A life changing experience

 

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It’s safe to say that this has been a life changing experience for all of us, and one that we hope Evan and Ella will walk away from with a great deal of perspective and gratitude. We certainly have. Given the conversations we’ve already had with the kids, it’s clear that this was an impactful experience for them as well and one they will remember forever.

We’re thrilled to have found BuildOn.org, and as we have learned more about the various very worthwhile programs and services they offer to each of the communities they work with (locally and globally!), we are committed to continuing to work with them. We’ve already decided we’d like to sponsor another school, realistically in 2 or 3 years. Although it’s tempting to go to one of the other countries that BuildOn works with, we are leaning towards coming back to Nepal (there’s still many villages in the same region in need of schools) with the side benefit of a visit to “our village” so we can reconnect with our host families and see the completed fruits of our labors!

Getting to Kathmandu and departing Nepal

After our finished school visit, we returned to Dhangadhi to have a really awesome lunch (one of my favorite meals of our time in Nepal) before heading to the airport. Unfortunately, it was REALLY foggy at the Dhangadhi airport, so the plane from Kathmandu couldn’t land. We kept waiting to see if by chance the fog would clear enough for the flight to land, but it never happened. So this left us with 2 choices….A) Wait until tomorrow and hope that the fog clears and the plane can land then….or B) Drive 3 hours to a different airport, where there was a another flight to Kathmandu departing in only a little more than 3 hours, or C) Take an overnight bus (with Helen and Hans!) to Delhi, instead of flying through Kathmandu.

We took option “B” and immediately hit the road. Fortunately, our Trek leaders were able to get us a car and driver, and through BuildOn’s contacts, they were able to get us seats on the plane, even though it was technically already a full flight.

So off we went for a scenic drive through a part of Nepal we had yet to see. There was certainly a bit of stress as we knew that we were going to be cutting it VERY close to get to the airport on time to catch the flight (and we had a morning flight to Delhi the following morning), but it was also really nice to see a little more of Nepal than we would have seen otherwise. We ended up getting to the airport about 5-10 minutes before the plane was scheduled to arrive, and jumped out of the van with our backpacks and RAN in to the terminal (very “Amazing Race” style!).

Fortunately, the flight had been delayed a bit, so we were able to get on the flight and get back to Kathmandu that night…..all thanks to BuildOn and their network of Drivers, travel agents, translators and very competent trek leaders.

The best thing about all of us making this flight was that we were able to all be together for our farewell dinner in Kathmandu that night (except Helen & Hans….sorry guys).

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Waiting to hear if we’ve got any flight options

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Some photos of “traffic” on the street, while we were waiting.

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Van Selfie: us and our awesome Trek leaders Supa and Ryan, plus our translator and                                   local BuildOn staff member, Jharna.

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The above 3 photos were taken out the window of the van during our drive.

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Rushing in to catch our flight only to find out it was delayed!

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Finally on our way back to Kathmandu

Our last morning in Nepal, we woke early. Our flight wasn’t too terribly early, but we really wanted to try to squeeze in a stop at the Boudhanath Stupa on the way to the airport, so that meant we’d need to depart the hotel at least 60-90 minutes earlier than if we were going straight to the airport.

For those that are interested, the Boudhanath Stupa is the largest Stupa in Nepal, was built in the 14th century, is a Unesco World Heritage site and is considered the holiest Tibetan Buddhist temple outside of Tibet.

Anyway, we got there pretty early (about 8am) and it was bustling, with lots of people circling the Stupa as part of their morning prayers.

 

I actually really loved the Bauddha area that surrounds the Stupa, and wished we had more time there. Perhaps it was just the presence of so many, doing their Buddhist prayers, or the early morning light, calmness and freshness in the air, but it felt very peaceful and serene. I also really liked the aesthetic of the buildings creating a large circle around the Stupa…I found it reminiscent of Siena (one of my favorite cities in Italy).

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Of course, anywhere there’s pigeons, there’s someone there exploiting their presence by selling feed.

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As we were heading back to the van to head to the airport, Roxy spotted this scene down an alleyway.

And soon we were on our way to India….a LONG TIME DREAM for Roxy and I!

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Our Air India flight.

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Himilayan foothills with low lying fog in the valleys.

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The Himalayas as seen through a VERY dirty airplane window.

An Unexpected Stop

Fortunately, on the morning that we left the village (with heavy hearts) our Trek leaders had planned a stop in a nearby village where another group built a school last March, and that visit ended up lifting our spirits greatly after our emotional goodbyes with our host families. Again, we were given a warm welcome by the locals and fortunately had the opportunity to visit each of the classes in the three-room school. The first class we visited was the women’s adult literacy/education program. This consists of an 18 month program for the participating women, where they get 2 hours of reading, writing and math per week day. We got to meet the women and sit with them to see what they were studying. Even though going to Nepal to build a school had always seemed to be all about the children that it would benefit, meeting these woman and seeing their smiling faces and hearing about the changes and opportunities that it would provide in their life, gave a whole new benefit to our endeavors.

