Thursday, September 20, 2012

Day 13

This morning we had a naming ceremony, marking the auspicious eleventh day of our journey and a shift toward greater independence and exploration. We received Nepali names based on our astrological signs and our personalities. My new name is Asha, which means truth or hope.

This is a great TED talk about anthropology and the value of culture in our modernizing world!!!!!!!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Day 12

I'm a true mountain woman now - or at least says our Sherpa, Pemba dai. We're back in Bhaktapur from our trek through Helambu, situated between the Annapurna region and the Everest region, bordering Tibet. It was so frickin groovy!!! We took a bus out of the city and into a canyon, following the Indrawati River through vast terraced rice patties sprinkled with small homes made of stacked rocks. Bright red saris hung to dry on clotheslines and goats roamed as we made our way down the incredibly muddy, narrow, topsy turvy road (essentially the Indiana Jones ride at Disneyland for four hours). Despite my near nausea, I was in awe of my surroundings. It was so insanely beautiful!!! Driving along the mountains, through tiny villages, the land was enchanted by communal joy and self reliance. I felt as if I was in National Geographic! We arrived in a village called Timbu in the late afternoon and immediately went to explore some trails through a rice patty. I got sucked by a few leeches on my feet which got pretty bloody but hey I survived! We left the next morning for day one of our trek, a 5,000 ft ascent up to the village, Tarke Gyung. I was very nervous, I've never hiked such a huge elevation gain in one day, let alone with a 30 pound pack. Nonetheless, we began the hike, taking water breaks at sacred stupas covered with moss. The first hour past and I was somehow in the front pack, with the four boys and our Sherpa. My body was working hard but I felt good and strong and determined. The warrior goddess in me was coming out!! (I was also excited that the front group got the longest breaks while we waited 20 minutes for everyone else). The day continued as we climbed higher and higher above the valley. I started pulling ahead of the boys and it was soon just me and my new buddy, Pemba dai the Sherpa. We crossed rivers and logs and took small steps to minimize our energy. I was feeling so proud of myself!! Six hours later we made it to Tarke Gyung, in a cloud 9,000 ft in the sky. As we walked into the tea house, Pemba dai said, "You like to trek? You are very strong, a woman of the mountains." A Sherpa calling me strong is easily one of the coolest things that has ever happened to me. Life is awesome!!! Shortly after I decided to name my backpack "Mahadevi," meaning "Great Goddess" in Nepali.
The entire next day was spent hangin in the tea house common room, which had low benches lining three walls and a stove in the corner where Didi, or Auntie, sat making endless milk tea and dhal bhaat. There was also a German couple staying there who would play yatzee and complain about the weather. It was kind of funny. I liked them. The next day we planned to climb to the peak of Ama Yangri. The morning came and was full of rain. As soon as we reached the trails we were each covered with leeches. Despite the slimy bugs and blood we tried to keep going. We got to 12,000 ft. only 1,000 ft from the top, it was pouring, 40 degrees, and we were bleeding all over our legs and feet (leeches can squirm through your socks and pants). The instructors decided it wasn't worth continuing to the top, where it would be 10 degrees colder and potentially icy. I was extremely bummed but that's just the way it goes sometimes. I'll have plenty of opportunities to climb cool mountains later. We went back to the beloved tea house and left the next morning for Timbu.
The weather was perfect (classic) and I had a great walk down the mountain. On the side of the trail, we saw a group of Nepali men with animal parts strewn across the grass. As we approached, two men were slitting open the stomach and emptying out tons of grass. I don't really have words to describe how I felt at this point so I'll keep explaining things as they happened. The few people I was with were also interested so we stopped and talked with the men. They had decided to sacrifice their water buffalo in hopes of selling as much as they could (at most they'll make $10 profit). As we asked questions, one man picked up an ax and began to chop the skinned skull and right under the horns. He peeled back the cracked head and shimmied out the brain in one piece, apparently a delicacy. It was an overwhelming sight. I was sad for the buffalo. But I respected those men and their lifestyle and I knew the reason I was vegetarian was because of the separation of producer and consumer in America. In that moment, I was part of the production, squatting in bloody leaves with flies swarming everywhere. These men had a level of strength and self responsibility that most Americans can't even fathom. So that night I ate the buffalo's meat. Known as the replacement for cows, which are sacred, the "buff" meat was tough and tasted great. There are infinite ways to survive and thrive on Earth. The best way for me to thrive in America is to be vegetarian, but to thrive in rural Nepal, families must be grateful for the little meat they can produce. Abatiwaha, so is life.
We left early this morning to catch a public bus back to Bhaktapur. Through we were the first ones on, the bus slowly grew full beyond its capacity. I've never seen so many people crammed into one space. A few different women sat on the edge of my seat and leaned on me, while one woman simply sat her baby on my lap. Though the ride was smelly and I watched an old woman throw up out of the window in front of me for half an hour, it was oddly a lot of fun. Six hours later we arrived in Bhaktapur. Pretty shortly after I had to hop on a taxi to a clinic in Kathmandu for an allergic reaction to a mosquito bite (five days ago I got an extremely gross blister like thing on my leg about the size of a nickel). It accidentally popped today and we decided we should get it checked out before we leave for ten days to remote Nepal. We went and I got an antibiotic and ointment to clean it. It's still gross but hey it could be worse! Alrighty my friends, that's all for now. Life is groovy! Lech Lecha!

