Will's second article - Riches in a poor country

And so came the day to fly to Nepal, 15th October 2009. We took off beautifully and rose effortlessly above the London clouds. My nerves about the trip gave way to excitement with the prospect of the school visits, living in the villages, and working in the schools, as well as the time meeting our host, Mahendra’s, family. Our itinerary was to include a night in Kathmandu, then a road trip to Tansen to stay with Mahendra’s family for the Hindu Tihar Festival. From there we would travel to Pipal Danda , North West of Tansen, where we would stay in the village and teach in the school. From here we would travel North to the Himalayan Annapurna region and walk for four days visiting remote mountain villages to understand the challenges of the people living in these areas.

Coming into Kathmandu, we caught our first sight of the breathtaking Himalaya mountain range. Something I had longed to see for many years . The emotional impact of this was indescribable; inspiring in the extreme. Here we were in the land of the highest peak in the entire world. Everest, all 29,002 feet of it, visible, like a great triangle of white and grey Toblerone. 

We landed as if swooping into silk, and within minutes were in the confusing arrivals hall at Kathmandu International Airport. A dark hall filled with 1970’s style dark wood carousels stuffed with landing cards gushing higgledy-piggledy from wooden racks. Then a friendly face, Sharla, a trustee of the charity met us and whisked us to where our greeting party were awaiting. 

We exited the airport to garlands of flowers and brilliant red Tikka. Tikka is a part of the traditional Nepalese greeting, involving the application of a red powder to the forehead of guests, leaving the impression of a serious head injury. Meeting Mahendra and other charity supporters was overwhelming. The nervous energy of the build-up to travelling had taken its toll, and we were all relieved and delighted to be safely in the capital city of Nepal.

Kathmandu sits in a valley surrounded by hills and mountains with the high Himalaya to the North. A bustling city, filled with closely packed housing and dimly lit, ramshackle shopping districts, within medieval streets. A sort of writhing chaos of motor bikes and buses intermingling like unplanned knitting, inexplicably avoiding collision, confronted us. The tooting horns, a plethora of iconic images of Eastern life at every turn, and the incredible smell of spices intermingled with the periodic stench of rotting rubbish, were an awe-inspiring assault on the senses.

One night in Kathmandu, was to be followed by a nine hour drive to Tansen, to the West. In our bus travelling across the city, the impact of the clawing smog and dust of this valley-locked city began to take their toll on our lungs. Cloud lies over the populace, allowing no fresh air in, and trapping exhaust and factory fumes like a huge asthma-inducing duvet over the whole city. Sunless and in a permanent state of dusk, this is how each and every day is spent as a Kathmandu citizen for most of the year. Within the first few hours of being in this country, we were already experiencing the effects of chronic under investment, on the health of the people. The terrible air pollution, political instability and palpable poverty alongside almost non-existent state social infrastructure, continued to shock us throughout the trip. And yet, emerging from this were some of the deepest life lessons and most profound wonders of humanity, I have ever experienced. Amongst this seeming chaos, dreadful air quality and abject poverty lay a way of life that is in so many ways far richer and more fulfilling than the lives of many people I have met in the UK. In line with every cliché I have ever heard, the people of Nepal live within incredibly supportive communities and live life so obviously ‘in the now’ in a way we seem to be unable to do, in our complex and materialistic Western lives.

Throughout our time there, I rediscovered what it means to live totally in the present moment, to enjoy simple pleasures, and to connect with people in a way that means that language and cultural differences simply evaporate. From my initial impressions of a country on the edge of political and social disintegration, emerged a fascination for the Nepali life values. Even in this first few hours in this country these realizations were beginning to dawn; and they dawned in a such a way that I could never again ignore. It was to be a profound awakening for me to be aware of my own silent complicity as a consumer, in perpetuating a system that takes from the poor and lines the pockets of the already rich.

Follow this link to Will's third article