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Then we headed to the kids classrooms…..and again, the kids were so cute and sweet and eager to show us what English they had learned!

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And Lastly, we all got together outside for a group photo in front of the school, before our departure, and the everyone that was there, saw us on to our bus and on our way.

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Given we wouldn’t be around to see the completion of our village’s school (on this trip at least), we were grateful to see this BuildOn school in action and experience the value that it brings to the entire community. We’re happy to know that the local BuildOn team will continue to work with our villagers and share photos with us every couple of weeks, so we can see the progression of our school build.

Our Departure from The Village

It was our final mornin in the village and time to head back to Dhangadhi Airport where we would be catching our flight back to Kathmandu.

We were asked to meet the group at 7:00am for breakfast so we could get an early start. So we woke up again in the dark (even though we set alarms our families always acted as our wake up call!), grabbed all of our bags and headed over to breakfast. After a quick bite I (Desmond) headed back to take advantage of my last opportunity to take photos in the village. Unfortunately, It was extremely foggy that morning, but as had been the case every other morning (when I had my camera out at the end of Yoga), there was a small entourage of boys that would follow me around, sticking very close, and asking to see what photos I was taking. Being that it was so foggy and dark, I decided to just take some portraits of the boys that had been a part of my morning each day. What surprised me most was they changed from being silly, energetic and boisterous when following me around, to suddenly being serious and stoic when posing for a photo.

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This is my posey

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Another one of my posey before I shot their portraits

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When I returned to the breakfast area, the mood was very somber, as everyone was feeling very emotional. Roxy and her host mom (the sweetest woman ever!) shared quite a few tears throughout the morning, and all of the families had escorted each of their guests to breakfast and hung around until it was time for us to get on the bus. There were LOTS of tears being shed and I don’t think anyone expected there to be such a strong bond built with our host families in such a short time, especially since many of us couldn’t even speak the same language. But the ties clearly go beyond a shared language.

Before getting on the bus though, I really wanted to pull our group back over to the spot I had just photographed the boys in, for an individual portrait of each of us.

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After the portraits, we went back over to the bus and our waiting families. Some more goodbyes and tears were shed and soon we were driving away with heavy, yet full hearts.

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Helen took this photo and as she said…”Beauty in the breakdown”

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I don’t know what’s in the water in this village, but there was a LOT of natural beauty and perfect, white teeth

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Our farewell committee as we drive off

 

 

Our Farewell Ceremony in The Village!

We were told that the villagers were hosting another celebration for us to celebrate our last night in the village. What we didn’t fully realize is that everyone was being dressed up in traditional clothing and make up, including the men. For Roxy and Ella, it was so much fun to be surrounded by nearly a dozen women (our mother, sister, cousins and neighbors) who helped us get dressed and ready. It almost felt like getting ready for a wedding! Desmond and Evan were also dressed up and came over to Roxy and Ella’s home! We ended up taking turns taking photos with our families and each other. This experience is definitely one of our favorites during our time in the village, and one we will remember for a very long time.

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Getting ready for the big celebration!

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Our BuildOn family

Of course, we were running way behind schedule and had to rush over to meet our group. Fortunately it seemed everyone else was in the same boat and running late. So at around 3:00 pm we headed over to the same spot where the welcome ceremony was held. Again, there were several speeches thanking us and bidding us farewell, and several more performances. There were beautiful dances and songs, and one of our favorite performances, which was two of the men doing traditional Nepalese dancing (at least that’s what we were told!) set to Western music. Turns out these two guys were the comedians of the village and their dance was hilarious!

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Heading to the site of the celebration

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We never stopped marveling at the beauty of the villagers!

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Evan and Ella presenting some gifts to the school principal

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The awesome and hilarious village comedians!

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Before the end, a group of men came on with their traditional instruments (and their Manchester United warm up suits), and we were soon being “encouraged” by another group of villagers to dance with them. This will also go down as one of our favorite experiences! Roxy later commented that the style of music and the dancing very much reminded her of the style from the Southern village in Iran where her family is from. So it felt a bit extra special for her!

Once again, MANY selfies were taken. Evan and Ella were grabbed left and right by the local teenagers (and some adults too!) for photos. Actually, all of us were asked to pose for photos and this would prove to be our final experience with local celebrity status.

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After the celebration, we headed back to our homes for our final dinner with our families. We were told by the BuildOn staff to not give our host families the gifts we brought for them until they had a chance to come around and translate for us. It ended up being an emotional time, because we (and they) knew our time in the village was ending. They were very grateful for our gifts, which included a framed family photo of us (as suggested by BuildOn), games, art supplies and a soccer ball for their children, and the solar lanterns, work gloves and water bottles that we brought. Each of our families also presented us with several gifts that were traditional handicraft work. Roxy and Ella’s ‘’sister” made them several handmade small tapestries. Again, we were so grateful for their warmth and hospitality and actually dreaded having to say goodbye in the morning.

