Coming from Australia after completing 3 years of working as a teacher full time as well as completing my masters, I had little time to myself and little time to think and reflect. Before leaving people eagerly asked: “Where are you staying?” “What are you doing? What’s your itinerary?” I emailed back and forth to Bikram and found my plan was not set and was reassured there was nothing to worry about. In Melbourne still, I worried. We live by schedules, plans, outlines and targets. We make time for rest and make time for seeing family as if they were single serves of something we think we need.

In Nepal, after walking around for a day and noticing this eagerness and search for a schedule, I realized I had to change and this was a welcome change. I should not make time to relax, I should not need to stick to a rigorous timeline and I should not seek out what I was trying to get away from in Melbourne.

This was the first lesson, not only that I make time for relaxation, but that I make time for family. And I don’t want that. Back at home, over worked teachers look at our lives as if there is no escape and try schedule the relaxation in somehow, when you do that you only anticipate the end of the relaxation and find there is no substance to that time. Same goes for family, I hate the idea people spread about Christmas being so horrible because you have to be with one another. My family are incredible, they are proud, supportive, interesting loving individuals each and every one of them and they simply aren’t in my life enough. Simple: visit more and don’t be in a rush to leave.

The second lesson was one in gratitude. Some resourceful students lit a fire and I was proud of their problem solving. In Australia, they would be quickly expelled from school (granted there is a huge difference in climate and fire danger). This was a unique scenario for me as the funding in this government school was so much less than in my country that the school did not have heating or lighting in classes. My school has lots of students from government housing and migrant families doing it tough as they start a new life in my country. How can I think my school does not have a lot of money when this was in front of me? The majority of our students have Ipads and the fact alone that they are in Australia provides them with a difference in opportunities. And yet, our students and these Nepali students work hard to meet the demands of a curriculum with phenomenally high expectations. Our students must understand that they must be grateful for what they have, but it is only when they do not have it that they see this gratitude. It is only when I myself washed my hair with a hose, shivered in a hotel shower and sought comfort in baby wipes that I saw how incredible it was to have a hot shower.

The third lesson was in trust. I want to be clear that I have absolute faith in the VCD family and never felt my safety was compromised for a second. This is something I observed in interactions with the Nepali people. More and more I feel like Nepal is a huge family, all helping one another along the way and taking pride in the identify of being from Nepal.

As I would get off a bus, I am asked where I am going. My protective guard goes up, being sure not to tell people my travel plans in a foreign country. Soon I realized, the Nepali were asking me not to be creepy, not to sell me a taxi ride or hotel, but to help me find my way. And once I saw this, again and again I noticed this care. As I went to school it took me extra time to come home as the families would come from their houses, see if I was hungry, where I was going, if I needed anything etc. This is again something unique for Nepal as I will not be announcing where I am going or having tea with strangers in Australia. In Nepal, once I realized the majority of these people I could trust, rarely I felt like I was with strangers.

My final lesson was in expectations. This links closely to the first lesson in being busy. If you anticipate a holiday and a day, it is too often you will be disappointed. I guess this is why my girlfriends always argue with their boyfriends on Valentine’s day: “Why didn’t you buy me flowers?” “You said you didn’t want anything for Valentine’s day!” Bikram told me to release my expectations on the first day and this was something I had proudly done before arriving. It pays to release expectations and be mindful of the experience while you are in it. Without expecting, I found myself in the following scenarios, pinching myself:

  • Being bullied into handing over my cookies to a big monkey who was part of a clan that claimed a temple as their home
  • A part of a family, welcomed home as if I were a daughter/ sister
  • Teaching students games, phrases, english, science and how to use a camera
  • Drinking tea with elderly women, speaking only in gestures
  • Discussing the vast differences in education from East to West and discovering the Nepali model of education
  • Finding 6-7 students outside my toilet door, curious if I were a boy or girl as I had short hair
  • Wearing traditional jewelery and makeup to signify belonging to someone and being accepted by the women
  • Receiving blessed fruit on the way home and sharing this gift with my family
  • Warming by the fire while the grandmother bathed a 10 month old baby in mustard oil
  • Laughing and enjoying the bouncy bus ride along a mountain side with a sharp drop to a gushing river
  • Singing the periodic table song to students
  • Genuinely fearing the danger of a rhino or tiger, walking through the jungle, imagining climbing trees to get away if they came (don’t worry, my guide was the best)
  • Watching the sunset and rise on the Himalayas
  • Climbing a ‘hill’ in Nepal which was just short of being as high as the tallest mountain in Australia
  • Being blessed at the celebration for the goddess of education
  • Cooking ‘haloah’ with teachers, laughing at my difficulty with pronouncing words
  • Having tikka smeared on my face to symbolize leaving and being presented with a personal signed gift and hand-made flower necklace by the teachers at my school
  • Teaching 4 year old Nepali giants treasure and catching them playing it at another time
  • Dressing in traditional clothes, getting a full Henna drawing and taking photos with my Nepali sister
  • Coming home to a flock of students wanting to play board games
  • Laughing with Nepali children playing games in the library
  • Falling asleep to the peaceful howls of jackels and local dogs
  • Cooking by the fire, milking a cow and learning the best pickle recipe
  • Having young children shout “HI” and “HOW ARE YOU?” from across fields, ovals, buildings etc. Shouting back.

I will hold this experience in my mind for the rest of my life, Nepal is a beautiful country, the people are gems and the food is exceptional.

Nicole Nanatte – Melbourne, Australia
Volunteer at local school in Chitwan