It’s my one-week anniversary of being in Nepal, and I have learned so much. Turns out that time here moves just like it does in the US and in Israel—I simultaneously feel like I have been here forever and for a second. Five days ago I met up with the other volunteers, and they already feel like family. We talk about bodily functions, laugh at each other’s language mistakes (English-Hebrew-Nepali, it’s a language circus here), and look out for each other like we’ve been together forever.
Over the next few posts, I’ll try to share some of the “Things I am Learning in Nepal”, so I thought I would start with my very first lesson: always wear hiking boots. There are several reasons for this, ranging from the very mundane to the very profound.
The most mundane reason is that it is still raining here, and there are puddles and mud everywhere. Monsoon season was supposed to end several weeks ago, and it is already getting cooler; still, every morning I am woken to the sound of rain falling on the tarp outside my window (along with the normal Nepali sounds like Buddhist drum parades to the temples around here, women beginning to cook and dogs finishing their nightly barking competition). God knows what kind of organisms and refuse reside in the puddles of mud here, but I can imagine between the stray dogs and monkeys everywhere and the Nepali habit of clearing the throat deeply and then spitting in to the road, I probably don’t want to be walking around barefoot in this slush.
Also, many of the roads here are unpaved or perhaps were paved many, many years ago, so there are large holes and stones sticking out everywhere. Walking around in my sturdy hiking boots gives me a measure of protection from ankle rolling and tripping.
More than just providing physical protection, my boots make me feel invincible. I am already a full head taller than the rest of the population, but in my boots I am truly a giant, and this makes me feel better about cars seeing me in time to swerve around me if I am walking down a road. In my boots, I can brave crossing the street, walking past dogs and monkeys and roosters, and take on any adventure Kathmandu can bring me.
My boots make me feel like an explorer. I feel strong and sturdy in them. For example, on my second day in Nepal, I went to visit the Boudanath temple with two people I met at my hostel, a man in his 40’s from Westport, CT named Richard and a middle aged German woman named Ellie. The temple is an icon of Nepal, and a gorgeous, peaceful respite from the noise and pollution of Kathmandu.
After leaving the temple, Richard suggested that we walk to the Pashupatinath temple complex where dead bodies are cremated and the ashes are pushed in to the Bagmati river. Twenty-five minutes walking through the streets of Kathmandu was stressful enough for me, but our walk turned in to more of a journey through the Nepal behind the veil. As we left the Boudanath area, Richard suggested that we turn down a little alley we saw that led to a field. Side lesson: beware the solo male middle-aged traveller. He is the way he is for a reason. Despite my instincts, which told me this was not the best decision I could make, I followed Richard and Ellie in to the field. We wandered through a slum for about 45 minutes, were we met a dozen women with babies on their backs, a few men already drunk at 1pm, and a number of dogs and cows foraging for food between the trash.
While this was not something I would have done on my own, in my boots I was willing to risk the path less travelled, and I was rewarded with an early look in to the “real” Kathmandu.
My boots make me willing to go with the flow, to explore, to take chances, to maybe look up from the road and look around a little. Maybe I will reach a point here where my boots are not necessary, where I will feel nimble and comfortable enough to navigate in thinner shoes and literally “feel” Nepal a little more. But for now, I am happy to use my boots as a crutch towards exploration.