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Roxy’s host family, grandparents on the left and host mom on right.

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Roxy and her host mother shared a special bond, even in such a short time.

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Our Final Day On The Work Site

By our last full day in the village, the foundation was completely dug out and it was time to start moving the large rocks from a huge pile off to the side of the site, into the holes we had dug. These rocks varied between about 10 and 80 pounds and once again we were amazed and humbled to watch how the women of the village would carry some of these huge and heavy rocks on their heads. For a long while Desmond was picking up the stones to put on the women’s heads and they would sometimes laugh at him if he offered them too small of a rock (and these “too small” rocks might have weighed 20+ pounds). They would then point at a significantly larger stone that he could barely lift to get up on their head. If he didn’t have a large enough stone handy to offer them, they’d often stack 2 or 3 stones on their head instead.

We were sweaty, dirty and exhausted, while the Nepalese women, still dressed beautifully by the way, made it all look so easy. Their strength was truly inspiring. We wondered why there were so few men working with us, but then realized it was because many of the men were away working outside of the village (and often the country) to earn more money. So the hard work was left to the woman!

We finished our work day as usual, with a final circle of our group. Our Trek guides would always ask if anyone had any questions or comments to share, and usually several people spoke up. This time it was two different villagers, thanking us again for coming to them, working alongside them and helping them build a proper school for their children. Once again, tears were shed and we did our final cheer with many emotions running high.

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Such strength!

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Before heading away from the work site to go have lunch with our Build-on team, we made sure to get a team photo with all the village woman that had set the work bar so high!

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Our BuildOn gang and the amazing village women!

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As we were walking from the work site, back in to the village, we passed the current school and the school kids screamed to us from their classrooms, so of COURSE we needed to get a photo of ALL these beautiful kids that would be taking advantage of the new school that we were building.

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After that, we walked back in to the village and had a quick final lunch (again, we were totally spoiled with the fresh and delicious food made for us!) before heading back to our homes to shower and get ready for the Goodbye celebration, which was scheduled at 2:00pm.

 

 

 

More Time in the Village.

Each day, after our usual morning rituals of Yoga, Breakfast, and 4 hours of hard labor, we had the opportunity to spend time with the villagers. One day after working on the school site we went to visit some of the classrooms at the current school (which was not in the best of shape). It was wonderful to see the kids in the classroom and we had the opportunity to ask them questions and have them ask us questions. One of the girls demonstrated a common game they play (similar to hacky sack but with a ball made up of wound up plastic) and then invited Roxy to try as well. They all got a good laugh from that. 😉

They’re so unbelievably cute and sweet in their uniforms and big smiling, joyous faces, and they seem so eager to learn. It definitely reminded us why we were there!

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After our time in the classrooms and a delicious lunch (and don’t forget, lots of Chai!), we were given the opportunity to learn how to make pottery from some of the village women. The clay was a mixture of different types of mud mixed together along with some finely cut straw thrown in. They showed us how to make the stoves they use to cook over an open fire and bowls. They definitely made it seem easier that it was, but it was a great way to further interact with the villagers and learn more about their daily life.

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After that, we were separated in to two groups (men in one and woman in the other), so we could have a “gender talk” with some of the men and woman of the village, in which they could ask us questions and we could ask them questions. This ended up being one of our favorite activities while in the village. We started out by asking them questions about different aspects of their daily lives, what they enjoyed about their village and what things they would like to see change.

In the female group, we learned that the average age for a woman to get marriage was around 20-22, which is actually older than what most of us expected. And that they no longer did arranged marriages, and that most would “marry for love” but the families had to consent. They also said that their favorite thing was the community and support they had in the village. However, they felt they lacked the opportunity and freedom to learn skills and crafts that would allow them start their own business and make money, hence giving them more freedom.

They also asked the women in our group about our lives in the US. It was interesting because many of their questions (where do we find our community, do we do farming, at what age do we get married) really didn’t have a set answer. We shared the answers for our lives in the Bay Area, but also explained that the US is a very large country and that life is very different depending on where you live.

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The women who participated in our “Gender Talk”

In the men’s discussion, we talked with the elder men about changes in village life and what fears they might have regarding losing their traditional culture. We also learned that their biggest concerns for the village were having clean water and some sort of medical assistance within the village (as there is no doctor or hospital for a very long distance from the village). Many questions about American life were also asked from the men’s side, such as:

“Do Americans grow their own fruits and vegetables?”

“Do you have farm animals inside of your house?”

“When do people generally get married?”

We tried to answer their questions as well as we could, but also had to explain that the US has about 12 times more people and that you can probably fit 100 Nepals within the US, and that the culture of the people of the US varies DRAMATICALLY depending on where you are.

After we were done with the discussions, we headed back to our family homes for dinner, fireside conversation and game playing.