Also, I'm sorry the pictures didn't work out. It took forever so I'm really bummed but I'll work on it!

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Day 6

Namaste! The divine in me bows to the divine in you! This greeting rings true in my soul and I cherish this word at the end of every yoga class. However, as we've begun to integrate into the local Nepali culture of Bhaktapur, "Namaste" has evolved to encompass a beautifully new meaning of soulful radiance and shared human joy. Walking through the streets of and alleyways that neighbor the Bhaktapur Guest House, men and women initially look at us with blank eyes, unsure of our Western presence. But the second you bring your hands to your heart, bow your head, and say, "Namaste," their faces light up with the most beautiful smiles, and overwhelmed by happiness, respond, "Namaste." What a powerful greeting!! There is no simple, "hey" or "hello," only, "I bow to the godliness in you." Incredible! I think this naturally affects the sense of community in this place, because rather than hardly acknowledge the people around you, Nepalis show respect and reverance for everyone they encounter. Despite the complete lack of governmental infrastructure, I would argue that the community in this ancient city is stronger than anything we've ever experienced growing up in the West. Walking through the bazaars, any Nepali who notices a confused face will eagerly jump in and do whatever they can to help, and if they cant, they'll refer you to their "uncle" around the corner. This insanely welcoming attitude has made me feel so at ease and confident getting around the city independently.
This morning, before exploring the city, we hiked deep through the hills to a temple for Shiva, the Creator and Destroyer. I feel so grateful for this experience! At the top of the hill, where the temple sits, we were in the company of only a few locals, there to perform their daily rituals to their chosen deity. There was a great shrine to Shiva, inside which sat a large statue covered in colored powder, surrounded by small flower petals and incense. I entered and said to myself, "Om Namah Shivaya," a praise to Shiva which I have also been taught to mean, "I am complete as I am." Around the shrine were small statues for Shiva's consort, Parvati, his son, Ganesh, and the goddess of knowledge, Saraswati. A worshipper explained that Shiva isn't greedy, he shares his space with those he loves. No wonder he is such a highly admired God!
Tomorrow we leave for a five day trek through Langtang National Park. We'll sleep in teahouses in rural villages and peak at 13,000 feet. We planned to leave early tomorrow morning, but a bandh, or strike, has been called due to an increase in gas prices (it's 8 US dollars per gallon here!). Due to the strike, all roads will be closed and any cars who try to pass will be harassed. The country will effectively stop using all oil for the day. What a beautiful form of dissent! And while it's fascinating and admirable that the country will cut its oil use, we'll be postponed a little, and we'll leave in the afternoon rather than morning. But hey, I'm excited nonetheless! Almost immediately after the trek, we'll leave for our rural homestays in some village I can't remember the name of.  Before this trip I sort of decided that I would be willing to taste the meat my family offers to me if they had killed it themself (and hopefully I'll be able to participate in this process too). Of course all of that is far beyond anything I've ever done and makes me nervous and slightly sad, but I feel ready and oddly excited. Anyway, I will likely be without internet for the next two or so weeks. But I promise when the opportunity arises I will be in touch. You are all on my mind. We had a fire tonight and it instantly reminded me of my inner strength and made me feel at home, of course because of my remarkable community. You all empower me and I am so grateful!! Okay I need to run to my room before it starts torrentially pouring (damn monsoon). Namaste!

