Pheri Bhetaula, Nepal

It’s been two weeks. Two weeks since I boarded the plane to leave Kathmandu, the place I have called home for the better part of the past seven months.

It’s been surreal to think about how exactly to honour such a transcendent experience. I’ve stayed off of social media for the most part since coming back to Canada, intending to post some kind of farewell, something to mark this passage, but everything I’ve attempted to post feels so…small.

Any singular photo or words have felt tiny and incapable of representing what it has felt like to go from the palpable experience of sitting on the hardened earth within the fabric walls of tents in Dhading’s displacement camps in the heat, listening to the stories from the mouths of women who have lost homes in the earthquake, lost family members, have faced challenges and uncertainties of where the next meal will come from, which roof will be over their heads in the coming weeks, months, years. Holding babies at their breasts, sharing singular spaces with four, five, six others who sleep in a huddle beneath shared blankets.

I have gone from bearing witness to this, to awakening under a down comforter upon a memory foam mattress, pushing the button on a Keurig espresso machine that heats the perfect brew for me and digitally displays, ‘Good morning!’ as I stand in a kitchen double the size of the camp tents ~ granite counter tops and warm electric lighting on dimmer switches.

To accept that all of this exists in the same world, and in fact can be experienced back to back for those of us born into privilege, leaves me in a state of disbelief, wonder and passionate curiosity over how to better affect global change in the most effective way.

New intentions and plans are brewing, and while I can’t wait to share more of this moving forward, the first step here & now, is to try and find the words to express my gratitude for the insights, opinions, knowledge, experiences and connections that the past 7 months have gifted me. And so, a few words of tribute, and a fraction of what I carry with me as I’ve left you, dear Nepal…

A moment of silence in the forest. Dhakshinkali, Nepal. (Photo Credit: M. Almozan)

~ The spark of excitement I feel when I flip a switch and the room lights up. Adjusting to the electricity being turned off for 10-12 hours a day was a humbling experience. The joy I grew to feel in Kathmandu upon the kitchen lights actually working when it was time for me to cook dinner is something I will not forget.

~ Being in Nepal during the fuel crisis, when India closed the border to much needed supplies coming into the country, was surreal. Witnessing endless kilometres of lineups of cars, buses, motorbikes waiting days – DAYS – to reach the fuel pump and purchase a few overpriced liters. Let’s all take a moment to revel in the gift of our gas stations being accessible and having the fuel we need at our dispersal. (I hope to remind myself of this the next time I feel the urge to complain about the ‘lineup’ of three cars ahead at the pump)

~ The way I felt when the earth moved beneath me for the first time. It was the smallest tremor, insignificant in comparison to what others in the country had experienced in the April 2015 earthquake…and it still shook me to the core. To question, even for a moment, the security of my foundation, is a feeling I won’t soon forget. A reminder of the fragility and treasure of this human experience.

~ Witnessing cremation on the banks of the water flowing through Pashupatinath temple. I had so many questions about the life this person had lived as the wafts of smoke swirling up from the covered body engulfed me. Things felt calm, peaceful. A mark of transition, rather than an end.

~ The hike to Tallojhyangli village, to visit a school that had been destroyed in the earthquake and was being rebuilt through the efforts of friends I met my first weeks in Nepal. This 8 hour journey on foot, climbing roads and hills that would be impossible for any vehicle to navigate, took absolutely everything out of me. I felt physically incapable of taking another step by the end of the day, and in complete awe of every man, woman and child who walk those same paths daily merely to get to the market or school. I bow down to them, and “too far to walk” is a phrase that now has a whole new reference point for me.

~ Love. Nepal led me to meet one of the most beautiful, adventurous and unconditionally kind men I have had the honor of being with. He became a partner and a champion for all the work I did, and helped to lift me up when I felt defeated and was questioning my ability to move forward. Were it not for his support, I may not have stayed as long as I did. I am so grateful.

~ The displacement camps. What can I even say about my time in these camps that will translate anything comparable to being there? My heart’s capacity has grown immeasurably in the presence of those who I saw living in tents, their homes destroyed and, without government assistance to rebuild these homes, futures uncertain. The resilience and strength that I felt coming from these people is unlike anything I’ve experienced. The ability of the human spirit to move forward in the face of apparent insurmountable obstacles astounds and inspires me.

I will never forget the new mother I met, sitting upon the earth under the flaps of her tent, black smoke from the fire swirling within the small space as she cradled her 3 week old baby. I sensed a vacancy in her eyes and tried to imagine what it might be like to have birthed a new baby and no other option but to bring it ‘home’ to a tent in the dirt. In that moment, I felt an unshakable certainty and fire within me to use my life and my work to help her and other women in her position.

Because I refuse to live in a world where I have been given the beautiful, priceless gift of privilege and empowerment simply by being born in Canada, and to not use that gift to lift others up. We are one. We are one. We are one. My new mantra.

Dhanyabad, Nepal. Pheri Bhetaula. xo