There is little that beats the thrill of leaving familiarity behind. This pure excitement buzzed through my nerves as our plane flew out of Dulles International Airport, ascending toward the clouds as the familiar world below was reduced to indefinable bulbs of light, ever-shrinking… and then gone. I would be lying if I said that I knew what to expect upon arrival at our destination. Other than the vague impression that this experience would be life changing, I had no idea. There was beauty in this – my mind could be open to my new environment and my perception devoid of interfering prejudices.
As Nepal is on the other side of the world, the journey was long: more than 17 hours total, with a layover in Istanbul. Yet changing time zones had the feeling of time travel, and the view as we approached Kathmandu from the air was well worth the sedentary stretch. The sun was rising over the Himalayas, turning the sky a pale pink around the giantesses that loomed higher than the clouds and the world itself. This view and our arrival at the small, dusty Kathmandu airport eclipsed any exhaustion we accrued from the journey. At the airport we bought our visas, picked up our luggage, and exchanged US dollars for Nepali rupees at a rate that was incredibly in our favor (although the rupee bills are MUCH more beautiful than the dollar bills). We were then picked up by a representative of the Mountain Fund nonprofit and heralded into a small Suzuki sport taxi- one of the many that I would see during my time in Nepal’s capital city.
My first impression of Kathmandu was thereby on the road, by taxi. Fitting, as it threw me directly into an environment that was worlds away from anything I had every experienced before. The roads were chaos. Suzuki sport taxis, motorcyclists, ad the occasional tourist bus all sped and swerved around each other while also navigating to avoid the crossing pedestrians and dogs that littered the middle of the road just as much as the sides. They all kicked up dust and smog in their wake, clouding the air so thickly that most people were wearing masks or scarves to cover their noses and mouths. By looking out the window I absorbed short glimpses of the everyday life of Nepalis- walking along the dusty side road, congregating under shops with slanted tin roofs, men and boys gathering on the side to play a chess-looking board game.
Upon arriving to the Mountain Fund’s volunteer house I was slightly overwhelmed but still exhilarated. The Mountain Fund is a U.S. registered non-profit organization that facilitated our volunteer placement in Nepal (see here for more information http://www.mountainfund.org). The residence included two houses and a courtyard. Upon our arrival we met the three Nepali “sisters” of the house who work for the Mountain Fund, Sushila, Namunaa, and Laxmi, who all welcomed us very amiably. We also met the other volunteers staying in the house with us. This was an added variable I had not anticipated, yet I found it very enlightening to be able to bond with a diverse set of other volunteers, share stories and learn from them.
We used the day to settle in and grow comfortable in our surroundings. At lunchtime we went to a small cafe across the street and got our first taste of Nepali food: momos (dumplings) and thukpa (soup and noodles, with vegetables), which I found delicious. The rest of the day was spent resting as the exhaustion finally set in, and I fell asleep as soon as I finished the dinner the Nepali sisters made for us. -- Caitlin