Field Note #181 Rachael's Experience
Rachael Kelly's reflection of her volunteer experience in Nepal:
Time is always moving, but in some situations it seems to disappear. Traveling is one of these times.
It’s pretty wild. But the act of traveling affects not only my physical sense of time, but also my mental state. Airports always bring to life a part of me that wants to connect with strangers, to talk to people from all over the world who I never would get the chance to otherwise. Being in that mindset prepared me mentally for my trip, where I was ready to form connections with my team and the people from the villages.
In this post, I will cover our five work days. Feel free to skip around, and enjoy!
May 20–RaiTole and Padampur
After arriving to our hotel the day before (which backed a river flowing through the Chitwan National Park), we traveled two and a half hours to RaiTole, a village that Wine to Water has been working in for the past three months. There were a few small tasks to be completed before the Mayor arrived for the inauguration ceremony of the new water system that had been built, which used a solar pump to distribute clean water into in home and communal taps.
Later that day, we visited Padampur to distribute filters to a few of the families there. It was a village built into a jungle, and a thick layer of humidity hung in the air as we worked with the people. We taught the parents how to assemble and maintain buckets with Sawyer filters attached, and if the parents weren’t there, their children were eager to learn.
I have a soft spot for playing with kids (probably because I still think and act like one a lot of times), so when I saw fifteen children watching our group walk into their village, a wave of excitement hit me. In RaiTole, I had gotten the chance to talk to some of the villagers through one of our translators, Bhumika K.C, but it was a short conversation.
I joined hands with a little girl and her sister as we walked into the heart of the village. The girl looked 3 or 4, considerably younger than the majority of the kids who had greeted us. She didn’t speak at all for a while–not that we could’ve understood each other anyway. But she kept circling back to me, and eventually she began to open up.
I started playing games with her, tickling her, and eventually picking her up and swinging her into the sky. With each time I picked her up, her smile grew wider, and her eyes brighter. My own grin stretched too, an indescribable feeling of joy blooming inside of my chest.
Without even closing my eyes, I can still see her smile. I can feel her hand gripping mine, hear her quiet, high pitched laugh as she begged me to follow her. I hated saying goodbye. I had only known her for a few hours, and we didn’t even speak the same language.
None of that mattered, though.
It was a common theme throughout the week. I had never done an international service trip before, and so this was the first time I realized the importance of laughter. My dad always says that no matter where you go, everyone has the same laugh. On this trip, I learned how true of a statement that is. And not only is it true, but it is important. Laughter, smiling, and every other emotional expression allows us to communicate with people when words don’t work. It really is the language that brings all humans together. What a beautiful thing.
May 21–Majhua day one
This was the most physically intense day of work. After seeing a project finish the day before, it was time to break ground at a new site. In Majhua, the people survive by growing crops and selling rocks they collect from a river bed, which runs nearly dry before the rainy season begins. They have a well for water, but it is in poor condition. Wine to Water’s plan to bring water to each villager’s home should take around nine months, but it started with us and two giant pits of mud.
My group first worked near an underwater spring, which they were going to use as their source of water if it was suitable. The villagers joined us almost immediately, bringing their own tools and even making some out of branches, which they attached to pickaxe and hoe heads we had brought. We dug for hours, and the water bubbling up from underground made it difficult. That wasn’t a bad thing, though, because it meant that there was a constant flow of water. Later, we found out that the spring can provide clean water to about 500 homes, which was amazing news.
The second part of the project, which we spent the majority of our time on, was clearing out a water retention area that had been covered by a landslide. The women of the village congregated there, and together we formed lines to remove rocks and mud from the area. It was a challenge, but it felt good to get my hands (along with the rest of me) dirty.
After we had finished, I went to the stream to wash the mud off of my limbs. It had soaked into my clothes, turning the white stripes on my shorts brown, but I didn’t really mind. I had expected to get dirty.
Two of the village women approached me, asking for my water bottle. They pointed to the mud that still clung to my skin, and I began laughing. They had bathed two of our group members already, and now they saw me as a worthy candidate. I kept laughing and smiling as they doused me, scrubbing my skin until the mud was gone.
It amazed me, the amount of generosity they showed us. They had never worked with a volunteer group before, unlike the people in RaiTole and Padampur. We were strangers, but they treated us like family. I left that day with my heart as warm as the day before.
May 22–Majhua day two
I woke up on Tuesday feeling incredibly sore, slightly nauseous, and pretty exhausted. It was frustrating, not feeling 100% that day, because I wanted to be able to give my all to the work. I did what I could, but I had to take breaks simply because my body was feeling weak.
