Nepal: A Few Trivial Thoughts

In contrast to my last piece about volunteering, I thought I’d share a few trivial thoughts I’ve had since arriving in Nepal a few weeks ago. It’s a country I’ll be honest I knew very little about before coming here, save for the earthquake news. 

Here are just a few things I have noticed while in Kathmandu, Nepal’s capital.

– There are cows everywhere. Since the country’s official religion is Hinduism, the cow is regarded as a sacred animal, and so are largely allowed to wander around the streets doing what they please. This means definitely no beef burgers…

  
– The only discernible rule of the road is drive on the left. And even that is not always adhered to. The streets of Kathmandu are awash with bikes swerving all over the place and lorries barrelling towards you. Somehow though, it works…

– Beer is expensive. Despite almost everything being a fraction of the price it would be in the western world, beer is still roughly the same price as it is back home. And there’s few to choose from: mainly Carlsberg, Tuborg, or San Miguel.

– The Premier League appears to be popular, with the old big four the most visible clubs; Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool. I’m wearing my Tottenham shirt a lot in the hope of raising awareness of the mighty Spurs.

– Despite it being an ancient symbol of auspiciousness in Hindiusm and Buddhism, it’s still extremely startling to see the swastika emblazoned on houses, gates and signs around Nepal. It’s strange how evocative a small symbol can be but I still get a chill when I see it here – which is often.

  

– The beheading of goats on a street corner is never a sight one gets used to. 

– Nepali cuisine mainly revoles around rice, noodles or potatoes. Those on the Atkins diet may find it difficult.

– Nepali men are very complimentary in the gym. I have been complimented on my “nice body” in the gym a few times now. It’s symptomatic of the friendly nature of the Nepali people – but it’s still a little strange…

It’s the friendliness though that makes this place so wonderful. The people always greet you with a smile, which is not something this cynical Londoner is used to.

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Volunteering in Nepal: Initial Discoveries

 

Another brick: Me with the wall I constructed

If someone had said to me this time last year that I would be in Nepal in January 2016 living in a guesthouse and slumming it, I would have been utterly confused thinking “what the hell would I be doing there?”
The reason why I could not foresee, as April 2015 brought one of the most devastating earthquakes on record in this region of the world. More than 8,000 people were killed and Nepal’s capital Kathmandu suffered horrendous damage across the city.

I read the reports shocked like so many others, and as often with these situations thinking “what can I do?” Frustratingly, a lot of the time this leads to nothing.

However, here I am building a new school in a region of Kathmandu having interrupted my career as a sports journalist to do so. Why? Mainly because I could. I found myself in a situation where I could combine my long-held desire for extensive travel and humanitarian work.


It’s fair to say it’s a welcome change from covering the millions of pounds being made in sports business, and the scale of corruption in bodies like FIFA and the IAAF.

Not that I’m begrudging that work at all – but it’s easy to become encircled in a bubble in that world. Across the globe, life continues in an unfair way unfortunately for billions of people most of whom are just born into cruel circumstances.

Take Nepal. Not only is it one of the poorest countries in the world, with a low-income wage structure, a caste system and a woeful lack of proper infrastructure, but they have had to deal with such a damaging natural disaster on top of that.

The relief funds generously sent, most notably by the UK, have not yet reached the ground (reportedly). So it’s down to NGO’s like projects abroad, who I am volunteering for, to help get Nepal back on its already weak feet.

Daily grind

It is a challenge. This is a third world country and, ashamedly, I found myself griping about the lack of hot showers in my early time here.

This would not be a problem were it not for the biting cold Nepal experiences at this time of year. At night, the temperature sinks to around 3/4 degrees centigrade. But this is compounded by the fact that Nepali houses don’t have central heating, insulation or double glazing. So these tall stone houses essentially turn into refrigerators overnight.

Power is at a premium too, especially with a fuel blockade going on along the Indian border. Many times the Nepali people’s stock answer to any problem is simply a shrug and the words “fuel crisis”.

Other volunteers have recounted how the lack of cooking gas has meant that meat is not being cooked properly, leaving many carnivores feeling very unwell soon after eating.

Members of my family will be pleased to hear I’ve suddenly converted to vegetarianism (temporarily, mind).

The work itself is hard graft. I’m not averse to manual labour, and I am a reasonably fit man. But weight lifting at the gym is not really the same as mixing batch after batch after batch of concrete by hand. It’s quite a change from sitting at a computer tapping away at a keyboard all day.


But ultimately it’s utterly rewarding and fulfilling work. The new school we are building is adjacent to the temporary classrooms being used by students at the moment, so we interact with the kids we are tirelessly putting our backs out for.

They are nothing short of an absolute delight to be around – and that is what has made my visit to Nepal so incredible. The sheer happiness of children around the city is astounding.

Everywhere you go, children run up to you smiling and greeting you with some excellent English, actually. “Hello! What’s your name? Where are you from? I love the UK!”

They’re not inside playing computer games or in shopping malls. Their happiness is borne out in playing table tennis in the street on a stone table, or by practicing martial arts moves around a fire, or even by rolling a tire down a street.

The robustness of the human spirit in such dire circumstances never ceases to amaze me. And it is in evidence so much here than I think I have ever seen in the world.

Some of these children lost family members last April. But they beat on, never beaten.

If I could have half that strength of spirit, I could mix quite a lot of concrete for the world.