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Running away from Home

Countdown to volunteer gig

NEPAL | Tuesday, 16 February 2010 | Views [399]

I slept at Happy Home last night and nearly froze to death. I hadn’t eaten dinner with the family the night before because I was embarrassed to be intruding upon their family time. Besides, it sounded kind of raucous up there and I wasn’t feeling like I could put my best face on. Kathryn was on a mission to use the internet and there was some misunderstanding over whether or not Happy Home had wi-fi. There was internet, but no wi-fi and so we asked if we could get a cab to Thamel before our orientation so that we could get online. The lead coordinator took us to Thamel and on the way he expressed his concerns about whether or not we would be able to handle a homestay where there was no electricity and no computer. I thanked him for indulging our silly requests to use the internet and assured him that we just had few last things to do online and then we could sign off for two weeks.

We got a western breakfast and used the computer before orientation, which was more Nepali language. Saroj promised that the two volunteers who had been at the village before us was going to come into the office at 12:30pm and we wanted to talk to them about the library and the family we would be staying with. I wanted to ask to ask the woman a specific question about how she handled having her cycle at the homestay. In the materials from INFO Nepal, I read about how a menstruating woman is considered contaminated and could be banned from the house. I was worried that I was going to have to sleep in the barn. Kathryn told me that I was just being silly, but I wanted to talk to someone who had been there.

The two previous volunteers never showed at the office so Kathryn and I decided to go out shopping for some last-minute items. We were half way to the shopping center when Laura, one of the husband-wife volunteer team, called my mobile and we agreed to meet later that afternoon. The shopping center that Kathryn led me to had looked appealing to her when she stumbled upon it several days ago. Now the place looked dirty and sinister because the power was off and the shopkeepers were reduced to no light or the energy-saving bulbs that give off a sickly blue light.

Kathryn had a few more things to do online so I went to the meeting with the previous INFO Nepal volunteers by myself. They led me to a coffee shop on Mandala Street in the center of Thamel where it is quiet and there are a few shops, but no cars or rickshaw drivers. I couldn’t believe how calm it was. It was like being in the eye of a hurricane. Laura spotted me right away and waved me in the direction of her table. She had her blonde hair done up in two braids and her slender figure was wrapped in a yak’s wool blanket. She introduced me to her husband David, a nomadic Frenchman who had his hair done up in long dreadlocks. They were very friendly to me and they showed me the pictures that they had taken during their stay in Damdame. I had been drinking coffee earlier so I sounded like a stuttering idiot as I voiced my concerns, but they were patient with me and they made it sound like this was one of the best experiences of their life. I was greatly encouraged by this. They had been the first ones to go to this village. No one else from INFO Nepal has been there so they could not tell me much about anything. When we parted company Laura hugged me and told me that I would be just fine and that everything was going to be alright.

I wanted to stay in Thamel and get some western food, but Saroj called us and told us that we only had about 30 minutes to get back to Happy Home or else we wouldn’t have a ride. I didn’t really want to go back, but I had to pack my things for the trip to Pokhara the next day. I sat on the curb munching a granola bar and grumbling about the bankers’ hours that taxi drivers seem to keep. I got back to Happy Home and started to repack when we were called to dinner. I was too hungry to decline the offer. Not only was it dinner, but it was also a lesson in the proper (Nepali) way to consume daal bhat. The coordinator’s son enjoyed instructing us on how to eat rice and lentils with our hands. Kathryn wouldn’t do it, but I played along. You would think that it is easy to shovel food in your mouth with your hands, but apparently there is a technique. I watched as the boy thoroughly mixed the lentils in broth with the huge mound of rice on his plate. His parents sat and watched me eat. The younger son sat on the table next to his father and would act up occasionally just to let people know that he was still there. I ate very, very quickly. When my daal bhat was gone I excused myself so that I could go wash my right hand. Nepalis have this thing about something being contaminated when it touches your lip so you eat with one had and pass food with the other…..there are a lot of contamination rules, and it makes sense in a place where they don’t pass out antibiotics like lifesavers. Anyway, I got to the bathroom to wash my hands and there was a pair of little-boy underwear in the sink. Okay, how do I handle this contamination conundrum? I used a finger to remove the tiny drawers and then washed my hands. Afterwards, I put the underwear back in the sink, went out to where the parents were finally being served their meal and asked to be excused so that I could get on with my packing

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