So here I am in Roadhouse Café, Kathmandu, a new favourite of mine – it’s just like cafes at home, with stupid price tags to match, but I’ve been feeling down and sorry for myself for the past week due to food poisoning I got in India and have hence been indulging myself with food at the moments I’ve felt able to eat. Speaking of indulgence, I’m currently chowing down on a ‘sizzling brownie’ – basically the most amazing walnut brownie ever served on a sizzling hot plate, with ice cream and chocolate sauce, spitting at you like Mongolian lamb. It’s fantastic. I’d been eyeing this on the menu for a few days now but hadn’t been game enough to let my tummy handle desserts. Being my last afternoon here for a while, I thought I’d give in – though the accompanying vanilla milkshake was probably a bit excessive and I can see myself with my head in a toilet bowl later this evening.
Moving on… due to the aforementioned illness I’ve found myself in the pits in the last week, and been highly uninspired by travelling in general, feeling that I was a bit over Asia and lacking the thirst for travel that I’d had when I have first arrived at other countries. I’m not sure what it is, but I’ve just been feeling glum – being physically sick seemed to make me homesick as I had a lot of time to sit around doing not too much except looking at Facebook and becoming nostalgic for Sydney life. I’ve particularly been missing my family, especially with Rachel’s exciting wedding plans and new puppy that I want to steal, and the familiarity of friends, bars, streets, life, plus now I’m completely solo again. It’s strange for me as I’ve always seen myself as quite independent, and had preferred travelling solo, but parting with Elena and the girls made me realise how comfortable and easy it can be travelling in pairs – though of course that comes with hassles too. ANYWAY, basically all this led me to be feeling rather ‘bleh’ and tired all the time, hence no posts for the last week. Luckily not much has happened in the last few days, but there are a few things to mention from earlier in the week.
On Sunday I had my orientation with the NVC organisation – which I must say was one of the most strange, hilarious and awkward things I’ve encountered. Manoj picked me up at around 11 in the morning and we got a taxi to their office, which was about a ten minute drive away. When I arrived, I was taken upstairs to meet Keshab –who must be one of the cutest and happiest people I’ve ever met. I’d been excited to meet him as he sounded so sweet from his emails, always ‘thanking me so much for my kind words’ and saying he couldn’t wait to meet me. It’s difficult to describe an encounter with people so genuinely kind like Manoj and Keshab – I’m sure that there are people with as beautiful souls in Sydney, but due to cultural differences we really express things in a different way. Keshab has already told me that he considers me a great friend, that he loves me and that he cares for me deeply – and I truly believe it’s very sincere. In another context it may be creepy, but there’s a warmness in the eyes of Manoj and Keshab that make it clear how passionate they are about helping people and how firm they are in their belief that their actions will continue to bring them true happiness. And I believe it too. However, with this cultural difference in action it can make me feel a little awkward as I’m not used to it – when they look at you, they really look into your eyes, whereas in Sydney if you’ve just met someone you’ll chat, smile, and look away. I constantly found myself trying to hold his stare and then pretending to be intently interested in the wall or the carpet, as I felt I didn’t have anything interesting to say. Funny little cultural differences.
When we went to Keshab’s office, he explained to me how he’d fractured his elbow falling down a ladder, and was hence wearing a cast, and then Manoj went downstairs to his own office while Keshab talked with me a bit and showed me videos on his computer of past volunteers also doing the orientation and talking about their experience. We then went downstairs for the ‘formal orientation’ – which was the real kicker. There were three of us in the room – Keshab, Manoj and I, and Manoj went to the podium with an enormous sign behind it saying ‘you are heartily welcomed to Nepal Volunteers Council’. He then began his speech as if he were addressing fifty new volunteers, took a photo of Keshab presenting me with a flower necklace and tikka (the red powder smushed onto an honoured guests forehead) and then requested that the president of the council come forward to do a speech. Keshab continued the theme of formality and reiterated how happy and excited they were for my arrival, and then I was invited to respond. I went to the podium and presented the best speech I could while they took photos, and then had a photo with each of them shaking their hand. It was really quite hilarious – especially considering it was just me there. We then had some tea, though I skipped on the donut as my stomach still wasn’t quite right, and we chatted for a while about various aspects of Nepalese and Australian life. They then arranged to get a taxi to get me back to the hotel, and we waited on the roof which had a great view of the city within the mountains. Keshab seemed nervous about me having to wait for the taxi, which I assured him was fine, but instead he insisted that we go by public bus instead so I didn’t have to wait.
