I can’t believe it’s been almost a year since that heartbreaking departure from Kazakhstan. I still miss it. Every day. And still not a day goes by that I don’t begin several sentences with “In Kazakhstan,” or, if I’m feeling like mixing it up, “In the Peace Corps.” Yeesh. I can visualize the eye-rolls and disengaged tones now. I know people are sick of hearing about it, and yet, I just can’t stop talking about it.
So this post will be a bit different, to spare its dwindling readership the redundancy. When perusing my previous posts, I realized that I haven’t ever told you about my trip to Nepal.
Nepal was a dream come true.
I hit this point, during our evacuation from Kazakhstan (there it is…) of absolute euphoria. I realized that I had no job to come home to, no seriously pressing engagements, and had a significantly greater amount of, well, freedom I suppose, than I normally would. Feeling like I should take advantage of this time and and equally as unusual sum of money in the bank (I saved the entire time I was there), my friend Matt and I decided to go to Nepal. We weren’t quite sure what we’d do when we got there, and we certainly hadn’t investigated any hotels, hostels, or anything else outside of the visa requirements. Thus, were set up for a pretty solid adventure.
A few days before scheduled departure, I was sitting down to a delicious Thanksgiving dinner at our Almaty Hotel with these two fantastic friends
While Colin and Jake already knew one another well, I had just gotten to know them about a month prior to the evacuation circus when we signed up to work a teacher-training event in Zharkent. I had not talked to Colin much before this experience and Jake and I had only briefly conversed about Herpes when we were assigned to the same group for a PEPFAR training. By the end of the teacher training, however, it felt like we had known each other for years and the trifecta of awesome was born. So on that Thanksgiving evening, when they were talking about how cool Nepal would be, I let them in on mine and Matt’s plans, and they decided to join us. The remainder of the evening was filled with good laughs and time well-spent with fabulous friends (it has to be my favorite Thanksgiving ever).
A few days later, Peace Corps Kazakhstan officially evacuated. People boarded planes to various U.S. destinations, Eastern Europe, Thailand, and lots of other places. Matt, Colin, Jake, and I met at the Almaty airport (I had successfully managed to fit two-weeks worth of clothing and equipment into a school-sized bookbag and left the rest of my things in Almaty for later retrieval) and prepared for our great adventure. Even writing this a year later, I would give just about anything to be there with them again.
After a flight to Abu Dhabi (on which Colin offered the flight attendant his assistance in controlling several drunken passengers who were not happy about being told they could not smoke on the plane), a 12+ hour layover (where the boys slept relatively soundly), and a flight on what may be the best airline ever (Etihad Airways), we arrived in Kathmandu with no map, no plan, no local currency, and a whole lot of excitement. We paid for our visas, exited the airport, crammed into a taxi, and were taken to the Thamel district in Kathmandu.
That evening was spent wandering, eating street food (which my iron stomach handled quite well), and discussing our game plan on a rooftop cafe, Masala Chai in hand.
It was decided that Colin and Jake would leave for their trek a day sooner than Matt and myself, so after their departure, Matt and I enjoyed fried yak cheese, perused the local art scene, visited several Stupas, attempted to find Durbar square, purchased backpacks and hiking boots, and drank more chai with a local artist, from whom Matt had purchased a painting.
I loved Nepal from the start, and over the next several days of exhausting trekking, sleeping in tea houses, seeing the Himalayan sunrise every morning, making new friends, excruciating blisters, and being greeted with a peaceful “Namaste” by small village children, I only came to love it exponentially more.
At the end of our trek, Matt and I reconvened with Colin and Jake and proceeded to visit Bhaktapur (which has to have been my favorite place in Nepal) and Patan. The narrow streets of Bhaktapur forced us (ok, not really forced) to spend our evenings in rooftop cafes, drinking chai or beer, and sharing stories of relationships, teaching, joy, and anxiety. I wouldn’t trade these happy memories for anything.
After returning to Kathmandu, we ate and wandered, looking for both coffee and a place to stay for our last few nights in, what has come to be, my favorite country. We achieved both goals and spent the remainder of the next two days exploring the Boudhanath and Swayambhunath Stupas. While many stairs and a couple of minor redirections were required, the views from both were phenomenal.
If I close my eyes, I can still hear the sound of prayer flags, flapping in the wind. Interrupted only intermittently by an excitable salesperson, peddling ‘ancient’ wooden sculptures or silver jewelery.
I really and truly love Nepal. Partially because of the company with whom I shared it, and partially because it is a wonderful country with wonderful people.
Our final day together in Kathmandu was bittersweet. As Matt departed the hostel for the airport (where he would fly home via Beirut or Kuwait or something like that), Colin, Jake, and I sat down for a final meal together. We left later that evening, returning to Almaty to gather our belongings and return to the U.S.
We landed in Almaty early in the evening on December 10th, which was an unusually warm evening. I wore only a light jacket. Our shared taxi dropped me off at the Arbat. Going our separate ways made the evacuation all the more real. Colin and Jake were the last volunteers I would see in Kazakshtan, and I knew that our moments there would be the last of their kind. It was a strange feeling. And even in the midst of the smell of burning coal and garbage and the overcast, dark sky, I was reluctantly nervous to return home.
After eating dinner alone at the Arbat, I took a taxi to my host sisters’ apartment. We shared a final chai time (something else that I yearn for daily), and I fell asleep with a knot in my stomach that has yet to fully subside.