Volunteer Blog :
Lisa's Blog : Lisa's Blog 0001 - Namaste everybody!
November 19, 2015; Thursday
17:30 NST (Nepal Standard Time)
Who am I and how did I do my way to Hoste Hainse?
I am Lisa Pier, 19 years old and I come from Aachen, Germany. After finishing High school this summer, the idea of doing a gap year before starting university and to travel to Nepal to volunteer during that time came to my mind. Well, basically it came already during school days to my mind but it was more a vague vision and nothing concrete - somehow that little, totally foreign and "less developed" country fascinated me. Me as a little travel-lover wanted to experience something absolutely new but I knew that I would not feel comfortable traveling through Nepal's stunning landscape, charismatic (and chaotic) cities and villages which might make you feel like being pushed into the last century while experiencing the friendliness and hospitality, for which the Nepalese are famous for - so far my visions - without getting active and do something helpful, sharing my western privileges.
But the big question was: How to find an appropriate institution to volunteer at? And, after April 25, 2015 most importantly: What can I basically do as an unqualified labor force in a country such as damaged as Nepal after that devastating earthquake? Through friends I got to know Hoste Hainse, exchanged a lot of Mails with Krishna Shah.. And yes, finally I am in Kathmandu for more than two weeks by now.
Basic background on my stay in Nepal
I stay in Kathmandu, Nepal's capital, where Hoste Hainse kindly arranged a homestay for me. My host family lives in Kathmandu's Sanepa district and consists of a four-headed family - heart: Chunu and Bahrat with their two daughters Aayusha and Dilasha. After the big earthquake on April 25, 2015 Bahrat's mother moved in as well, so actually we live in their house with six people. The surrounding houses are occupied by all three of Bahrat's brothers + families and a few other families, not directly related but everybody seems to be very close to each other anyway. So there is always something going on in the backyard or one of the three houses :)
Where I work: I work at Hoste Hainse a non-profit NGO which provides education for underprivileged children in Nepal for over 25 years now - that should be clear by now. My tasks are mainly desk based in Hoste Hainse's office in Kathmandu, a half an hour walk from where I live. Originally it was planned that after a while of acclimatization in Kathmandu, doing my office tasks such as editing and creating various documents and files or communicating with potential donors or doing whatever helps my Hoste Hainse coworkers, I'd stay in a village in the Sindhupalchowk district to do a few more field based tasks. But due to the ongoing fuel crisis which currently rules Nepal a trip to one of these areas is quite impossible, apart from the fact that the planned construction of two permanent, earthquake resistant and environment friendly school buildings in Sindhupalchowk came to a grinding halt due to that fuel crisis. Because of that it looks like I'll spend a lot more of time here in Kathmandu but to be honest this is not the worst option. :)
Let's get started
Having the habit of strictly refusing to read any travel blogs of people my age travelling the world, it was kind of a difficult decision to start my own one. But due to many demands of friends and family at home, my laziness to tell all my stories 1000 times and the fact that I know how clueless people outside Nepal can be about how things are like here, I decided to change my principles - and here we go.. my first blog entry. My basic aim is now on the one hand, just telling the world about what I do here, how I feel and on the other hand I want to give people who might be thinking about volunteering at Hoste Hainse an idea about what things can be like and what to expect.
It's a quite hard task to summarize all that what already happened during the last 2.5 weeks (wow, unbelievable how fast time passes..) in a not-boring and extremely long entry. But let's come to my first days or meanwhile weeks - from my arrival over my first work experiences, Nepalese food to the celebration of one of Nepal's biggest festivals called Tihar.
For those who haven't got the patience to read through all the following and who just want to have a rough overview, here a drawing made by twelve year-old Dilasha, one of the amazing girls in my host family:
Caption: This is Lisa. Lisa came from Germany to Nepal by aircraft. She saw the petrol lines and arrived in the K.C. - family's home. Lisa went to Patan where she saw beautiful shoes she wanted to buy, came back home and said "I want a massage" (which I did not get because Dilasha wanted to charge me 5 Nepali Rupees). I think this is a quite perfect summary if what happened by now, isn't it? ;) But please Dilasha, don't judge me when I'll add a few more tiny details, okay?
