My roommate Tiffany and I are in our hotel room getting ready for bed and feeling eager about our first day at the worksite tomorrow. I wash my face and carefully use bottled water to wet my toothbrush since we were advised not to drink the tap water in Nepal. As I finish brushing, I absent-mindedly turn on the faucet and dip my toothbrush under the water. The brush is already in my mouth before I realize what I’ve done. I figure a tiny splash of tap water can’t cause too much damage (ominous foreshadowing) and head to bed.
I’ve only begun to fall asleep when I’m cruelly awoken by harrowing stomach pains. I lay there a minute trying to “adjust” to the pain and keep myself calm. It takes a moment before I realize my cramps are the result of that little bacteria cocktail I ingested while brushing my teeth. Dizzy, I stumble into the bathroom hoping to vomit or even have explosive diarrhea but nope… nothing happens. I lay on the cool tile floor for a while instead. Still nothing. I crawl – yes, crawl – back to my bed and can’t remember ever feeling so ill.
The Build Begins!
The next morning I dress slowly, determined to go to our first day building homes for Habitat for Humanity. I feel wobbly and the fumes from the bus are making me queasy. Pathetic as I am in my current state, I cannot help but feel excited as we approach the build site. We all brace ourselves as the rickety bus traverses a deep gorge. Once we make it to the other side, a few small homes come into view and, to my surprise; children emerge from the homes waving excitedly at us. I wave back and smile while they run alongside the bus. The scene is like something out of a Sundance film.
Our group is greeted warmly by the three partner families who will be building their new homes alongside us. They offer us flowers and apply tikkas to our foreheads (a mark made with red powder that is a blessing of sorts). The village kids are excited to hang out with us – new playmates! – and Manisha is kind enough to create makeshift nametags with some marker and construction tape so we can get to know one another better. She writes the volunteers’ names in Sanskrit and the Nepali’s names in English.
A Goat Makes Me Cry
The first order of business is to transport a large pile of cinder blocks to each of the three build sites. I have been assigned to House C, a little plot of land set back on a hill. It is further from the other two houses but I don’t mind, the quiet suits me. I still haven’t recovered from last night and, after about half a day’s work, my body is beginning to give out on me. I sit on the ground, worried I might faint any second now. Amrit, another one of our Habitat reps, looks on with concern. He is short and slight (like most of the Nepalis) and is dressed rather formally for a construction site. His collared shirt and heavy sweater seem out of place in this heat.
Having your body fail you, even briefly, is incredibly humbling. Suddenly, my grand plan to show up and save Nepal gives way to the more pressing need to stay conscious. Further down the hill I see my older group members hauling cinder blocks and slim Nepali women carrying enormous bags of concrete on their backs.
As I sit here contemplating my uselessness, a small goat approaches. My heart warms; perhaps this little creature senses my pain. He looks at me for a moment and then turns his head to my backpack where my welcome flower from the children is perched. Without warning, the goat begins to eat my flower. Oh man. I feel the tears welling up – I’m about to come undone. Amrit, witnessing the horror and my fragile state, assures me that the goat is eating my flower because he loves me and “because I love goat.” But I don’t love goat. I hate goat. This is a low point.
I spend the remainder of the afternoon lying in the back of our bus while the rest of the group has the best day ever. When it’s time to head back to the hotel, The Jasons (we have two of them) tell me about the fantastic time they had blessing a doorway with a sacrificial chicken and goofing around with the village kids. “Oh, sorry. That probably doesn’t make you feel better… But man, what a great day!” Sigh. There’s always tomorrow I suppose…
**UPDATE: As I’m sure you have already heard, a second powerful earthquake struck Nepal recently. If nothing else, this blog conveys the importance of clean drinking water! The people of Nepal definitely need some of that right about now.