Excitement, nervousness and happiness bubbling up into my throat. Bittersweet nostalgia at the back of my mind. This must be what it feels like, then: saying goodbye to everything I’ve known for the next 9 months, heading out into a new adventure. To learn, to meet new people and to see new places. To soak up everything the world has to show me, and to do my best to give back.
I’m heading out with an open mind and a heart filled with indescribable love.
Flying into the Blue
Traveling for thirteen hours gives me time to think, to prepare mentally for the upcoming months. In the past weeks, every moment has been devoted to saying goodbye or to hurrying back and forth between stores and my half-packed bag, desperate to think of everything important before it’s too late. Now, with nothing but the sky around me, is the first opportunity I have to breathe deeply and write down everything that’s going through my mind. My thoughts whirl and twist, like gusts of wind, carrying me this way and that. I write about the past months, about the future, about my excitement and my worries and my happiness. I write: It’s okay to not know where you’re going to end up. It’s okay to get lost on the way. It’s okay to wake up one morning and to figure out that you’ve changed.
Just be sure to remember to always be thankful for what you have, and to never stop trying to learn a little more.
And the moment I see my own words, black ink on white paper, I am flooded with gratitude: for the adventures I am about to have, and for the people I know I can always come home to.
Landing in a New World
Tribhuvan International Airport is small: a red brick building, bright signs proclaiming “Welcome to Nepal!” in English and Nepali, mountains on all sides. My flight is practically the first one in the morning, and as bleary-eyed and wonderstruck as I am, I find my way through customs and immigration easily, never waiting in line for more than a few minutes. I grab my backpack — which I nickname Dobby affectionately, sure that we will experience our fair share of adventures together in the next months — and even manage to balance all of my luggage at once. “Dobby” is on my back, my hand baggage on my front, jacket and scarf draped over one arm and ukulele in my hand. It’s a balancing act, that’s for sure, and is paid for with small bruises along my arms, but once I’m standing, I’m proud to have mastered this first challenge on my own.
I must be a funny sight to see: a small girl carrying her own size in luggage, hair falling from its braid in curling strands and massive boots on my feet — at least, this is how I imagine my local coordinator manages to find me so fast. A man dressed in blue approaches me, showing me my own name on a piece of paper, introducing himself with a shake of the hand: “I’m Sudarshan”, he says, and I quickly match the face to the friendly emails I’ve been exchanging in the weeks leading up to my departure.
We have to wait for another volunteer who will be arriving on a later flight, so I take a seat in the waiting room. Sudarshan brings me a cup of tea from a small stand in the corner, piping hot and spicy-sweet, capped with foamy milk, and I clasp my hands around it thankfully.
I sit and watch as people start to fill in: I have arrived during Dasain, one of the most important festivals in Nepal, and this means that everyone who can is coming home. In an attempt to stay awake, I watch the other people in the waiting room, gathering these first impressions after arrival carefully. I see women in traditional dresses. Bright colors: red, orange, yellow and pink. I see women in teared jeans and T-shirts. I see men wearing shorts and nike shoes. I see children running, laughing, playing and eventually tiring and melting into exhausted tears in their parents’ arms. I hear policemen whistling, loud, shrill sounds to bring order to the chaos. I hear taxis honking and people talking Nepali. Every once in a while, I see a flash of blue that is Sudarshan’s shirt and his thumb raised in question — are you okay? I nod, smile, and show him my upturned thumb in reply. I am more than okay. I am prickling with excitement and exhausted happiness.
Driving through Winding Roads
My first day passes in a blur. Arriving at Sudarshan’s house, looking out over Kathmandu, gushing with the other volunteer - Jamina - about our absolute bewilderment of actually having arrived; everything passes in a rush, and by the time I fall into bed, my head hardly hits the pillow before I fall fast asleep.
But the next morning, I am up again before six, because I have a bus to catch. Kathmandu was only a transitional stop for me: my final destination is a seven hour ride away.
And Nepalese bus rides are nothing like comfortable, easygoing German ones across smooth highways. We drive out of Kathmandu, the air getting clearer as we leave the city, the morning air hitting the mountains with smooth, vibrant light. The view is brilliant, with something new around each curve, from wide mountain landscapes to little villages where children swing on handmade swings while their parents work in nearby shops. But the streets are broken in many places, and even the cushioned seats can only do so much to dampen the impact of the bus’ movement. It weaves its way through mountain roads, honking preemptively every so often, sometimes passing by other vehicles with so little space that I involuntarily hold my breath, fearing for the side mirrors. Whenever I lose myself looking out the window, watching the colors change from morning grey to vibrant greens and blues, I am jolted back to my senses by a pothole hit full on.
The woman next to me is a dancer from India, but has lived in Nepal the last two years, and she takes time to point out the most important attractions along the way. The new places gather in my head; a temple here, rafting stations there, a famous river that winds its long, flowing way far under the road. I try to remember the names, but can’t really for long: I am too tired, my head too full of new impressions already. All the same, I am thankful for her friendly manner, for her kind explanations; they are something to hold onto in a place where everything is unknown to me.
And then, after hours on the road, the bus stutters to a stop, my luggage is heaved down from the roof, and I am standing at the edge of the road, surrounded by luggage, next to a gentleman who introduces himself as Resham, my host father. Just like that, I have arrived.
And this is only just the beginning.