Unearthing Nepal

Posted by on Apr 14, 2013 in Featured, Nepal | 10 comments

I could tell from the very start that this portion of the trip is when it would get “real”.  No more culinary tours of India or beach hopping through Australia.  We are now set to live like Nepali people during our first service project.  For Mike and I, our two week stay in Kathmandu, Nepal enabled us to, for the first time, live out each facet of our travel goals in one place: to venture, visit, and volunteer.

Upon arriving to Kathmandu, we were taken to what would be our home for the next two weeks, a nice middle class Nepali home. Mike and I lived with the volunteer program directors, fellow volunteers, and a small local family.   My first impression of Nepal was that it was a poorer, but less crowded version of India.  I liked the people better (less staring, more smiling) and was very excited to live in one place for two weeks!   I was eager to tour the sights, give some of my time in a meaningful way, and live like a local.

Venture:  My first full day in Kathmandu left me asking “what did I get myself into!?” 

I rose with the sun because, at around 5:30am every morning, roosters crow incessantly, dogs start barking, and bells throughout the region are constantly ringing as the local Hindu people make offerings at various temples.  I then spent the better part of an hour hand washing my clothes on the roof of our house.  After a brief homemade Nepali breakfast (curried vegetables and dal baht – rice and a lentil soup), I was ready to embark to school.  

Mike and I and the two other volunteers in our program made the 15 minute walk from our volunteer house to pick up a bus. I was surprised to see that almost every bus that went past was overflowing with passengers and had no signage indicating where it was going.  Instead, little bus boys scream out the various destinations of the bus as they putter by.  Their job is to pack the buses to the gills.  It is hard enough riding these buses yet alone figuring out which one to take!  I realized in my first bus ride that I would have to say goodbye to personal space during my time in Nepal.   I have since gained intimate knowledge of a Nepali man’s armpit, shared a seat with a small family (breast feeding mother, baby, and a little girl that I have dubbed “germ factory” because she kept sneezing on me), and witnessed the bus stop to load goats and produce.  

I also noticed that many people around town were wearing face masks…like full on surgical masks that cover their mouth and nose.  It did not take me long to realize why:  the dust and pollution make you feel like you are a lifetime smoker.  To avoid the “black lung”,  I bought my own mask that I sported for the remainder of my time in Kathmandu.  Yes, this first day venturing through the Kathmandu public transport system, braving the elements, eating regional cuisine, and beginning a routine is exactly what I was looking for: authentic local living.

Visit: One perk to living in a city for more than a few days is the opportunity to visit the top sites in a relaxed manner.  Mike and I took full advantage by spending free time exploring various temples, historic sites, and shopping.   To be brutally honest, Kathmandu is not a city that I would recommend spending significant time in (due to the aforementioned bus system, pollution, etc) on your Nepal holiday.  However, there were a few places that we really enjoyed touring.  Highlights include World Heritage sites, Boudhanath stupa (one of the largest and most significant Buddhist monuments in the world), Monkey Temple,  (a Buddhist temple located on a monkey filled hill.  There are cute cafes, local art, and spectacular views of Kathmandu.), and  Durbar Square (a collection of ancient buildings and home to the living goddess, Kumari).  We also loved strolling through the Thamel neighborhood (a wonderfully cosy labyrinth of shops and cafes made for tourists but with an authentic flair.)

Volunteer:  Mike and I volunteered at a school serving the biggest slum in Kathmandu and had a chance to teach children ages 5-14 a range of subjects. We connected with the kids immediately and they have made the crazy commute and crippling pollution worth it.  We spent the first week preparing the children for their final exams and the second week organizing an awards ceremony/parents day.  

I do not know exactly what I expected the Nepali children to be like.  I think I assumed that, due to their poverty, they would seem different from other kids I have met.  Yet, I discovered that children are children anywhere in the world.  Even these poor Nepali children with no material possessions or basic standard of living are joyful, mischievous, intelligent, and vibrant….just like kids on the other side of the globe.  They love learning new things (like when Mike and I taught them Pictionary in their drawing class) but were also keen on pushing our buttons since we were essentially substitute teachers for the week (I finally caught on by the 5th bathroom break request).  

This volunteer experience exceeded my expectations.  I did not anticipate becoming so invested and involved with the children so quickly. By day two I would arrive at school to a chorus of “Hi Kat…meow!” (they loved my name).  And by day three, the girls were braiding my hair and trying to teach me traditional Nepali dances.  I loved the teaching aspect of things as well.  It was challenging and rewarding to come up with a fun and educational lesson plan each day. Even though I only spent two weeks with the children of Deeya Shree English Boarding School, I accumulated a lifetime of memories.

I will always  remember watching Mike instruct a class of 8 year olds on the names of indigenous Nepali fruits.  I will fondly look back on teaching the four top public speakers how to MC the awards banquet.  And I will smile when I think of  Suraj (a witty and adorable boy in class 2 who became my favorite) who would intermittently quiz me on my Nepali language skills.  

While our time unearthing Kathmandu was not without difficulties, the combination of actually living in a city, touring the sites, and volunteering our time made it a memorable and enriching life experience.


  1. Looks like a wonderful experience! From reading your post, kids are sharp and always willing to test their limits. Volunteering is a great way to learn about the culture and community in the places you visit. Great work!

  2. Great post Kat! Sounds like a great volunteer experience.

  3. Your wonderful memories will serve as your reward for many years to come. We all love children, wherever they live….their minds are like little sponges. Kat, I love the pic of the girls braiding your hair. This is something all girls, everywhere, love to do. Also laughed and said, “ugh” while reading about your daily bus ride.
    Love, mom

  4. Thanks for all the comments! The volunteer project was amazing and I am so glad we had the chance to settle into one place for a few weeks.

  5. Mike and Kat,

    Wow. What a great story and experience. Love the “germ factory” comment

  6. Wonderful post. Our kids are fascinated by the difference in their schoolroom to the one you guys are teaching in. Keep up the good work.

  7. Looks like an awesome trip so far, jealous…… heading to NEw Zealand let me know what I shouldn’t miss

  8. You guys are having quite the experience – it is just so cool .What a trip.

  9. What a great first volunteer experience guys!!

  10. Sounds rewarding Kat!… I LOL’ed reading that the bus stopped to load goats, haha.

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