The only way to find true happiness is to risk being completely cut open.
As the plane hit the tarmac I was relieved to be back on solid ground. It had been a bumpy ride through the mountain ranges and 26 hours of travelling, with an 11- hour transit in Hong Kong had left me exhausted.
Walking through Kathmandu airport brought back so many memories, but this time I was here alone. I had butterflies in my stomach as I waited to collect my suitcase before being reunited with Rubin after 4 and-a-half months of being apart.
There weren’t as many tourists as last time I was here. Perhaps the earthquakes had scared them off? Or perhaps I was crazy to come back!
As I stepped outside the airport I was lucky to spot Rubin out from a crowd of people and he waved me over. I was so excited to see him. I had often day dreamed about running towards him and hugging him tightly, like a scene from a movie, however reality didn’t quite live up to my expectations.
He seemed shy to see me and he was void of any physical affection. I brushed it off thinking perhaps it was a cultural thing and I followed him down the road to a car that was waiting for us.
I met his older brother and we drove to a guesthouse in the backpacker district of Thamel. The streets didn’t have as much earthquake damage as I had feared but we had only travelled a short distance.
The budget guesthouse was next door to the nicer, more expensive guesthouse that I had stayed in 4 and-a-half months earlier, nonetheless, I was grateful that Rubin had organized transport and somewhere for us to stay so I could recover from jet-lag before I met his family and stayed in his home.
The room was bright and airy and it had a nice little balcony, but the mattress was as hard as a rock, the sheets were ripped and dirty and the water in the bathroom stunk. I knew this trip was going to be different. I was going to be living here for 5 months and having no job or income meant I had to be on a budget.
I wasn’t a tourist this time.
I was here to stay and live like a Nepali.
My eyes were heavy and I tried to sleep but I woke up at 3am, my body clock was still in New Zealand time, I managed to fall back to sleep and woke soon after to the familiar sounds of crows chirping.
Rubin had bought me some herbal medicine for my sinus problem so he called me into the stinky bathroom and showed me how to snort up half a cup of herbal infused water into each nostril. I struggled at first, but I managed to get through it because I wanted to show him that I was hardy and willing to try new things, even if it hurt.
My head now felt heavy and full of water and my nose didn’t stop running. I inserted my earplugs and took a shower but I didn’t let the smelly water touch my face.
I got dressed and we walked down the narrow lane towards a small café for breakfast. I hadn’t eaten from local places before as I was too scared of getting sick but all I could do was trust that Rubin knew good places where it was safe to eat and he ordered me palak paneer and a garlic naan.
I wasn’t used to eating curry for breakfast but it was delicious and I devoured the whole bowl. We slowly walked back to the guesthouse with full bellies and I layed down on the bed. I was feeling the effects of jet lag and the herbal medicine had brought on flu-like symptoms so I spent the next three days recovering.
Feeling too weak and tired to walk around or do anything we went for days without eating and on the third morning I awoke from my sleep crying while Rubin was vomiting in the stinky toilet.
The sadness lingered while I tried to recall my dream….
I was starving hungry outside a busy street cafe, waiting inline to be served but for some reason the young Nepali girl ignored me and refused to serve me. As she continued to serve others, sadness welled up inside of me. I was weak and hungry and why was she not serving me? Suddenly I caught sight of an elderly Nepali woman who was also serving food behind the counter and I asked her “why wasn’t she serving me?” The wise old lady looked at me with eyes of love and said because she is starving herself and she reached her arms out towards me. I melted into her warm embrace, feeling a mutual exchange of love, acceptance and compassion, and I cried like a baby.
It was 6am and hunger, sadness and panic set in. I suddenly wanted to escape from the guesthouse, it felt like a bloody prison, so we packed up and got a taxi to Rubin’s house.
We arrived in Patan, his hometown, which is in the outskirts of Kathmandu City, and with no formal introductions, I met his non-English speaking mother and family but my spirits were low. It suddenly dawned on me that I would be living here and I hoped that I would acclimatize to my new surroundings, family and culture.
His home was a traditional three story, six bedroom, Nepalese house tightly packed in amongst other concrete houses, with a rooftop terrace, squat toilets, and a friendly dog.
I was seated at the dining table and served a tasty plate of rice, lentil dhal and spinach, then I packed an overnight bag and we drove an hour East of Kathmandu on a motorbike to a mountainside village in Kathmandu Valley.
This was my first experience riding the chaotic and polluted streets on the back of a motorbike. The traffic was congested in some places and we weaved in and out, between old lorries spilling out black smoke from the exhaust, buses overloaded with people and cars, missing them by only inches of space in-between.
Once we were out of the city the drive up the windy and bumpy mountain road was beautiful. The air smelt fresh and clean and it became cooler the higher up we went.
