A little bit of the shine of Nepal has wore off. It is still great to hear the rain outside tonight while I write, but the wonder of Nepali people has been a bit smudged. Today I explored on my own and met some interesting people -- a local university student who served my breakfast, a friendly ticket salesman at the boat docks, but also a lot of people who wanted money. It is tiring because they don't immediately ask for money; instead, they start a conversation with you, asking where you're from and if you like Nepal. These interactions are like those of the friendly and curious Bangladeshi people, but then, once you've talked to them for a few minutes, they ask you to look at their backpack full of crafts and please buy some because they are refugees from Tibet and your country is so rich. Or just give them money as a donation. I've even had gnarled old women grab me by the wrist as they point to their mouths and ask for money. It feels terrible because I have a firm position that giving handouts is unhelpful for everyone. It only creates a cycle of dependency and encourages them to continue begging. I would rather give money to an organization doing work that I support, where I know those dollars are going to actual aid. Within ten minutes of my day, as I walked along Phewa Lake and marveled at the serene reflection the mountains had in the still blue waters, I was approached by my first refugee and compelled to buy something from her. I relented (I didn't have much gumption at that point) and looked at her backpack full of beaded bracelets, gold pendants, and turquoise earrings and ended up buying something small for my sister. I am glad I could support her even though I can't be completely positive on her story. I explored temples and rode the local bus into town to see Hindu temple on the hilltop, and then spontaneously arranged for a scooter ride to the top of another hill, to see the World Peace Stupa and views of the lake at sunset. It was cheaper than a taxi and sounded like fun, so I said why not? Soon I was perched on the back of a scooter, skimming past the lake and the tourist district and up the hill to the stupa. It was a blast but would have been more fun if I wouldn't have gotten dirt in my eye in the first five minutes, which had me crying out of one eye for the rest of the trip. Awe passed rock waterfalls that flowed over the worn cement path and then bounced our way over uneven gravel. The last kilometer was walking up several stone flights of stairs that left me winded, but with a great view of the green valley below. At the top were three other Nepalese people at a little snack shop. We had Mountain Dews and kept hoping for the clouds to burn off, but we had a pretty fogged in sunset. I got one glimpse of the Himalayas before they were shrouded again in a constant cloud cover. The woman selling drinks said some things in Nepali to the others up there and I'm pretty sure she was making fun of me and being a foreigner and my tearing eye (it was a shocking amount of irritation that the little piece of dirt had!). That made me sad.
The next day, the interactions continued with good and bad alike, but most leaving a bad taste in my mouth. I got up at 4 AM to take a taxi driver to a mountain to watch the sunrise, where there was an unfortunately touristy crowd on a viewing platform strewn with plastic chairs. It was a cool, cloudy morning, dark when we got there save for the milky white fog enshrouding the valley. It got lighter and lighter but I never saw any Himalayan peaks. The Nepalese at Sarangkot, the mountain, are pros at the tourist thing, telling you to come look at their scarves and yak blankets that they have someone making right in front of you. They come up and drape scarves on you without asking and pressure you to buy at least one. It's too pushy and inauthentic. Is there any way to preserve culture without turning it into this? I hate it. When I (and other tourists) say no, it feels like we are reinforcing the Western superiority that is unspoken but known the world over. It has gotten to the point in Nepal that people are so pushy that when you pass shops in the street, you can't even look the owner in the eye or say hello or they will follow you and beg you to buy their wares. I feel like dirt avoiding people's eyes or not answering their calls, but in this country I am seen as a wealthy white person. And I realize in this world I may be wealthy but that doesn't change the reality that I need to go back to my country, where things are expensive, and pay for my apartment and college and living and all that. I can't give everything.
So while Nepal is pretty, I think the Bangladeshi people are nicer and more genuine. But would Bangladeshis be like this if they could speak a bit of English and had more tourists? It's an uncomfortable realization that maybe the only reason they were so nice is because we are a novelty. Plus, most if them couldn't speak our language.
But it's not all bad. I met a young Nepali guy -- my age -- who is a police in Pokhara and it turns out he is a Christian! We had a good conversation by the boat dock, and later I met another Nepali just curious about America and wanting to practice English. I had a heartfelt exchange with an age-worn but beautiful Hindu woman as well, with no words but we understood each other perfectly. I guess it's just life -- not everyone will be a rose.
I'm a twenty-something from the Pacific NW making home in new places as I follow where God leads.
My intent is to show Christ's love to the world and use business to solve some of the social problems we face: hunger, illiteracy, healthcare, economic hardship. For now, I'm in a stage of learning. A little adventuring, a few books, some good friends, and a whole lot of prayer and life runs on.