One Month in Nepal – Part 2 

When booking the bus to Pokhara, I was told to get the “tourist bus” because it’s quicker and I’ll be there in 6hrs max. LIES! The tourist bus and the local bus are basically the same, one has more character than the other and I’m not talking about the tourist bus. If you are one prone to have motion sickness, then you are in for a ride because Nepali divers are…. Not gonna say it! Come to Nepal and be your own judge. Anyway I said this was gonna be a serious post so let’s get to it.

Warning: I alternated the paragraphs to tell two stories at a time so pls dnt get mad if its annoying to keep track! i just wanted to kill two birds with one stone 🙂

Pokhara is in great proximity to many of the mountains in the Himalayan range so many people visit the area for relaxation and to do some trekking. I really enjoyed the vibe of the town when I arrived, most of the accommodations are right by the Fewa Lake, which made for some great relaxation and journaling time before I decided to make plans on how to proceed. I hadn’t fully decided where to head but after living in the main city areas of Nepal, I wanted to go off the map and see how people live in small villages and towns nestled within the Himalayas, preferably the Annapurna conservation areas. The best way to do this was through trekking because you can’t just waltz into the area without permits and what not. So it was decided! Some adventure in trekking to the Annapurna basecamp and learning experiences of what it’s like to live remotely in the mountains.

Before heading up there, what my time in Kathmandu thought me was that among Nepali’s, the strength of their social fabric and interrelations among families and ethnicities was very important. Considering the theory I’ve been exploring throughout my journey, I could see where the many cultures in Nepal could foster a sense of interdependence (Ubuntu) but I couldn’t really figure out how that would play out in terms of public health. Specifically since many people live in areas removed from several healthcare facilities, I thought it would be great to learn about their perceptions of healthcare since about 85% of the population utilize traditional medicine as their primary form of healthcare. And honestly with Nepal overrun by so many NGOs and tourism oriented organizations, I wanted to see and observe through the eyes of the locals not someone’s annual report- there are legitimate NGOs doing great work in Nepal but I just wanted to do things my way.

Getting the permits was easy but packing for a 10 days of trekking was tough as the lesser things you packed the better your chances of moving faster and smoothly. Apparently and truthfully the higher you went, the colder it got and the weather also unpredictable. Also trekking for 10 days alone in the Himalayas was a different level of loneliness I wasn’t ready for so I made friends with some fellow travelers that were headed my way. The journey started in the town of Nayapul where we walked for several hours- about 7hrs- to the town of Ulleri then the next day about the same time frame to Ghorepani (Poon Hill). The terrain was undoubtedly beautiful and local people you meet along the way even more beautiful and welcoming. Along the way, I noticed that many of the towns at least had a little health center equipped with mainly first aid materials which were mainly utilized on occasions but the people seemed to be generally healthy. Speaking to some locals and some guides who have worked in that region for a while, I found that most traditional Nepali’s utilize two forms of health practices, Ayurvedic Medicine and Folk Medicine, both of which are extensions of traditional practices passed down through lineages and gurus.

Trekking for 9 days to an altitude of 4130 meters, wasn’t all sunny and fun as it sounds, from one town to the next, the landscapes were either extremely steep of very downhill. At some points I felt like I would have fallen down had it not been for my awesome bamboo walking stick. The weather was incredibly moody, occasionally it would seem cloudy but then nothing would happen so my traveling buddies and I would just ignore it. However, on the 5th day, while walking through a really beautiful forest full of faunas and orchids, we got caught in the middle of a rain and hail storm. The sad thing was we had only 25 minutes of walking before the next town but it felt like forever as the hills were steep and the weather kept getting crazier. We arrived in the town Himalaya all soaked up and freezing because as the temperatures get lower the higher we went. It was a miracle that none of us got sick because we were literally drenched and the next day we had to proceed with mostly wet clothes- thank goodness I had one last pair of dry socks.

