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Lessons Learned from Nepal

(Candace and Andrew)

We woke up for the last day of our trip to Nepal today, and as we prepare our journey eastward, we began to reflect on the lessons learned from this beautiful country and its wonderful people.

Nepal isn’t exactly a “third world” country. Nearly everyone here has a cell phone and access to clean water, some form of electricity and often working wifi, but the infrastructure is admittedly weak. Electric lines hang haphazardly along busy city streets in Kathmandu. Roadways are often closed due to landslides. Vehicles are consistently reported destroyed after sliding off of hillsides en route to their destination. While not destitute, it does not have the financial means for solid infrastructure and the natural disasters make expensive and large buildings more of a long-term liability than anything else.

Politicians promise “Five years and we’ll be like Switzerland”, comparing Nepal’s beautiful mountainsides and scenery to that of their distant alpine cousin, but these promises fool only those who wish to be fooled.

Why aspire to be Switzerland? Why not embrace what makes your nation unique?

Being from the West, it is so easy to look at another culture and judge, to impose our commercial and capitalist views upon a people. Knowing this tendency, we have purposely scheduled weeks in locations like this so we can see through these initial impressions. Now, as we sit back and reminisce about our time here, we are captivated by Nepal’s diverse peoples and geography, are inspired by their resiliency and ability to rebuild, and soothed by their views (formed by a stark familiarity) on death.

In just three weeks, we learned the following:

The People

From the first person we met at the customs desk in the airport to the most recent receptionist for our last hotel, we have been struck by the warm smile and happy demeanor of the people of Nepal. Even after the earthquakes and the following rough drop in tourism (and related income streams), the people are strong, resilient, and appreciative of what they have. They don’t take themselves too seriously and they thank their gods for the gifts all around them like the trees and mountains, butterflies and spiders. They find beauty in their surroundings and companions. They give thanks. Every day. Wow.

Views on Death

This topic has baffled us as we’ve seen story after story of death since our arrival. An avalanche kills 27 trekkers. A child is killed by a landslide. Two tourists from Kathmandu drown in the middle of the night. A bus slides off the mountain with 90 people on their way to get grant money for the homes they lost during the earthquake. Death is not confined to remote hospital rooms and hospice centers here, it is a regular companion in everyday life.

Any one of these headlines would have us crying out in rage and blaming our government, pleading with them to do something with every social media channel we have, pointing fingers publicly every way except back at ourselves. But it’s different here; death is simply an acknowledged part of life. It is accepted as written, part of our karma. People move on and the way its shadow touches individuals and families throughout the country only seems to make the people more vital, grateful and colorful. It calls to mind the Camus quote, “In the depth of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer.”

Ability to Rebuild

At times, we Americans seem to think that the world rests on our shoulders. Because of this self-importance, the every-day struggles we encounter seem to mean the end of the world for us and we find ourselves depressed with little reason. But then we meet people like Kumar Gautam:

He lost his home in the earthquake and was given one piece of sheet metal from his government to turn into a tent for his family. He lived in that tent for months while he rebuilt his home with no government assistance. His family, animals and grain all live in his one-floor house right now, and he expects to finish the second level in the next few months so his family can have their own floor. As he waits for the $2,000 that has been promised to him from his government, he watches 13 members of his village die in the bus crash mentioned above. We had dinner with him last night, and he smiled and explained that he is still excited to finish.

This man is an inspiration and his story is just on of myriad examples we saw and heard on our journey. We saw this resiliency in the smiling face of an old woman carrying stones in a basket on her back for kilometers along mountain paths, in the accommodating women who shared with us a cup of the butter tea they were preparing for the monks who were chanting at the monastery next door, and in how even the most stoic individual we passed anywhere would light up and give us a bow if we smiled, clasped our hands together and bowed to him with the powerful greeting, “Namaste.”

We leave Nepal today with so many warm memories, and having learned so many important lessons that we pray we will keep with us and imbue our lives with for the rest of our days.

Thank you, Nepal. We will be back to embrace you again soon.