I want to take a moment, dear Reader, to discuss some of the reactions I received to my volunteerism in Nepal. You might expect people to respond positively to building homes for those in need, and certainly, many people did. However, there were just as many individuals who seemed put off by the idea and I think their responses are worth exploring.
So You Think I Think I’m Better Than You
Some reproached me for not donating my time and money to causes closer to home – who cares about some random family in Nepal when the kid down the street needs a healthy meal? Others believed if I really wanted to help build homes in Nepal I would write a check instead of spending the money to actually get there and, hey, am I even qualified to be on a build site? What construction experience do I have anyway? Perhaps my favorite rebuff was the one that came in the form of a backhanded compliment: “You’re so good. I don’t think I’d ever waste my vacation doing something like that. Good for you!”
Now, I cannot argue that there are many in need here at home and yes, Habitat could have built more homes with skilled labor if I had simply cut a big check. These options also do nothing to promote a sense of cultural exchange and fellowship with those living outside of the bubble we inhabit every day. Part of me wonders if the people who, almost snidely, comment on my “goodness” feel as though their all-inclusive trips to the Caribbean are being judged. Or perhaps they assume I’m feeling self-righteous for having a more “altruistic” holiday lined up?
Not wanting to begin a philosophical debate on the existence of truly selfless giving, it’s fair to say that people volunteer for a host of reasons. Even if the impetus to volunteer is self-serving – to get away from work, avoid a failing relationship, or sound “cultured” on your next date – I would still argue that to channel any energy in a way that benefits another person is pretty awesome. Let’s not forget basic preferences too; spending a week on a manufactured resort or wearing full make-up with heels and a bikini at some pool bar in Vegas sounds god awful to me. To each their own.
Finishing Up Our Nepali Business
Our last week at the work site passes quickly and everyone is excited for the house dedication party on Friday. After days of working silently together and exchanging polite smiles, my Nepali companions and I finally make clumsy attempts to communicate. During our assembly line my new friend exclaims,“Nepali DHL!” and we laugh – yes, we are an express delivery service! When a plane flies overhead I declare, “Nepali Plane!” Soon everything we are doing is “Nepali Business” and we are laughing it up like old friends. I even go into town before dinner to get a t-shirt made that says ‘Nepali Business’ in Sanskrit. When I wear it the locals in the street yell, “Nepali Business!” and I happily shout, “Nepali Business!” back. Yup, I’m fitting right in.
We spend more time with the village kids, knowing that our days with them are numbered. Puran leads us down into the gorge and convinces several members of our group to go swimming with him. The older girls bring Amy and I flowers and are fascinated when we show them images of themselves on our cameras; they fix their hair and request that we take the photo another time. I attempt to take photos of the younger kids but they don’t quite seem to understand that they have to step back to get in the frame; the process was chaotic, but resulted in some adorable photos.
We finish the dedication ceremony and the three new homeowners – all women – look excited. As a group we pitched in for school supplies for the village kids. The kids seem equally content with their pencils and notebooks. I wonder what their little lives will be like. The bus pulls away and we wave goodbye to them for the last time.
With the build officially over, everyone is packing up for home or – in some cases – the next phase of their adventure. Though being tethered to a big group for weeks can feel unwieldy and cumbersome, I inevitably experience separation anxiety as they slip out of my life one by one. In honor of one of our last nights together, a few of us head to a local bar in Pokhara. We chat quietly over our drinks and a band takes the stage. Much to my surprise, the band begins singing modern American songs and before I know it we’re all belting out Sublime’s “Santeria.” Tony is buying shots while Amy is introducing me to a friend she made in line for the ladies’ room – the party has been kicked up a notch!
I know I won’t keep in touch with everyone, but I leave Nepal certain I’ve made a couple of new close friends at least. A special thanks to you, dear Reader, for letting me relive such a lovely experience!