In each if the towns we visited and passed through, I often times didn’t get to talk to as much people as I wanted but in the towns that I stayed in, I occasionally met some people who were great to talk to. Generally after they fulfill their curiosities about what I was doing in around there, they were very chatty even with little English and shared what they thought about current situations in Nepal and their villages. In one conversation with a lady, she told me about how many Nepali communities have gradually become reliant on the help of NGOs for most of their health and development issues. Thinking about her comment now, I could certainly see why so because there aren’t many local people who can afford to take the initiative to shoulder an organization to benefit his/her community no matter how deep their sense of motivation and dedication is. Thus most people would rather be affiliated with outside NGOs than start up something from the very grassroots by themselves. Nevertheless I’d have to say I can see locals being able to champion change through health initiatives because there’s just a really interwoven sense of lived realities in Nepal that makes it definitely possible.

Oh yeah! So getting to the basecamp was quite an exciting feat. The terrain only got snowier after we got beat up by the hail but at the basecamp it was really beautiful with tons of snowy peaks all around and the occasional noises of avalanches around- no big deal! Sike! It was low-key scary! The sunrises at the basecamp were also to die for and really surreal, I hope the photos do give you a sense of it. Descending from the basecamp took us two days because although everything was great! Wearing the same clothes for long stretches of days on occasionally skipping showers (hot showers were expensive) made me feel icky. Anyway being back in Pokhara was great, I did feel a great sense of accomplishment in having gotten more data for my research and also getting to see the Himalayas so up close and personal. At this point, I had a few days left before I have to get ready for Myanmar so after nursing my many joint pains with Tiger baIm, I took a short trip to Lumbini (To see the Birthplace of Buddha) which was really great but also tiring because the 7hr bus ride felt like bumper cars without the bumping.

Alright! I’m tired of typing and you’re probably tired of reading so you’ll have to ask me other details about this journey/stories in person- hahaha! Nepal has been really great to me and I’ve had a really amazing time living here and getting to know the people. I’ll definitely be back later for more amazing food, adventures and to b among such friendly people. Next week I’ll be in Myanmar, where I’m only allowed to stay 28 days but I may or may not break the law and stay a bit longer for a daily fine of $3. Until next time! Namaste!

One Month in Nepal – Part 1

Arriving in Kathmandu at 1pm after a 23hr layover Delhi left me too drained to want to do anything so what did I do? I slept for passed out for 8hrs and of course I missed Maha Shivaratri (Night of Lord Shiva), which is a Hindu festival celebrating the reverence of Lord Shiva. I actually found out about this festival when I woke up to find the hostel almost empty because all the backpackers left to go watch the celebrations- I also found out that people smoke a lot of marijuana at the festival so I guess that explains why the hostel was empty. Anyway I was staying in Thamel because my earlier research suggested that was the place to gain some orientation before moving on to other parts of the country. I knew I’d meet some fellow travelers but I guess I wasn’t ready for the swarms of deadlocked blondies (not the neat kind of dreadlocks but the one that says I’ve given up everything to go find myself) in saggy clothes who spend most of their days doing yoga, smoking weed and eating mo:mo’s. Okay there might be a bit of generalization here but trust me I’m not lying, those guys and girls are actually cool and easy to talk to – when they’re not blowing smokes of macroaggression in your face.

Okay some seriousness. I spent about a week in Kathmandu, which was longer than I wanted but nevertheless a very good exposure to Nepal. I structured my own walking tours which led me to the Durbar Squares in Kathmandu and its sister-city Patan. The plan was to take in the atmosphere while seeing the changes around the city because even in a taxi ride to my hostel, I could feel how much impact the earthquake in 2015 has had on the city. Walking around, you can see multiple destroyed buildings and several scattered rubbles all around but what’s more visible than this damage in the spirit of the Nepali people as they continue to carry on their seemingly peaceful daily lives. Since Thamel in known to be the tourist/trekker spot, the streets are lined with crazy traffic, multiple trekking gear shops, tons of booking agencies, etc. However, further down to the Durbar Square area of Kathmandu are glimpses of normal Nepali life with the several rows of ladies selling strawberries, sweets and other food items (fun observation: The men normally sell oranges and pomegranates while the women usually see grapes and strawberries).

