This year I decided quite impulsively to go on another adventure, to close of my years as a student. I always wanted to work as a volunteer and now that I officially graduated, I had the chance to dedicate my time to others. After working the whole summer, I left for Kathmandu, where I’ll be living for the two and a half months. I’m volunteering at Shangrila Home, a shelter for street kids. Month two.
End of the holidays Happy Diwali
So the holidays came to an end (in the middle of november) in Nepal, but not before celebrating Tihar! One of the most popular celebrations in Nepal (after Dashain) and I had the luck to be able to celebrate this holiday with the kids and I loved it! Tihar lasts for 5 days and every day something different is celebrated. It was lovely to be a part of it.
Tihar & Diwali Dancing and singing
The tradition is that the kids and young people go around to sing, dance and play music. In exchange, they receive money and candy. It’s such a happy holiday! The kids of the home also go out and have a few familiar stops – a befriended home, the pottery of Shangrila home and the appartment of Wim, who is one of the head responsibles of the home. I awaited the kids at his place and it was great. Wim had painted some kind of mandala on the floor of his terrace (picture), with candles all around – as is tradition. There is also a bowl with rice and incense, where the money is put(rolled up), together with candy. It’s all very beautiful really. The kids came and were so happy and we were all singing and dancing together – it was such fun! The evening was even better because with the start of school coming near, some kids had returned to the home after celebrating the holidays with their families. I was so happy to see them again!
After the kids went back to the home, we (the volunteers, Wim and other people from the home) ate spaghetti (Wim is a fellow Belgian and he cooked, yum!) and we enjoyed the views over the city from is his rooftop terrace! It was such a warm and happy evening.
Normally, the girls go out singing and dancing first and then, the next day, it’s time for the boys – but it’s often mixed up and for the kids of the home, it was more fun (and easier) to all go together. The home has an inauguration party coming up (16/11 – during the earthquake in 2015 their previous home collapsed and since May this year, they are living in the new home!), so the kids spent the day practising and I loved watching! It fit perfectly in the Diwali atmosphere. In the evening, the home opened up for groups going around and it was so cosy. A few boysbands came and the kids danced to their music. Oh and I can’t forget to mention: we had sel roti* for lunch! I was so happy!
*Sel Roti is some kind of donut, but made from rice flour only – so it’s the only baked good that I can eat here in Nepal – needless to say that I’ve grown to love them! But if you ever try one: make sure they’re freshly baked!
At Tihar, especially on day 3, people paint mandala’s at their doorsteps and add a brown stripe with footsteps and candles, to invite Laxmi, the godess of wealth, into their homes and to thank her. The first days are used to honour the crows, the dogs and (on day 3) the cows. On day 5, the last day of the holidays – it’s time for the Bhai Tika.
On the 5th and last day of Tihar, it’s time for the Bhai Tika. It’s a moment where sisters honour their brothers. They buy gifts and candy, give them a beautiful tika (with 7 colours) and a flower necklace. It’s a lovely tradition and the boys all love it! Every girl at the home has chosen a boy to take care of as a brother, it’s all so warm. In return, the girls receive some money from the boys. It’s a moment to celebrate the relationship between brothers and sister and it’s beautiful – once again – to see. I think it’s a celebration that suits the Nepali people, because they take the time to be grateful for what they have: their family.
Picture one: Sumi didi preparing the tika – pic 2: the boys awaiting their blessing – pic 3: the receiving of the tika.
The kids Love, love, love
The holidays are over, so school begins again – however, it is a happy time, because all the kids who went home over the holidays returned. It’s so nice to have everyone together again and to see back so many kids that I missed. The atmosphere is energetic and happy – the big family is reunited again.
My shifts change because the kids aren’t at the home the whole day now. In the morning I wake them up, empty the trash bins, keep an eye to see if they clean their rooms (barely needed), drink tea with them, help with the breakfast of the little ones, prepare the tooth brushes and the tables for breakfast (filling the water cans) and ofcourse: I wave goodbye when they hop on the school bus.
In the afternoon, I await the kids when they come back, I oversee the shower moments of the smaller girls, I help with the laundry (hard work honestly), once again tooth brushes, water cans, medicine time, etc.
The more time I spend with the kids, the better it gets. I get to know them a little bit better every day and I enjoy that so much. Every day is greater than the last and honestly, there is no day that I’m not laughing out loud. I think I never laughed and smiled more in my life!
