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. Right now, I’m living here for one month already!
One month in Kathmandu
So, it took me longer than I had expected, to write the second blogpost. I’m here for longer than one month already and over half of my stay! I can’t believe it. So much has happened! I’ll tell you all about my first month here.
What changed the most is the fact that a long holiday started for the kids. They had no school for almost one month (it starts again on the 10th of november) so the rythm at the home changed a lot!
During this national holiday, there were a lot of festivities! It was so lovely to join the Nepali in some holy celebrations. It was amazing to witness!
Happy Dashain National festivities
Dashain is the longest and most anticipated festival for the Nepali people and is celebrated by the Hindu’s (the biggest religion in Nepal). The festival has many days, all with a certain significance, and to be honest I do not understand all of them completely. It’s quite complicated.
The highlight of this festival is when the tika is given. Elders (in the home it was one of the caretakers) put the tika on the forehead of the younger ones and bless them with abundance in the upcoming years. The tika is red and symbolizes the blood that ties family together. The tika is made from rice, something very sticky and red colouring powder. They also get grass in their hair and flower petals on their head. They also receive some money. In the home, the money was accompanied by some fruit as well.
I also received the tika and it was very nice to witness this ancient ritual. The children really like it and after breakfast (the giving and receiving of the tika must happen on an empty stomach, so in the morning) they spent a little bit of their money in the shop on candy and snacks.
There are many things happening during this festival! Kids get their kites out and that’s amazing to see. It’s different from how we do it in Belgium! The goal is to get the kite as high as possible. Sometimes you see a kid kiting and you really have to search for the kite! It’s nice to see.
People build swings out of bamboo and ropes in every village and in different parts of the city. The kids love it, but it is tradition that everyone gets on the swing once, even adults. The swings are a beautiful sight and the children have so much fun with it!
There are different days for different blessings. There was a day where materials and things were blessed, so you saw cars and motorbikes with tikkas and garlands driving around. There are days to bless the cows, the dogs… it’s a funny sight!
People start playing cards. It’s related to this particular holiday and period. They also gamble while playing. Even kids do it!
The kids Shangrila Home
Apart from the festivities, there were a lot of lovely days at the home with the kids. Everything was more relaxed since there was no schedule to follow. We went on walks, we put up tents for the kids to sleep and play in, we played games, we did nothing. As a holiday should be, right?
I’m volunteering in a home, not an orphanage, so many children returned to their families for a couple of days during the holidays. (There are a lot of different stories, but about half of the children do have – sometimes more distant – family with whom they get to enjoy the festivities.) So the home was a lot more quiet than usual! But it was also nice to spend some quality time with the ones who stayed.
I love these kids and I will definitely miss them when I’m back home. They manage to put a smile on my face every time, even when I’m having a bad day, I forget all about it when I see them. They are beautiful inside and out and they thaught me quite a lot already. About how little you need to be happy, how there’s no need to complain, how to be grateful, how to be generous, etc. I’ll definitely write a post in ‘What I take home with me’ about this, because there is so much to say!
Life in Kathmandu How it's going
I think what I wrote in the above shows already that I’m doing well. I feel completely at home here and to be honest, the daily life of Belgium seems quite far away right now. Ofcourse there ar things I miss, mostly my boyfriend, my friends and some food 😉 but I like it here.
The kids make me laugh and smile everyday and I love spending time with them. If you followed me on my social media, you know I had the luck to join the bigger kids on a trekking (a post about this will follow later), which was amazing!
I love the local food, the dalbat – a dish with rice (bat) and lentil soup (rice), often accompanied by some cooked vegetables. When I have my shifts, I eat it for breakfast and as dinner. I discovered the Sel Roti, some kind of doughnut made from rice. It makes me so happy! Nepal has no specific glutenfree products, so I miss bakery products (which we eat a lot in Belgium).
I’m eating mostly vegan here. Meat isn’t served often at the home (only once a week and with the shift system, I’m often not there) and I’m honestly not missing it very much. Also, if you see the local butchers, then it definitely lessens your appetite. It made me realize that it’s easier to skip meat than I thought. I ate vegetarian meals quite often, until I found out about my food intolerances (no wheat and dairy). At once there was so much I couldn’t eat and it also meant that vegetarian alternatives to meat wheren’t an option anymore. It was a struggle but here I learned a lot of new things and I’m planning to eat less meat when I’m back home. I think in allt his time I’m here, I haven’t had 10 meals with meat.
