"I get up every morning determined to both change the world and have one hell of a good time. Sometimes this makes planning my day difficult." E. B. White

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Already an Adventure

Today was our second day, and I already feel like I’ve done so much since I got here.  

We're not bandits, we're bus passengers protecting ourselves from the dust.
This morning we went to visit the monastery where Anna and I will be volunteering each morning teaching English. We walked for 20 minutes through winding neighborhoods until we reached the busy street where we caught a “bus.” The bus is actually a small van designed to sit 10 people, but regularly carries twice as many. There are no signs indicating to which destination the bus is heading, so you have to ask the guy who is hanging and yelling out the window as they roll by and occasionally come to a stop. If you’re lucky enough to figure out the right bus, you then have to figure out the seating situation, which seems to mean cramming onto seats next to total strangers. Its more like sardines than passengers.

We reached our stop and then hiked a good mile up the side of a mountain (on a paved road, thankfully). In all, it took well over an hour to get there. It was so worth it. Passing through the gates of the monastery was like stepping into a completely different world. It is one of the most serene, charming places I have ever been.  The noise of the city completely disappeared and everything was quiet except for the repetitive, peaceful sound of the prayer instrument being practiced by a novice monk.

Our monastery

Aly, Anna, and me

I feel so privileged to have the opportunity to spend the next few weeks there. We met with the monk in charge of administration who gave us a tour, introduced us to a few of the young monks (he called them “little monks,” quite accurately), and asked us to come back on Monday for our first day of work. I was completely taken by the little monks. Cute doesn’t begin to describe it. They are curious, shy, and excited to have American strangers visiting them. I am so excited to work with these boys.

In the afternoon we walked to the orphanage to meet the children. I was overwhelmed by the greeting. We hadn’t even made it through the front gate and were immediately swarmed. They were so happy to have visitors that they instantly started hugging us, fighting over the chance to hold our hands, and asking as many questions as possible about who we are, why we look different to them, and if they could wear our sunglasses. Approximately 20 orphans live in the home, the large majority of them ranging from 5 to 10 years old.

They are so sweet and seemingly happy considering the circumstances they face. Anna and I are looking forward to bringing them the many crayons, markers, toys, and other treats we brought with us because, despite our previous belief that they had two toys to share amongst themselves, we arrived to observe that they have absolutely nothing at all. I mean nothing. They may have the bare walls and toy-less playroom, but these kids seem to be in good spirits and good health thanks to the care they receive from the orphanage owner and the donations that keep the orphanage running, much of which comes from previous volunteers.

As we begin our volunteer work, I’ll write more about the children in both the monastery and orphanage and post pictures to share this experience in more colorful detail.

Yesterday morning after a light breakfast and some delicious sweet Nepali tea, we had a brief orientation and a 1-hour language lesson. We learned some basic, useful  phrases to help us get by including Namaste (hello/goodbye), Danyevad (thank you), and Mero naam Farrah ho (my name is Farrah). We also learned a few less helpful phrases, including: Is this an exercise book? No, it is a pencil. True example.  

By 10:30 a.m. we were out with one of the young staff members, Sora, taking a walk to a nearby Hindu temple. Now that I’ve had a better look at the roads, I realize that my previous description was totally accurate. They are dirt or gravel in most places, and those that are paved are in such disrepair that walking on them is just as difficult as the dirt roads.

View from the temple
As we walked to the temple, Sora told us that, because Buddha was Hindu, Buddhists and Hindus in Nepal live in harmony. One demonstration of this is that Buddhist religious sites often have smaller Hindu temples on the premises, and vice versa. The temple we visited in the morning was a small, local Hindu temple with an even smaller buddhist shrine. We were the only tourists. We are observing local standards by wearing conservative clothes - our shoulders and chest are covered at all times and our pants go below the knee. All the same, I’ve resigned myself to be obvious out-of-towners and being stared at everywhere we go.

We then took a 20 minute walk to a Nepalese restaurant and had our first authentic Nepali meal. It was a vegetarian dish (I know, I know, I actually ate vegetables!) consisting of rice, several types of curry, tofu, and several other dishes. It was more food than I could ever eat in one sitting.

The afternoon was my favorite part of the day. I absolutely loved it. We walked with another staff member from the house, Bijaya, and caught a bus to Swayambhu Mahachaitya, or the monkey temple. Like the local temple we visited earlier in the day, this giant temple was visited by both Hindus and Buddhists. There were several different religious sites around the temple, but this was the highlight:

From left - Monkey, Anna, me
We climbed hundreds of steps to the Hindu temple, known for being overrun with monkeys. In hindsight - I can’t believe how close we were to these wild animals. There were thousands of them. Literally. Everywhere we went there were giant monkeys carrying babies, stealing food from tourists, bathing in fountains, and walking around the tourists as if they were pet dogs. Its was incredible to see, but also a little startling - I’m not used to monkeys jumping across my path and following me down stairs.

The temple itself was beautiful. Everything is hand-carved and hand-painted and there are colorful flags everywhere to symbolize peace.

Monkey Temple

Bijaya took us to the shop of a local vendor who sold meditation/sound bowls. The shop owner was enthusiastic about demonstrating how to use these bowls to create a humming/singing sound for meditation, and also how to use the vibrations of the bowl to help clear your mind, heal backaches, headaches, sore muscles, and other ailments. He must have spent 30 minutes with us teaching us about this tradition and ancient practice, and I loved sitting in his small, dark shop surrounded by antiques and handmade crafts.

We then walked next door and visited an art house. It wasn’t the type of art house that has framed paintings hung spaced out on the wall. Instead, it had painted cotton canvases stacked on top of each other and hanging giant, intricate pieces overlapping covering the entire room. In this shop, we met with a young man who was an artist and ran the shop with his father, who had opened dozens like it around the country. They specialize in the ancient art of mandalas, a buddhist artform featuring detailed wheels showing the circle of life, the suffering of the world, and the way to nirvana. The young man spoke to us for at least half an hour about the dedication, sacrifice, and skill required to rise to the level of master. These beautiful paintings are created using tiny brushes with only one to five hairs on each brush and can take several months or years to complete.

Last thing - the cost of living here is so inexpensive. The exchange rate is 100 rupees to the dollar, and so I’ve been spending far less than $5 a day on lunch out, bus fare, bottles of water and soda, and other various daily living costs. I’m dealing in $100 bills but actually spending pennies at a time.

Like I said - we’ve done so much since we arrived! It’ll be a few days before my next post - we’re heading out tomorrow for a 5-day adventure, which I’ll be sure to write about when we get back!


  1. Wow girls - how on earth have you managed to have the time to document all this! What an adventure. The bus ride sounded very exciting to say the least. Can't wait to read tomorrow's exciting episode.

  2. Sound like everything is going good for you girls, I am enjoying reading about everything you have done so far, sounds like you have been going nonstop. Take care of yourself and keep eating those vegetables.

  3. Sound like everything is going good for you girls, I am enjoying reading about everything you have done so far, sounds like you have been going nonstop. Take care of yourself and keep eating those vegetables.

  4. Haha! Love the caption of the photo with the monkey. Very clever.
    It looks amazing!

  5. You are on a great trip. Look forward everyday to reading more! I bet you never forget this! Keep on blogging. Waiting for the next installment!