The Durbar Square in Kathmandu was really nice but most of the structures had been destroyed by the earthquake- some were repairable while others were sadly gone forever. Oh! FYI Durbar square is the name given to plazas or areas opposite old royal Palaces, they mainly consist of temples, idols of all shapes and lots of birds! I really enjoyed walking around the Durbar Square even though there were about a billion eyes following me every step I took. The Durbar Square in Patan was actually my favorite, it wasn’t as crowded and a lot of the structures weren’t really affected by the earthquake. What made me enjoy Patan the most was the several alleyways surrounding the Durbar Square, It was like every alley led to some new place and there was always some interesting stuff going on. Although people just stared and occasionally asked “where from?” they seemed very nice and approachable which made it easy for me to make some quick acquaintances to gather some info for my project.

Project-wise, I had planned to work with an NGO and stay for about two months in Nepal but I quickly realized that working with NGOs in Nepal is largely a voluntourism business and I am not up for that. So I decided to stay one month, travel by myself, meet people and learn about Nepalese culture and I couldn’t have made a better decision. Volunteering for NGOs are fun but from what I learned in Rwanda, lines soon get blurred and you get sucked in further than you want, which makes leaving and having some independence tough. Any who, I decided to head east to Pokhara after Kathmandu to spend some time among locals and away from the various forms of pollution available in Kathmandu (seriously everyone in the city wears a surgical mask because vehicular pollution and dirt from rubbles is not a good combination for anyone’s lungs)

At this point you must be wondering why I haven’t said anything about Nepali food. Don’t worry I may or may not be stuffing my face with some paneer masala curry and garlic naan while writing this post but just know that the food is really good. Due to proximity and historical factors, a lot of Nepali food has Indian influences but they do hold their own and make it theirs like the famous Dal Bhat which I can’t get enough off- well mainly because you can ask for more when you’re done and its free99!!. I also I think I found my favorite local restaurant already, Western Tandoori, which I’ve frequented every day for lunch and dinner since I arrived in Nepal. They have the best selection of curries and naan in town, also their masala tea is to die for and if you ask nicely, they might hook you up with their masala mix- I didn’t tell you this.

One more thing before I go. Nepali clubs are really fun! Especially the club that may or may not be known as Purple Haze (the name has no hidden subliminals) that has giant painting of Jimi Hendrix on the wall. They regularly feature a live band and it’s it’s… just fucking fun okay so go when you get the chance! End of story. Tune in to my next post which would be a mix of adventure and some seriousness about what I’ve actually learned about Nepal- Oh and awesome photos if I find good internet.

Re-grounding myself/ Facing the realities of change

Let me start by saying that being told by an immigration officer that you can’t go home because “on paper you’re not from here/there” is pretty painful to hear.

That was what I was told by the Ghanaian consulate in Rwanda when I wanted to apply for a visa to visit Ghana for the Christmas holidays and also because I haven’t been there since I left 8 years ago. The immigration requirements are pretty ridiculous and unnecessary so basically if one doesn’t apply from their home country- in my case the U.S. – it’s pretty impossible to visit the country. Oh and get this, it’s freaking 2016 and they don’t offer visa on arrival for anyone regardless of country.  Anyway being frustrated and turned down in Rwanda didn’t deter me so one of the first thing I did when I got to Ethiopia was to visit the Ghana high commission and pretty much grovel to be considered for a visa to go home. Thankfully the guy in charge was very understanding and asked for a copy of my mom’s passport before he would consider me for a visa. Before I started my project and traveled around Ethiopia in early December, I turned in application and around a week before the end of January, I got a call that I had been granted a visa- I don’t know how to do a back flip but if I knew how to, that’s the first thing I would have done. I mean Christmas had passed by then but I was glad that they gave me the chance