Week 1 - A week full of news
After a comfortable flight (with about one hour delay from Abu Dhabi to Kathmandu - sorry again that you had to wait, Krishna) I landed safely at KTM Tribhuvan airport. I had already been warned that Nepal's international airport resembles more the absolutely rotten, cold and dirty bus terminal in my hometown than any international airport I had ever seen; Kathmandu's airport comes third in "Sleeping in Airports" ranking of the worst airports in the world. So, I was best prepared not to despair at how things can be like in Nepal during my very first minutes in this country. My plan worked out perfectly well, the airport seriously reminded me to Aachen's bus terminal, but thanks to Krishna who personally came to pick me up, awaited me directly after I got out of the plane and who helped me so much to arrange all my visa (on arrival) - and entry - issues, we left the airport extremely fast. By 5:30 pm it was already dark outside and on our way to the place where I'll stay during my time here I could not see too much apart from endless petrol lines and people doing their daily shopping in tiny corner shops. But I was so excited, tired and absent somehow after that flight and confronted with the fact that I was REALLY in Nepal right now that having a chat with Krishna during our ride was already enough.
Finally arrived in Sanepa, the quarter where I'll spend probably most of my time in Kathmandu, Rashmi (who works in the same office as I do, she is an employee of formation carpets - www.formationcarpets.com) and one of her 'sisters' (what turned out to be the title for every female family member which is more or less your age - very confusing in the beginning) picked us up at the closest street to their home. 1 minute walk with excited silence through the dark and then we entered a big house where about 10 curious faces from grandmother to Dilasha (who is the youngest of the 7 'sisters') waited for my arrival. Happy not be alone with my insecurity how to introduce myself and which words might be the right words to people I don't know at all and with who I'll spend the next three months, the K.C.es showed Krishna and me their nice house and of course the room which shall be mine for the next 3 months - see that stunning view! The attached bathroom contained a so called 'asian pan' - a kind of toilet which I had never used before and only cold water - what seemed to shock Krishna more than me and the family promised us to install a solar panel for hot water within the next days. So everything ran perfectly well, after a traditional tea and a little talk Krishna left and I continued the nice small talk with the girls. I was sure that we'll get along absolutely well and after a time one by one left and we arrived at dinner time. The two girls living in the same house as I do (Aayusha, 19 years old and Dilasha, 12 years old) gave me company and watched me so curiously while I was eating my Rice with different vegetable curries with a spoon (!) - well, I watched them probably with the same expression on my face, wondering how they were able to get this sticky rice-dhal-curry-mix into their mouths just using their fingers. After dinner which we had around 7.30 pm Aayusha sent me to my room with the words: "you must be tired", what should become a little routine within the next days.
On my first 'real' day I woke up around 6 am because of the wonderful and obviously very loud and lively cock who lives on the rooftop right besides my room (the house next door is Rashmi's and more or less all the other sisters' and brothers' home) - but so I had the chance to prepare myself mentally for the coming day. Even if my bed was so wonderfully warm, nothing helped: I had to stand up and take my cold shower. After that I was definitely awake! This day should be the one to explore nearly all Nepalese habits regarding the daily routine: After a tea with cookies or something similar, people have about 1 to 1.5 hours of free time with nothing to do apart from chatting and waiting for the real breakfast (at my home around 9.30 am): Rice with various vegetable curries - yes, right, we also had that last evening. And we'll have that this evening as well. And tomorrow morning.. Some people seriously take rice etc with them to the office for lunch.. wow. But back to my day: After that awkward bunch of free time (I have to admit that I'm not the best small talker - especially not in the mornings) and rice in the morning, we made our way to the office. 'We' means Rashmi, her sister Deepshika and me; we all work in the same office which is about half an hour walk from home.
During my first days the weather was a bit rainy, so due to umbrellas and the fact that I continuously had to watch my steps not to fall down the footpaths or run right into one of the rushing motorcycles or cars, I was not really able to see more than children in school uniforms, dark little restaurants, little corner shops and temples, sleeping dogs, overloaded pylons and all-street-blocking lines of cars waiting for petrol. But that were enough 'first impressions' anyway. After Rashmi introduced me to all my new 'coworkers' whose names I directly forgot but that did not to bother them too badly, they were all super friendly and welcomed me warmly to the little Hoste Hainse - family.
