After a beautiful one month in Bhaktapur, Nepal, volunteering at the Happy Kids Center, an afternoon program for risk youth and community empowerment, my trip came to an abrupt halt.
After falling ill with food poisoning, I felt almost rejuvenated, like my body had cleansed itself from the toxins which force the locals to wear face masks and the plastic garbage which chokes the rivers. I felt like me again, back to my odd southern accents, off-beat remarks and care-free attitude. I returned back to the center, feeling at home with the children who gracefully invited me into their makeshift slum homes for tea and whatever else they could manage to offer before it got dark and I had to plead to leave.
After five days on this cloud, on a roof top overlooking one of the temple squares, I started to laugh as I sensed a sure flu coming on. I felt desperately cold despite the 60-or-so degree temperature outside. For the next few days, which also coincided with the Kathmandu Valley’s largest festival of the year, Bisket Jatra, I decided that I would not let my body keep me down and that I would join the party anyways. I watched a thousand person plus, city-wide tug of war, in perhaps the most authentic medieval city in today’s globalized word. Yet, as the fever progressed, I was forced by my friends and the Nepali guesthouse owner to go to the local hospital. As I could barely keep my head up, I still had to argue with the owner on why I did not feel comfortable squeezing three people on a motorbike through the bumpy roads to make it to the local clinic.
Overtired and afraid, I had quite a traumatic experience at the hospital, where I was told I had a 104 fever. The doctor, struggling to communicate with me in English, insisted I had typhoid (which I don’t – yay). I worked through frustration of not understanding my test results and his reluctance to speak with me instead of my male guesthouse owner. With no answers, I decided that while the Himalayas would have been incredible to trek in, they’d always be there and my health needed to come first.
In 48 hours I was home and in the best hands of my parents, who are also two of my best friends. While it seemed like my adventure was over, I was reminded on meeting a new friend at the airport on his way back from deployment in Afghanistan that however cliché, life can be as much as an adventure as we want it to be. Living in my home town, I can meet new people and see the world in a different light every day.
Sure, it was a bummer that I needed to come home early, but in the grand scheme of things, I still felt and continue to feel like one of the luckiest people in the world. For many of us, fears of what may happen keep us from pursuing what we really want in life. Traveling alone as a woman in a foreign country, this wasn’t the worst that could happen, but it surely holds back many. The hospital didn’t infect me, in fact it was clean and well managed.
When I parted ways with my new friend at the airport and offered him a hug, I immediately realized that he needed it much more than I had expected. Walking away completely uplifted and ecstatic to be on U.S. soil, my Mom cried when we spotted each other. Home has never felt so nourishing. Filled with gratitude, I soon later signed a lease in Denver and bought my first ever car, preparing for an exciting trip across the country.
Looking back on it, throughout most of the two-week sickness in Nepal, I was in excellent spirits. We truly can separate ourselves from physical sensations, just as we can practice stepping away from our emotions and taking an outside point of view.
Things never work out according to plan, which is great for someone who doesn’t fancy planning in the first place. Further, however, situations like these remind us to go with it and stay smiling. No frown or tear will help a situation, but a positive attitude might not hurt.
In the end, we realize the worst isn’t so bad – it’s still magnificent.
We can decide to be swallowed by trauma and tragedy, or use it as a driver for growth and transformation. I was again brought back to this concept of leveraging our lows to reach new highs in the book “The Journey Within” by Radhanath Swami, as he speaks of the relationship between forest fires and the strength of the red wood tree population. Initially, fire fighters, assuming it was best to mitigate all fires, did too good of a job in preventing them. It turns out red wood trees need fires to break open their seed encasings and regrow the forest. Sometimes it takes something powerful and seemingly hurtful to shatter our worlds and reveal our core, our truest nature, so that we can replant, rising stronger and new again.