The bus was more like a minivan-cum-autorickshaw which you pretty much hitch-hiked on and got off where you liked, paying the driver when you got off. We all piled into the van, and stopped regularly to let more people pile in too, and eventually got off in the centre of town, near the Queens Lake. Keshab then walked me into Thamel where we then went our separate ways and I stopped at a Thai restaurant to see how I went with my first meal in a while. By about five I was back at the hotel with my Pad See Ew back on its way up and I soon fell into bed.
The next morning I woke up very early and felt quite a bit better after vomiting my guts up the night before. I tried some pastry for breakfast (not an awesome idea), packed my bags, and stocked up on supplies for what I then-thought would be two to three weeks spent in a rural monastery (chocolate, noodles, toilet paper, etc). There had been some question as to whether we’d be going on Monday or not as apparently there were strikes going on around Nepal, but Manoj’s wide smile was there to greet me at my hotel door right on time at 11 again. We got in a taxi and he pointed out a few political buildings in Kathmandu, but pretty soon I fell asleep again, my body still exhausted from the illness it’s been enduring. About an hour and a half into the drive I woke up to some beautiful scenery as we drove through towns engulfed by green fields and mountains, and soon we were on our way up the extremely bumpy mountain past the occasional small house to Namo Buddha, where the monastery was situated.
It was a really beautiful place, set right on top of a beautiful mountain. There was the main monastery, a truly majestic deep red building with gilted decoration, surrounded by less-impressive but beautiful buildings for the school, clinic, dining halls, residences and guesthouses. There was also a more fancy-looking guesthouse nearby, as what I hadn’t realised was that foreigners could also come here and stay to walk around, pray and relax by their own accord, rather than volunteer. As a result, there was a small café by the road which sold toilet paper, bottled water, chocolate etc – quite a relief.
When we arrived I hiked up the copious amounts of stairs, just about ready to pass out, to a small meeting point where we bumped into Brigitte – an older French woman who was the only other volunteer working there, who I was very excited to meet. We then found the principal too, and he sent me off with a monk to set up my room. It was a small, plain room with a desk and they put a bed in there for me, but it had beautiful views of the mountains. The main downfall was that construction was going on right outside the window, so I constantly had a source of Nepalese music playing off their phones, but still it was fine. Exhausted, I rested for an hour, playing FloodIt on my iPhone (it really got me through this sickness), until 2.30 when I was supposed to meet back for tea. My stomach still wasn’t ready for tea, but Brigitte was going for a walk and offered for me to join her, which I agreed to as I was really keen to see what was around. On my way to change my shoes I also met Maxim, a guy from Quebec (pretty cute actually) who was staying a few doors down from me.
I met Brigitte again and she showed me a bit around the monastery before we left – though as we were walking around the complex we passed a young monk, probably around 12, who I’m 90% sure tried to grab my butt. I didn’t say anything as I was more in shock that anything else – probably the most action I’ve had since I’ve been away was being groped by a prepubescent monk!
Brigitte took me on a beautiful walk, which highlighted some of the great scenery of the area, and I learnt that she was quite an interesting woman, just travelling to places she was interested in and staying for a few months, volunteering or working, and then moving on. She had a very peaceful and unique outlook on life, which I liked to think I could relate to – but I could already tell that I wasn’t going to fit in and enjoy the monastery as much as she seemed to be – she’s already been there a month and a half and is staying for three!
When we got back to the monastery I went back to my room, had some chocolate for dinner (I’m sure that was great for my current digestive issues) and feel asleep as soon as the workers stopped – probably around 4.30pm… Rock on…! Despite the relaxing surroundings, my sleep was far from peaceful and I kept waking up throughout the night. Something hadn’t quite felt right since arriving in Nepal, and I was feeling quite lonely and isolated – especially as there was no internet access and my phone wasn’t working. I was pretty sceptical about how I’d manage to get through two weeks (no surprise that I didn’t), but running through my head constantly was the reminder that I only had a limited amount of time in Nepal and at this monastery, and I really just had to grab it by the balls.
After a rough sleep I woke up at about five, still feeling pretty shitty, and played FloodIt until I reluctantly made my way to the dining hall to meet with Maxim and Brigitte. It was an enormous wood-panelled room lined with a few cabinets full of Buddhist statues. The floor was lined with long benches and lower benches beside them upon which hundreds of monkly butts were perched. I found my place with the other foreigners – hardly any of whom spoke to each other. For breakfast was beans, momo-type bread, and tea – I handled some beans which were actually pretty good, but still wasn’t really up for eating.
