For my 28th birthday, I went to Nepal to volunteer with Habitat for Humanity for 2 weeks. Habitat is an NPO that builds homes for low-income families all over the world. I, along with 14 other teammates, went to a small village called Kavre (about an hour’s drive SE of Kathmandu) where we spent 8 days laying the foundation for nine different homes. Day-to-day, tasks included a lot of passing bricks and rocks, mixing mortar, sifting sand, and repeat. For me, the trip was sandwiched between 4 days exploring Kathmandu, the country’s capital city, and a long weekend in Chitwan National Park.
Ever since my first Habitat trip in Anchorage, Alaska back in 2010, Nepal has been the apple of my eye for another Habitat build. So the fact that I FINALLY made this trip happen was really special. Going into it, I didn’t have any expectations or impressions of Nepal other than how prevalent the poverty is. It turned out to be a magical but challenging place to visit, and after 3 weeks, here are a few things I appreciate more after returning home.
Air Asia, I’m looking at you on this one.
The third party website that issued my ticket gave me the wrong departure time for my connecting flight from Kuala Lumpur to Kathmandu. Instead of leaving at 12 P.M. like I had originally thought, they notified me the day before that my flight actually departed at 5 P.M. That is an extra 5 hours wasted in the airport. If I had known earlier, say the day before my first flight left Osaka, I would’ve sprung for a hotel in the city and spent the day exploring Kuala Lumpur. Things like this happen all the time while traveling so I was ready to brush this off as a bump in the road, but wait, there’s more!
During my trip to Nepal, Air Asia emailed me again saying my flight out of Kathmandu was rescheduled for 6 hours later than my original departure time, effectively messing up my onward travel plans. They offered a full refund for the inconvenience but after contacting them multiple times via email and phone to redeem said refund, suddenly their customer service was nowhere to be found.
So here are my final thoughts:
- Budget airlines are not worth the time or money for long haul flights.
- Air Asia is off the list of airlines I will give my business to in the future (they even charged for water which, if it’s not, should be illegal).
- I appreciate and am willing to pay more for an airline that already has meals and amenities included in the flight price.
24 Hour Hot Showers
At the hotel we stayed at during our build, hot water for showers was only available for 3 hours in the mornings and 3 hours in the evenings. I use the words hot water loosely here as sometimes it was only lukewarm at best. While it was enough to feel refreshed after a day of demanding physical labor, I never felt like all the layers of dust and sweat completely washed away. The hotel we stayed at in Chitwan National Park was the same, and the water pressure was merely a drizzle. Going through each day feeling caked in dirt offers its own level of fatigue so now I appreciate going home every day knowing that there is hot water available for me to use in showers, for tea, etc. at any time.
Slow and fussy wifi followed me everywhere I went in Nepal, but I do feel grateful that there was wifi at all. In fact, unreliable wifi was a blessing, in a way, as it forced me to stay in tune with my surroundings. As a spoiled, first world kid though, I have to say, I do appreciate fast wifi. The kind where I don’t have to stand in one corner of a room to get access, the kind that doesn’t go out when too many people try to use it, and the kind that doesn’t take an hour to download an email. Just sayin’.
Nepal is one of those countries where it is not safe to drink water from the faucet. So for the duration of my trip, I relied solely on bottled water to stay hydrated and brush my teeth. It was the rinsing my toothbrush with bottled water that got to me after a while because it’s not as efficient. I also didn’t like the uncertainty of whether or not the water I was showering in was clean. It’s incredible the toll it can take on the body when you don’t have access to clean water. I feel grateful that I live in a country where I can turn on the tap and trust (for the most part) that the water is clean and safe enough to drink.
Fresh Fruits & Veggies
Prior to my trip, I was warned by articles I read on the internet as well as my trip leader to avoid eating fruits and vegetables sold on the streets and in the markets as they’re not likely washed with purified water. Apples, bananas, and pomegranates available on food carts on the side of the road taunted me. While I did get to eat some bananas during my trip, a variety of fresh fruits and veggies were not regularly available. I started craving strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, avocado, spinach, salads, etc. At one point during the trip, I fell ill with a cold for a couple days and my body was screaming for fruits I didn’t have access to. Once I returned home, I felt incredibly lucky to be able to go to the supermarket and buy all the fresh fruits to my heart’s desire.
Driving through Nepal, there is litter all over the sides of the road. It’s like the Earth is their garbage can. Everything from plastic bottles and bags to wrappers and old clothes. It frustrated me how little effort there was to keep the environment clean, and I came away with a stronger appreciation for the effort many countries make to keep their streets clean.
Sandwiched between China and India, Nepal inherits some poor air quality in addition to creating plenty of their own. The skies are polluted with smog and haze, and dust covers everything. It was hard to be outside for long without feeling like those things sought permanent residence in my skin. Nearly every day of the trip, I wore a face mask and my breathing was shallow so as not to inhale anything too radical into my lungs. Towards the end of the trip, I jokingly said to my teammates at dinner that I missed being able to breathe which was met with chuckles of empathy. I appreciate being able to breathe in clean air every day without my throat feeling scratchy, coughing, or worrying about inhaling something dangerous.
Nepal’s roads are in such poor condition. Essentially, they are unpaved roads made of compact sand, dirt, mud, and rock with potholes galore. Quite frankly, it’s so bumpy that I’m surprised more people don’t fall off of their bicycles and motorcycles more frequently or that people don’t get queasy on long drives. The 6 hour drive between Kathmandu and Chitwan National Park was like white water rafting but on land. Growing up in the Metro-Detroit area, I am no stranger to potholes and questionable road conditions, but I see now that it pales in comparison to Nepal.
In Kathmandu in particular, cars are constantly beeping their horns to inform other cars and pedestrians that they’re passing by. While there was some relief of the noise at night, it hardly made up for the constant commotion during the day. It’s not just loud in terms of audible noise, it’s chaotic. It required being in tune with my surroundings at all times. Animals, people, and cars all share the same road so I had to be on the lookout for oncoming pedestrians and automobile traffic, sidestep touts trying to sell me something, and watch for potholes and dogs sleeping on the path. I appreciate silence. It helps me think better.
This trip was another good reminder of how it’s not about where I am but the company I keep. I feel incredibly lucky that I got to experience Nepal with a group of open-minded individuals who love to travel and learn about new cultures and ways of life as much as I do. It was a lot less overwhelming to experience Nepal’s quirks together, to have someone at my side to laugh with, and share in the journey.