Robbed Camera got stolen
If you follow me on Facebook or Instagram, you know that I had the bad luck of being robbed. My camera got stolen in Thamel, when I was looking for a bus to take home. It was quite a punch in the gut, both emotionally and financially, but even though it was hard to process, it’s part of life. It can happen everywhere in the world and I do not link it to Nepal at all.
In the meantime, I bought a new camera already and it will arrive in a week. I had the luck that my parents wanted to lend me some money and that there are people travelling to Nepal, who’ll bring it with them. I’m here for more than a month still and I want to continue documenting things here. When I lived in Shanghai for three months, my camera broke down in the first month and I did not buy a new one back then (I thought it was better to do it when I got home) and I regretted that so much because there was so much I didn’t capture and if we want to or not… memories fade. It’s quite the financial setback, but in the end, in life, that is not what we look back too. I’m lucky my parents helped me and I’ll earn it back.
What I didn’t expect was how ill at ease the experience would make me feel. It took me a few days to start feeling back at ease again in the streets and to be honest, I’m way less comfortable now when it’s dark already (which is crazy early here). I guess that’s the worst backlash of it all, that my trust has been damaged. And that is not something you have control over.
To be honest, the kids have helped me a lot – without them even knowing – they give love so easily and they immediately showed me how much there is to give! After having such a bad experience, it was amazing to be reminded by them of how much love there is in the world, how many good people there are. I know that, but they were an instant reminder and helped me get my good vibe back!
This was another experience to add to my backpack. It made quite the impact, but in the end, not necessarily such a bad one.
Nepali life What I notice
In my previous post, I told you about some things that are typical for Nepal, Kathmandu. I can add a few more things:
- When people say ‘okay’ or ‘yes’ they often shake their head to the left and right side. It’s a movement we don’t really have in Belgium (and I think in the Western culture) and it’s actually quite nice. However, I had some funny misunderstandings. Sometimes I think they are saying no, because in Belgium, that’s often quite a light head movement. But also the other way around: I shake no (but in the light way I’m accustomed to) and they think I say okay/yes. It has created a few funny situations! On the trekking for example, we ate in groups (because we were so many) and the ones who didn’t eat helped with the servings. A girl asked me if I wanted more and I shook my head but she said I said okay and then she wanted to serve some food and I was like: ‘Oh, no, sorry, I meant no!’ We had this happening three times I think. It’s an automatism really! We both had to laugh with it!
- Spitting. People have the habit to spit quite often. I really dislike this however, here, I can understand. There is so much dust in the air and when you do not wear a mouth mask, it really gets in your mouth. So I can’t blame the people for spitting. I’d do the same.
- These months (september, october, november) it gets dark really early, around 5 o’ clock in the evening already!
- The circle of life & eating meat. Whereas in Belgium you simply buy a piece of meat that is neatly packaged – without any signs of the proces behind it – in Nepal, it is clear where it comes from. The goats are lined up next to the shop where they’ll be butchered and sold and the chickens are carried around by their legs or wings. I don’t like the way the animals are treated here (at least in Belgium there are some regulations on animal cruelty – although I know that can be discussed), there is something to say about the openness of the whole process. Two mornings I almost saw a goat being killed (but to be honest, I quickened my pace and walked past it because I did not want to witness that) and I see the bodies of the animals being cleaned and cut up every day. Honestly, I think this is a good thing, because it reminds you that you are not simply eating a piece of meat, but a living animal. It confronted me with a reality I knew about, but that was far away from me. It makes it easier to be a vegetarian and my appetite for meat has lessened a lot. It doesn’t help that often the pieces of meat lie on the counter all day without any refrigeration also. But even though I don’t like witnessing this harsh reality, it is what it is: the reality.
So, one month has passed already! I’m still enjoying every bit of my time here and I’m trying to live in the moment. The kids start school soon, so the routine at the home will be different again! I’ll keep you posted!
At the end of november, I’ll be travelling around on my own. I’m planning to do the ABC trek, a trekking to the Annapurna Base Camp – on the way I’ll also go to Poonhill and visit Pokhara. While I’m looking forward to it, I’m also anxious that the ending of my time as a volunteer is coming nearer! But luckily, I still have some weeks to go and I’m very happy to have more time with the kids!
So that was it for now, more posts are coming soon (as promised) and I’ll try to update more regularly!
Lots of love,
(c) Elise Hermans – on all images.