The Little Things

One thing I love about living in Kathmandu is that my appreciation has grown for the little things. Here is a list of a few of these simple joys that I am cherishing at the moment:

1. STRAWBERRY JAM

So the other day I was walking to the tempo after work and on my way stumbled upon the Vienna Bakery Cafe. I went inside and to my surprise, there was a whole shelf of homemade jams!! (We need some context here). Berries are very hard to come by here, actually I would say they are non-existent, except for strawberries which I heard will start to pop up in December during their short growing season. It is a much more tropical place that sells papaya, guava, watermelon and lots of bananas and apples. Now I’m not complaining, but going 8 months without strawberries, blueberries, raspberries or blackberries… makes my heart hurt just a little bit! When I was first served jam, I got excited, but soon realized that the mainstream jam used is a fraud – just a mix of sugar and fruit flavours…but nothing close to the real thing. So walking into this little bakery and finding, yes, homemade strawberry jam from the Himalayas… and for only 150 rupees ($1.50), I was on top of the world (hey!)! I couldn’t get a smile off my face, and thought I’d celebrate by purchasing a warm cinnamon roll to enjoy on my stroll. I got home and made myself one of the top 10 comfort foods – french toast. For dinner. With bananas, sauteed apple and a huge heaping of strawberry jam… To top it all off, I got to use Olena’s lemongrass candle (loadshedding time, so the power was off), and read a good book. I was happy as a clam!! :)

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2. Finding the Tempo after work

This past week my boss has been out of the country for a fair trade conference. My house is on his way home, so I’ve been able to get a ride after work which has been super helpful. It gets dark before 6pm and with work finishing at 5:30 it’s hard to take public transit home for several reasons. First of all, no matter which city you’re in, there always seems to be the 5 o’clock traffic which slows everything down. Also, at this time everyone is getting home so the microbuses and tempos are packed (being here has forever altered my perception of the word). I have to take one bus to RNAC (a big bus park area) and then another tempo home. After 5:30, the tempo that takes me to my neighbourhood is a lot less frequent or stops running, so if I don’t get it on time, I have to sift through multitudes of identical white buses that go in all directions and find one that takes me to a different neighbourhood a 10-min walk from home. Needless to say, I had a couple semi-traumatic (or adventurous you could say) experiences last week without having Sandeep to give me a ride home. One day it was raining really hard (after-effects of the Cyclone Hud Hud) and by the time I reached RNAC, it was almost dark. My strategy is to find the friendliest and safest-looking girl and asking her for help finding the right bus. We waited for the tempo for a good 25 minutes without finding the right one, and then finally gave up and searched for a microbus. We found one and she wished me well, as it was already full to the brim when I got on – atleast I was out of the rain and headed home. 5 minutes later, 3 more people come on the bus (how that was even possible, I’m not sure). I was squished between different men, with my head touching the roof and body bent over the middle seats. All I could see was the shiny head of a balding man right under my nose. Indeed, it was a cozy ride! I was seriously worried that we would run out of oxygen, and also worried that I wouldn’t know when to get off because I couldn’t see out of the foggy window. I just wanted to go home at this point, the novelty of tight squeezes on the bus had more than expired and the smirks of people staring at me was not helping. After voicing “Bhatbateni nira?!”, people were able to help me get off at the right stop and I crawled out of there in one piece! The feeling of fresh air was like water to a weary soul haha. I survived. ANYWAYS, long story short, the next time I got to RNAC quicker and am so grateful I’ve learned some Nepali letters because I found the tempo with the name of my stop! Praise God! Since then, it’s been a lot smoother to get home, and now that my boss is back from Korea I won’t need to fret anymore. All is well. *sigh* :)

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The microbus – compared to this the tempo is like First Class!! 

Life in Nepal is definitely different, but I honestly love the organized chaos and lack of strict rules here – you never know what you’re gonna get, and people are so friendly, always finding space for more people to join in the micro party… haha.

What little things have brought you joy this week?

– meg.

