Archive for Brooke Alexander

More adventures, opera and shiny summits

Pokhara is a region in Nepal known mainly for two things: the beauty and the breathtaking view of the Annapurna Himalayan range. So naturally we had every intention of seeing them. The thing of it is, the majesty can only truly be appreciated when it is perfectly clear, which is usually a small window before and after sunrise. After this, the clouds begin to roll in. The first day we were there we did not plan to go see them, but we woke up and the sky was perfectly clear; something that had not happened for about a month in Pokhara. With such volatile weather and the possibility that the sky would not be clear again, we high tailed it to the viewing location. Unfortunately the clouds had already started rolling in but we were able to see the majority of the range for a brief amount of time. Later on we decided that, since we missed the sunrise, we would try agairower next day if the weather was clear. Except, at the end of the day, long after sunset, we realized we had not informed the tour company of our intentions which meant we had no transportation for 5am. I secretly hoped that the mountains would be covered, as some consolation for the fact that we couldn’t do the sunrise trip.

Well, they weren’t, but it was beautiful to see again. And this time I had woken up earlier than the day before, so there wasn’t a cloud in the sky yet, and I managed to get some fabulous pictures from the hotel roof.

The two days we spent in Pokhara were really fun and I really enjoyed the things we did. Pokhara really is extremely beautiful, with hills surrounding the valley, the Himalayas in the distance, and a series of lakes connected by natural canals.

The first day, after Sarangkot (the viewing spot for the mountains), we went to a very famous cave in Nepal called Mahendra. The cave is like any other cave but what makes it so special is that, at the end of the cave, there is a natural rock formation that STRONGLY resembles an elephant. The elephant is significant because, in the Hindu religion, one of the important gods is Ganesh, who has a human body but the head of an elephant. Naturally, this caves very famous and quite holy for Hindus. Next we went to the bat caves, which I refused to go into because bats freak me out but everyone else had fun. And came out really dirty.

The second day, we went to the mountain museum, which is full of information all about the Himalayas, ranging from the mountain tribes, to the geographic data and formation story, to information about the first climbs on each mountain along with all the major expeditions worth mentioning. It even includes the fauna and flora and the endangered species that can be found there. The information was extremely interesting and I’m glad we did that because I have been interested in information about the Himalayas but I’ve never done any research. I guess I always forget. So it was nice to get a crash course. Afterwards we checked out Devi’s Falls, which was powerful gush of water between two hills, that fell into a narrow space made all the more majestic by the closeness of all the greenery, which was stark against the flushing white water. It was small but so beautiful and very powerful.

Even after all this however, I was determined to see the Himalayas at sunrise, and so was everyone else, so we made a plan to wake up early and see the sunrise before leaving Pokhara this morning. At 5 o’ clock this morning, we were in the bus, all packed up to leave Pokhara, on our way to probably one of the most gorgeous views in the world. But this time, we didn’t go to Sarangkot. We went to another location that was actually on the way out of Pokhara. But none of us knew where we were going, including our bus driver.

So we’re driving and driving, on this road, that is barely a road, and the sun is slowly rising. Eventually the sun gets to a point where I start freaking out that were going to miss the view of the mountains at first light and I can’t figure out why were still driving but we haven’t reached yet. Eventually the road starts sloping downhill and we decide something is wrong. Luckily for us, in the middle of nowhere, on this deserted road, there was a lady who we asked about the location.

As it turns out, we had passed it about 15 minutes back. After jumping back in the car and driving to the correct location we had to climb to the top of the hill. A very very high hill. The hike was not easy and air was way thinner than I’ve ever had to breath. 5 minutes into the hike my lungs were on fire, and I was walking at a normal pace. I could barely breathe because it hurt so much to inhale. Everyone else on the other hand, excluding Carrie and EW ran up the hill. I have no idea how they managed that. They’re superhuman, I’m convinced.

After about 20 minutes of stopping and walking a few feet and stopping again, I made it to the top. Well, I’m here to tell you, it was totally worth it. There are no words to describe the view. But I took tons of pictures, so I don’t have to try. We caught the sun still on the mountains and it was more beautiful than I could have ever imagined. I’m so glad that we made the effort to make sure we saw the mountains at first light. After seeing them the previous mornings, I had to make sure I saw them at sunrise, and thankfully, everyone else was on the same page.

