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Monthly Archives: May 2013

7 things I learned in Nepal

If you regularly check in to YOTD, you may have noticed a long hiatus has just occurred. No, I’m not ignoring you! I promise! I just happened to have been on a life changing trip to Nepal. I left for three weeks, two of which I spent volunteering to build a school. I’d been fundraising for over a year and when it finally came time to go, I’ll admit I was nervous. I’d never been to a developing country before in any of my travels. I was bracing myself for some intense culture shock and while some did occur, I ended up spending most of my time just feeling so grateful to be there. I also made a conscious decision to gather lessons from my interactions and observations of the wonderful Nepalese people. Not everyone gets a chance to go to Nepal, so I thought I would share these experiences with you.

1. Be happy and greet people with a smile

If your first instinct as to why this is my first lesson is that I’m a North American saying we should be happy for who we are and where we live, you’re only half right. We are so blessed to live in countries with modern amenities and civil rights movements, that while many would argue are not perfect, EXIST. However, that is not why the lesson of happiness came to me. It came to me because every day, in every circumstance while in Nepal, I saw smiles. I saw warmth. I saw a willingness to help others with no other motivation than the deed itself. Greeted by smiles in a village that has not seen many white people. People of all ages holding their hands infront of them in the Namaste position and welcoming us everywhere we went. I saw fairly large families living all together in small, clay huts that projected nothing but a happiness to be together and to be sharing the day with us. While they don’t have everything, they are happy and grateful for what they do have. Isn’t that the key to happiness?

Upon my return to Canada, I watched a documentary called “Happy” which was narrated by an author I enjoy, Marci Shimoff. Research has found that the people of Kolkata, India are just as happy, if not more happy than many North Americans. I’ve seen it.  It amazes me that people who we would consider destitute have a level of happiness that some North Americans never achieve.

Smiling Nepali women

Smiling Nepali women

2. Always ask for more

Walking the streets of Thamel, the more touristy district of Kathmandu, you will know exactly what I am talking about. The vendors here are AWESOME at this concept. They always ask for more than what they are willing to take for a product. Who knows, maybe they will get more than what they will accept! This is a great thing to do in life, in general. Ask for more than you want, you never know, you just may get it.

3. Walk and bike everywhere

While walking down from the hilly home of the Kopan monastery, my friend Adele and I came across this young, local boy. He was fifteen years old and we asked him for directions to the Boudha Stupa. Instead of just pointing a vague direction, he actually walked with us over an hour to get us there. Not only that, he walked us right into the Stupa compound and began to tell us everything he knew about it. He was our own personal tourguide delivered to us by Karma! Everywhere you turn in Nepal, there are people walking or biking to their next destination. When you ask someone from Nepal how far something is, you need to specify if you mean by foot, bike or car. No wonder you’d be hard pressed to find obesity in this country!

This is Sanam, our Karmic tourguide!

This is Sanam, our Karmic tourguide!

4. Accidents happen, don’t take it personally

We live in a society so ready to place blame. We need insurance to mitigate every little accident that occurs. I’m not suggesting we abolish insurance, but since we have it, why do people get so bent out of shape over the little dings we get in life? While we were traveling in  Nepal, one of our drivers happened to be following a rickshaw a little too closely and when it stopped suddenly, the driver bumped it. Turned out the rickshaw had a little piece of metal sticking out further than most do, on its back. So what happened? The rickshaw driver got out, looked at it while a small crowd of Nepali men gathered around. He told the driver to back up and helped to navigate him around his rickshaw. No major damage was done, so the attitude was, “I’m alright, you’re alright, let’s move on with our day.” There was no yelling and screaming, no dramatic arm waving. Obviously the driver didn’t mean to hit his rickshaw and there was minimal damage so why get bent out of shape over it? I doubt this occurrence would have gone over so smoothly in Canada, where we are supposed to be polite beyond all reason. So the next time something is done by accident to you and you aren’t actually hurt, take a breath and deal with it calmly.

5. Take a nap

In the Dang province, where we spent most of our time volunteering, most of the people there lead simpler lives. They live in smallish houses with their families and many of them tend fields or animals to feed themselves. Often, they get up very early to get work done before the heat of the sun comes into play. While we were there, one thing I noticed was the amazing ability of Nepali people to sleep almost anywhere. Then there was me, who got all of three hours of sleep on a thirty hour flight path! According to research done in the past few years, the Nepali have it right! If you want to know more, visit information on napping and productivity via Inc.com. Sometimes, we could all use a nap.

Can you see my napping friend under the tree?

Can you see my napping friend under the tree?

6. Carpool, there’s always room for one more!

While I’m sure many would agree that the motor vehicle safety practices with regard to passenger numbers in Nepal can be less than desirable, they have the right idea. Nepali people will give everyone they know a ride if they can. Cars, trucks, rickshaws are all stuffed to capacity as they go from destination to destination. If you drive to work, is there someone that you could share a ride with? If you are going on a trip, is there someone headed that way that you could give a lift to? Friendly bit of advice though, Canadian police will definitely stop you if you have some friends hanging off the back of your vehicle. Please, don’t tell him that I put you up to it!

7. Give your children responsibilities and don’t hold on so tight

I have my masters degree in childhood education, I babysat for years and I know a lot of people with kids. Though I won’t generalize to everyone, many North Americans are a little over-protective of their children. They coddle them and some spoil them to within an inch of their lives. More and more, educators are seeing children coming through the system being so incredibly self-entitled that they are almost impossible to discipline. The blame gets passed around from teachers, to schools, to television, to diagnoses of disorders that must explain why the children are behaving the way they are. I saw many children in Nepal. They had chores to do, they were driving cattle, they were taking care of younger siblings. Things that the majority of our population would never dream of letting our children do. Children walking around by themselves with no adult supervision in sight. Sure, there aren’t a lot of gangs and guns running around rural Nepal (now that the civil war is over)…but there are rhinos and wild boar! While I think that we are privileged enough in our culture to have more of the notion of ‘childhood’ available to us, I also think that many of our children are over-coddled. I may be stepping on the toes of parents everywhere, and my sister-in-law’s favourite expression “You don’t know what it’s like to have children.” is ringing in my ears, but I’ve seen it! I’ve seen children with more responsibility to themselves and their families. They still find time to play, they still smile and have fun. So while I don’t expect even myself to make my children work nearly as hard the children of Nepal do in every day life, I will remind myself over and over of what I saw there. I will try to remember that my children are capable, little, human beings and hopefully, I won’t hold on so tight when it is my turn.

Myself and some very happy Tharu children!

Myself and some very happy Tharu children!

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