Namaste. A simple enough word. Three syllables. Short vowels. Before traveling in Nepal, it was just a word that everyone uttered at the end of yoga class. Now, it’s a whole new way to view the world around me, and my place in it.
In Nepal, everyone says it. Every day. All day long. It’s said at the same time as placing the hands palm together, fingers pointing up, either in front of the chest for a normal greeting, or in front of the forehead for additional respect. Toddlers, schoolchildren, young mothers, farmers, shopkeepers and village elders. They all say it, numerous times a day. What does it mean? The divine in me acknowledges the divine in you. One small word to elevate both the greeter and the greetee.
I was in Nepal for about four weeks. The first two weeks were strictly for tourism. Wandering around Kathmandu, visiting the numerous hindu and buddhist temples and getting lost wandering through the small streets and colorful local markets. Trekking in the Annapurna foothills and marveling at the beauty of the mountains and the strength and endurance of our Nepali porters. Playing with elephants in Chitwan National Park. And taking a needed respite by the lake of Pokhara.
The last ten days were spent with Singular Humanitarian Experience (a branch of Choice Humanitarian) in the Lamjung foothills, working on several development projects. I was on the medical/dental team. We were able to do some teaching with local healthcare workers in the mornings, and hold clinics to see patients in the afternoons. The other teams included an education team that met with local school teachers and administrators, a construction team that worked on-site to help build a local college, and a business development team that focused on building up the local women’s cottage industry. It was tough. And easy at the same time.
It was tough because we were constantly improvising. Medical and dental clinic sites needed to be cleared of debris before we could set up. The women’s cottage industry meetings weren’t even mentioned until the bus ride out of Kathmandu. Recruiting Nepali university students on holiday to be translators for the medical/dental patients. Working around the Dashain and Dipawali festivals, when everyone stops work for several days to celebrate with family. And dealing with Delhi belly, when some of us hadn’t even so much as stopped over in India …
And it was easy. The weather was beautiful, and the scenery breathtaking. The villagers were so friendly and hospitable, delighted that we cared enough to come and work with them on these projects. The children were curious, inquisitive, and ready to play, love and be loved.
Perhaps the best night was the one we spent with the villagers in Thuloswara. They were opening up a new trekking route in the area, and were billing it as trekking with a fascinating cultural exchange program. The plan was to incorporate everyday village activities in with the trek, so that visitors would get to see and experience real Nepali life. Our group did part of the trek, was escorted into the village at the end of trek with a marvelous parade, and was welcomed with a beautiful ceremony that involved dancing and refreshments. Afterward, we were divided up into groups of two to four, and we spent the night in the villagers’ homes.
I was hosted, along with three others, at the home of Lok and Maya. They welcomed us into their home, clearly excited to have us visit. Lok’s English was limited, and we all laughed when language failed us, and we had to resort to pantomiming. They acknowledged the humbleness of their home and the meal they served, but were so anxious to share whatever they could with us. We were so delighted with each other. The next morning, we tried to tip them, because they had been such excellent hosts. They kindly refused, calling themselves our Nepali parents. When pressed, they again refused, saying that all they wanted was for us to return someday.
Then, as now, I acknowledge the divine in them, and how they remind me of my heavenly parents. Unlike my Nepali parents, my heavenly parents have many blessings to endow me with. Like them, they are eager to share. Sometimes communication is difficult. And really, when all is said and done, they just want me to be able to come home.