We are finally in Nepalganj, the biggest city west of Pokhara, with a strong Indian and Islamic influence, after 13 hours in transit! Leaving Pokhara at 8am after a delicious breakfast of yoghurt, honey and bananas (yes Australians, bananas are super cheap here, woohoo!) we crammed our luggage and bodies into our Hiace van and hit the road ready for a long day of windy, bumpy and congested roads as we made our way west. Time was taken up by sleeping, listening to music, or being graced by Andy’s detailed commentary of our surroundings, keen to share his love of this country and this region of Nepal in particular.
Just like everything in Nepal, there are plenty of stories to tell from our travels, despite spending most of the day cooped up in a van! Our lunch was spent at a small restaurant, standing on wooden stilts, planted into a sloping mountain. As we ate our daal bhat, we resisted too much movement, unsure of whether this restaurant had ever held anywhere near 11 bideshis (foreigners)! The toilet was also an experience to be had – climbing down a hole in the wooden floor, before acquainting oneself with a tin shed, with a slippery tile for balance above the hole for squatting. No weak stomachs here please, “I felt like a skier about to go down a mountain slope”, said Sue of her toilet experience. That was enough to make some of us embrace our inner camel and hold on until the next opportunity!
Our next stop wasn’t much better, this time a communal shed, with a flooded ground and interested onlookers. Unfortunately those that avoided the skiing experience, instead were offered a swimming experience in the next toilet blocks! When in Nepal!
The trip was also greeted with many “town taxes”, taxes seemingly placed on us for merely passing through the town! Not really sure the legitimacy of some of these taxes, however we felt better as we saw others also being taxed at some of the stops.
To the end of our 13 hour adventure, we were greeted by a visitor who decided to climb on top of our van to get a lift into town. The visitor at least made us drive a lot slower and more carefully than before, which was a relief for some nervous passengers! His joyride on top our bags on the roof was cut short at a security checkpoint however, where he was ordered to come down. We were surprised that the sight of a man riding ontop a van really didn’t seem to phase people we passed, not in Nepal at least!!
Off to bed after a quick meal of chow mein for everybody, we rested our bodies ready for a morning of Nepali church the next morning – something I was really looking forward to as I’m a strong advocate for visiting churches when traveling – church provides an environment for people to be themselves and thus reveal their true culture which I absolutely love! I was keen to compare Nepali church with churches I’d visited in the developing countries of the Pacific and Africa!
Sleep was briefly broken at 5am when we arose to the cries of the Islamic call to prayer, it’s fascinating being in the same country but experiencing a town so profoundly influenced by a different religion. Not sure if I preferred the sounds of barking dogs or honking horns of Kathmandu to the call to prayer of Nepalganj, but it was definitely interesting!!
After breakfast we were met by INF worker, Peggy, an Australian working in Nepalganj as a nurse, who had come prepared with maps of different churches we were about to be split up into. After being instructed in different ways, we boarded rickshaws in pairs, ready to be gawked and waved at by bemused passers by, marveling at the funny bideshis in kurtas! Feeling vulnerable to the dusty air, cows in the middle of the street and the pungent smells of Nepalganj in our open carriage, we enjoyed waving to the locals as their jaws dropped and they took a second look at us!
I visited Jyoti church with Helen, Tracey, Leanne and Penny, another INF worker from the UK, as we made a our way through many greetings of ‘Jaimasih’ (the Christian alternative to Namaste) to sit on the right hand side – the women’s side. Similar structure to our churches back home, with singing, praying, offering collection and a sermon, something characteristic to Nepali churches is their introduction time – inviting newcomers to introduce themselves “Jamasih! Mero nam Caitlin ho, Mero desh Australia ho. Dhanyabad!” to a round of applause and welcome. Though we didn’t understand much besides the few ‘hallelujahs’ in the songs, it was wonderful to sit in Christian community with people on the other side of the world!
Following lunch of some delicious Nepali curries with some INF staff, our group parted ways, some to do a walking tour of the town, others to visit Maya Sadan orphanage, a organisation well known by some INF staff.
Maya Sadan was yet another reminder of the blessings in our life – and our brief afternoon with the children has definitely been one of the highlights of our trip. Picked up in a jeep from lunch by some of the Maya staff, we made our way through the busy streets full of bicycles, buffaloes and bamboo (carried through the streets by men for new furniture), taking in a town that was far from the touristy picturesque town of Pokhara. Nepalganj has a quiet charm about it; the smiling faces, colorful shop signs and the way animals roam freely through the streets (much like Animal Farm really.)
As we drove through the gates we were greeted by the eager faces of around 30 boys from Maya Sadan, opening the doors of the jeep for us, before shaking our hands firmly and with delight. After a few quick photos and laughs, we were invited into the girls quarter (genders are separated for cultural reasons) to meet the timid yet inquisitive girls that slowly warmed to our group of 7 bideshis. Eventually taking our hands to take us around their home, we were shown their bedrooms, bathrooms, classroom, gardens and farm animals, all of which they were extremely proud of. In the classroom we tested whether they knew the only Nepali song we had been learning – “This is the day that the Lord has made” or “Aajako Din”, who were we kidding, of course they did and we were treated to some beautiful songs, and a singalong of Aajako Din a few times too. Hearing and seeing their joy despite their circumstances was so moving, and it was difficult to leave the children after an afternoon of laughter, Australian flag stickers, showing them photos of Sydney on my iPhone, and a match of cricket against the very athletic boys (future Nepali cricket team in the making?!)
We heard from the staff that they currently look after 75 children, teaching, feeding, housing and clothing each one of them through some small support from individual donors. We left the orphanage by praying for the home and the wonderful and dedicated staff that are rebuilding the lives of these children – praise God for their work!
Tomorrow we’re visiting some INF projects, before heading to Surkhet in the afternoon, where we look forward to another change of scenery (or culture perhaps?!) and an opportunity to continue seeing the work of God through INF.
Oh and lastly, our title quote for today comes from Kirsty, inspired by the freely roaming buffalo, decided she’d call hers Mo-Mo if she ever had one!
Great report Caitlin – glad you made it safely to Nepalgunj and hope that you are now in Surkhet. Look forward to hearing more back in Aus.