But the day didn’t end there. We then stopped at Marakamana, the holiest place in Nepal. It’s considered so important and holy because, throughout history, people who have gone into the temple and made a wish has had their wish come true. Apparently, if works best when you go to the temple three times and make the same wish. We actually had to take a very long cable car ride to the top of the hill that the temple is located on but the view going up was gorgeous. When we arrived at the temple the first thing I thought was ‘that’s it?’ because it was so small and simple. Because of how important it is, I was under the impression it was going to be a majestic temple. Then came the second disappointment: only Hindus could go inside. This made a lot of sense though, considering it the most holy place in Nepal. We didn’t stay very long and soon we were heading to Kathmandu, with no intention of stopping, except for lunch. Between waking up at 4 and hiking that hill, and then Marakamana, we all fell asleep for the better part of the drive back to Kathmandu, waking up only for lunch. But, the exhaustion was well worth it. Pokhara and the return to Kathmandu was amazing and I’m very happy we did it.

An adventure! (because this trip in itself clearly isn’t enough of one…..)

This morning, bright and early at 5 am we were up. By 6 we were leaving Manaslu to catch a bus to Pokhara. Well, what an ordeal this day turned out to be. First we had to walk all the way from our hotel to the pick up spot, which is a walk we have done many a time. Except this time we were all carrying luggage, I don’t know about anyone else, but it wasn’t so easy for me. I was dragging my suitcase, with everything I have, plus all the souvenirs I’ve bought/received since I’ve been here and, boy was it heavy! My suitcase is definitely a whole lot heavier than it was when I got here. But I don’t have an extra bag I could have used to put stuff I didn’t need in storage at the hotel, so I had to tote everything along. And poor Laura had to chug along with both her bags, camera equipment and all, because she leaves for the states from here.

A walk that should have been quite easy, especially after Doti, was pretty difficult especially because the roads and sidewalks are incredibly uneven. Now the entire under side of my bag is ripped up :(.

So after all our huffing and puffing and dragging we finally got to the bus where we all played musical chairs because the conductor kept moving us around and putting us in seats even though it was a public tour bus…?

Anyway, some time after our actual departure time, we were finally underway but we made multiple stops to pick people up. After we had to walk all that way, they got to be picked up! About 45 minutes into the trip, the AC is turned on and the cconductor comes around to close the windows, at which point I try to explain to him that my window has to be slightly open because the person sitting beside me will get sick without fresh air. He tells me it has to be closed. So we explain again. He tells me there is air coming out of the vent. I say again ‘she needs FRESH air.’ So he says okay but it has to closed a little more. He leaves MAYBE an inch of space. So he walks away and I open it again. This little fight between us over the window actually continued for some time. I suppose, here in Nepal, where people have grown up driving on these roads, they don’t understand the concept of motion sickness, but I’d like to think we explained the issue pretty well. I just opened the window every time he came around. But at one point I told him not to touch the window because she needed the air.

Outside of this, the ride was very very bumpy and it was a little hard for me to sleep but I eventually did only to be woken up because we now had to get off the bus and get on another bus. On the other side of the bridge. Which meant I had to walk, with my suitcase, again.

Apparently, the locals were on strike because the government was supposed to be rebuilding the bridge but they didn’t do a very good job so there was a line of busses backed up really far on both sides of the bridge. Fortunately, the tour company had a bus on the other side of the bridge and instead of making us wait two hours for the strike to be done they had us get off the bus and walk across the bridge to the other bus. And the people on the other bus did the same. It was so hot and a much longer walk than I had expected but we eventually made it and the new bus was a little nicer than the other bus.

Everything was pretty much smooth sailing after that. Until we got to Pokhara. The roads are so bumpy here! But the houses were so cute. They all have the same basic design but they’re all different colors. The houses in Pokhara really depict the Nepali culture of embracing colors and complement the landscape well. And they were all two toned, but it looked nice and not at all tacky. I hope we get an opportunity to take pictures of them.