Home sweet home

This is the longest I’ve ever been away from home on my own. It’s been interesting to see the cultural adaptation stages occur in real time as I cycle through the stages I remember learning in orientation. The first 3 weeks could be classified as the infamous “Honeymoon” stage. Everything was new, exciting, different and novel. I loved learning Nepali, trying new foods, meeting new people, and exploring my new city.

Like clockwork, when I hit the 4 week mark, reality hit like a brick wall and I got the homesickness bug for a good week. It didn’t help that I had a fever and was bedridden for a couple days, so I had a lot of time to think. I started wishing for the comforts of home and my family and friends. My emotions seemed to kick into high-gear, with the smallest things making me cry (it’s really quite humorous, I chuckle thinking about it) – a voicenote from friends, a song by Enrique Iglesias, a heartwarming Coke ad… (I’m not kidding). I also started worrying about the future, wondering what I will do when I graduate. Leading up to this placement, I thought for sure the development field is for me, that I want to live abroad and have an unconventional, impactful life of helping the poor in developing countries. Now that it is not a romanticized dream but a daily reality, I am questioning what it is I really want, and what it means to make a difference. It surprised me that moving to a developing country and working for an NGO does not mean I will suddenly change and spend all my time with the poor. I work in an office and haven’t had the chance yet to spend time with those benefiting from our fair trade initiatives. It’s easier than I thought to live the “expat” life, enjoying cool cafes, live music, and inexpensive shopping for yak wool scarves and slippers as winter encroaches. These things aren’t bad at all, it’s been great to make connections with other foreigners and have little pieces of home, but the other day I asked myself: am I really making a difference here and using my time to help others? That was the purpose for my time here, I realized that I need to refocus and not get caught up in my own world. It’s been great to volunteer at the HOPE school for children every week, and I look forward to meet the different fair trade member organizations in the coming weeks to interview local women whose lives have been changed by fair trade employment.

Now I’m past the 6 week mark, and I’m happy to say that this city feels more and more like home every day. I have come to love my morning commute on the tempo, coming home and cooking dinner from the local veggies next door, and spending great time with friends and the church family here. Instead of wishing for the past and worrying about the future, my aim is to be content. Because when else will I have a chance like this, to live care-freely and not have to worry about grown-up, post-grad stuff? :)

– meg.

SAFA Tempo (2)

^^My daily morning companion, called the tempo, which takes me to work for only 24 nepali rupees (or $0.24). Looks a little rickety, but very dependable!

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Cafe Soma, a sweet place that reminds me of home :)

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Da ladies of Nepal, fellow INDEVOURS

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Jordan and I on a 3-day trek

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Gulshan and Annie, the best Nepali fam!! We went to a Mexican restaurant where they tried Mexican food for the first time

First day at work!

After 3 weeks of living in Kathmandu, I have taken Nepali language classes, moved into my permanent home at the CECI house, adjusted to the transit system (tuktuks, microbuses, and scooters!!), connected with the church family here, learned how to bargain, been mistaken for a Nepali person on several occasions, cooked dal bhat, and experienced the beauty of this country on a day trek! This place is starting to feel like home, but there was something big missing that I was eagerly anticipating: starting work. My classmates started last Wednesday, but my boss was out of the office so today was my first day working for Fair Trade Group Nepal!

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My office :)

 

I arrived at 10am to start (yes I get to start at 10!!), and went upstairs to meet my boss, Sandeep. There are only 4 of us working in the whole office, with 2 of us being new interns. The cool thing is that we’ll get to have a lot of hands-on experience and more meaningful work. Sandeep gave us an overview on the organization and the different needs to focus on. He then showed me to my office and I got to settle in and review our meeting. So far, I think I will be helping increase awareness of FTG through social media platforms, helping to plan their annual fair trade events happening in November, and compiling a database of past and present accomplishments to build a portfolio to showcase FTG’s impact. The atmosphere here is very warm and casual, during lunch break the four of us ate together, chatted and laughed at how spicy the food was. They are all Nepali but speak English quite well, I want to keep improving in my Nepali though because they still converse a lot in their own language. Then, after lunch, Sandeep told me that a member fair trade organization had a children’s program this afternoon where kids of producers were performing song and dance. I got to go to my first “field visit”, riding on the back of the FTG vehicle (a motorbike.. lol). The kids were so cute and talented, I got to take photos and videos for social media. After we got back to the office, we all had a meeting to discuss the upcoming Christmas Bazaar and Fair, and before I knew it, 5:30pm had arrived.