Life in Kathmandu Traffic, heating and dust (again)
Something that I will always link to Kathmandu is definitely the dust. It’s crazy really! When I wash my clothes, the water colours brown immediately – simply from all the dusty roads! I know this by now, but it still amazes me. So it shouldn’t surprise you how unhealthy the air in the city is… I read an article that said that Kathmandu was competing with New Delhi and Beijing as one of the most polluted cities in the world… The title, “It’s hard to breathe”, says it all.
I told you about the traffic already (the continuous honking, the many motorcycles, the road conditions), but I want to tell you more about being a pedestrian in Kathmandu traffic. Since it’s a 45 minute walk to the home, I walk a lot in the city – I do everything by foot actually. As a pedestrian, you are the weakest person in traffic – but Kathmandu takes that to a next level. There are barely any sidewalks, so most of the time, you just walk on the street – often in the gutter. You simply have no rights as a pedestrian. I really had to jump away sometimes simply because a vehicle didn’t want to slow down or stop. To be honest, the drivers are quite good – I mean, I don’t have eyes in my back and I have never been hit – but walking isn’t always the nicest way to get around.
Also, if there is a sidewalk, it is never continuous – sometimes you simply prefer the street because you have to step up and down so many times!
It’s starting to get colder in the city (I’ve been told it’s colder than it should be around this time of the year) and you definitely notice that, since most homes and places don’t have any heating. So, warm clothing it is! But in the evenings it can be a challenge, because once at home you are sitting still and then it gets too cold too easily. Luckily at the appartment, we have some yak blankets and those are the warmest! But this is definitely something else that reminds me of all the luxury we have in Belgium…
I’m happy to say that a supermarket opened up closer to the appartment! Before, it always took me quite some time to go to a shop (there are lots of small shops around where I buy my fruit and sel roti 😉 , but with my food intolerances, I need some bigger supermarkets for other things like soy milk) – most of the time around 50 minutes. However, a small supermarket opened up recently, so now it takes me only 20 minutes to get there, which is a real luxury for me!
Bhaktapur One of the king cities
After one of my morning shifts, I decided to take the bus to Bhaktapur, one of the three king cities of Nepal. It was an adventure getting there, since I took the local bus (always an adventure) and it took me around 3 hours* – starting from the home.
Bhaktapur is quite famous because it has so many ancient buildings, some dating back to the 14th century even! The small city is known for it’s wood carving (it is simply stunning, unbelievable), pottery and paper goods! Bhaktapur is very well preserved and that it’s what makes it so unique – the whole city is ancient. I loved it from the moment I arrived! I checked into my hotel (which was cheap, but damn, a luxury to have a hot shower and a room to myself) and went out for a simple dinner. I decided to go for a traditional Newari dish, a pancake made from chickpeas. It was in a very small local restaurant without a name and it was delicious! After that I treated myself to a coffee with soy milk (a real treat since they don’t have soymilk lattes in the neighbourhood of the appartment) and afterwards I enjoyed a hot shower and went to bed.
The next day, I started discovering Bhaktapur at 9 o’ clock in the morning and to be honest, I had seen everything by 3 o’ clock in the afternoon. As lovely as the city is, it is also quite small (which adds probably to it’s charm) – for me that was perfect, since I still had a 2 hour bus ride to go and I wanted to take my time!
Bhaktapur is amazing and I would simply recommend you to wander around. I used my guidebook to see what I shouldn’t miss (and to read about the history and the buildings) but it’s easy to get around and it is nice to explore all the (little) streets. This old city was a lovely break for me, since it is so much calmer than Kathmandu! No constant honking or crazy traffic, I enjoyed my day (and evening) so much! I don’t know what else I can say… look at the pictures and decide for yourself… if you come to Kathmandu, this small gem is definitely worth a visit!
*If you take a taxi it takes you maximum half an hour to get there! But I’m on a budget – the cab ride will cost you 1000NPR single and the bus will cost you 50NPR.
Last weeks My stay is shortening
As it is month two, the end of my journey is coming near… I have a lovely holiday (the trekking) coming up and then there will be lots of goodbyes… I’m getting sentimental already. There is so much that I’ll miss to be honest. But that is for another post…
PS: Thank you so much to all those who send me so much love and kind reactions after my camera got stolen. I was really lucky that my parents helped me out so much (by lending me money to buy a new one) and to the people who brought it to me! It made me so happy! As you can see – this blogpost has cellphone quality pictures – but I’m so lucky that I have a new camera with me now! Thank you all for the love, support and care!
I also went to visit Pashupatinath, a holy place in Kathmandu, where the Hindu burn their dead. It was very intense, but I’m going to write a post about what to do and see in Kathmandu and Pashupati is part of that, together with Swayambunath, Tamel and the Boudha stupa.