Are You Happy?

One of the more unique aspects of volunteering in Nepal is our group’s ability to settle into a routine. Many of my previous travels were frenetic, leaving me in a state of perpetual motion – an uninterrupted windstorm of interruptions. Having several weeks in Pokhara allows for our group to participate in the community’s daily rhythm and to become familiar with each other’s quirky patterns. Because none of us are actually annoying – not ever! – we’re “quirky.”

Curbing The Urge to Correct
Each morning our group eats breakfast together in the hotel and takes the bus to the build site. We collectively wince each time the we cross the gorge (praying the wheels don’t literally come off of the bus), and head to our respective house sites, ready to receive the day’s task. Landon and I work together, silently mixing concrete and troweling. Neil, a middle aged New Yorker, offers frequent suggestions about how we might go about building the home using American techniques. The problem with that being, of course: we aren’t in America. Part of Habitat’s Global Village mission is to use local materials and methods to build the new homes.

However, part of me understands Neil’s instinct to optimize. Throughout Nepal we see a dichotomy of modern convenience and the simple lifestyle customary to an economy dominated by old-school agriculture. For example, the bathrooms at our hotel are surprisingly modern but do not have shower curtains. Absolutely everything, including the toilet paper, gets soaked each time you shower. The brooms we use on the build site have very short handles – if only the handles were a bit longer, we wouldn’t have to hunch over while we sweep. These suggestions may seem innocuous, but I struggle to find the line between offering improvements and forced assimilation. I mean, no one likes a know-it-all!

Happiness Or Bust
Working with my hands to create something tangible – a home for a family no less! – is incredibly satisfying. The sun shines above me as I methodically place new bricks. A local Nepali works beside me; he’s about my age and doesn’t speak any English so we enjoy each other’s company wordlessly. It is a relief not to be thinking about anything in particular. Instead, I feel I am simply… being.

Amrit approaches and asks if I am happy, something he does often. Perhaps he means for it to be more of a “hey, how’s it going?” but the question always seems to be made in earnest. At first I would fumble – you know, the way you do when faced with such an existential inquiry – but now I assure him that yes, I am happy.

“Good,” he says. “A person must have singing and a feeling of happiness in their soul or else it is no good.” We certainly cannot argue we with that, dear Reader!

Our group pauses for masala tea mid-morning and makes the quick drive to our lunch spot each afternoon. We sit out back on the simple patio and eat momos, Nepal’s signature dumpling. Occasionally, we follow it up with a game of carrom board with the kids. Afternoons at the work site tend to be slightly less productive; the children return from school in an onslaught of enthusiasm, often luring us away from our work to play. They especially like Kevin from Ohio – a tall bearded man with a gentle way about him. The kids dangle from his tattoo covered arms and seem intrigued by his beard.

I’m gonna put this right out there: I’m not really a “kid person.” It’s not that I don’t like them specifically, it’s just that they don’t earn any brownie points with me purely based on the fact that they are miniature humans. Having said that, we have some real characters here in our village.

Puran, one of the older boys, does this crazy thing where he’ll wiggle his eyebrows and make shifty eyes at me when no one else is looking. It’s as if he’s always up to something – which I love! There is a girl, very quiet, who climbs up into the tree by my work site. When I notice her up there she waves and smiles. I wave back. One of the younger boys is surprisingly stylish and often sports scarves and a dapper little jacket. Beenita brings me flowers and shares her bracelets and hair accessories with me. Not only are they a great group, but I’m amazed at how carefully these children look after one another.

Maybe it doesn’t seem like anything especially exciting, but our routine offers comfort and consistency in a place so far from home.

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