It was harder than I thought to get back home, but I managed to get here at 7pm. I’m grateful to have this internship and work with such nice people. I don’t know what the future has in store, but it’s been a great first day and I’m looking forward to go to work tomorrow. Nepal’s biggest holiday, Dashain, starts on Wednesday so I’m actually getting a 5 day holiday after tomorrow (I deserve it after working for so long! :P …).  A bunch of us girls are going to Pokhara, a scenic town 6 hours away that is a popular tourist destination for trekking, paragliding and boating. I’m excited to breathe in fresh air and go for a 3-day trek up Anapurna! It sounds like everything is sunshine and rainbows here; there are definitely times when I feel out of place, wonder what I’m doing here, and suffer the health effects of polluted air, but the good has outweighed the bad and God has helped me to find peace through everything. Got to keep packing for Pokhara and get a good night sleep for tomorrow!

– meg.

 

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Kumbeshwar Technical School’s Children’s Program

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Life in Kathmandu: Arrival

Hello world, Meagan here live from Kathmandu! 

A lot has happened in the past 48 hours. First, my 6 classmates and I boarded the plane from Toronto to Hong Kong, a whopping 15 hours. Surprisingly, it went by fast and Cathay Pacific treated us well: salmon for dinner and Haagen Dazs for dessert! We arrived to Hong Kong at 5am on Sunday and had a 12.5 hour layover. The best part is, one of my good friends Kam lives there and picked me up from the airport! I touched real Asian soil for the first time and got to see an urban metropolis which is surrounded by beautiful mountains and ocean. Since I was there Sunday morning, I also went to church with Kam, sporting my hefty hiking pack, and experienced church in Cantonese! Everyone was so welcoming there and I got to practice my Mandarin a little bit hehe.

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Reunited with Kammykam!

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View from the airport to the city, quite picturesque :)

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There were at least a dozen elephants all with cool designs!

 I made it back to the airport with time to spare, and our last flight was 6 hours, stopping in Bangladesh and finally arriving in Kathmandu. At this point, we were all pretty exhausted and loopy from the lack of good sleep, but it felt great to be in Nepal after months of anticipation. The CECI team was there waiting for us and I was brought to a guest house, where 4 of us will be staying for 2 weeks while we have orientations and language training. I was envisioning us all sharing a small room with single beds and humble conditions; however, everything has been exceeding my expectations – it feels like a Nepali palace in here! We each got our own room, I have 2 double beds and a bathroom to myself. There’s a common dining area upstairs as well with a kitchen and balcony – I was blown away this morning when I saw the view of the city. I’m definitely in the honeymoon phase of cultural adaptation right now, I can’t believe I’m here and how lovely it is. I feel blessed to be able to spend 8 months here and experience it all. What brought me the most joy today though was waking up to the sound of voices, laughter, and movement – we live right next to an indoor football (soccer) field!! What are the odds, I got really into soccer this summer and was hoping I could play here. Now I wish I brought my cleats! When I build up the courage, I’m gonna go over there and watch them play, maybe even get a chance to get on that field ;)

– meg.

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Looking more chipper than we felt! Last stretch of the trip to Kathmandu

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My room, looking forward to a good night’s sleep!

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The view from the balcony :)

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Eating breakfast at a nearby restaurant before heading to CECI Office for orientation

Ready set go!

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It’s official. I just finished packing for 8 months! Who knew I could fit it all in 1 suitcase and a hiking backpack? I give credit to the rolling clothes technique for saving space which actually works! :). In other news,  last night I watched The Hundred-Foot Journey with my parents and not only was it amazing and inspiring, but it also got me super excited for South Asian culture!! Let’s hope the jetlag isn’t too debilitating so I can explore the city when I get there :). I still can’t believe this is real life!! I’M ACTUALLY GOING TO NEPAL! 

