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Photo by Scott Diekema, Nepal Semester.

Group reflections

In Nepal…

 I witnessed more than I ever imagined I could. I witnessed bright smiles, accompanied by namaste, greeting me on every step of my journey. I witnessed the mountains, in the sunrise, sunset, clouds, and mist. I witnessed more stars than I have ever seen in my life. I witnessed the jhilimili lights and fireworks of the Tihar holiday. I witnessed my Patan homestay baabu walking for the first time, after returning a month later. I witnessed my Chaukati homestay aama, mixing the dhido each night over the open fire. I witnessed that capacity is a construct, as a small toddler in a packed bus hopped right onto my lap. I witnessed many tikka ceremonies, and the stains of red on everyone around me. I witnessed endless generosity, in every moment of the day. I learned how to learn in every moment. I learned how to be present and engaged, even if I could not understand the language. I learned about myself, and my passions. I learned how to slow down, and enjoy the in-between moments. I learned the stories of many people, and am continually inspired. I learned that the world is too complicated to be dichotomous. I learned how to travel on my own. I learned some Devanagari, and how to entertain myself in my attempts to read signs on the road during long bus rides. I learned how to better take care of the Earth, whether that be planting trees, or fostering the lessons of permaculture. I learned about education in Nepal, and the many implications of international influences. I learned how to practice the qualities that I want to bring into my life. I learned to create my home away from home, and am so grateful that I can call Nepal a part of my home— the places, people, and experiences that make me who I am.

             Mero jiwan haawaa jastai tiyo. 

    For the past 5 months I have been living out of my backpack. The first two of these months was spent roaming the country of my birth, the land in which I was reared. In these two months I came to a much greater understanding of what the United States of America is. This two months was the first time I set out wandering alone in my homeland, for any large duration, to discover the experience of an American tar-tramp. This was the first time I came to know how my own country would treat a stranger with their thumb out. While the details are too numerous and the purpose of this journal being about the end of my semester in Nepal, I feel it necessary to provide at least a small point of reference to my experience in Nepal and the mind I entered this country with.

The first two months of traveling accounted for, I come to the remaining three and a half months, which have been spent meandering through the cities and villages and mountains, hills and plains of Nepal. In this time I have learned many things about this country’s politics, cultures, languages, religions / wisdom traditions, cuisines and geography. One of the things that has most greatly impressed upon me and made me deeply consider what it is to be traveller on Earth is the Nepali word bideshi. Bideshi, literally translated, means out of one’s own country. Several times to my knowing, and most likely numerous times to my ignorance, I was referred to as bideshi. The first time I heard someone call me bideshi I did not know what it meant and asked the person what it meant in English. He responded with the translation I provided above. My initial reaction in understanding his comment, albeit its accuracy, was offense; due to my own conditioning around the sentiment calling someone an outsider expresses. However, as I continued to listen, my entire orientation around the idea of being an outsider in Nepal quickly shifted.

He went on to say that, now, in this country I am bideshi, out of my own country, and that if he were to leave Nepal he would also be bideshi. As he said this the fear in my heart of not being accepted, of being an outsider, melted away. He was looking at me with a smile, he was engaging me in a caring manner. He did not seem to be looking at me like I was an alien intruding on his territory. In this interaction, through his welcoming kindness, I came to understand bideshi as a reference to one’s contextual existence, lacking any sentiment of immutable inferiority, as opposed to a comment on their inherent nature.

I feel this small difference in understanding holds huge weight because it leaves room for mutuality. Yes, in Nepal I am in a distant land, I place largely unfamiliar to me and this makes me a bideshi, but there will be times when the person calling me this might be so as well and that in this place of mutuality there can be compassion and understanding. Knowing that I myself will be a stranger in a distant land gives me the opportunity to treat others as I myself would hope to be treated. Whether it be geographically or otherwise there will be times when we are all in unfamiliar situations, when we feel we are an outsider. Similarly, there will be times when we all have the opportunity to make someone feel at home.

    During the last three and a half months I have been irrevocably moved by the openness of people’s homes and hearts to the wandering stranger that has occupied a large part of my identity for the past several years. When I think of the word bideshi, I no longer feel a pain in my heart. Now, when I hear this word, I think of the shifting wind, I think of the transient nature of walking this Earth and the opportunity for discovery and love and kindness that it brings.

Shree Shree Shree Mahama Nepal mandala ki Jai

One of my first tastes of Nepalese culture was in the lobby of Cafe De Patan. I just met up with the other two women in the study abroad program for the first time and a Nepali woman called us to come dance. These women greeted us with smiles that could light up a dark room and hearts so warm they could start a fire. They took our hands and guided us through a joyful traditional Nepalese dance. They were wearing red and sparkling gold saris with lots of dangly gold jewelry. The music was upbeat and playful. The women were older but danced with the youthful energy of a ten year old. Even though I just connected with the other women in the program, the language of joy instantly wove our hearts together.

Nepal is jammed pack with flavor. The overall lifestyle of Nepali people might be just as exquisite as the mouthwatering khanna. There is one zesty memory so clear in my mind: As the group was headed down from Chokayti village I could not stop thinking- this ride is the essence of Nepal. Each being received Tikka, a red blessing on the forehead with a garland of Marigold flowers, and was laughing while dancing to the blasting Nepali music. As we drove down the extremely bumpy lush mountain path past breathtaking waterfalls, goats, chickens, and endless rice patties- there was the faint smell of fire burning. Everyone we drove past greeted us with a Namaste, drawing their hands together at their heart space with embodied reverence and a warm smile.