It took us about another 45 minutes to get to the hotel after the pretty houses but the surrounding area is quite pretty. I think Doti was prettier but that’s because it was completely unspoiled and natural. A lot of people say Pokhara is one of the most beautiful places here, but many have never been to Doti. In fact, the ticket guy for my flight to Kathmandu was from Pokhara and he asked me where I was going and I told him Doti and he had never heard of it. So I suppose as far as easily accessible and highly populated areas, Pokhara would be one of, if not, the prettiest places. But Doti and far western Nepal is by far the most gorgeous landscape I have seen here.

After the bus ride, I relaxed and caught up on my Internet-ing and then took a walk with Carrie just to check out the road. There are mostly stores but as we discovered earlier this evening, there is a whole bunch of life around the corner. Literally. When we got to the end where the road blended we decided to go back because we thought that was it but it turns out there are tons of restaurants, bars and lounges and the night life here seems pretty active. There were some restaurants that looked really nice that I wouldn’t mind checking out but tonight we went to a sort of bar/pub called the Busy Bee. The food was pretty good and they had live music which was also nice. Haley and I played a game of pool as a team against two guys and we were winning too. And then I don’t know what happened. They come from behind and beat us. But it was still pretty fun. Haley and I make a solid match for pool, if I do say so myself.

So now I’m back at the hotel and dead tired. We have an active day tomorrow but I’m sure it’s going to be really fun. We’re doing a short hike and then were going to the mountain museum, which is about the Himalayas, and something else that I can’t remember right now but its going to be draining so I need to get some sleep, especially after today.

 

Two little girls and a small village changed my life

Left Doti today and I can’t say I’m not happy but it was definitely bittersweet. I love, love, loved the children but I couldn’t deal with the spiders and cold water anymore. And as I say this I feel myself cringing at how selfish and spoilt I sound. We drove to Dhanghadhi yesterday and stayed the night at hotel Devotee to catch the Kathmandu flight today. After being in Doti for the past week, the hotel was like a palace. We had AC, hot water and even though the power went out, there was a generator. But there was no Aysha and no Mina. I didn’t even get to spend a last day with Mina. She didn’t come to school on Monday and I was so heartbroken because I really wanted to be able to say good bye to her. Mina is the the little girl I blogged about a few days ago that I had bonded with. I spent the whole day looking out for her, hoping she was going to come, but she never did, and I couldn’t remember what her sister looked like so I wasn’t able to ask her what happened to Mina. I hope she’s okay.

 

Doti was an amazing experience. It was more moving and life changing than I ever thought it would be. People that had been here the first time kept telling me it would be a life changing experience/change me and I don’t think I believed them completely or grasped the gravity of what they were trying to tell me.

I’ve discovered a burning desire to make changes and impact the lives of those in need, regardless of how small. I now want to go home and help my people. I’ve always said I wouldn’t go home after college, but that may not be true anymore.

This morning I also realized how irritated I am by those who have the means and ability to help those in need but have no desire to do so and don’t even care. I want to help people without anything. I want to fix the world. I don’t understand how others couldn’t feel the same way. It’s such a pity that there are so many out there with more than enough funds to probably rebuild the whole of Doti, and they truly don’t want to help.

All I know is, I’m changed, as cliche as it sounds. But it’s true. Doti changed my life and how I think and I have new desires in life. I just hope that when I get back to school, I don’t get so caught up in life that I don’t continue on this path. I’m going to join Habitat for Humanity and get way more involved in service work. And get more involved in MLB. I can thank Doti, MLB and, most of all, Aysha and Mina for that.

Today was the first day we worked with the kids. I was working with Sarah and Carrie with sports and we played football (soccer) with our groups. The kids were so receptive. They were ready to play and even without speaking the same language we were able to communicate. All the kids were laughing and cooperating and seemed to really enjoy themselves

But today was bittersweet. As much fun as I had with them, I was totally overcome with emotion and I broke down completely and cried. I was out of commission for a good twenty minutes, which I was so upset about because I wanted to play with them.