Haha. Let’s see if I survive the 15 hour flight to Hong Kong first. Should have confirmed my seat before, looks like I’ll be sitting in the middle… at least I heard Cathay Pacific airline is top notch!

 

– meg.
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Tomorrow

Life is so fascinating. It’s interesting how seasons change and I find myself in a whole new chapter. Tomorrow I’m leaving for Toronto Pearson airport to set off on a new adventure in Kathmandu, and there are many thoughts swirling in my head. Growing up I’ve always been told my next steps and choices were pretty limited: after elementary school is high school, then university. The biggest choice was which university to go to and what program to take. But now, as I anticipate graduation in a year, the options are endless and there is no set path I have to take. In Nepal, I will experience full independence for the first time, not having family, friends or familiar structures to guide me. It’s slightly daunting, but right now I’m feeling at peace and ready to take the plunge. I didn’t know if I would ever feel ready to leave, but after these weeks of preparations and many goodbyes, I finally feel ready, as ready as one can be when moving to a foreign place. 

More than anything, I’ve learned lately that wherever I go I’m not alone. I have an amazing community of supporters at home and God is always going to have my back. I’m grateful for this experience because it has taught me, if nothing else, how much I have. Before I was so keen to leave Canada, forge a new path, and meet new people. Now that it’s actually reality, I can see more clearly the things I love here. Simple things like fresh air, being able to drink water from the tap, and the perks of such a multicultural and accepting society. 

One of my goals this year though is to live in the present. To not wish for the past or worry about the future, but to embrace everything Nepal has to offer me. To embrace my first full-time job in the development field and find out if it’s something I want to pursue. To discover what I’m meant to do on this Earth and how I can best live out my purpose (a slightly loftier goal!!)

Anyway, I am excited to share my journey with you and the adventures, surprises, challenges and joys that await me. :) 

– meg.

Tips and tricks to learn a new language

Learning Nepali is harder than I thought it would be. It’s not that the language is so difficult, but compared to mainstream languages like Spanish and French, there are so little aids to help learn. I guess that’s the downside of a more rare language, can’t just Rosetta Stone or Duolingo it. :P

I did some research today though about tips for learning a new language quickly. Here are 3 cool techniques that helped me get on track today!

1. Mind maps

Instead of the linear verb charts and dictionary-like vocabulary lists, learning with mind maps is much more similar to the way our brains process data. It helps to retain information and remember words faster, especially when pictures are used for association.

2. Music!

A really important part of learning a new language is to have fun while doing it. An enjoyable and effective way to improve vocabulary is to find a song you like in the foreign language and translate the words so you can understand the meaning. Then, you listen to the song, sing it, memorize the words, and Voila! You’re one step closer to fluency ;). Another tip is to make your own little song using words and phrases you learn, especially the more difficult ones for you. This is the song I chose to memorize, called Bistarai Bistarai, it’s a super cute acoustic nepali love song. :)

3. Specific Goals

This technique has really helped me, it came from Josh Kaufman who wrote the book “How to Get Really Good at Anything in 20 Hours or Less”. His first step to learning something new is to clearly define what you want to learn and why. For example, saying “I want to learn Nepali” is my goal, but it is so general and broad that it can be unclear how to achieve this goal. Instead, I should define specific reasons why I want to learn Nepali:

– I want to be able to introduce myself to people in Nepal

– I want to be able to order and buy food

– I want to be able to communicate my emotions

– I want to understand the sermons at church

– I want to be able to converse with fair trade producers

By breaking down the overall goal into specific targets, I have more direction of how to achieve my goal; this will help me to focus on what is important and be able to measure when I accomplish each goal. It is also a lot less daunting!

To all those learning something new, whether it be a language, a skill, or just studying for exams, I wish you the best of luck and encourage you to try out new methods that may help you achieve your goals!

