The Beginning

7 06 2011

By Elise Jordan & Tulsi Patel
Master of Science in Global Health students

7,900 miles later, flying past the Himalayas and confidently claiming that each peak we saw was Mount Everest, we finally arrived in Nepal with only one lost bag (no worries, it was recovered). While we have not yet trekked the Himalayas, we have trekked through Kathmandu and Damak, learning about the colorful history that is essential in understanding the political, religious, and social climate of Nepal. We spent 5 days in Kathmandu, visiting the US Embassy and The Carter Center in order to gain a better understanding about the protracted Bhutanese refugee situation in southeastern Nepal, as well as piecing together a timeline of Nepali history. Nepal is a transitioning state, where the monarchy was recently abolished in 2006, transforming it into a federal republic. However, a Maoist insurgency, and the failure to draft a constitution (the most recent deadline of May 28, 2011 was not met, which interestingly enough coincided with our arrival and thus, we were briefly exposed to the situation first-hand) has left the country in a hybrid state shuffling between traditional and modern politics. But don’t worry, even the Carter Center reassured us of the stability and prosperous future of Nepal. We also had an opportunity to explore several religious centers: Pashupati Temple, one of the holiest Hindu temples where we observed a cremation; Hanuman-dhoka Kathmandu Durbar Square, a World Heritage Site; Swayambhu –Nath Stupa, one of the oldest Buddhist temples, where a monkey actually jumped into our van and stole a banana, proving that monkeys do indeed love bananas; and the Bhaktapur Durbar Square, another World Heritage Site.

Nepal is a chaotically beautiful country. We arrived in Damak on June 3rd and visited one of the refugee camps (Beldangi II) on Friday. It is a bit overwhelming at first to find cars, motorcycles, cows, dogs, goats, and people all congesting the streets, yet we are slowly learning how to navigate the city. Wandering about throughout the refugee camp was an insightful experience. We had schoolchildren following us everywhere we went, yelling “Namaste” (a Nepali greeting) and then giggling when we returned the greeting. I personally found that despite my poor attempt to speak Nepali, the majority of individuals were willing to correct me and begin a conversation with me. Families openly invited us to join them under their bamboo roofs when it would start pouring, which was a perfect opportunity to really engage with them. My observations and the conversations I had with the refugees, as well with individuals in Kathmandu has made me contemplate how despite the clear differences between a Nepali community and an American community, there are certain societal aspects around the world that are simply universal. These can range from kids playing peek-a-boo to men gathering around and playing chess, or someone sharing a personal story to a stranger, or even a mother expressing that she will pay for expensive medications because she does not want her son to die. Despite the cultural and linguistic differences, I have learned that there are many similarities between our worlds, which we are all excited about uncovering. Overall, this week has been a whirlwind of learning and preparing, but it has helped me realize how fortunate I am to work on my thesis with a group of colleagues who are optimistic and light-hearted, and most importantly keep me laughing everyday.

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