namaste!