Saturday, June 9, 2012

Day 1: Wonderful Chaos


I’ve said that word so many times today, a day that seemed to last an eternity. Such a simple word can’t possibly describe the jumble of emotions I’ve felt since arriving in Nepal.

It started with awe. As my plane approached Kathmandu, I could see the Himalayas from my window. Those blue and white monstrosities cut through the thick clouds and stretched for miles into the distance. Even in an airplane, the holy mountains towered above us and the city below, serving as a reminder that mankind is infinitesimal.

This liberating feeling was quickly shattered after leaving the airport and being thrust into chaotic, bustling Kathmandu. As I stepped outside with my luggage, I faced dozens of Nepalese holding signs and shouting, hawking taxi services and trying to make a few bucks carrying my bags. I ended up getting scammed by the luggage carriers who refused to let my taxi leave until I had forked over some rupees. Lesson learned.

The taxi ride to the volunteer house was an experience in itself. I had read about the nonexistent driving laws, the cows and chickens in the roads, and the pollution, but nothing could prepare me for actually seeing it up close and personal.  My taxi driver weaved between motorcycles, whizzed past packed vans (with people hanging off the sides) and dodged pedestrians walking fearlessly into oncoming traffic. No stop signs, no painted lines on the road, no cow crossing warnings. There really is no way to describe the disorder of Kathmandu traffic. It kind of feels like being stuck in an Asian version of the video game Grand Theft Auto.

Luckily, I was so dumbstruck by the sights I was seeing – the goats tied to streetlights and men carrying four-feet high boxes on their heads – that I averted an anxiety attack. 

 At the house, I met some of the program employees, and I was given tea and a traditional Nepalese meal called daal-bhaat, which is essentially rice and lentils with spicy chicken or vegetables. It was actually pretty good, which works in my favor because I ended up eating daal-bhaat for both lunch and dinner. As it turns out, the Nepalese are so fond of this dish that they cook it twice a day.  

 Afterward, I took a much-needed nap and then visited the orphanage where I’ll be working. It’s on the outskirts of the city, and I was given an option: to either stay in the volunteer house and commute 40 minutes by bus each day, or move into the family-owned orphanage. After seeing the place, my decision was easy. The air is cleaner, the Himalayas can be seen more clearly and the family seems nice. Living with a Nepalese family will also help me learn the culture and language.

      It's still a little cloudy, but you can see the mountains much better from this part of Kathmandu.

A couple of the kids in the orphanage. So cute.

For the rest of the day, I walked around Thamel with the ELI coordinator and two other volunteers. I still had to dodge speeding cars and motorcycles while weaving through the fruit stands and tourist shops, but I could already tell that I might grow to love this place. It has an indescribable character – a chaos that simultaneously terrifies me and makes me want to forget my problems.  

While it may take some getting used to, and a bit of “roughing it” by American standards, I think Kathmandu will make a great home for the next 10 weeks.

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