This is the Nepal I want the world to know
"Kyle, life in Nepal is not easy" said my Nepali friend, Lila. He just may have been right. I was in a field, digging a hole for a tent pole with a stick. The cause was noble - to build tents for victims of landslides induced by the recent Nepali earthquakes. Even Nepal's governments reaction to the quake has waned and Lila takes the issue of his people suffering personally. So then in our second day in Nepal, we become literal tentmakers.
So I will start by answering your biggest concern - yes, there are piles of rubble everywhere. Not a single building I entered was free from cracks in the wall. I even woke up to an earthquake inside of a tin shed-house built to replace a destroyed home. But I would not be able to live with myself if that's all I had to say about Nepal. I went with the dream to make the real Nepal known the best I could, and with 2 weeks, I did my very best.
I had the feeling that people haven't given up.
In fact, you could even catch a few minutes of sleep on a bus, and totally forget that this country was torn 2 short months back. The drivers still speed past you. The street people still shove their products in your face. The saris are still a rainbow of color in nation of many muted colors. And the kids, did they ever stop smiling?
I had the privilege of visiting Nepal last year so I knew that things weren't roses and daisies to start here. The streets are the trash cans, people store leaky kerosene bottles in their bathrooms, and construction materials lay scattered across the actual roads people drive on. And this is the nicer parts of town! The more typical communities have issues with sewage (well, they don't use toilets so maybe that's not the word), rabid dogs roaming the streets, and more air pollution than very worst hellhole of a New Jersey industrial park you could imagine. So if you came to Kathmandu for a second time without having heard of the quakes to start, you'd likely not think too much of everything falling apart - it already was to start with. The piles of rubble in KTM were not overwhelming, but the feeling of walking across the fallen homes in Sindhupalchowk was eerie. As we helped the villagers remove some stones from the piles that were formally their homes, the only thought across my head was "did they get the bodies out?".
One day, a man came up to us crying saying that he had lost much of his family to the earthquake. That the bills were overwhelming. That it was all his fault. It was a strange place to listen. He clearly thought we could help him but I'm not certain there was anything we could do in that moment. There were many others we could ask similar questions to. "Where were you during the quake?" "How has the earthquake impacted your friends and family?" "Have you felt the aftershocks?" None of us were very equipped to handle PTSD but asked out of genuine curiosity, which I hope was okay. A christian man we met later in our trip had a lot to share. He lost most of his home in the earthquake, because it was built of stone. He told us how he moved into his poultry farm, which means they had to sell their livestock. The man was an evangelist, meaning he now has literally nothing and has no way to provide for his family. It's not pitiful - he took great care of them before the quake. We handed him some cash, hoping and praying it will get them at least a place to rest their head for now.
One of the hardest hit industries after the quake was tourism. Nepal normally averages about 800,000 people a year, but expect a shortage of 400,000 this year. 400,000 tourists in a country where 30% of the GDP is tourism. I often wondered if this knowledge helped them put up with a rather chaotic group of white people who couldn't keep quiet in a bus. This place really is remarkable and I slept in plenty of buildings damaged by the quake, many of them "dangerous" but if millions of people have lived here successfully for thousands of years, it's quite possible the messaging regarding "danger" could be better regarded as "discomfort".
People here don't seem to mind our idea of discomfort though. They have so little media feeding them what the western world is like. The only real American brands I've seen in this culture are Apple, Coca-Cola, and Ford. But they don't even seem ingrained so much as American as just nice things. Nepalis are incredibly proud of their heritage. I have heard plenty of "You are rich, we are poor, give us money" but only from people while they work. I don't think it's very good to judge a people group based on what they like when they work - it's better to figure out how they are at home to see how people really are. The things we found most uncomfortable here are really just the toilets, air quality, and the constant desire of some Nepalis to put more rice than is humanly edible on a plate than all watch as we struggle to eat it. "It means you have big love for them when you clean your plate" my friend Lila instructed us.
I really hate the attitude so many "aid agencies" carry with them. I am white, you are not, let me be your hero. I am your only solution. Let me spoon feed you. Ugh. That attitude is a cancer. Nepal doesn't need heroes. It has plenty of men and women who care deeply about their own people, reaching out to the hardest mountains and furthest huts. Nepal needs friends. They need somebody to believe in them.
Truthfully, I have never seen a people run so far with what they've been given. Coming back home to the US after two weeks in Nepal, I was just nearly disgusted with how little effort people put forward when their potential with resources is so huge. I'm left thinking of the schoolchildren in Nepal I spent a few minutes with. Reciting American history to me. American history that I cannot fathom a normal American child reciting. These children get one day off a week from school, a day they spend studying for the next. The middle school girl doing trig next to me was just inspiring. And did I mention the english comprehension amongst even uneducated people in Kathmandu surpasses the english comprehension amongst the ebonics crowd in the USA? Or what about the people in their tin shacks, who permanently lost homes and shared the shack with 5 other families, and they still were studying for their next exams? What does "third world" really mean, anyways? It certainly can't mean lazy or undetermined. It doesn't mean stupid. It might mean just a little bit corrupt. But I think it really comes down to how much people are given to start with. And I learned that what you're given doesn't have to influence who you are.
I had a feeling that Nepal hadn't given up. And I was right.
This is the Nepal I want the world to know.