Nepal represents an eclectic mixture of ethnic, religious, and political tendencies. It’s landlocked by Tibet and India, both of which heavily influence Nepali culture. The country’s spiritual basis blends Hindu, Buddhist, animist and shamanic practices. And although Nepali people are renowned for their peaceful nature, a decade-long Maoist insurgency just ended in 2006. Even today, political disputes and confusion plague the nation but most locals in Pokhara ignore it.
Nepali people are so genuine and outgoing that it’s hard to walk down the street without making a new friend. I’m constantly surprised by their hospitality considering how difficult life is for them. Nepal is the poorest country in South Asia with a GDP per capita of US$470. In 2008 the UN ranked Nepal 145th out of 153 countries on its Human Development Index. Government power cuts can last up to 10 hours a day which severely hinders growth. And the gender disparities are the worst I’ve seen – for example, the literacy rate is only 26% for females but 62% for males.
After my chaotic travels in Indonesia and a short stint on bed rest in Bangkok, I realized I needed to start taking care of myself. I craved a routine, a regular sleep and eating schedule, and balance between time for myself and helping others. Pokhara turned out to be the ideal place.
My mornings are all about me. I wake up and gawk at the Annapurna Mountains from my guesthouse roof. I spend a few hours doing yoga. Then, around noon I go to my favorite coffeehouse AM/PM to catch up with friends.
At the leisurely hour of 2pm, I head to the Nepali Yoga Women Project (An organization profile will be posted later so you can learn more about its purpose). I teach English to the 5 women in the program everyday. My lessons function like a cultural exchange. I explain things in English using a lot of hand motions and funny faces, and after an extensive guessing game the women tell me what the word is in Nepali. After an hour of laughing and sharing stories we begin my favorite part of the day…massage practice.
The women in the project are being trained in massage therapy and eventually they’ll offer ayurvedic massage to tourists and trekkers in Pokhara. For now, they need to practice on a real human. So, guess what that means…from 3-4pm I gladly hand over my body so they can improve their technique. As you can imagine, going directly from being their English teacher to being groped by them sped up the “getting-to-know-each-other” process. But, the women are already so professional that it’s like getting a free, full-body massage on a daily basis. (Trust me, I know how lucky I am.)
Afterwards, I walk back to AM/PM and help my friend Sabina and her family in the kitchen. I wash dishes, chop vegetables and bake cakes – all in exchange for free coffee and some love. Honestly, can you think of a
better way to get to know a culture than by spending several hours a day in a crowded, local kitchen? I hear all the news, gossip, and stories from the women. I’m constantly learning about the gender dynamics and struggles they face in Nepal – they’re horrific and you’ll be hearing about them soon!
But, for now, a change of plans…
Nepal will be my last stop on this journey. My original plan included a 4-month volunteer experience at the Gashora Girls Academy in Rwanda. I’ve confidently decided to cancel that portion of my trip. A variety of personal, financial and safety reasons affected my decision. If I’ve learned anything during these last 5 months, it’s that plans are best executed with flexibility. Right now my instinct is telling me not to go to Rwanda and I’m listening to it.
I’m confident I’ll make it to Rwanda eventually, just not in the near future. Most importantly, I’m really happy with this decision. I’ll be back in the States in 2 weeks and start figuring out what the next adventure is in my life. This means I’ll only be writing a few more posts and my blog will be finished by Thanksgiving. Keep reading until then, and as always, thank you for the support!