On our last night Roxy and Ella got to have their arms used as a canvas for the teenage cousin who lives next door to do some Henna drawing on. We soon realized that the same was happening with all of the women in our group and that this was to help prepare us for a celebration the next day in honor of our last day in the village!

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Henna done free hand by our “cousin”

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Ella’s arm

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Love the details

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The finished product

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Even our host mom had some Henna done!

Building the School, Starting on New Year’s Day

On our first morning in the Village, New Year’s Day, we started off with our daily Yoga practice from 6:30 – 7:30 am with a local “Yogi” that BuildOn brought in to lead our practice each day. This was outside on a tarp, and although it began in the dark, it afforded us the luxury of watching the sunrise each day mid way through Yoga. Let’s just say that it was very different than what many of us were used to from our Western Yoga classes, but we grew to love the Yogi and his quirky ways!

What ended up being a great perk is that many villagers (children and adults), joined us each morning for Yoga, and it was a really wonderful way to start the day. Also, we’re pretty sure the morning Yoga helped to keep us limber and was the reason our bodies ached a lot less than we expected after the grueling work on the school site!

One thing our Yogi would have us do every day towards the end of our session was “laughing yoga”, where you first laugh with your mouth closed, then with your teeth together, and then open mouth laughing. Of course we would all be cracking up by the end! We loved seeing and hearing the village children giggle. By the second morning, Desmond couldn’t help himself and got up once it was light enough to get some photos! And of course, getting photos of sunrise as well.

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We would watch the sunrise every morning during Yoga.

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A peaceful way to start the day

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Someone’s a little tired!

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Ella is very serious.

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Lions Breath

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And then cracking up during “Laughing Yoga” 🙂

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The girls watching the boys crack up!

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Too funny!

After Yoga, we were given a hearty breakfast prepared by our BuildOn cook. BuildOn provided breakfast and lunch for us every day, but dinner was spent with our host families. We ate very well during our time in the village, and all of the food (all vegetarian) was incredibly delicious! One of the favorite treats during each meal was Nepalese Chai, which we drank up in large quantities!

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Our breakfast and lunch spot

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Freshly made bread is so yummy. All of our meals were made on an open wood fire!

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The delicious Chai

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Breakfast!

Work on the construction site started at 8:30 each morning and we would start with everyone gathering in a circle (including our team, BuildOn staff, and the local villagers who had come out to work on the school). Some words were shared (and translated) by people on both sides, and again the villagers shared their gratitude for their new school (cue more tears for Roxy!). We ended the circle with a cheer that would be lead by one person from our group and one villager.

The site was already marked up to show where we needed to dig the foundation, needing to dig 14 holes, each 6 ft deep by 6 ft square, as well as 2 ft wide by 2 ft deep by 10 foot long trenches running between them all.

There were different tasks that we could each do, such as digging, shoveling, carrying (rocks, sand, rebar), stacking bricks, and actually tying the rebar. We would work on the job site from 8:30 to 12:30 and it was some of the hardest, most backbreaking work that any of us had ever done. The ground was very dry and hard and it was definitely not an easy task to break up the earth and then shovel it out….especially using the oversized hoes that the village provided to do all the digging.

 

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The first day’s construction begins.

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Digging was not easy since the earth was very hard and dry.

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We had to dig 14 different 6′ x 6′ x 6′ deep holes plus 2′ x 2′ x 8′ trenches connecting them all as part of the foundation.

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Nothing is Impossible!

We were sweating in the hot sun and exhausted not long after starting, but watching how hard the villagers worked, especially the women who kicked our asses in their level of strength and stamina, kept us going! We couldn’t be more proud of Evan and Ella for getting in there and working so incredibly hard doing all the same labor as the adults. We honestly didn’t know how they were going to handle this, because it really was back breaking work. Even the fittest of our group were feeling incredibly fatigued at the end of 4 hours, but we did it as a group and were extremely gratified to see the great progress being made each day.

At 12:30 we would break for a delicious lunch, prepared by the BuildOn cook, who always cooked on an open fire with the help of a few village women. While eating lunch, we would not only get to know each other better, but would also have discussions about our thoughts on the work we were doing and the experiences we were having in the evenings while we were all apart in our separate houses with our separate host families.

After lunch, the second half of our day was dedicated to cultural exchange experiences with some of the villagers, but the locals on the work site worked all day.

Our first cultural exchange experience was “fishing”. A group of local villagers (mostly woman and the village chief) walked us through a part of the village we had yet to see, with beautiful green fields, mountain views and finally to a small river. It was obvious that the water levels were typically much higher, but we were there during the dry months…..but there was still enough water for fishing! The villagers in our group went down to the river with some nets and then got in the water. Their technique was to walk as a group through the river, with the net spread out in order to catch the fish. Sadly, most of the people in our BuildOn group, including us, didn’t feel comfortable going down in the river because several of us had heard horror stories about bacteria and hook worms which could be caught when going in rivers in Asia and SE Asia and the terrible illness that came as a result. Better safe than sorry is the motto we chose to go by in this case! Although we felt bad not helping, it was still lovely to walk along side the river, watching and interacting with those in the water, and taking in the beautiful sites. We met other villagers, water buffalo and cows along the way, and as always many photos were taken!