Stories

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Life is about stories. Stories have the potential to be powerful, persuasive and inspiring. They move people more than strict facts and figures can. I am a very relational person and love meeting new people and hearing their stories.

What does this have to do with development or my placement in Nepal? Well…I just received my job mandate yesterday! My official position within Fair Trade Group Nepal is “Intern for Documentation of Producer Stories”.

FTG Nepal works with the aim to improve the socio-economic status of underprivileged and marginalized producers in Nepal. They have many great success stories to tell, however, they lack human resources with the ability to effectively document these stories in English. By writing about the successes of different producers, I will be able to give them a voice and help people understand the impacts of Fair Trade.

Here are some of my principal responsibilities:
1) Understand Fair Trade and its working modality
2) Collect and write the producer stories
3) Visit member organizations to take pictures and collect the success stories
4) Take pictures of different activities conducted by FTG
5) Give orientation to interested participants on writing stories
6) Ensure equal participation of men and women in all activities

This honestly sounds perfect for me. I was expecting to be doing more menial tasks like translation or report-writing, but I actually get to meet with people, and not only hear their amazing stories, but write on their behalf to show the world how fair trade is improving their lives! And this is what development work is all about: people. What a privilege and honour to be entrusted with this task.

I feel excitement and vision bubbling inside again, and more motivation to persevere through this last leg of coursework. With the month of August off of school, I want to dive in to the world of fair trade, writing, and the Nepali language to prepare for this new adventure!

Before the term ends, however, #INDEVOURS has some great events planned, including a Global Gala happening next Saturday! We’ve been working hard to put together this banquet to fundraise for our placements, and also showcase our program. Check out our website for more information about events as well as who we are and how to support us.

 

Thoughts

Life is so fickle sometimes. I don’t even fully know what fickle means, but it sounds like an appropriate description. There are highs and lows, times of hope and times of despair, wonderful victories and embarrassing failures. It’s hard for me as an idealist to accept both. I often feel like to be ‘normal’ means being happy, motivated, and at peace. So when just getting out of bed seems like the biggest hurdle, let alone trying to tackle the impending due dates coming at me, or when I’m feeling low for no particular reason, I feel like “what the heck is wrong with me?” I worry that if it’s so hard to be motivated to do schoolwork, how will I handle my first 9-5 job placement in a foreign country?

I really want to savour this summer and enjoy the last 2 months before I leave everything. This will likely be my last time living in Waterloo, my last real term of university life; once I return I’ll be deemed a full-fledged adult who is ready for the big world of career and independence. I’m so excited to see what God has in store for my future, but at the same time it’s scary not knowing what’s on the other side of the door. As the time is drawing closer and closer to leaving, I’ve been more introspective and nostalgic about everything, but I’m learning that life is a mixed bag, and acceptance is the first step to making peace with it.

My faith in Christ is like an anchor in my soul that helps me overcome any fear, worry, or doubt. This verse helps me: “But I trust in you, O Lord; I say, ‘You are my God.’ My times are in your hands” (Psalm 31:14-15). I’ve seen time and time again how God has taken care of me and shown me He is in control. I should enjoy the happy times, but also accept my weaknesses and trust that life will go on because my life is in His hands.

*Sigh* I feel better already. I will conclude this post with a song. Music also helps motivate me, or at least get me thinking about what’s important. Especially Mumford and Sons, their songs are so deep and thought-provoking but also put a spring in my step. Who doesn’t love some intense banjo beats? :)

Where good causes and good people meet

Have you ever thought: “man I want to get involved and make a difference, but I don’t know what to do!”

Well, I’ve got the perfect solution for you: VolunteerMatch! My friend Margaret just showed it to me, it’s a website that brings good causes and good people together. You are able to find a cause that you really care about and get in contact with the right organization. It isn’t just in Canada either, but worldwide. Basically, you write what you care about, choose a country, and boom! You’ll find possible matches.

I recommend perusing the website, it may help you find something meaningful that you love.

Here’s the link: http://www.volunteermatch.org/

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