My favorite part of the work day was meeting Bipin, a 15-year-old boy who knew a little bit of English. I was standing next to him, helping clear out the area by passing bowls of mud and rocks to the exterior of the pit. Because we could communicate a little, we exchanged some simple questions, like “What’s your favorite sport?” and “Do you like Justin Bieber?” (that one was Bipin asking me!)
I have no idea how to write these words, but I learned how to say some Nepali words: rock is pronounced “dungha,” mud is “matto,” hand is “had.” It was fun, pointing to things and trying to copy Bipin’s pronunciation.
Another funny moment that day was when one of our translators pointed to me and said that the villagers needed me. I went over alone, wondering why they had picked me for whatever task they had in store. It was hard to figure out what the villagers were asking me to do. A man was scraping mud off of the concrete near a hole, so I copied him. One of the men handed me a broken plastic pipe and pointed down into some water, so I started scooping mud with it, looking confused. The villagers surrounding me were laughing, and I laughed too, because I felt so ridiculous. Eventually, I called over a translator, and I found out that the villagers thought I was an engineer and were asking me how to position a pipe so it would drain water. I laughed, because both of my parents and my brother are engineers, but I am definitively not. I was sorry I couldn’t help, but thankful it gave me a little break and a good laugh.
May 23–Majhua day three
On our last day working in the mud pit, I bonded with three women in my line who taught me more words. It must’ve been funny, hearing a girl say “rock!!” so enthusiastically and so many times. They also taught me “togaree,” the name of the bowl we were using to move the mud. Like I said, I am definitely not spelling these words right, but that’s how I learned to pronounce them!!
Some kids in the village had come to work with us today, and I also brought my camera. All the villagers love taking pictures with us, and I let some of the younger kids use my camera, and they LOVED it. I also played with the kids by throwing mud balls back and forth with them (or at them), teaching them a game using pieces of grass, and dancing for them.
We also took a break to have a dance party, where one of the village ladies showed everyone up with her spunky moves. It got everyone laughing and joining in.
It was hard to leave that day. I had become fond of the community there, and it felt like I was having to say goodbye just as I started to feel at home there. It’s that feeling that makes me want to keep coming back, though. To keep serving and allowing people to shape me, to humble me.
May 24–school near Majhua
On our last work day, we went to a school in the area to teach the students about hygiene and sanitation. What we taught them was called the WASH program, and my group was in charge of teaching the kids the importance of washing your hands and brushing your teeth. We sang a song about each, and Bhumika helped us teach them by explaining the meaning in their language.
After the lessons, we joined the kids for recess. They taught us some of their games, including a version of Red Light Green Light that was strikingly similar to our own. We didn’t get to stay there long, but it was long enough for the children’s contagious laughter to latch on.
These people barely had anything. They had small homes, fields of crops that were continuously destroyed by wild boars during the night, and poor drinking water. But these people were not poor, depending on your definition of poverty. Some people in my group talked about this one night, and I remember Pavan’s words, our group leader, most of all. He said that these people may be lacking physical things, which makes us assign the label of “poor” to them, but they are rich in so many things that are absent in our lives. Their community was strong, and most of the people had lived there their entire lives. They were rich because of this community, rich in generosity, in love and appreciation.
Maybe we have access to clean water and they don’t, but that doesn’t make them poor and us rich. While we were there, there was no “us” and “them.” It was “we.” There was cooperation. There was community. There was a mixing of two cultures, but like a good trail mix, the different flavors blended together perfectly. It wasn’t like trying to smash ketchup and ice cream together and call it a new dish. It was more like pretzels and peanut butter, or chocolate with chili powder in it. Our flavors were excitingly different, but together, they were something new and beautiful.
I met so many amazing people on this trip. I want to thank our group leaders, Jaleigh and Pavan, as well as the team at Wine to Water Nepal that made this experience so amazing. To my fellow volunteers, Taylor, Morgan, Savannah, Hellen, Lisa, McKinnley, Carrie, Eileen, Samantha, and Conor, thank you for spending this incredible week with me. I treasured the awesome conversations we had (usually on the many long bus rides), the games we played (Spicy Uno and Mafia specifically), and the endless memories we made. I’ll always remember this trip, and I thank you for being a part of it.
It’s important to me that I share this experience, and I know I’ll be writing about it more. Thank you for your support, and expect more posts soon!
Please go out and see the world. Meet people. Do cool things. This is your life! Don’t let it slip by–live it.