Painting Nepal a Different Shade

Kathmandu. Image: Sharada Prasad
Kathmandu. Image: Sharada Prasad.

Stepping out of the plane after a 10-hour journey was the least I could say ‘liberating’, but I was immediately assaulted by the suffocating humidity and heat that made me question my choice of clothing. However, the weather was rendered completely insignificant, as I had to remind myself once again that, yes, I had finally arrived in Nepal. The 2 weeks of volunteering I had been obsessing about since November had finally begun.

Helping the less fortunate has been ingrained in my mind ever since I can remember. Participating in charity events and assisting children living in an orphanage with their homework never failed to put a smile on my face. But I had always wanted to volunteer in an unknown environment, away from the comfort of my own home. Therefore, the idea of a care & community volunteer in Nepal, which successfully combined my love for children and Asia, where I had spent 4 years of my life, was the answer I was looking for.

Looking out the window of our cramped bus, I couldn’t stop staring at the town of Kathmandu. Everything seemed so unfamiliar, from the monkeys hanging from the telephone poles to the commotion on the roads. Tomorrow was fast approaching and I couldn’t wait for us to start! When we arrived at the school the next morning, the younger students had prepared a special welcome for us. The cutest little girls were dressed in formal Nepali clothing with heavy eye makeup and the traditional tikka, a red dot worn between the eyes. The first girl wrapped a khatak, a silk ceremonial scarf, around our necks and then placed the tikka on our foreheads, while the rest of the students were clapping. Their gratitude was heart-warming and I felt overwhelmed with emotion, as the tikka and the khatak had been used to honour us. After spending quality time with the elementary and middle school students, introducing ourselves and playing Nepali games, it was finally time to get serious. We were split into groups and my team and I were lucky enough to be in charge of the nursery, which also meant playing with the chubby, adorable 3 year olds in the next classroom.

As I look back, the welcoming day was perhaps our only chance for the next two weeks, to savour the summer feeling of having to do absolutely nothing. We found out the hard way that our work was extremely exhausting and not all fun and games; the fumes from the paints caused headaches and when we returned back every afternoon I would fall into hibernation like sleep. However, painting the Parthenon, Australian wild animals and an enormous tree with English alphabet adorned leaves was very rewarding. I felt that this change of scenery would certainly be a source of wonder to the sweet children spending half of their days in the room. And that was exactly the reaction we would receive from the older girls and boys that would visit and assist us with the designs. Sometimes the kids were quite ‘naughty’ since they would start singing or perform dances and demand we follow along, never accepting no as an answer! However, these minimal distractions, the way their little faces smiled brightly back to us and the gratitude they were constantly showing were more than enough to keep us pushing for perfection. As well as the fact that the children loved our work and us, winning the competition for best room simply added to our growing confidence as the “best group in town”.

To reward our hard work, we embarked on a torturous, never-ending 6-hour bus drive to Chitwan, a district of Nepal, where we would bathe with elephants in the river, or so we thought, and ride through the forest on top of them. I had been anticipating this trip since forever and it had secretly been one of the reasons I chose to apply to Nepal. To our surprise, however, the actual event didn’t consist of us bathing the elephants, but rather of the elephants bathing us, by spraying water from their trunks. Even though the water was filthy, beyond imagination, I couldn’t stop thinking how wonderfully crazy were these moments, with us sitting on top of the elephants and swimming amongst hem. The second weekend, we walked around the well-known Kathmandu Durbar Square with its pointy, Hindu temples. But the moment the living goddess, Kumari, appeared through a high window of the ‘Kumari Ghar’ and simply looked at the tourists that had visited her with her huge made up eyes cemented my fascination with Nepali religion and culture.

As the two weeks came to an end, I was finding myself constantly thinking about the rascals I had bonded with, like Kushi, the most beautiful girl that carried herself like a true Nepali queen, as well as the little dancers that never failed to amaze me with new routines. Their faces and the school had become so familiar to me, that it was incomprehensible to believe that I would never see them again. In addition, the elephant bathing in Chitwan and the visit to Kathmandu Durbar Square were once in a lifetime experiences. I know that even if I visit Nepal in the future, I can never relieve this summer. Kathmandu will be seen through changed eyes…

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