This morning I was talking to Rachel and she asked me if I felt like this experience was changing me. I thought for a moment and answered, “no.” Somehow “change” doesn’t seem the right word, “change” insinuates a turn of direction, a transformation of sorts. What I’m experience feels more like expanding, a broadening of perspective and understanding.
After our Himalayan trek, Adam and I went on a two day rafting trip. Following the first day’s adventure, we piled into a van with the rafting team to head to our campsite. About half way through the drive I turned to Adam and said, “don’t you think its odd that nothing is striking us as odd.” We were sitting in the back of a van that was piled full of people with those who didn’t fit inside sitting on the roof. Around us were enormous mountains, lush green valleys, animals (cows, chickens, dogs, goats, etc.) wandering along the roads, children bathing in the river, women washing clothes in waterfalls, and automobiles flying around mountain bends without a thought to anything resembling “rules of the road.” If you would have put me in this situation 3 months ago I would be having a proper panic attack while simultaneously trying to snap pictures out the window. These things are now simply a fact of life, nothing particularly remarkable, just passing scenery on a drive. Its amazing how quickly I’ve become acclimatized to this dramatically different culture. This by no means diminishes the impact, quite to the contrary, it has allowed for a different kind of understanding and empathy. The culture, specifically the people, have become more human and less like vignettes on “Its a Small World.”
That night I contemplated the reality that I had settled into and the following day gave me a kick-in-the-ass that reminded me just how far away from home I am.
After a quick breakfast by the river it was time to head over to the rafting site. We walked up to the road ready to hop on a bus only to find that there was in fact, no bus. We, along with our two new British friends and our Nepali rafting guide, would be hitchhiking. You can imagine the rapid-fire montage of hitchhiking disasters that flooded my head but when a colorful cargo van pulled over I turned off my deep-rooted American sensibilities and climbed in. The truck smelled like a potent mixture of incense and body odor, was decorated with jewel-toned string, fabric and paintings, and crammed 10 people into a cabin that was built for 5. Local music blared and Adam and I exchanged looks that must have read like something between excitement, bewilderment, and awe. This couldn’t possibly be my life.
Hours later, after a fantastic afternoon on the river, it was time to head back to Kathmandu. We said goodbye to our new friends and again went up to the road to hop on a bus. Luckily this time our transportation appeared, however the seats were all full, leaving Adam and I with alternate accommodation. We threw our bags to a boy on the roof, who couldn’t have been more than 13 years old, and proceeded to follow them up. We were eventually joined by 3 Nepali travelers and the young boy, who climbed on and off the roof into open bus windows with an ease that suggested a lifetime of practice. Later, as we rounded mountain bends, Adam and I had an impromptu sing-a-long: Indigo Girls, Joni Mitchell, James Taylor, and hits from the pop-rock musical theatre cannon. For hours we sang at the top of our lungs, on the roof of a bus, in the mountains, in Nepal. It was nothing short of spectacular. Yes, this is my life!
As I write this I’m on a plane from Kathmandu to Delhi. India. I can’t believe I’m already here. Two months have past. Five countries down, one to go. I can’t help but feel remarkably lucky and profoundly grateful.
The other day on the raft a girl was talking about driving in Kathmandu and thinking about how all the pollution could cause cancer. The conversation went as follows…
Me: Yes, but in the unlikely event that you get cancer from the pollution in Kathmandu, at least you’ll have been to Nepal unlike the other millions of people who get cancer and have never left home.
British Boy: Well you’re an optimist, aren’t you?
Adam: And now you’ve met Leah.
So upon further contemplation I will stick with my gut response; No, I don’t think I’m “changing.” Expanding, learning, growing, maturing, evolving even? Yes. But “changing”? I don’t think so. My glass is still half full and I’ve been drinking for years.