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Checking for fish.

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And the reward…tiny fish!

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Woman bathing in river. Remember, no plumbing in the village.

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Girl swinging the day’s catch.

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Naturally, Desmond was loving the photo opps!

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One of the great parts of this afternoon, on the way to the river and back, was a chance to see some scenes from typical village life.

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Can you spot the 7 women in this photo?!

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Deep thoughts…

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Prepping for dinner.

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Village traffic

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After a good mile and a half of walking in and along side the river, we headed back to the village to go back to our respective family homes for a shower (outside, with a cold bucket of water!), dinner and (usually) games….typically not seeing each other again until morning.

Playing games in the evenings with the families and local, neighboring kids, was definitely a highlight. Playing Jenga or Uno would never cease to evoke squeals, giggles, huge smiles and lots of laughter!

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Playing Jenga by the light of our solar lantern.

By the way, in regards to the New Year, given the Nepalese aren’t on our calendar year, we didn’t do anything for New Year’s eve. I think we were all in bed by 9pm! However, actual New Year’s in San Francisco was at 1:45pm Nepalese time on this day and given we were just finishing lunch at that point, we made a point to celebrate it then. Ella and Lilian (an architect) came up with the idea of doing a human 2017! They sketched it all out and assigned each person a position. It took some time but we sort of got it right 🙂

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Happy 2017! May it be filled with as much joy and fun as we experienced in Nepal.

Arriving in the village of Nimuwaboji, Nepal

We wanted to share a bit more info regarding Nepal to help set the stage for why we are here and how our efforts with BuildOn Nepal will hopefully be impactful.

Nepal has a population of 28 million people. Although Nepal’s ranking on the UN’s Human Development Index has steadily improved over the last ten years, a quarter of the population remains below the poverty line of US $1.25 a day. Before Nepal’s revolution in 1950, only one child in 100 attended school. Today, the total adult literacy rate in Nepal is just over 50% nationally, but in rural communities the illiteracy rate is still near 80%.

The village Where we’re heading  to is called Nimuwabojhi and is located in the far western region of Nepal in the Kailali district, near the city of Dhangadhi. We’ve learned that there are currently about 182 students enrolled at the current school (102 girls and 80 boys). They currently have 2 proper classrooms and four temporary structures.

While here, we’ll be living along side the Tharu and Kshetri people, where the majority of the people are Hindu and Christian. In this region, most people generate income as construction workers or foreigner laborers in India. Many grow crops such as rice, wheat and maize.

Because of the generosity of everyone who helped us to raised funds for this school, the people of Nimuwabojhi will have increased access to education that will help effect positive change in the lives of children, parents, and grandparents for generations. Each new school helps Nepal increase literacy rates one community at a time.

On the morning of December 31st, after some additional language lessons, we boarded the BuildOn “Party Bus” in Dhangadhi to make the 90 minute journey to Nimuwaboji (the village where we would be building the new school). Before leaving, we decided to take a group photo in our BuildOn shirts and when asked where would be the best place to take a group photo, Desmond suggested we climb on top of the bus (not thinking they would really go for it), but the Trek leaders offered to go up in the hotel balcony several stories up and get a shot from above, while we were on the roof of the bus!

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On the BuildOn Bus ready to head to our village!

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Supachart and Ryan, our Super Star Trek leaders!

En route to the village, we stopped on the side of a rural road for a picnic lunch of delicious Momos (Nepalese dumplings) and Samosas. While having our lunch, we really enjoyed watching the locals going by on their bicycles and Ox carts…and I think the locals that were waiting on the side of the road for their bus, found us very interesting as well! Now this was rural Nepal.

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Helen and Ella. Helen and I actually met right around Ella’s age!

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The villagers waiting on the side of the road for the bus.

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Evan’s just chillin’ out on top of the bus!

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A little entertainment to go with our picnic lunch!

After lunch, is wasn’t long before we turned off the main road to head in to the village. After driving down a narrow dirt road with simple houses on either side, cows in the road, woman carrying large objects on their heads, and locals squatting by open fires, we arrived at the school work site, to see a large crowd of kids and adults waiting for us.

We knew there would be a ground breaking and signing of the covenant (agreement between the villagers and BuildOn for the completion of the school) but we didn’t realize there would be such a warm welcome by the whole village, as well as such an elaborate ceremony (it certainly surpassed our expectations)! The whole village, including dignitaries from ministry of education of Nepal, as well as the principal of the current school came out to thank us.

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Our BuildOn Team

There were many speeches and performances all in our honor. It was incredibly touching because it was clear that the whole community had gone to a great deal of effort to welcome us. They shared their gratitude with us for giving them a new school, and it made for an emotional time for everyone in our group. It’s fair to say that some tears were shed! During several of the traditional dances, our BuildOn group was pulled onto the make shift stage to join in with the locals. It was just amazing!