Hoste Hainse shares it's office facilities with Formation carpets to keep operations costs as low as possible (please view both homepages for more information about how they're related:
www.formationcarpets.com ). What I did not know before was, that all the carpet production works are all done here in the same building! Such a nice atmosphere..:
After a little meeting with Krishna who introduced me a bit more detailed about what Hoste Hainse is all about, how things can be like in Nepal (he seriously seems to be very concerned about that cold-water and no-wifi situation haha) and what coming tasks could be, I start my first work days with helping out the girls working here with whatever is needed. This turned out to be the completion of so called samplecards with wool - samples for potential carpet-clients. A admittedly not too challenging or interesting task but it works perfectly for arriving here in Kathmandu and it seems to have the right level of difficulty for my little jetlag haha. So after that nice and calm first day of work coffee and cookies and nearly all of the girls await us at home, we chat a bit and then start playing a Nepalese card game called flush, which seemed to be a bit too simple in the beginning but was surprisingly much fun. Dinner, a little german-english-nepali language brainstorming, "you must be tired" (at 8 pm .. ), bed.
The next days were full of new experiences and funny incidents as well but it would definitely go beyond the scope of a blog entry. Every morning turns out to contain the little challenge of spreading good vibes during morning hours, but we started to sit in the sun on the rooftop, enjoy the mountain view or feed birds with corn and rice - actually a nice way to start my day. At work I got to know more and more of the staff members, one of the old, talkative and sun - bronzed carpet weaver - women told me one day that she wanted me to make me her daughter.. Why did I have the feeling that this was no joke?? But as you might have figured out I really have good company here at work: around 8 girls more or less my age who take me out for lunch and who are (nearly) always available for a short chat with lots of laughter, Krishna who makes absolutely sure that I feel well and gives me a lot of support and all the old ladies whose language I don't understand - but smiling faces should be fair enough. :)
In addition to that I came to meet Krishna's parents Rishi Shah and Sulo Shrestha-Shah who is the founder of Hoste Hainse. Both of them studied in my hometown Aachen so we had a little talk in german language, ate cake that resembled "Schwarzwaelder Kirschtorte" and had a good time.
And I learned to appreciate the internationally appearing uplifting effect of a little selfie - session with Rashmi (left) and Pushpa..:
Friday evening we celebrated Dilasha's 12th birthday: the whole family (17 people!) came over and we serenaded to the beautiful little birthday-girl and ate some cake, even if half of it ended up in Dilasha's face.. a really funny Nepalese habit.
Let's talk about the weekends: Saturdays are the only weekly holiday here in Nepal (why nobody told me about that before??), so that's why my 'host sisters' decided to show me a few more places of their charismatic hometown each Saturday - could everybody imagine a better introduction to Nepal than with a funny bunch of girls my age? I don't think so. What I did not expect was that our first Saturday's trip should lead us to the Kathmandu zoo. For me, that would usually not have been the first thing to explore, but anyway we had a lot of fun! My confusion rose to a peak when after we saw really each and every animal in this zoo, the girls went crazy about the offered 'games' like playing the swing etc - I could never have imagined 20 year old girls having so much fun playing the see-saw, but well, why not!?
Work itself changed from meditative and because of my coworker Pushpa's company very entertaining creation of samplecards to more serious tasks: During the next days I made myself familiar with all the issues currently going on at Hoste Hainse through the 'forum', a homepage on which all Email conversations, documents etc are shared so that everybody has the possibility to stay best informed. The topic I'll get mainly get involved in is a school rebuilding project in the Sindhpalchowk area, one of the most affected areas by the big earthquake on April 25, 2015. In the villages Attarpur and Thula Dhading existing school buildings have been totally destroyed and now Hoste Hainse is about to build two earthquake resistant, permanent and environment friendly schools (for more information see the Post Earthquake School Reconstruction Preliminary Proposal under
www.hostehainse.org/blog ). My main tasks will in fact be, to communicate with eventual donors (from Germany) to answer upcoming questions, interact due to these questions with MinErgy Initiatives - the cooperating engineering company - (my first official meeting!!) and to create a logframe which contains information about the Sindhpalchowk - projects. Who now has NO idea about what a logframe is feels exactly like I did when I heard that first haha.. But after a lot of research and struggling I finally had a rough idea and started working - let's see how much revision work will have to be done!
