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Running away from Home

Vacationing vs volunteering

NEPAL | Tuesday, 2 March 2010 | Views [601]

I had to catch the 7:30am bus to Kathmandu so I didn’t have much time to spend in Pokhara. I really would have liked to have gone up to the Peace Pagoda, but I’ll just have to come back and do it. January and February is a better time for seeing the mountains from Pokhara anyway. March is when the humidity creeps back in and you can’t see anything through the haze. Kathryn was staying behind in Pokhara because she had another five days in Nepal and she didn’t want to spend it in Kathmandu. She got up early to see me off to the bus station. We wished each other well and said our goodbyes, and then I was on my own. Not a bad thing. I was ready to be by myself again.

I had a pair of seats to myself on the bus. I was still feeling poorly and I didn’t feel like being around anyone. However, when the two young Russian backpackers started singing Russian pop songs a cappella it did make me giggle. I didn’t know that pop music was allowed in Russian. It seems almost too frivolous. Anyway, one of the backpackers had glasses and a head full of light brown curls. He was so adorable, I couldn’t be angry, especially when they started singing I Will Survive by Gloria Gaynor. I saw the charred remains of a fiery bus crash on the side of the road. Later I saw a large truck that had torn through the guard rail and crashed in the valley below. The river that ran through the valley was very popular with tourists that wanted to do rafting. There were terraced fields all along the valley. Some of the terracing was so steep that I didn’t know how the women working on them could hold their balance.

The INFO Nepal volunteers are offered a free night’s lodging and a ride to the airport when they complete their volunteering work. The hotel was very basic, but it was clean, and they told me that a body could get hot water from the showers in the morning. I met Saroj who was in the middle of an Nepali language lesson with a couple from Ireland who still hadn’t decided to do their volunteering. I told them about some of my experiences in Damdame, and then I told them about some of Emily’s experiences in Pokhara. Emily had been able to do things like paragliding and hiking during her free time. The Irish lady lit up like a Christmas tree. “That’s where I want to go. I want to volunteer and go rafting.”

My flight back to Bangkok wasn’t until the next day so I had the afternoon to run around Thamel and buy some gifts. I am always plagued with indecision when I buy things, especially when the vendors don’t put prices on items and I am expected to haggle. I had dinner at a garden restaurant behind my hotel. When I looked at the menu and saw the Nepali dishes, I wondered if I would ever find myself craving daal bhat. Then two young women came in and sat at the table next to me. They were speaking English, but not American English. They were speaking high class, imperious, “parliament is in session” British English. They were talking about volunteering, and one woman was disgusted with the assignment that they wanted to give her. The organization that she had volunteered with wanted her to stay in Kathmandu and she had something else in mind. “I didn’t come all the way to Nepal to stay inside Kathmandu. I want to go see the Himalayas.” She went on about not being able to do mountain-related leisure activities and about how much she paid for the trip. I tried to remember the complaints and then replay them without the British accent. I thought maybe they would sound less imperious, but they still sounded like a rich brat complaining that she wasn’t getting her way. What do people expect when they volunteer their time? I am not sure what I expected. I know that I would have been disappointed like that young woman if I had come all the way to Nepal and not seen any mountains, but, ultimately, I pledged my time to people who are in need and that is more important than my own selfish desires. I tried to imagine the young British woman in Damdame. She had mentioned that if she go and sit on a mountain and watch the sun rise, then she would be truly happy. Even if it came in an electricity-free village, with a squat toilet and two servings of daal bhat per day? Perhaps. It’s never a good idea to underestimate anyone. I grew from the experience. Maybe she would too.

Tags: homestay, nepal, village, volunteering

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