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Teenage dancers performing traditional Tharu dance

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More dancing

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Young Dancers

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The view from our special tent.

The Nepalese people are incredibly warm and kind, and they exude a certain type of joy that we just don’t see often in America. It was incredible being there with them and watching the activity and beautiful people around us!

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The final part of the ceremony was the signing of the Covenant.  The Covenant is a solemn promise between BuildOn and each village outlining their respective contributions to the projects and embodies the consensus of an entire community and for many of the women in the village, it will be the first time they have been asked to sign their name.

BuildOn contributes the engineering, materials, skilled labor, and project supervision. Each village provides the land, local materials such as sand, and the unskilled labor to build the school. Additionally, every village promises to send girls and boys to school in equal numbers.

This literally meant that all of us, (BuildOn group and every villager in attendance) came up to sign the agreement.

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The local build on team explained the covenant to the villagers before the signing ceremony began. Jharana holds up posters illustrating each step while Priyanka speaks.

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The villagers listening.

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And the signing begins.

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Patiently waiting in line

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After about 4 hours of speeches and performances (we were told it would be 2 hours!) we walked over to the site where the new school would be built. Fortunately it’s right next to the current school.

The dignitaries did a formal blessing of the land and the ground breaking was done. Each of our group was given the responsibility to dig out a bit of earth, using a hoe. Many photos were taken! 😉

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The blessing by our Yogi (in the middle) and dignitaries.

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Evan’s turn to break the ground. Everyone in our group had a turn.

Speaking of photos, one thing that took us by great surprise is the number of phones that the villagers had. Keep in mind, this is a community that does not have running water, and (seemingly) only occasionally has electricity. For example on our first night, our host family had lights in their home. But pretty much each night after electricity was not available, so we relied on lanterns.

Anyway, it was funny to see so many people (especially the teenagers!) with their smart phones, taking photos and videos of us. And as soon as we were accessible we were swarmed by people asking for “selfies”. Oh, and some of the teenage boys were doing non-stop selfies of themselves with a selfie stick. It was just hilarious, and such a crazy juxtaposition of rural and modern life!

I think we were all surprised by this, but loved the opportunity to take photos (we got a bunch as well of course) with the locals. Needless to say, over the next few days we got a crash course in understanding what if feels like to be a celebrity!

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These two and their friends took selfies with each other through most of the ceremony. They had us cracking up 🙂

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The paparazzi!

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After the formalities were over, we got to meet our host families, which were the villagers who had kindly offered to open their homes to us. Desmond and Evan went off to one home as Ella and Roxy went to another….this being because, no one had enough extra room to host all four of us.

Right away, it was clear that Roxy and Ella had lucked out with their host family. We were told to refer to our families as parents, brother and sister, and we needed to learn the appropriate Tharu terms for each. Their host Daiee (mother) was incredibly sweet and was one of the women who had performed in one of the dances. She has the most incredible smile and truly took care of us. The host dad was not there as he worked in India during non-harvest season, as it seems many of the male villagers did to bring in extra money. They also had a 13 year old daughter and a 9 year old son. They also had two 3 month old baby goats, an Ox, a dog and the cutest little puppy!

Desmond and Evan’s host family ended up being related to Roxy and Ella’s, and was just 3 houses down. There was the father, wife (who was very pregnant) and a 3 year old son. They were also very kind, but not as interactive as Roxy and Ella’s family. However, their evenings were spent primarily with numerous kids that lived in nearby houses (mostly nieces, nephews and cousins), that would stop by and play the games we brought and introduced them to (Jenga and Uno).

The same games were also played at Roxy and Ella’s homes, but they got the special treat of sitting around the fire with the family, and the many other family members and visitors who stopped by every evening as well. There were only a couple of the teenagers who spoke a bit of English but overall, but the games proved to be a HUGE hit, evoking so much laughter, smiles and giddiness……all successfully played without needing a common language. Playing games together was the best feeling!

Our accommodations were actually much better than we had expected in that we each received our own rooms, with platforms that we put our sleeping bags on. Given there was no insulation in these homes made with mud walls and dirt floors, and open between the top of the wall and the roof, it got to be incredibly cold at night so we all slept fully clothed each night (some of us even with fleece sweaters, jackets, warm socks and hats on).

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Evan with our in home chicken that we affectionately named “El Diablo” (aka Our last night’s dinner)

And of course, being that there is no running water, there was also no bathroom in the house, just the outhouse, which was a very small room with a squat toilette. Roxy and Ella’s was right next to the house, but Desmond and Evan’s was about 100 feet away around a barn and another small house, on the edge of the field. To use the toilet, you would also have to make sure to stop at the hand pump to pump some water in to a container to take with you and use it to flush your “business” down.

