On my last day at home before I boarded a plane to come to Nepal, I visited one of my old high school teachers. He told me a story about one of his friends who joined the Peace Corps and went to Guatemala. When his two years were finished, he stayed in Guatemala. On the occasions that he would visit friends and family in the States, they would ask when he was moving back home for good. They were shocked and confused when he told them that he had no intention of ever returning to his home country. He’d found a new way of life and saw no reason to give it up.
It’s tempting and easy to automatically assume that one’s own way of life is the correct one. This belief is even easier to fall into when one lives in the developed world, especially in the very wealthiest countries, like the United States, Britain, or Australia. After all, why would your country be so successful and wealthy if your way of life isn’t the very best? Decades, centuries even, of Amero- and Eurocentrism and imperial ideology is largely to blame for this, not any one individual. But all the same, it’s up to all of us to break out of that line of thinking. How? By going really far away and staying there for as long as you can.
When I left my home in Berkley, Michigan, USA to move all the way around the world to Pokhara, Nepal for five months, I didn’t know what the hell I’d been thinking. Only eighteen years old, traveling solo to the far side of the world, that’s madness. And that’s how I felt the entire way there. But it turned out to be the most sound decision I ever made.
When I arrived in Pokhara, I wasn’t any more sure of myself. It was loud, there were cows and Australians everywhere, the traffic was insane, I couldn’t read some of the street signs. A giant smelly behemoth of a dog slept in the hallway. Nothing was familiar, nothing was right, nothing was the way things should be. But little by little, things became more familiar. I caught up to the pace of things. The cows stopped looking out of place. If a car or motorbike came careening out of its lane toward me, it was just a matter of moving. The giant smelly behemoth of a dog (or Kali, to you) became a cute pup who loves her belly rubs. By the end of my 20 weeks there, everything made sense. The things that were different ceased to distract me and I
could see into what makes Nepalese culture so wonderful.
In my final few weeks, my teacher’s story came back to me. I realized how sorely I’ll miss the cows that just wander around everywhere (especially Daisy), the gorgeous mountains, the dal bhat, and above all, the people, be they my fellow volunteers, the staff, the children, or old women who can always spare a smile.
Nepal has problems. There is large amounts of abject poverty. There’s a lot of garbage and pollution. It’s far from perfect. But especially recently, the United States (or any of its citizens) is in no place to set a standard of how a country should be.
Before I left home, I certainly didn’t believe that the way I lived was the one right way. But it wasn’t until I lived somewhere else that I could see the alternative. So get out there and explore your options. Parts of your own society might begin to seem a little… well, out of place.
Thanks for an amazing 5 months. I’ll never forget it.