Archive for August, 2010
Are you ready blog-readers? My adventure in Nepal has finally begun. I arrived in Kathmandu about four hours ago and think I may have experienced love at first sight. When the airplane broke through the clouds I could see the whole expanse of the Kathmandu valley. People always told me how beautiful Nepal is and I’d seen pictures, but pictures don’t do it justice. The scenery is more green, buildings more wonderfully chaotic, mountains more stunning. I would’ve taken pictures from the plane except for fear that I’d cause the plane to malfunction by using a portable electronic device during landing… also I knew they’d come out blurred, badly lit, and probably with half of my pinky finger in the corner. I had to keep reminding myself that this was real, that I would actually get to live in this place for four months, and that I wasn’t just delirious after my twenty hours in flight (actually that could be it, I’ll let you know once I’ve had some sleep). Anyway, I’ll save the Nepal-raving for later, maybe after I’ve spent at least 24 hours here.
Right now I’ll get to the question I know you’re dying for me to answer – what did I possibly do for those twenty hours spent getting here? Most of the answer is boring. I slept, watched three movies plus season one of Entourage, ate every meal, tried to sneak into the first class bathroom, and perused the Thai version of sky mall. But in between those thrilling activities, I did one worthwhile thing. I read a book that one of my best friends has been recommending to me for a long time.
The book is called Half the Sky by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. (Cool side-note: Sheryl WuDunn went to Cornell, and the two of them give talks there all the time. Yeah big red!). It’s about the importance of empowering women, allowing them to hold up ‘half the sky.’ The authors share chilling stories from women who have been beaten, raped, forced into prostitution, or suffered severe injuries as a result of childbirth. The stories and statistics are disturbing and elicit strong reactions. On one page I might have been on the verge of tears, distraught over one woman’s pain. On the next, I might have been seething with anger at the injustice. But on the third, I would be marveling at the strength of a woman who refused to be victimized. The guy sitting next to me definitely thought I was bipolar.
While the book swung my emotions back and forth, one thing became very clear to me at the end – we can all do something to help. Since I’m in Nepal, I want to see how my research here on maternal health could help future grassroots initiatives to improve women’s healthcare. But even by staying in the U.S. there is so much we can do. At the end of the book there is a list of worthy organizations that donors and volunteers can support. But honestly if you do nothing else, read the book. I thought I knew a little about women’s issues through my studies, but this book opened my eyes. I can’t wait to start my research, and of course I’ll post progress updates.
But now it’s time to bond with my roommate, take a nice long bucket shower, and then get some sleep. Here’s the view from the roof of the women’s dorm. I hope it comes close to the beauty of the real deal.
Just kidding! Pictures will come once the internet decides to be fast enough. Until then, you can always google pics of Kathmandu!
I get a variety of responses when I tell people that I’ll be spending the next semester in Nepal. My favorite reaction came from a friend of a friend. She said, “Wow, I don’t know anything about Nepal, except I saw their airport featured on world’s most dangerous airports.” Wait, what? I immediately googled dangerous airports and was relieved to find out she was referring to the Lukla airport, which is the one near the base of Mt. Everest, not the Kathmandu airport, the one I fly into.
But most people don’t talk about the airport when I tell them about Nepal. I get a lot of ‘Oh you’ll have so much fun!,’ some ‘That’s so brave!,’ and the occasional, ‘Why?’ I’m never sure how to respond. To the people who tell me it’ll be really fun, I slightly want to disagree. It’s not that I think I won’t have fun, but I expect it to be more challenging and eye-opening than a party all the time. I’m going to a place where a quarter of the population live below the poverty line, and the unemployment rate is almost fifty percent. The CIA World Factbook calls Nepal one of “the poorest and least developed countries in the world.” So while I’m sure I’ll meet amazing people and have life-changing experiences, fun isn’t exactly the first word I would use to describe what I expect from Nepal.
To the people who say going to Nepal is brave, I also don’t have an appropriate response to. Yes, I’m going to a poor country, but I think it takes just as much bravery to study abroad in a rich country. Any country is going to be different from the U.S., and all students who study abroad must adjust to a different place. We have to make new friends, learn the language, get used to the food, understand social customs, and last a semester outside the ‘Cornell bubble.’ Maybe I am brave for studying abroad, but I don’t think that choosing to go to Nepal in particular is what takes bravery.
I have the most trouble responding to the people who simply ask why. I could say because I need to spend eight weeks in a developing country to get my Global Health minor. I could talk about the benefits of the program – how it’s a partnership between Cornell and Tribhuvan University, about the opportunities I’ll have to trek and see the country, and about the month I get to conduct my own research. But the truth is I’m going because I want to have an adventure. I love Cornell and Ithaca, but I need to challenge myself to get away from it all. It might sound Eat, Pray, Love – ish, but I want to see who I am when I’m away from my friends and family, the pressures of Cornell life, and my familiar stomping-grounds.
While I could explain all this to people, I think a simple, “Yup, I’m really excited” works best since it’s truthful and brief. And now if anyone wants the extended version, I’ll just refer them to my blog!
And in case you’re interested, Most Dangerous Airports.
Today’s August 1st, a shocking realization for me when I checked the date on my computer screen. The beginning of August signals the end of my favorite season – summer. Summer means warm weather, water sports, barbeques, and my birthday. Every year around April, I start getting antsy for summer to begin, and around August I start dreading its end.
This summer I thought I might have a different experience. At the end of the school year, I hardly gave summer a thought. I was too excited for fall and my semester in Nepal to begin. Usually I have grand hopes and plans for summer – road trips, parties, and other various shenanigans – but this year I knew I would be in Ithaca taking physics, working, and preparing for Nepal, so I didn’t think I’d have much time for summer fun. I didn’t mind though; who needs summer when you’ll be in Nepal in the fall?
As anyone who’s stayed in Ithaca for the summer knows, I couldn’t have been more wrong. For the past couple months I’ve been in Ithaca, I’ve had non-stop fun. My parents must have been worried when I didn’t call, but it was only because I’ve been too busy traipsing around the gorges, attempting to do yoga without laughing, trying every stand at the farmer’s market, becoming a regular at Ruloff’s Taco Tuesday, and eating copious amounts of ice cream. Except for filling out paperwork for Cornell Abroad and getting immunizations (Rabies and Japanese Encephalitis… really?) I haven’t even had time to prepare for next semester.
While I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect summer, it’s now time to look to the future. In less than a month, I’ll be boarding a plane to Los Angeles, then to Thailand, and finally Kathmandu. I know what will happen when I land – I’ll be greeted by someone from Tribhuvan University and then driven to the dorm – but I have no idea what to expect after that. Just as people talk about summer in Ithaca as one of their favorite experiences, people returning from Nepal have told me that the semester with the Cornell-Nepal Study Program is “life-changing.” Though I had been warned, I still didn’t realize the extent of Ithaca summer fun. So despite returning students from Nepal telling me about their time there, I doubt I fully understand how meaningful it will be.
In this blog, I plan to discuss my thoughts, feelings, and experiences in Nepal to hopefully make clear to myself (and whoever else reads this…Hi grandma!) what I’m learning from my participation in the program. I may discover new things about Nepal, the world, and myself, but I can’t know until I go! So while I’m sad that summer is ending, I’m ready to start my adventure in Nepal. Only 26 more days till I land in Kathmandu!