crazy eyes late night in Nepal

Monday, September 10, 2012

Day 3

We've made it to Nepal! We arrived at around 1AM (our flight time was prolonged due to a stop in the capital of Bangladesh). Stepping off the plane was very odd because it was pitch black outside and it was as if I could be anywhere! But it was all exciting nonetheless! We applied for visa's, I got my film manually checked for the third time, and we proceeded to meet our instructors! After introductions that were very camp-esque we boarded a bus, probably the most luxurious transportation we'll experience on this trip, and we headed to a guest house in Bhaktapur which is on the rim of the Kathmandu Valley. We drove down the single paved highway in Nepal, built by the Japanese only 3 years ago, and arrived at the road that led to the guest house. Due to the monsoons, roads are incredibly muddy and rocky, and after much negotiation, the driver simply refused to risk his bus for us. So we unloaded, put on our headlamps and trekked up to the top of Ganesh Hill where our sleeping abode awaited us. After that trek, I don't blame the driver for his refusal! We finally got here and our rooms are small and full of spiders but have beautiful big windows and mattresses. Waking up and peering outside the window next to my bed was surreal and breathtaking. Everything was so much greener than I ever could have expected and so full of blossoming bright flowers and life! We met at 7 AM for breakfast and I got my first view of the Kathmandu Valley. Full of bright red buildings with grass roofs, each decided by corn and millet fields. It's unbelievable!!! The weather goes back and forth pretty frequently between sunny and warm and cloudy and drizzly, but both ends of the spectrum are equally pleasant. It has been an overall swell day. My instructor set up a slackline on some trees so I've been playing on that a lot and a girl and my group does acro yoga so that's been really fun as well. The food is incredible. We eat rice and lentils with only our hands and Bhaktapur is famous for their yogurt (though I'm still trying to get used to the consistency). We'll be here at the guest house for another 4 nights and then we'll depart on a 5 day trek to a rural village where we'll live with families. Tomorrow morning we'll be hiking at 6 AM to the top of Ganesh Hill to the temple and then have our first language class, I'm so excited! It really is so surreal to be here. I'm feeling a little lonely just because all of our relationships are still in their beginning awkard stages but I'm in awe of the environment around me and that has filled my soul for today! Just taking everything a day at a time! Every moment is full of ups and downs, like the waves of an ocean!