For showering, BuildOn asked each host family to create a make shift shower for us. This basically consisted of a large piece of black tarp that was wrapped around the family water pump (to give us privacy) and a bucket to catch water in. And of course, it was only cold water that came out of that hand pump! We felt bad that they were going to so much trouble for our sake, but the BuildOn staff assured us that the villagers were more than happy to do all this preparation and give up the very limited space in their homes for us as they were very grateful for us giving them a new school for their children.

Again, their warmth and generosity was incredible. Each day after lunch, we would have a discussion about the days events and different topics. One of those days, we talked about the definition of “poverty”.

This community is what westerners would call poor, however they were culturally rich in ways that we completely lack, especially in larger cities, in America. What they lacked was opportunities and the education that would help to create those opportunities in the long run…and that is the essence of why we were there. It was clear though, that the people were happy and had a very solid and supportive community! Ella commented very early on about everyone being so happy and that it would actually be nice to live such a simple life, surrounded by so much family and friends, and all of the animals. We all certainly agreed. Less is often more and it was a great lesson for us to take away from this experience.

Adventures in Kathmandu and arriving in Dhangadhi!

Wow…That is the first word that comes to mind in thinking about Kathmandu. We are literally half way around the world and it really feels that way. After a 6 ½ hour flight from Istanbul, we landed in Kathmandu around noon. Immediately from our departure from the airport we were fully immersed in to the chaos of Kathmandu traffic. What seemed like a relatively short distance, took almost 40 minutes in the car. Finally, we got to the hotel, dropped off our and went straight out.

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After grabbing a late lunch, we ended up walking through the main drag of the Thamel neighborhood where we are staying, which is the center of the historic city.  To be honest, our first evening in Kathmandu was a bit overwhelming. The narrow streets (more like alleys) that make up much of the Thamel neighborhood, are not only packed with restaurants and shops (spilling their wares on to the edge of the street), but also completely over run with pedestrians, cyclists, scooters and cars (which clearly weren’t intended to be on these streets!), in the space of about a 1 lane road. Of course, there is no sidewalk, so you’re basically sharing the road space with every other type of vehicle. It has similarities to South East Asia and even Cairo, but also feels totally different. People said that Old Hanoi was crazy and overwhelming, but honestly, when thinking back on it, it seems completely calm and orderly. Oddly, there was some form of organized chaos in Hanoi, which can’t be said for the old streets of Kathmandu!

We also did a walking tour of Durbar Square, the center of the historic quarter. Durbar means royal, and this was indeed the Royal palace, which included the main palace compound plus various temples and shrines. Sadly, much of the old square, with some structures dating back to the 12th century, were badly damaged (even completely flattened) in the April 2105 earthquake. It’s really heartbreaking to see. The good news is that the International community, mainly the US, UK and China have committed to helping rebuild many of the damaged historic buildings over the next 10 years. I guess we’ll see the fruits of our labors in about 10 years!

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Walking in Thamel

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Hindu Temple

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Rickshaw

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Busy intersection

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Vegetable Market

Of course, by around 7:00pm, we were all pretty exhausted. Thanks to a late lunch we were able to skip dinner and crashed pretty early. Sadly, jet lag kicked in and most of us were up between 3:00 – 5:00 am. But it sure did feel good to lay down flat in a bed after a 27-hour journey, and an afternoon of walking!

The following day, we went off with a driver that we arranged to take us around to the key sites. Our first stop was at Swayambhunath Stupa aka The Monkey Temple. This complex was founded by King Manadeva during the 5th century, and includes a Stupa, temples, shrines, Tibetan monastery, museum and library, and MANY monkeys! It’s located on a hilltop to the west of Kathmandu. If it wasn’t for the incredibly thick smog we would have had a clear and beautiful view of the city.

Of course the kids loved watching and taking photos of the many monkeys. They were hilarious to watch, and of course the many baby monkeys were adorable! We found them to be a lot less aggressive than the monkeys that we encountered a couple of summers ago in Bali, when we visited the Monkey forest. This was clearly not just a tourist site as we saw many Nepalese people coming to make offerings at the temples and praying. And since they consider the monkeys to be holy (there is a monkey god as one of the many Hindu deities) people were regularly feeding them.

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We then headed to Patan, which is the oldest city in Katmandu Valley. As we were paying to get into Patan’s Durbar Square, we were approached by a Nepalese man who offered to give a guided tour. Given it cost only about $10 and his English was really good, we decided to go for it. It ended up being a great decision because he was a really great communicator, very engaging, and a genuinely nice guy…not to mention that he taught us a great deal about the history of Patan, Kathmandu Valley, the structures within the historic center, and Buddhism in general.

One thing we learned is that long ago, Nepal consisted of over 20 different kingdoms. The King of Katmandu Valley had three sons. They each competed with each other and wanted their own kingdoms, so the king decided to split up the kingdom into three, one for each son. And as expected, each son built their own lavish Royal palaces and series of temples in competition with the others. Which is why there is a Durbar Square in Kathmandu, Patan and Bhaktapur.

