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.