I’m back to solo on this little adventure, which always brings heaps (heaps … haha I’m turning into an Aussie!) of new emotions to front of mind – excitement, strength, fear, and gratitude. Sometimes I have this out of body experience when pausing to think where I am, who I am with, and what I’m experiencing… while traveling you kinda get all discombobulated on dates, time, location and making sense of your situation when you’re out of routine and into living each day as it comes at you. So today, I was lying by the pool in Chitwan, zoning in on my place in the world, how I got here, and how my heart feels. Some thoughts to share…

I’ve had the privilege of spending the past two weeks volunteering with an organization that is near and dear to my heart. I worked for Adara Development from 2011 – 2014 out of their Seattle office mainly supporting their health programs in Uganda. When in Sydney earlier this year, I popped into the headquarters to say hello to my old colleagues (it was so lovely to meet so many of the faces I had gotten to know on Skype over the years!). Through a twist of fate, I ended up booking a plane ticket later that day to Nepal as they needed a volunteer to help with a program in early April.

A brief background: Adara’s programs in Nepal focus on a large group of children from one of the most remote villages in Nepal (possibly even the world) who were rescued from trafficking situations – whether they were taken by the Maoists or given up by their families in hope of safety and education. They were promised education in Kathmandu, but sadly, those promises were broken. These children found themselves alone, away from their families, and forced into activities no child (or human for that matter) should experience. In addition to the rescue, education and repatriation efforts for these children, Adara also partners with some incredible Nepal-based organizations focused on public health, relief for victims of domestic violence, and sustainable economic development of remote villages through water access and solar energy to name a few. My brief description doesn’t give justice to the extensive efforts this group has made and will continue to make to benefit the lives of Nepal’s citizens.

My time spent with the local team and a few Aussie team members/guests will forever hold a special place in my heart. I was deeply touched by the conversations, connections and friendships built in just two short weeks. I so gratefully experienced:

  • adults and kids from different cultures, backgrounds, religions, and life experiences interact as brothers and sisters. In fact, all the kids who were younger than me called me “sister” :)
  • the love of strangers, given so freely…. whether it be a hand held with a child, a gracious hosting of afternoon tea and biscuits, a shared dance or the gifting of khadas. When compared to western culture, it sometimes easy to perceive developing areas as having nothing to give – when in fact, it’s quite the opposite. These “gifts” I’ve received are far more valuable than any US dollar could buy.
  • a vibrant culture full of dance, song, smiles, peace and spice. The children’s dances brought tears to my eyes and joy to my heart. Their smiles beamed for miles. Whether the music is a traditional Nepali song, or a global hit… something about the voices of children singing like no one is listening is so captivating (they’ve inspired me to follow that old saying… sing and though no one can hear you, dance as though no one is watching…). You’ll see in the album below, there are signs of peace wherever you look here – prayer flags hung about town and on top of mountains, messages inscribed on a sacred structure, a simple sign at the hotel reminding you “don’t worry, be happy”, the expression of “Namaste” each time you are greeted, and in the eyes of a monk for that brief moment yours lock with theirs. Peace is everywhere. And spice! Whew! It’s not just the dash of peppers into a curry that makes it special. So many of the dishes here take hours to source and prepare — with traditional recipes dating back hundreds of years, there’s a story to your Dahl, Chipati, Momos and Ruksty.
  • deep collaboration being part of a diverse team with a common goal to execute on. While there were days I worked 10+ hours, nothing came close to the dedication of time and energy of the local team here. With vastly different education and work experience – everyone had their own unique ways of contributing (what a true definition of teamwork, eh?). We shared in some challenges and many laughs – -my favorite being a quick break consisting of a Nepali rendition of chubby bunny with buns instead of marshmallows. Laughing till it hurts never felt so good.
  • sorrow, immense compassion and confusion. In a conversation with a child about schools in America and schools in Nepal, the conversation moved from favorite subjects like math and science, homework and daily schedules to a heavier topic, discipline. This child asked me if my parents or teacher ever beat me. This isn’t the venue to go any deeper on this topic, but my point of including in this post is to raise awareness that in our world, physical abuse of children happens, it happens daily. We often take for granted (and when I say “we”, I’m generalizing from personal experiences) the safety of our schools, our loving parents and security provided by law. In Nepal, the number for the police is 100 (not 911). But as my trusted Nepali friend told me, don’t call 100… they might not come, and if they do, I will definitely be there before they are. If you need the police, call me and I will bring them.

Back to poolside, the sun now setting on the day … I’m realizing that at 28 years old, this trip is the first time in my life I’ve ever been completely on my own. I don’t have parents, friends or relatives within a few hours reach. I don’t have the security of laws being an American citizen provides me. I sometimes don’t have technology to depend on – whether it be for directions or connecting with friends back home. My “surviving and thriving” is up to me… and it’s a choice. I came about this gift through travel. If I’m sick, I need to find myself care. If I’m lost, I need to ask for help or figure out my way. If I am feeling lonely, I need to strike up a conversation with someone to gain connection. Solo travel is a beautiful experience that I am very fortunate to have. I know for sure it’s made me stronger, independent, friendly, skeptical, trusting, joyful, alone, connected, and FULL OF LIFE. The interesting piece here is the choice I got to make to earn these qualities. The past couple weeks I’ve met kids who have came about being alone in the world (at half my age), but not by choice. When they set off alone in this world, they didn’t have the same financial resources, education and survival skills that I have at my fingertips. They likely don’t share the same sentiments I mentioned above. Its one of those big life questions in which my heart will never be satisfied leaving unanswered… “How did I get so lucky? Why was I born to parents who loved me so fully? In a safe country? Why do I have access to healthy food, sufficient healthcare and clothing to keep me warm?” This isn’t a question of hard work or lack thereof. I was dealt a different hand, but why?

Traveling to developing areas isn’t about providing “relief”, “saving the world” or similar grandiose claims we see American society make in the media almost daily – I, for one, don’t have that ability or power. To me, it’s about becoming aware, shifting perspectives and sharing experiences with those who do not have the opportunity to live it first-hand. It’s about building a movement of global citizens who think outside their own realms to improve the lives of others.

Talking to family and friends back home, I’m often asked, “What is your biggest takeaway?…what’s changed you the most over these past few months?” I know now, post my rich experiences in the developing areas of Nepal, Fiji, Indonesia, and Vietnam that the answer is “I’m inspired”. These experiences have awakened my spirit and desire to meaningfully impact the lives of others. I’m passionately curious about culture, people and religions that I haven’t been exposed to yet. So much so, it can feel overwhelming at times. I’ve learned it’s important to quiet my anxious mind and be patient, however. That finding my calling (the work that God wants me to devote my life to) may not happen overnight. So I’m soaking up each day’s experiences knowing that soon enough, when the time is right, the dots will connect and the direction will be clear.

Dhanyabad, beautiful Nepal!