As I went through the morning I observed little things about the children. One child had pants on and the zipper was broken, another had shoes on that were about three sizes two small and one little little girl was extremely dirty, so early in the day, as if she hadn’t taken a bath. I had slowly been noticing little things throughout the day that indicated the kind of poverty these children were living in and it was too much to take in at once.I was pushed over the emotional edge today into a sea of tears because I told my group of little athletes to sit down and try and kick the ball to each other while remaining seated. I glanced over to a little girl I had bonded with earlier. She was sitting on the  ground in her skirt, attempting to put her shoes on which created a gap in her skirt, only to notice that she wasn’t wearing any underwear and she wasn’t even sitting on the skirt. The first thing I thought?  “that is so dangerous and she could contract an infection”. The second: “if she is so comfortable sitting on the grass like that it could mean she does it a lot”. I went over to her, scooped her up, making sure her skirt covered her bottom, and sat her on the ground between my legs.
Before I had picked her up I was feeling a little emotional from the joy and pure fun that the children were having, simply kicking a ball around. By the time she was sitting with me, I was barely holding it together. And then she leaned back into me and laid her head on my arm, clearly showing she was comfortable, and I knew I was going to cry.

The worst part about this day was realizing I pass this kind of situation when I drive through my country. And I know in my head it is this bad but to come and live it and be stared in the face by it, is so hard to digest and comprehend. No amount of knowledge of the situation could have prepared me for what I experienced today.
These children can’t even wear a clean uniform all the time because they don’t have access to running water and the more I see and grasp the level of poverty in this country the more I want to kick myself for having to fly halfway across the world to learn about my people and the lives many are living. It was always in front of me and I never knew. And instead of doing anything about it at home, I’m in Nepal. This isn’t to say I’m not happy that I am here and helping because I am so elated and satisfied with the difference I’m making here. But now I know that things also need to be done right in my own backyard and I’m so ready to go home and do the necessary things to make changes.

But aside from the revelations I’ve made, I want the world to know the situation here. I want everyone to want to make a change, because if they do, this world will be changed and these children, and many others will have a chance at a better life.

Home sweet Nepal

Nepal reminds me so much of Jamaica. This was my first thought as I got off the plane and entered the airport. The lack of air conditioning, size and even the stairs to get off th plane were reminiscent of NMIA ( the international airport in Kingston) about 5 years ago. The familiarity didn’t stop there though. For the past five days I have been reminded of home every where I go. Of course there are differences, such as the clothing, people, language and culture but for the most part I feel like I’m at home. The roads are smaller and less paved but just as hectic as Jamaican roads. You can see the poverty a lot more obviously here in the buildings and construction of the towns but I’m sure that’s because, over the years, Jamaica has modernized the cities whereas Kathmandu is yet to do so. Up until a few years ago the town of port Maria looked the same way.
Even the exchange rate to the US dollar is (almost) the same as jamaica’s, which is a godsend because I don’t have to calculate the value to USD in my head when I’m given a price like every one else. I just think in JAD (teehee :p). Furthermore, when we went to visit Adi and KC’s old boarding school I felt like I was back at my old high school. The property was way prettier and right in front of some hills but the classrooms and labs were so similar. In fact, they were doing labs in chem, physics and bio that I remembered doing. I think I accidentally gave the answer to one of the boys in the bio lab actually.  And then there is Nargakot which was just like Newcastle (which is in the hills back home where people spend the day quite often). The drive up the hill and the view reminded me so much of the drive to newcastle.
Everyone told me I would be surprised at the way people live here but so far I relate to it more than anything.  However, the true test comes tomorrow when I go to Doti. I’ve seen rural towns before and seen how the truly poor live but I don’t know if it will be worse here. If it is I believe I’m about to be kicked out of my bubble of feeling like I’m at home.
I really like how much of Jamaica I see here and the input I can give from personal experience but the familiarity I have found here suggests that Jamaica is in a worse state than I even really realize, considering how poor Nepal is. Jamaica has managed to cover it up with a nice makeover but it’s all there still. I mean, at least Nepal has the Himalayas and Mt. Everest, Buddhist and Hindu temples, and absolutely beautiful cultural art and clothing. We only have pretty beaches and Bob. And he’s dead… So basically, I’ve found my second home in Nepal and I haven’t been truly shocked by anything I’ve seen here so far, however the test will arrive in the form of Doti and I will soon know whether or not I will get the shock of a lifetime from this trip. And even if I don’t, Nepal has been the experience of a lifetime so far and I know it will remain that way. But I’ll get back to you on the shock factor of Doti…