Nagarkot was a popular holiday destination for locals and tourists as it provided spectacular Himalayan mountain views and an abundant assortment of guesthouses that were scattered along the green hilltop, which took advantage of the sunrise and sunset.
It was just what I needed and a welcome escape from the polluted, chaotic city.
We drove around different guesthouse’s and eventually found a half decent looking one that was within our price-range. A very short, happy looking Nepali man with missing teeth welcomed us in and showed us downstairs to where we had the choice of two rooms. Interestingly, the nicer, larger room was cheaper so it was an easy decision. The room had a large balcony that overlooked the mountains and a clean bathroom with a western toilet!
We ordered dinner early, relaxed outside and listened to music on my phone while breathing in the fresh air.
I had spent the last 4 and a half months talking online everyday to this man who had stolen my heart when we first met in Kathmandu Durbar Square, 2 days before the earthquake hit. Now I was here with him in person and I wanted to get to know him better. I wanted to explore deeper, the feelings I had for him.
I felt grateful for that fateful day in April, which had brought me back to this beautiful country and I reminisced on everything that had happened in-between and how quickly my life, once again, had changed.
I had spent the last year living alone in my camper-van in New Zealand, now I was living in Nepal.
The food arrived but it was almost un-edible. Luckily I had bought a packet of biscuits. I had learnt travelling around India to always have a back up plan if the food is horrible or unsafe to eat.
As I munched away on Oreo’s we laughed, danced and talked our way through the night until we fell asleep in each other’s arms.
I woke up the next day feeling almost back to my normal self and I decided to do some yoga before heading back to Patan.
Over the next month, I stayed in Rubin’s family home and I learnt how to be a part of a Nepalese family. Everything was so different compared to back home and I was lucky that his Hindu family were open-minded enough to allow us to sleep together in the same bed.
For the first time, in a long time, I was a part of a family.
On Father’s Day I met more of Rubin’s family and we celebrated by eating lots of Nepali food and sweets, and the following day we celebrated Rubin’s niece’s 5th Birthday.
Nepal celebrates many festivals throughout the year and the next few days saw various celebrations including Teej where the woman dress up in beautiful red sari’s and fasted to honour their husbands, the new constitution brought in a new law which saw the streets lit up with smiling faces, music, candles and twinkling lights, and the Rato Machhendranath festival attracted large crowds of people who came to watch a towering chariot being pulled by men (and women), to worship the rain and rice Gods.
Amongst all the celebrations, I found myself having up and down days. For some reason I thought that leaving New Zealand and coming to Nepal would be the magical answer to my lack of inner happiness, but as I was soon to find out, no matter where I travelled to, how I felt inside was not going to change.
A lot of our days were spent lying around, watching TV and wasting time on our phones because it was too hot outside and we lacked money to do much. I wanted to keep busy to avoid my habit of excessive thinking, which lead to doubt, indecision and a lack of inner joy but there was no escape from myself and the situation that I had chosen to get myself into.
I swayed between enjoying being here and in a relationship to wanting to run away. I felt like a spoilt and ungrateful outsider and no matter how hard Rubin tried to make me happy, I wasn’t.
What the hell was wrong with me!
I did my best to adjust to using a squat toilet, eating roti, rice, lentils and curry for breakfast, lunch and dinner and having cold showers and no privacy in Rubin’s bedroom that his dad freely used to access the toilet.
Thankfully, after a few days I began to see the blessings rather than the negatives. I started to enjoy eating all the home-cooked food that was lovingly made, fresh from locally grown organic produce and the aromatic spices played heaven on my taste buds. The curries Rubin’s mother and brother’s wife made were some of the best I’d ever tasted and the food in his home was safe to eat and better than what we could buy out on the streets.
I enjoyed sitting up on the roof top with the crows and hand washing all of my clothes beneath the warm morning sun. I appreciated having a quiet house to hide out in, away from the heat, dust and crowds of people, and I decided I’d open my heart again and allow love to penetrate those cold hard walls, instead of fighting against it!
A morning routine of waking at 7am, and teaching Rubin and his nephew an hour’s yoga on the rooftop before breakfast, helped me to create some familiarity.
I was adjusting fast but the monotone colours of a crumbling, concrete city, the pollution and relentless traffic noise was overwhelming and I looked forward to getting away into nature and being up high in the mountains. I missed the colour green. I missed walking on grass, sitting beneath a tree, breathing in fresh air and being able to go for a walk without the fear of being run over on the street.
I carefully weighed up my options and I decided to stay in Nepal.
I decided to embrace this new experience, the new culture, my new family, my new home and my new life with open arms.
I decided I no longer wanted to run.