Fast forward, after a 10 hour flight I was in disbelief that I was actually in Accra waiting to be picked up by my mom at the airport. I doubt I can use words to fully describe how it felt seeing my mom again after so many years apart but I’ll always remember the words she said when she saw me – “Wow! My baby boy is now a big man”. After a long hug which led to many people at the airport staring awkwardly, we went home and so began a much needed break to ground myself and to relax from doing my project continuously because i was feeling burnt out. On our way home, I think I caught my mom staring at me multiple times- I’m not a fan of being stared at– but it was cool, 8 years is too damn long. Arriving home was followed by a series of phone calls to numerous family members to announce my arrival and receive well wishes in the most Ghanaian/ African way as possible.

My first week back home was filled with endless meals and the trying of new recipes because lord knows my mom couldn’t stop cooking even if she tried. I had lost a good amount of weight from all the delicious vegan dishes in Ethiopia but Ghanaian food is not vegan friendly- annnd my grandma famously said that in Ghana if you don’t eat meat you go deaf. Speaking of my grandmother, I went to visit the wonderful old lady and it really great to see her still smiling, making jokes and being herself even though it was a little sad that she no longer remembered me because of her dementia. Nevertheless, it was honestly good to be back, seeing many people and doing so many familiar things that I hadn’t done in so long. So many things had changed and some were still familiar, some of the changes I saw coming and others were shocking and completely out of the blue.

I can talk about these changes for a long time but I’ll just focus on the one that shocked me the most because it’s more closely related to my project. As the story goes, I’ve always longed to revisit my grandfather’s home town because it’s my upbringing in that community that sparked my interest in public health. Going back there, I had expected to see several changes and perhaps some key developments in how the town looked and the people that lived there but damn! What I saw was totally unexpected. It was like the town was dead! Everyone had left, there were barely any young people around and it felt like all the life that was in town had been sucked out by some crazy vacuum- I believe that vacuum might be the twin brother of globalization.  Also, all the things that made the town feel like home was either falling apart or already gone, all the cocoa crops and the large mangoes trees had been cut down and most of lands were just bare! Not sure if I’d have experienced this change differently if I hadn’t left Ghana but that was one painful experience which I guess relates to the new natural cause of life i.e. globalization and other forms of neocolonialism.

On a lighter note, I passed by my old kindergarten and got the ultimate trip down memory lane when I saw my kindergarten teacher, auntie grace who was still teaching the kids and actually remembered who I was. I mean at this point I felt really old but just imagine how she felt- well she was mainly proud to see someone she helped nurture so grown up and so mature. On the trip back to the central region, I kept thinking about how much I would have preferred to keep my old memories instead of seeing what the town was like now but in a way, I was glad I went because all that change emphasized how much I’ve changed as an individual and how inevitable it is to stop changes from happening. Being back home wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows, there were some harsh realities that I had to face and think about I know I am capable of handling them. With that being said, leaving Ghana again was bittersweet but it was a trip worth taking because I needed to ground myself before continuing this journey and being back home helped with that process a lot.

When leaving home, I figured that I deserved more time off, especially some exploration that wasn’t within areas that weren’t near my project destinations. So I stopped over in Germany to visit friends I met while in Peru which was really fun and relaxing because I can’t say no to beer, especially when it’s a quality German beer. Being in Germany also gave me enough time to reflect more on my project as a whole because I couldn’t possibly do that at home when my mom was constantly making amazing meals – ha-ha! I didn’t do a lot of tourist things in Germany because it was freaking cold but it was still fun to see places like Munich and Berlin and that was it….. Okay that’s not all, I made a short trip to Prague which felt dreamlike because the city is unbelievably beautiful: Oh and of course a trip to Europe wouldn’t be complete without seeing Paris and eating a few baguettes. Having this break was fun but I began to feel guilty because things started to get expensive and also I needed to get to Asia before the monsoon seasons got closer. So I booked my trip to Nepal where I plan to stay for a month before heading to Myanmar. I look forward to bringing you more fun updates soon! Au Revoir!