Celebration and Devotion: The tikka is a reflection to Nepal’s taste of devotion. Namaste is the greeting in Nepal, which means I honor the light within you because it is also within me. Tikka is a ritual to honor the light within each being. I felt deeply seen in my true nature every time I received tikka. The bright colors and sweet fragrance of the Marigold garland felt symbolic of the radiant ceremony of being alive on Earth. Music, dance, and food are such a crucial aspect of Nepalese culture. I loved listening to music jam outside of the study abroad program house during Nepali language class- one can always count on there being an upbeat energy. There were many mornings my Amma would play music in the kitchen and dance as she was preparing food. Sharing meals is the heart of Nepal. Life flows around meal-times and holy goddess, do Nepali people make sure one is fed! The music playing everywhere and abundance of delicious food constantly reminded me to not take life so seriously- to laugh and play more often. To more fully enjoy the satisfying experience of being human.

Community and intimacy: Looking around in the packed vehicle reminded me of how important community and family is to Nepali people. I was told in Nepal if someone spends a lot of time alone they might be seen as depressed because so much of the culture is about being with one another. The intimacy within the group was one of the most challenging parts of the trip, but was also the most impactful. It softened my heart and taught me how to stay and soften when I want to run and harden. I am an introvert, so naturally I like to have a lot of my own space, but  being here has taught me how to learn how be alone together. Even if I am feeling super dark, being held in the presence of others always uplifts my spirit. Nepalese culture is very benevolent-people are incredibly whole-hearted. While everyone is different, and everyone has an ego, the typical vibe was people smiling and wanting to spark up conversations.

The alchemical fire of discomfort: There were many uncomfortable situations in Nepal-so many new things to get used to such as wiping my butt with my hands, eating with my hands, living with a host family, washing myself with a bucket a few times- but within all of these discomforts is where the greatest softening and expansion happened. There are so many different ways of living- and no way is the ‘better way’. It has been an honor to taste a culture across the world’s way of being and how content they seem with things that irritated my conditioning. The bumpy scenic car ride down the mountains with the faint smell of fire burning is a metaphor of the beautiful bumpy ride in Nepal- it was the loosening of the tight conditioning within me. I didn’t always see the scenery when I was feeling the intensity of the bumps, but in the subtle layers of my being there was a fire of transformation burning. If I were to sum up my experience in Nepal in one lesson it would be do whatever you can to keep your heart open to others. Everywhere you look there are prayer wheels, temples, pictures of religious masters or deities- all relaying the message to return to love. The culture here is catered to flow around the value of human connection. I am grateful for being immersed in an environment where it has been challenging to escape and for the reminders everywhere to so recite prayers. The celebratory aspect of Nepal’s culture is a prayer within itself, keeping the heart alive and fresh so it naturally opens more. When I am at home and feel walls around my heart, I will remember to close my eyes and think of Nepal. I will sink into the memory of this candy land of sweet kindness.

—–

” I watched the embodiment of open heartedness, goodness and the purity of contentment as they danced and let their essence fall on the parts of my heart that were tight, melting the unauthentic expression back into light. Pushing the juices of my makeup back into the singularity of infinity, of the flow of organic expression. Of the natural freedom of the self, of myself. You walk down the street and most eyes have a glimmer, a glimmer of the moment and of groundedness in life, in family, in devotion. People rejoice together, for the foundation is build within connection, lifted up by the hands of their ancestors, there is a deep calling, reverence and respect. Tradition that has danced its way through centuries. Ancient wisdom that flirts with modern influences so quirkily it will make you smile, yet the relationship maintained is that of beauty. The heritage, the sacredness, the dharma, the devotion, the celebration and aliveness, is the constant stream that Nepal seems to intertwine with like beautiful green vines, shinning their vibrant essence unapologetically. Nepal is certainly unapologetic in the best sense. In Nepal I witnessed unceasing kindness, the true purity of contentment, a deep relationship with mama earth, a true understanding that we can never change or be stronger than nature and the nature of things, with this honing a natural dance with life.The energy, the essence of people, the smiles hold truth and authenticity. For one usually is not smiling through expectation or anxiety. There is a noticeable dip of individual identity performance and a beautiful holding in just being. What a deep breath of relief, just to come as you are. Deep devotion held omnipresence and brought unconditional warmth to my heart and tears to my eyes, for the God and the Goddess dance in normative reality. I have witnessed nature’s gifts of waterfalls and the indescribable peaks of the Himilayas and moments that held such preciousness from making friends with a Nepali boy by the river, talking about our different lives to watching the beautiful women at Teej dance in their dashing Saris of red. Every moment, uncomfortable to blissful has been unconditionally full and I am grateful for each one and its alive uniqueness. Each created the wholeness of my experience. Thank you Nepal for teaching me, for the beautiful people you put in my path, for igniting growth, thank you for being you and only you and letting me get to know you, I am humbled and it has been a true honor. Even though I will be far away, the wonderful memories are here to stay. Catch you later dear friend…