Of the Places and People Before Us

head1c-2greyWritten by Connor Janzen

“Every moment of discovery bestows its own point of reflection; a persistent need to continuously remain aware.”

We’re learning incredible things in this country. Part of the joy of traveling to a place that you’ve never been before is how vastly things might differ from your normal surroundings. I don’t think that any of us really expected to see as much of Nepal as we did in such a short period of time during our drive from Kathmandu to Narayanpur. Totaling about 10 hours, the trip had us straddling mountainsides on narrow roads, driving through isolated communities, bigger cities and more rural or vegetated areas alike. At times, one might have mistaken the more forested locales for a familiar pass through the Ozarks in Arkansas. In other moments, complete bewilderment set in as we attempted to appreciate and absorb the newness of the land before us.

What you process almost immediately is a sensory need to observe quickly. Things move fast, here. Be it the traffic, a bustling market area or the constant variation of geographical nuances, the viewer becomes immersed in a desire to understand as much as possible at an impossible rate. One becomes obsessed with knowing what cannot be known without spending a considerable amount of time in any of these passing regions; and so, each fleeting glance becomes a missed opportunity.

Fortunately, our destination was a place where we would reside for three weeks, persistent in its call for exploration. Narayanpur has given us a unique look at this fascinating country and its beautiful landscapes. Located in the Western Terai region, we are actually in what is considered a valley. Surrounding us are what might be called mountains at home, while here they are referred to as hills, dwarfed by the true enormity of the Himalayas beyond. Being surrounded by an incredible spread of agriculture, indigenous peoples and the specific vernacular of their buildings has ultimately shown us what foreigners rarely have the fortune to witness: a region almost completely devoid of tourism, existing as naturally as it would without our presence or documentations.

The cities of Nepal sprawl outward in major linear directions from central hubs. Larger cities have multiple hubs while the grand scheme of Kathmandu fulfills this extrapolation at the highest level. Street shops run into one another as products and different venues cascade throughout each street in an expanse of vision. People wait for buses, socialize, move amongst one another. Alleyways feel eerily familiar while the buildings that rise around them are entirely alien. Rebar sticks out from unfinished structures, leaving opportunity to add whenever someone deems it appropriate. Some facades reflect the vibrant colors we have already encountered in the culture here, while others employ artificial glazing or plain grey tones.

In many neighborhoods, houses use gates to divide public from private. A journey inside feels sacred; a movement from the open unknown to the welcome warmth of a home and a family inside. A hospitality resides here that I have yet to experience in any facet back home. Friendly visitors arrive without warning and are invited inside with no hesitation. Inside the gates, one may notice that the surrounding walls have been secured with a brutal security scheme as the pointed ends of nails protrude from cemented bricktops. Inside, we are immediately offered a place to rest and refreshment in the form of tea or, sometimes, a cold Coca-Cola.

The streets themselves move back and forth between notions of sidewalk, driveway and drainage systems – notions that are, at times, loosely defined. Large holes often appear to test the vigilance of a foreign face. Children run and play outside of shops, mothers sit on porches keeping watch or chatting with neighbors. Community is real. It’s palpable and indivisible. These cities breed spirit, sometimes in the face of despair.

On long walks we venture away from the typical arrangement of open storefronts or living spaces that are crammed together in admirable solidarity. Beyond, roads lead to villages and outlying communities that are worlds unto themselves. With over 100 different ethnic groups and at least 90 variations of language, one does not venture far before experiencing different nuances of culture. Following side roads, these communities align themselves with the natural movement of people in and out of the region. Every moment of discovery bestows its own point of reflection; a persistent need to continuously remain aware.

What each large city, small town, village and isolated community brings are those prolonged opportunities to stand and observe moments that will never exist again. Back home, these things feel monotonous and plain. Here, quality of life stems from the traditions of family and community that hold each human hub together. While neighbors in the United States bicker about whose tree branches are hanging into the other’s yards, citizens here gather both inside and out in regular and genuine humanity; homes represent collective existence. The places we’ve visited and lived within over the last two weeks remind us that there are perspectives worth harnessing and holding onto forever. The people in these locations have taught me more about happiness than I’ve ever learned from the ideals of “success” we strive for at home, and while there are things that I undoubtedly miss about my origins, I think that we’ll all return with a new reverence for our common person; an appreciation for these places and people that have imparted so much.

There is no way to properly summarize the general feelings I’ve had since we arrived. The last three years have challenged me in ways I never imagined. At times, I have worked through depression and moments of stress that made life feel impossible. In anticipation of leaving this place, I am attempting to collect my thoughts. The places and people before us are changing the way I view my personal self and the lives of those around me. They are revolutionizing my sense of existence and I now encounter a struggle in composing the words meant to describe what all of this has been. So much can be experienced in a very short period. By the time we return home, it may feel as though everything passed in an instant, but the people stepping off of that plane will not be the same people who left at the beginning of June. That’s something that we are all thankful for.

Thanks for reading! Namaste.