As I now sit in the Delhi airport, my state of denial is fading, it is finally beginning to sink in—the semester is over, I am no longer in Kirtipur. In this international zone that, aside from the increased quality of Indian food and presence of a “prayer room” sign next to “smoking room” sign, could be anywhere in the world, it is starting to become real. I feel so far from the world of squat toilets and nesam phiriri. Over the course of the past few hours I have shed so many tears, and written so much in my journal. There is so much to comprehend, so much to process, so much to attempt to reconcile; I am finding it difficult to decipher what I should include in a blog post. Four months ago, I sat here, in this same booth in Delhi airport. I feel like such a different person. In all honesty, I feel like a different person today than I did just a week ago. Rather than try to describe this perceived change in sentiment – I don’t think I can- I’d rather tell a story of a run that I went on a few days ago.
Bright and early, 5am, I set off from the program house. I ran down the path past the falling-down pile of bricks with weeds sprouting at odd angles, a pile of bricks whose peculiar beauty I have felt obliged to photograph frequently over past months, each instance with different intention. I ran through the opening in the stone wall of the Tribhuvan University border, over the rocky segment and through what appears to be fields of wheat, even in this semi-urban area. I ran past the T.U. Botany Department, and down through the path towards the forested area, my favorite place in the vicinity. In the early morning, this patch, a ‘forest’ of sorts, is filled with cows—cows with no owners, cows that just roam the streets and create traffic jams and graze through garbage by the riverside, cows that exist in this perpetual state of wandering because its normal in a former Hindu Kingdom. In Nepal, it’s normal. I ran past the cows that do not recognize my intrusion, and along a path through a series of trees that have recently sprouted the most beautiful purple flowers high in their branches. “Blue Mimosas”, they are apparently called. The forest floor is scattered with their fallen petals. And the sun was shining at such a perfect early morning angle, even the garbage scattered appeared to belong in the scene.
I continued along this path, and soon arrived at my destination– Kirtipur community ‘yoga’ session. I’ve known this existed from Til Dai’s stories, but never before this day had the impulse to rise at 5. But lo and behold, I seem to be the only one that fears early mornings—literally hundreds of Nepalis were all gathered in this square, performing what from a distance seemed to be an interpretive squidward-esque dance routine! As I ran closer, I could see that they were in fact jumping up and down waving their arms in synchrony. I soon approached and joined in the movements; a bizarre series of actions, again so far from what I conceive as yoga in the US, but also so far from the calm meditative teachings of Yoga Sir during class at CNSP. It reminded me more of an aerobics or zumba class, but with the occasional down dog and backbend. The session included an extended session of “laughter yoga”, a phenomenon I know of thanks to Holidays with my ever-inspiring Uncle Sam. The actions continued for the next thirty minutes ago, with new dance/jumping moves to my bewildered excitement. Such an energy was created, such a life force, such a vortex, a concept that as Justine feels emerges wonderfully spontaneously in Nepal. I should mention that almost all the women were wearing full kortha sherwalls alongside their nike running shoes. It was beautiful—all these people, of all ages, all genders, all castes, gathered together so early in the morning, performing movements that in the US would belong to a strange cult on a college campus. I was so struck by this sense of community, and this humility and sheer comfort with what others might perceive silly. But in Nepal, it’s normal; only a foreign perspective would question these motives. But I did not feel like an outsider—I felt as though this bizarre 5 am ‘yoga’ session was precisely where I belonged at that moment. As the sun rose into the sky, and cast a golden-reddish glint upon the trash-covered lawn, the session was over. Those surrounding me stood up and began to wander off, back to their respective lives. I too, followed suit, and continued my run past the patch of giant orange flowers, and towards the CNSP program house. Effectively, I ran past an entire semester for which a ‘bizarre community yoga session’ presents an oddly accurate metaphor, towards this moment, now, in transit towards another reality.
There is a peculiar beauty about this community yoga session, about the sun shining on garbage strewn all around, about the uneven pile of bricks with weeds protruding out. There is a peculiar beauty about how these excerpts from the fabric of Nepali life are normal, are completely acceptable, are even beautiful. I have fallen in love with this peculiar beauty, and this overwhelming sense of community and humility. In many ways, I think I have fallen in love with Nepal.
As I sit on airplane home, I already miss the program house, the CNSP family (perhaps an extension of Nepali culture’s importance placed on ‘family unit’), the experience of conducting research (remarkably turned out very well according to my professors), the conversations, the laughs, the tears, the spices, the colors. But as a good friend of mine, Santosh, mentioned yesterday, the act of “missing” is not the Nepali way. While sitting at a pond feeding carp amidst a sun shower in Bhaktapur, it dawned on me—moments like those I have had this past semester are now memories, forever engrained in my mind, in photographs, in stories. I can embrace their existence and love and learn from them, but not dwell forever on past merit. In Nepali language, there is no translation for the word “To miss”, rather they say “Samjaanu” which translates to “To remember”. Looking back at this most inspirational four months, I must embody this linguistic construction—Its important not to live in the past, recreating memories, and obsessing over time gone by, a pattern I have at moments been plagued by. Longing for nostalgia has led to frustration and regret. Rather, it’s important to say “Ma samjanchhu”, I remember. My semester in Nepal will stay with me forever, and I know that I am coming back, in some capacity. Be it for research upon graduating undergrad, or work later in life, I know I will again call this country home.
As I sit in this airport, a location that is the physical embodiment of transport, of transition, I realize this semester is indeed over. I will be home in the New York and Connecticut area for just ten days, long enough to have a bagel and sushi, and for reverse culture shock to emerge. Then, it’s off to the next adventure, as I am so fortunate to be interning this summer at the UNHCR Environment Unit headquarters, in Geneva Switzerland. I am going from a country with a unique zigzag shaped flag and microbuses, to a land of structure and normalcy. From Dal Bhaat to fondue—I can hardly imagine a starker contrast. And that scares me. But I find it interesting how Nepal is often referred to as the Switzerland of Asia; I wonder if I can find elements in which the reverse might also be true. In all honesty, I’m quite nervous, but if there is anything I’ve learned these past four months, it’s that everything will be alright. I am leaving this semester feeling more empowered, more at peace, more humbled, more inspired, and with a love of community and place pervading my mindset… Ma Nepal Samjanchhu.