By now definitely missed out one highlight: One evening after work my coworkers took me out to have a little newari dinner: Bara, a kind of round flat dough-cake made of lentils, roasted soy beans and rice wine, offered in a plastic pot which seemed to be 20 years old. Even though food and wine were really good, I was absolutely sure that after that meal the famous asian diarrhea (of which really EVERYBODY warned me) would catch me.. that restaurant, based in a kind of dark basement, food prepared in the middle of the room, is probably a nightmare for every German gastronomist. But I somehow seemed to be immune and did not suffer from any consequences of my risky light-heartedness by now. :)
I was surprised how much Krishna seems to trust me, I mean I'm just a 19 year old girl who finished high school but here I started a lot of projects like interacting with potential donors or so which is a relatively high responsibility. But being challenged somehow is what I need and I already learned so much during my first few days! Thanks for that, Hoste Hainse. I did not expect to work on such interesting tasks in the first times to be honest. But all in all my first week passed so quickly that I did''t even recognize it and it already felt like a special kind of home.
The next days were not as exciting as the first ones: by now I nearly know our way to the office by heart, start my tasks such as revising the yearly Annual Report which gives an overview about Hoste Hainse's activities, future projects, finances etc., working further in the logframe and arranging to provide needed data about the Sindhupalchowk-projects to potential donors, having relaxed lunch with my funny coworkers and then spending the evenings with the girls at my host family - slowly I arrive entirely at the Nepalese everyday life.
This Saturday has been a day full of fun. We woke up at 5 am (okay, I have to admit that this was not too much fun) and made our way to one of Kathmandu's most frequented Hindu temples at Chovhar, a 1.5 hour walk from our home in Sanepa. Legend says that if one mounts all the over 300 steps without stopping, all your whishes would come true - of course we don't really manage to get up to the temple without at least one little break. But the temple is definitely worth our early wake-up and the morning walk without breakfast: On top of the hill a temple with pagodas made out of wood or stone, thousands of candles (and pilgrims), drums, bells. And all that rush that early in the morning! My first experience in a Hindu temple turns out to be really impressive!
Here a few impressions:
Afterwards we continued our little hike to some green areas which rewarded all our efforts with stunning views all over the awakening Kathmandu Valley:
This is the place where Rashmi stayed during the earthquake on April 25,2015 - so I could totally understand why she wants to spend here as less time as possible.. lets's continue walking, continuously clicking selfies should not be the main aspect of this trip anyway..
We arrived at a lake called Taudahel at which's side Ram, another coworker from Hoste Hainse, lives. Like every normal Nepali he just had his morning tea and joined us to roam the lakes coasts feeding some really enormously big fishes with frightening mouths.. After I saw that I'll probably never be able to swim in any lake. Why these fishes have not already been processed to fish fingers or something similar? Because legend says that after one of these got out of the water it will turn into a poisoning snake. That day I really got to know a lot of legends..
On our way home we finally started to feel tired and, most importantly, so hungry that we collected all our money and bought the cheapest package of biscuits we could find. Under normal circumstances probably none of us would have chosen these but that day their taste was absolutely delicious! Due to our tiredness we stopped a micro-bus which luckily crossed our way. I never ever thought that all of us would fit into that already full little van but one by one all of the girls slipped inside the vehicle, for me the driver offered a seat in the front between three grumpy looking guys. But I could have a seat, that was all what counted, one of the advantages of being a foreigner in Nepal.
Back home all of us were so tired that we fell asleep on various rooftops - not the best idea for me without any sunscreen.. In the afternoon I made my way to Patan with Aayusha and Deepika and we spent a really nice afternoon between the busy but beautiful Patan Durbar Square, the Golden Temple which gives off an absolutely peaceful atmosphere and a much less famous temple where I received a little introduction into Hindu rituals by Aayusha and Deepika.
After this really good day it was already time for me to change my dress and put on some make up before Krishna and his wife Pratistha kindly picked me up and took me to a little dinner party among friends and family. It was a long evening full of passionate gambling (it was not my luckiest day, I lost 900 NPR..) and I met a lot of lovely people. When Krishna around 11pm finally said that dinner would be ready now I first thought he was joking - but he was not. The reason why dinner is apparently always served that late at such events is that everybody in Nepal directly leaves after having dinner. So having dinner right at the beginning (like we do in Germany) of such a meeting would really be quite counter productive, alright, I got it. Still weird. Let me shortly illustrate how tired I was after this long, long fantastic day: I was so tired that I even didn't have the patience to free my hair from a very sticky rubber band, so that I just spontaneously cut that strand off, "I don't care!". Luckily it was a very small strand. :D
Tihar - one of Nepal's biggest Hindu festivals, for some of you maybe better known under the Indian name 'Diwali', which I luckily experienced with my host family - thanks for that!
