July 26, 2015
“The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step” – Lao Tzu
I took that “one step” on July 21st as I bitter-sweetly stepped away from my family’s embrace. I have now experienced this moment several times and each has its own unique sentiment. It’s that single instant where you let go of what you have to leave behind and look ahead to what you have to do. It’s like looking over a cliff deciding whether or not to jump into the vast blue below; you hesitate, you anticipate it, and then it happens – all of a sudden there is “no going back.”
I have found it to be the same with traveling. After losing sight of my family at the airport, waving goodbye several times over, I was focused on getting to where I needed to be so the emotions didn’t come to me immediately. It wasn’t until a few hours after in the plane surrounded by sleep and lit-up mini-screens that I found myself in a, particularly quiet and reflective moment. Two years is a long time, I thought. What in the world am I doing, came the next thought. But then I remembered my family’s loving and encouraging words and thought about my passion for a life of travel and adventure. No, it’s not easy but the rich experiences one discovers while traveling makes it all worthwhile.
“Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore.” – Andre Gide
After several exhausting flights, the pilot announced our arrival in Kathmandu, Nepal.
Time: 15:25 with a temperature of 27 degrees Celsius. I peered out the small oval windows as best as I could bring in an aisle seat. I saw lush green rollings hills and tucked away in the valley was Kathmandu. Thousands of colorful, strange buildings piled on top of one another, spreading farther than my eye could see. The airport itself was like that of my high school; brick building, one long hallway with windows. A “Welcome to Nepal” greeted me in multi-languages. I knew life was going to be very different for me the instant I saw construction workers carrying baskets on their backs to deliver dirt to the worksite. “Wow”, I thought.
Following the crowd, I entered the airport, obtained a temporary tourist visa, and rushed to collect my bags and Yoda, who had been in cargo for the past 15-20 hours. A Nepalese man who I thought worked for the airport took care of my cart, leading me past the crowds to outside where there seemed to be hundreds of people, taxis, noise. Thankfully, in little time I was spotted by the people who came to pick me up, fellow students and future colleagues from the Institute of Crisis Management.
The Nepali men harassed me for tips because they helped me get outside. I have no Nepali rupees they told them, what’s a girl supposed to do? I hopped into the truck in the front passenger seat which is our driver’s seat. What? I had no idea they drove on the left. Learning things already. Out we go of the parking lot. One word – hectic. Cars were nearly running into each other, people seemed to not care for their lives as they cross the streets freely, hundreds of motorbikes zooming in and out of traffic.
The drive to the institute overwhelmed me – I was in culture shock. Within 15 minutes I saw a level of poverty I’ve never seen before, live animals freely roaming about everywhere; cows, goats, chickens, dogs, even monkeys were running across the road, climbing on the sidewalk walls, just inches from me. Dirt, destruction, street markets, trash, people everywhere, temples, there was even a bridge with smoke coming from it. They told me it’s a tradition that on this bridge over the water they cremate people in public. Public cremations? What? I kept saying “oh my gosh”, “whoa”, “wow”, “this is crazy”. The two who came to pick me up giggled at my “first impression” remarks.
In the days since my arrival, I’ve come to realize even more how my Western lifestyle has conditioned me to expect everything (basic human needs speaking) to be easily accessible. Now I’ve learned I have to be careful and think twice or maybe even three times about what I’m about to do. Here are some examples of what I’m talking about.
Want to enjoy a bowl of cereal? Only after you boil the milk first, just to be safe. “Don’t drink the tap water!” There are big blue jugs of drinking water for 100 rupees, the equivalent of $1. Ahh, ready for a relaxing hot shower? Sorry, expect mild to cold instead.
Let me guess, you would like to dry your hair after right? Well, I tried that with a (tiny) hairdryer and blew out the electricity in the whole house (because of load shedding, we are given certain hours during which we can use higher-voltage products i.e. hair driers, printers, etc.) Ready to return home to your cool, air-conditioned house (or heated)?? Nope, just forget about that. You bet I’m excited about winter…right next to the Himalayas.. woohoo. But on the bright side, learning is the outcome of all of these experiences. After all, I am pursuing a Master’s degree in Crisis Management, so I should be able to handle this lifestyle eventually. I’ll go ahead and give it a few months. 🙂
Thank you so much for reading !!!! Here is an amazing quote I stumbled upon.
“I beg young people to travel. If you don’t have a passport, get one. Take a summer, get a backpack and go to Delhi, go to Saigon, go to Bangkok, go to Kenya. Have your mind blown, eat interesting food, dig some interesting people, have an adventure, be careful. Come back and you’re going to see your country differently, you’re going to see your president differently, no matter who it is. Music, culture, food, water. Your showers will become shorter. You’re going to get a sense of what globalization looks like. It’s not what Tom Friedman writes about, I’m sorry. You’re going to see that global climate change is very real. And that for some people, their day consists of walking twelve miles for four buckets of water. And so there are lessons that you can’t get out of a book that are waiting for you at the other end of that flight. A lot of people — Americans and Europeans — come back and go, “Ohhhh.” And the lightbulb goes on.” – Henry Rollins