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Day 2

Hello from Hong Kong!!!! I flew into China this morning at 5 am (it's already Sunday, September 9 here!) and I have a 12 1/2 hour layover, only a few more hours to go! Getting a visa for China is unreasonably expensive and complicated so I'm stuck in the airport but it's turned out to be pretty okay, there's a lot to explore! But first I'll talk about getting here. Waiting at LAX was pretty surreal, I had way too much time to think. I was feelin pretty weird about everything that was about to happen. Going through security, the TSA officer had to open every single canister of film I had (there were 25) to make sure I wasn't hiding anything. That held up the group a good 10 minutes but it was okay. When we finally walked down the tunnel to the plane I started to finally feel ready for all that was to come. I stepped on board and was greeted by a very tall, very skinny, Chinese flight attendant named Keiko. She showed me to my seat, which was very hard and plasticy, and I sat down. The seat belts had an airbag attached to them which was odd and slightly uncomfortable. We took off at 12:30 AM and I fell asleep almost instantly. Several hours later, Keiko woke me up for my vegetarian meal, which was pretty decent mushroom risotto. After that, I read for a while and flipped through the movie options. Lo and behold, what was the first movie to come up? Brave!!!!! I got excited and took it as a good omen. I ate my last American indulgences (Cheez-its and Oreos), read a few more chapters of Kurt Vonnegut's Breakfast of Champions, and then fell asleep again. The 15 hour flight actually didn't feel too long, and before I knew it I was landing in Hong Kong, which was still very dark so early in the morning. Since my arrival I've napped some more and purused around the large and bustling airport. Almost every store is filled with high end designer fashions, but  sprinkled amongst the Jimmy Choo's and Versace's are some fun Asian candy stores, filled with weird gummies and dried fish. We also found a store which sold bodily essentials like deoderant or toothpaste, and in their vitamin section they had an ample stock of shark cartilage and sheep placenta, how wild! The airport is also abundant with really delicious food (I just ate really delicious wide rice noodles and miso soup). So that's all for now, I board my plane for Kathmandu at 5:45 HK time and it should be about a 6 hour flight. And apparently right when we get there we'll begin a 5 day trek to our rural homestay! How insane! So everything is swell and beautiful. The airport is surrounded by really majestic and huge mountains so that has provided some serene scenery. Anyway, I'm thinking of everyone and missing everyone! I hope you've all had a great weekend! I'll talk to ya when I can. From here on out the internet access will be pretty inconsisten but hey I'll do my best! And hey I'm in f***ing Asia!!! (I've been saying that in my head a lot today).

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Day 0

A year ago today I never could have predicted that things would turn out the way they did. When I got into Lewis and Clark College, I was positive that it was the school for me. I was going to thrive and blossom and be happy with rainbows and butterflies in the beautiful Portland, Oregon. Unfortunately it didn't quite work out that way. For a multitude of reasons, L&C just wasn't my thang, and as I sat at my desk procrastinating, reading my friends', Jason, Max, and Jackson's blogs of their worldly explorations, a feeling turned inside of my stomach telling me that I, too, needed to be out discovering the wonders of this Earth. Dreams of travel consumed my mind and I could no longer suppress that gut feeling. So I read The Alchemist and that pretty much sealed the deal. After all, Paulo Coelho writes, "The world's greatest lie is that at a certain point in our lives, we lose control of what's happening to us, and our lives become controlled by fate." I somehow convinced my parents that just like The Alchemist's protagonist, I needed to follow my Personal Legend. And now here I am, the day before I embark on a truly insane journey.

For the next three months I'll be travelling through Nepal on a backpacking program with a group of about 10 people my age. We'll be travelling from village to village, city to city (but not really because there's only one big city in Nepal) and living as Nepalis do. We'll learn some of the language, live with families, and trek through the Himalayas as we soak up the unbelievable surroundings and the spirituality that encompasses its people (I know that's a brief explanation of the coming months but it's more exciting to not have exact plans).  How surreal! I've been thinking about all of this for so long, it's weird that it's really finally happening! I'm so grateful!!!!!!!

Though this was an odd and challenging year for me, I feel so strong in all that I've accomplished and overcome. I have no idea what to expect from this year and I'm pretty nervous, but I feel so proud of myself for making the decision to change things and go forth with this journey. LECH LECHA!!!!!!! I have learned this year more than ever that it is only from challenging situations and obstacles and that we grow and blossom into the beautiful people we all can be!! I am so infintely grateful to my friends and family who have supported me so much, I feel like the luckiest girl in the universe to be surrounded by such mind-blowingly incredible people!!! You all inspire me endlessly and I would not be the person I am without you! So as I embark on this journey, I hope you too follow whatever it is that makes your heart sing! And read The Alchemist if you need some extra motivation. Sending my love to everyone. Namaste.

The packing begins...........