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Anyway, we toured through the palace, which was beautiful. Most impressive was all of the hand carved columns made from teak wood. The detail and artistry are just amazing. We also learned about an annual celebration that still takes place every October, in which each of the Darbur/Palaces sacrifices 108 (lucky number) male Water Buffalos. The meat is then shared with the community and the blood is used for the blessing marks that you see on people’s foreheads between their eyes.

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Durbar Palace Details

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Field trip to the palace!

In Nepal, foreigners are not allowed to go inside Hindu temples. However, our guide took us a bit off the main drag of the complex to a Buddhist temple, which we were allowed to visit. Again, the history and details he shared were super interesting. We are not a religious family and as a couple we come from different religious backgrounds. But to be honest, the one religion we tend to connect with the most is Buddhism. It’s not that we worship Buddha or go to a temple, but many of the main principles are similar to how we choose to live our lives.

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Inside of Temple Complex

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Girl at Temple Entrance

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Evan hoping for some good luck

After the temple, our guide asked if we wanted to see the work of a master metal worker, specifically the “healing bowl”. All around the markets, we saw “singing bowls” for pretty cheap. He explained that those were machine made and make a specific type of sound, but that the “healing bowl” is hand made and has qualities that are actually used for healing. Desmond has actually been wanting to buy a singing bowl for MANY years, and always said that someday when we go to Nepal, he would plan to buy one there, so we were definitely interested to see what the guide had to show us.

This ended up being one of the coolest experiences in Patan. The healing bowls are incredible, in the vibration and sounds they make. Roxy had a large bowl placed on her head, while the owner of the shop gently banged on it from different sides. The vibrations could be felt throughout the body and are supposed to help you find balance and focus. The kids and Desmond each tried out stepping in a large bowl and felt sensation going from their feet all the way to their heads! The most amazing however was watching how water in a bowl reacted to the vibration made. Here’s a video. Needless to say, we ended up buying a small bowl. We even tested the water trick in our hotel room and it really does work.

Once again, it was really sad to see and hear about the earthquake and all of the damage done to the many historic buildings, as well as the thousands of people who died as a result. Restoration was underway on many of the structures already, but some had a VERY long way to go…still it was interesting to see before and after photos posted on the gate of each structure under construction.

Our last stop for the day was at the Pashupatina Temple and Bagmati River. Unfortunately as non-Hindus, we weren’t allowed in the temple itself. However, there was still lots to see. The temple’s exterior and its surrounding buildings are definitely beautiful. Sadhus (Hindu holy men) just hang out on the grounds of the temple and some even encourage visitors to sit with them for a photo, for about a dollar each! We found the photo opp to be well worth the price.

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Probably the most interesting and meaningful is the activity around the riverbanks of the Bagmati River, which are a popular place for cremations. We actually witnessed the beginning of the ceremonies for two people. It was fascinating and moving to watch. Ella in particular was very apprehensive about seeing an actual dead body and cremation. Fortunately the bodies that were presented were wrapped in beautiful cloth and we did not see the actual cremation. Nevertheless, the visit left its mark on us.

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Pre-cremation ceremony

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Onlookers

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Evan’s fan who asked for a photo

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At that point, it had been a long day out and we headed back to the hotel to meet the rest of our Build On group (except our friends Helen and Hans who would be meeting us in Dhangadhi) for a welcome dinner. It was great to connect with the rest of the people who has raised money as part of our group. I think this experience will bond us together in a very special way.

Yesterday we flew from Kathmandu to Dhangadhi, where BuildOn has a local office, and our final stopping point before driving to our village.

The flight on Buddah Air was an experience it itself, beginning with our departure from the very small and overly crowded (seemingly used by only locals) domestic terminal, to walking out to our propellor plane. Once we got up to cruising altitude we were blessed with a view of the Himalayan Mountains on the right side of the plane (where our group was fortunately sitting thanks to prior planning by our group leader Supachart) throughout the fight. It’s amazing to be in a plane flying at cruising altitude and still be below these majestic mountain range. Also amazing to be flying over the beautiful and rural Nepalese country side.

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Checking in for our  Buddah Air flight in Kathmandu Airport

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Our BuildOn team

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The Himalayan mountains out our window. Wow!

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It’s so fun to fly Buddah Air!

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Once we arrived in Dhangadhi we met the rest of the BuildOn staff that will be with us in the village, which was great! We have two interpretors, our two Trek leaders and a cook that will be making our breakfasts and lunches. Dinners will be spent with our host families.

The ride from the tiny one flight a day Airport to our hotel was incredible….gorgeous country side and rural scenes that are out of a National Geographic magazine. After we arrived at the hotel, we had a group orientation to prepare for our time in the village and some language lessons. Learning Nepalese is certainly not easy, but we’re all trying really hard to get some of the key words and phrases down so we can communicate in even a small way with our host families.  We ended the evening with a really fun group dinner and we are all ready for an adventure of a lifetime!