The most memorable week of my life started out with a day full of doubt. I was returning from the beautiful lakeside mountain town of Pokhara, Nepal to the country’s dusty capital city of Kathmandu. As our bus wound through the lush mountain roads back to “civilization” I wondered to myself, Do I really want to head back to city life? After all, wasn’t this what caused me to run away from India only a few short days before? I let myself forget my worries and get lost in the scenery as we passed village after colorful village.
Once we arrived to Kathmandu, I had yet another moment of doubt. My friend who I had traveled with was heading back to her cushy, safe, $25 a night American-approved guesthouse, but I had opted to stay with a local Couch Surfing host, and he wasn’t at the bus station yet. We were 40 minutes early, and the phone number he gave me didn’t work, so I had no choice but to wait and hope that our plans held strong. As my friend pulled away in her taxi, I continued to fend off on-coming taxi drivers. “No, thank you, I have a friend coming.” After half an hour of waiting on the curb, trying to read my book, but secretly wondering if this host would indeed come through, he showed up, with an entourage of 4 colorful friends.
It was Holi in India, a religious “festival of color” and the streets were packed, but nearly every store was shut up tight. We were lucky that one store was open, and we proceeded to drop off my massive bag with this local shopkeeper friend before heading out to walk the streets. Armed with plastic bags of color, we skipped around, singing, “Happy Holi!” as we marked other people celebrating the holiday. There was music and festivity all around, and a generally good vibe in the air. However, while we were dancing in large crowds, the boys would encircle me for protection against unwanted gropes from passing men, and when we walked the streets they fended off water throwers on my behalf. I was happy to be with them, experiencing Holi like a true local, but safely.
As the night wrapped up, we retrieved my big backpack, and headed back to their home. To most Americans, the neighborhood would feel like a ghetto slum, with houses stacked upon houses, and hundreds of electricity lines dangling haphazardly about, but to anyone on this side of the world it’s just a normal neighborhood. As I ducked down to follow them through their gate, and hiked up the stairs, they told me I would have my own room and bathroom. It was obvious that I was taking someone’s sleeping place, as they tidied up the tangle of covers on the bed, but I wasn’t going to argue. They showed me the shower, jimmy-rigged to keep the water off with a wire wrapped around the handle, and told me the bathroom light didn’t work. I realized I was about to have a very cold shower…in the dark… Again, I had moment of doubt, thinking to myself, Are you sure you don’t want to spring for a hostel?
I decided to stay on this path, and proceeded to set up a flashlight in the bathroom and washed the colored powder off my body, jumping in and out of the water, telling myself, “It’s not cold! It’s refreshing!” Upon conpletion, I bundled up in my warmest clothes and came out of “my room” to find my host vacuuming the floor and cleaning the house. He told me I could watch tv, but the other boys were upstairs starting to cook dinner. I’m on a mission to improve my cooking skills, and I’m always looking to learn something new in the kitchen, so I ascended the pitch black stairway towards the rooftop and kitchen area, and that is when everything really came together to let me know I was exactly where I needed to be.
All these boys come from the same rural village, a few hours outside of Kathmandu. They have grown up together their whole lives and have basically formed a “village away from the village” with this apartment. Everyone is welcome, everyone helps one another, and everyone contributes, taking their turn cooking dinner or cleaning the house. That first night I was merely a spectator, but in the nights to follow I would help to cut and clean the vegetables, and even become familiar with their local vegetable vendor, learning how to say various vegetable names in Nepali.
As I sat in the kitchen, observing the preparation of rice (bhat), lentils, (dal) and vegetables, the boys started to engage me in conversation. All understood English, but some were less confident than others in their conversational abilities, so they would look to one another for help with their responses. Two boys really took me under their wing and started teaching me some useful phrases like “shuva bihani” (good morning), “shuva din” (have a good day), and “shuva ratri” (good night). My use of these simple phrases, and my willingness to learn Nepali, would prove to help make me quite popular with the locals in the weeks to follow.
That night, I remember feeling such a happiness in my heart as I stood in the kitchen, watching these young men work together, and listening to them sing various songs, like John Legend’s “All of Me” and some old romantic Nepali classics. I was so grateful that I hadn’t let my fear of the unknown scare me out of this amazing, authentic experience of living like a local in Nepal. From day one, I knew my bond with these boys (ages 22-25) was something special, but I had no idea how fond we would all grow of one another in the coming week. By the time I left, they gushed, “You are the best Couch Surfer we have ever had! Your presence adds something special to the group!” My cheeks flushed, but my heart melted.
In Nepal they say that the “guest is God”, and these boys lived up to this saying, treating me like a queen. My stay extended for more than a week, and was full of incredible experiences: a trip to their rural mountain village, a local wedding, time spent working in the fields, a motorcycle road trip to Chitwan National Park, and regular wonderful days commuting to and from the city for work.
I will forever remember my week spent with these boys, and I will hold the memories we created together near and dear to my heart for years to come. Another win with Couch Surfing, and another experience that taught me not to let moments of doubt get in the way of a good time.