After a month away, something I wasn’t expecting happened to me this week – I started feeling homesick.
Maybe it was because two more of my original travel companions left? Maybe it’s because Mia made her own doctors appointment for the first time? Maybe it was hearing about Chloes driving lesson, knowing it would be a while before I get to see her behind the wheel? Maybe it was seeing pictures of my boyfriends works do, knowing how much I would love to have been there meeting his friends? Maybe it was FaceTiming my parents and hearing their voices for the first time since I left? Maybe it was just the hangover I had from cramming in one too many happy hour cocktails? But maybe it’s due in part to the compassion fatigue I’m feeling from the stories I’m hearing and the poverty I’m seeing everywhere I look.
It’s hard to pick a highlight from my trip so far, but Nirmala, the lady I’ve been teaching twice a week in the tiny village of Pame has so quickly stolen a place in my heart. A teacher in the government funded primary school, not only does she work full time 6 days a week for less than £50 a month, she also raises 2 young children, looks after her elderly mother in law, their families 2 water buffalos and does all of the household chores. Her husband works for the army so is often away. She’s up at 5am every day, does a full days work and collapses into bed at 10pm. They don’t have cornflakes, ready meals or affordable convenience food. Breakfasts, lunches and dinners are all cooked from scratch, every single day, without fail. Go out for dinner? It’s likely she’s never seen the inside of a restaurant. I asked her what she does when she has time to herself – she just laughed.
She’s fascinated by my life and we’ve talked at length about how similar we are, but how different the lives we lead. She loves to touch my hands, amazed at how soft they are in comparison to hers. She wants to hear about where I live, about my job, my family, my friends, my hobbies. She finds it amazing that back home men are as likely to do the housework as women.
Her family are strewn across the globe, her eldest brother she hasn’t seen for a few years as he was lucky enough to have had an education and been able to move abroad. One sister lucky enough to have met a husband who could do the same. Their father died when he was 45. The emotion in her eyes so raw as she told me, it took all my will not to cry.
Nirmala looks after a class of about ten 3-5 year olds, in a room less than half the size of my front room. There are no chairs, just 2 tables. I’ve so far seen only one toy and a handful of books, hard to imagine how you can keep a room full of kids occupied all day with such limited resources… In a stroke of genius she’s hung an old bit of rope from the ceiling to make a swing, but even that has limited fun factor when it’s all they have.
It’s heartbreaking to see the uniforms the kids wear are often at least three sizes too big and so worn out and dirty it’s impossible to imagine they were ever once new. The irony is that for some of the kids, the clothes are probably the right size for their age, but they’re so malnourished they just haven’t grown properly…
Something I’ve found really hard to accept is that some as young as the ones in her class walk to school on their own. Sometimes taking them as long as 45 minutes each way – their parents too busy trying to earn a living to walk them there themselves. Shockingly I was also told there are tigers roaming in the hills where they live…
Whatever’s caused my homesickness, this weeks been harder than I ever expected. I’ve allowed myself to indulge my own sadness, but I’ve been careful to not dwell there too long. After all, how can I? I get to go home to my life soon, a world away from the lives of Nirmala and these kids. In less than 2 weeks I’ll be on the plane home, my time here a memory. Nirmala will continue to live the same day over and over, with no choice but to continue doing what she does. The kids will continue to grow and if they’re really lucky be cut a break at some point in their future. Until then I take my hat off to all the teachers who despite their own struggles do everything within their power to give these kids the best possible start in life. With what little they have, I am truly inspired.
And if there was even the smallest doubt left in my mind, Mia had some very wise words for me… Mum, there’s no need to be homesick – there’s nothing happening here anyway…
6 weeks in Nepal, what an absolute privilege.