After breakfast I was off to go back to my room before meeting with Brigitte for class, and on my way stopped off at the squat toilet near my room to quickly relieve myself, and went to grab my room key from the window sill as I left – my finger slipped and hop, skip, jump – my key was down the squat toilet. All I could help thinking was that OF COURSE this would happen to me. I found Brigitte’s room, and she showed me where to find the principal, who soon informed me that there was no spare key and that we’d first try to fish out the key and otherwise we would break the door. The poor monk who had shown me to my room the day before (I think he must be the principal’s prized bitch or something) was called down, and entered the squat toilet with a rubber glove and a plastic bag, solemnly closing the door behind me. I was 95% certain it would not be discovered, as it is a heavy metal key and my understanding of squat toilets is that below the hole is simply a large deep pit, and I was beginning to feel terrible about the fact that they’d have to break the door down for me on my second day at their monastery. However, ten long minutes later, out came the proud young monk, worse for wear but with my shiny key in his hot little hand. Amazed, I gratefully took it (after it was thoroughly washed) and attached it to my wrist like an enormous Pandora charm – I can’t even begin to imagine the journey that key went on. And to be honest I never hope to know.
After the eventfulness of the morning, I quickly got ready in my room and then went to meet Brigitte and the Principal, who had offered to show us the exam hall before our class began, as the older monks were completing their final exams that week. The subjects they learn are English, Nepali, Tibetan, and Maths – no specific history/geography/science subjects, but one of the monk teachers suggested that parts of these are incorporated into the learning matter for the other courses. We took the ‘short cut’ to the exam hall which, when wearing havaianas like I was, could also be considered a death route, but lagging behind slightly I finally caught up and made it to the exam hall with them. We were shown the monks taking their exams, which was much less formal than our HSC – teachers walking in and out and chatting, but to be honest I felt a little awkward strolling through and didn’t really see the point of observing it. We then collected some resources Brigitte felt were needed for the class and made our way back up to the complex where our students were supposed to be waiting.
When we arrived the room was strangely quiet, and no students in sight – we were pretty late for class so I think they’d thought it was cancelled or something. So she just explained the classes to me and showed me some stuff, and then we had a break until 10, when the next class was supposed to arrive. This time three students showed up, very cute 10 (or so) year old monks named Tashi Lundhup, Pemba Tsering and Karma Tenzin. We did a few alphabet and word exercises, and I helped Brigitte make some worksheets, but mainly I just observed to get some ideas for my class the next day.
After class we had another break until lunch, where once again I really wasn’t up for eating, but I was encouraged by Maxim and Brigitte to have some rice. Man they eat a lot of rice – he must’ve tried to serve me eight portions worth, though I gave it all back and just ate one portion. Maxim then showed me a place where you could get wifi. It was on top of one of the guesthouses, where you had to stand on the corner of the roof and try. Thankfully I got a weak signal, and could email Keshab, asking if I would be able to just stay a week in the monastery and then volunteer at the orphanage – I really wasn’t enjoying my time there and wasn’t excited about it. I also spoke to Maxim a bit, who seems really cool, and he told me a bit about Europe adventures which I am now very excited about! Can’t wait to drink tap water and not carry toilet paper in my bag.
That afternoon I was too tired to really do anything so I just watched a bunch of movies and fell asleep…though peaceful slumber didn’t stay for long. Once again at about 9 I awoke, my stomach feeling very questionable, and I was sick the whole night again. Unfortunately the bathroom was a squat toilet up a dark path next to Maxim’s room – being ill isn’t fun at the best of times, let alone in a random monastery where you can’t contact any friends or have much privacy. The next morning I didn’t bother going to breakfast but rather decided that I wanted to go back to Kathmandu and endure the rest of the illness in the comfort of a hotel room, and Keshab arranged for Manoj to pick me up around 2pm. We then made the uncomfortable descent back to the city, which was even more bumpy than I remember, and soon enough I was back in my familiar hotel room at Visit Nepal Hotel, with the comforts of hot water and wifi, and surrounding restaurants that served Western food…not that I was planning to eat anything.
Since then, the past few days I’ve just been relaxing and watching movies, and eating at nice (safe!) restaurants, indulging in fancy salads and sandwiches. I have two particular favourites, Northfield Café and the Roadhouse Café, both of which are quite expensive (the latter exorbitantly so) but given I usually only eat one meal a day I don’t mind so much. In the past day or so I’ve begun to get my appetite back which is good, though my stomach is still not digesting food properly. Tomorrow Manoj will pick me up around 12 to go to the volunteer house, so for now I just plan to watch more movies and sort out travel ideas with the Lonely Planet I just bought at a second hand book store.
I’m excited to go to the house and have a bit more of a routine going, and I plan to do some sightseeing during the mornings that I’m there, as I understand that I only have to work in the late afternoons. Anyway, I guess all will be revealed once I’m actually in the house.
Until then, adios!