The Hindu belief is widely spread all over Nepal and due to that it is accompanied by at least four days of public holiday (this year from Wednesday November 11, 2015 until Saturday November 14, 2015). For Hoste Hainse's internet provider that seems to be enough of reasoning to shut down his servers on Tuesday but thanks to Krishna's complaints the internet connection at the office starts working again around noon - perfect timing for me to send a few final Mails before starting into my Tihar - holiday. This starts for us with a little Tihar-shopping in the district around the absolutely crowded New Road and Kathmandu Durbar Square, probably Kathmandu's most famous tourist attraction. A selection of big temples AND the only living goddess called Kumari wanted to be visited - so much to see! And this area is between the few which I already saw in Kathmandu definitely the one with the most visible damages by April 25,2015's earthquake: inaccessible buildings, collapsed temples and a lot of rubble.. This little shopping trip was my first experience with a few of Nepal's homeless people, street children and people who suffer from terrible diseases which cannot be cured due to the big lack of health care facilities or money. Also that is one of Nepal's faces.. But watching all these children asking for money or food I knew again why I was here and why I volunteer at an organization which provides education for underprivileged children!
Wednesday was for all family members apart from me a day full of work: without any breaks 'sel roti' (sweet fried rice-flour bread rings) got fried, the needed rice flour mashed and all the houses cleaned. Of course my host family denied me to help them in any way apart from cleaning my own room but so I got the chance to meet Krishna's sister-in-law, Sam, to whom I had been introduced at that dinner party. We met at the royal palace Durbarmarg, one tempo-ride and a 20 minute walk away from where I live. Taking once again advantage of my light skin color I could get hold of one of the front seats in this freaky little vehicle but after I exited the tempo I had no idea where I was and where to go - especially because Rashmi told me to turn right at the next corner, Aayusha said left. My confusion was definitely on top! But a friendly guy who I asked for the way decided to walk all the way until our meeting point with me - even though this had not at all been his direction. Of course I kept in mind all my parent's advices like never ever follow somebody you don't know but in the end that guy really turned out just to be a very kind man who shows a clueless foreigner the way. :) My meeting with Sam was really a lot of fun, she made me understand a lot of things going on in Nepal much better and basically encouraged me to start this blog. Such a shame that she'll leave for Bangladesh, where she visits the medical school, within the next days..
Back at home everybody dressed up for the actual Tihar celebrations: lots of little lights were prepared to lead god Laxmi the way to each family's puja (prayal-) room and during the course of the evening groups of children went by, sang a few songs, spoke a blessing and some of them topped their performance with a little dance. In return they received sel roti (what else!?), fruits and money. Of course we made a little tour through the neighbors' houses as well, the received money will be spent on a little Momo-party (event at which we'll prepare and eat 'momo' called food ourselves) next Friday!!
My personal highlight of Tihar should take place on Thursday evening: A large group of musicians and dancers (lead by our neighbor's son Aayush) showed off in our backyard and played wonderful music all evening. Around 50 people must've been around and quite everybody sang and danced lively nearly all night. Of course I felt like an absolutely stiff white potato-elephant-idiot between all these wonderfully dancing and laughing girls and boys(!) but nobody apart from me seemed to care so my feelings of awkwardness vanished quickly and I just enjoyed this wonderful evening!
Next day, Friday, was the day of brothers and sisters, what in fact means that all brothers and sisters worship each other with ritual blessings and presents. The brothers receive big amounts of special food-selections, girls in return receive money. So in my host family the 3 boys who received so called Bhai Tika from seven sisters were really lucky ones.. After all that religious procedures everybody was allowed to quit their morning-fast and to have rice - what else. After all brothers, cousins and sisters had left the house we girls spent a very relaxed afternoon with cleaning and finally I came to watch the movie "into the wild" which I had always wanted to watch - perfect.
Saturday was now only the day to wash so, so many clothes by hand but with the right company even that could get a funny day. In the afternoon indeed Rashmi and I were invited to watch the new James Bond (No Rashmi, it's not James Blond) movie with nearly all the Shah family. For me it felt nearly like home to sit in these comfy cinema seats, drinking coffee which was no Nescafe and watching that great movie. A nice ending of this fully-blown Tihar - holiday.