December 2015 Volunteer Trip

Days 1-3: From Denver to Kathmandu to Lukla

Hannah Blum:

Traveling half-way across the world with a group of incredible people can only inspire unity, and after a full day of travelling with the Hike-for-Help team, it's such a joy to enjoy the laughter of good company, cozied up around a game of cards. We arrived in Kathmandu last night around 8pm, where Lhakpa and his cousin greeted us with excitement. We gathered our belongings and headed to our quaint hotel, where we enjoyed the comfort of warm beds, warm showers, and delicious "Nepalese tea" (aka Coca-cola). The night was short, but everyone woke with a boldness to embark on the adventures to come. At 5AM, we enjoyed a delicious breakfast with piping hot tea and coffee, kindly prepared by the proprietors of the hotel, and scurried to the airport, where we passed through customs and boarded our small jet to make our way to Lukla, a small village North of Kathmandu.

The 7AM flight was smooth, the pilots alert and clearly incredibly experienced. The view from the sky was majestic, to say the least. Jagged peaks outlined the skyline, and the rising sun pierced through the valley, providing the warmth that escapes the land each night. As we approached the runway, we realized that we only had about 2 blocks to land and taxi, but instead of fear, an atmosphere of confidence flooded our plane as we realized the challenge of the feat. We landed safely, headed to the lodge to drop our luggage, and met at the Starbucks Coffee House to enjoy warm cups of chai and discuss the day's plans. After spending a while exploring the village, we warmed ourselves with bowls of rice cereal and almonds and prepared to hike down to the school.

The hike into the valley was defined by a steep incline and dense forest. It took about 30 minutes, but the views of the valley and surrounding mountains left us speechless. We arrived at the school a little before 11am, and were given a tour of the grounds and an explanation of how the school system works. The earthquake incurred incredible damage, but the community has come together to repair the buildings and keep the children on-track with their education. One of the highlights of the day was watching the school-boys play soccer, a game that we eventually jumped in on, only to be showed-up by the skills of the young athletes.

We enjoyed some coffee before we left the school and headed back to Lukla for lunch. After we each went our way to rest-up and recover from the jet-lag just beginning to set in. We have just finished a delicious dinner of traditional Nepalese food, and we are now gathered around the warmth of community - competition and laughter, jokes and love. Our first day in Nepal far exceeded our expectations. We will sleep well tonight.

Day 4-5 Project Day working with local people

Kyle Heser:

Our first full day in Lukla kicked off with another early morning. Between 6:00 and 7:00 AM, team members trickled into the Lukla Starbucks- our designated home base for the project trip -for a seemingly bottomless supply of the wondrously body-warming chai and coffee. A quick breakfast of spiced potatos and Sherpa flatbread (resemblent of sopapillas), an abbreviated discussion of the day's plans, and some final preparations (including buying a new volleyball to replace to completely flattened bladder from the yesterday's soccer game) ensued over the course of the next hour. With the exception of one team member suffering the rough aftermath of three full days of nothing-but-transit, the general mood was bright eyed excitement, as opposed to the expected lethargy that so often accompanies cold weather and long travels.

Around 9:30, we collected our intruments of labor and hitched our way down the rocky trail to the school once more. It is truly incredible that children from all over the valley make the walk- sometimes upwards of two hours, and often in flip-flop sandals -twice a day, six days a week, in order to attend school. I know my own personal motivation threshold falls far short of this feat; if I were a Nepalese child, well, its a safe bet that I would be pretty well uneducated. The trail is surrounded on both sides by a rhododendron forest, which, unfortunately, due to the time of year, could not bless us with its crimson splendor. We can only imagine what marvel and brilliance the schoolchildren get to experience during the spring and summer months, before the monsoon season washes away the blossoms.

At present, many of the materials required for the rebuilding of buildings are still stuck in India. The political turmoil in both nations, and especially at the border between the two, has prohibited the easy transfer of many crucial supplies and commodities into Nepal (including fuel, cooking gas, medical supplies, and building materials direly needed by the displaced families in the aftermath of April's earthquake). As such, the day's project had the potential to be quite monotonous. We were tasked with digging a pit for a new septic tank downhill from the school. But of course, when surrounded by a group of such wonderfully colorful personalities, nothing is ever boring.

After three hours of intense excavation, the pit is three feet deep (in most places) and about halfway complete. A couple of giant boulders deceptively buried a few inches beneath the soil surface at first presented a big hurdle to overcome. But with a pair of steel ice-chippers and a lot of determination, the team has successfully splintered and uplifted the roots of the Himalayas. After a vigorous morning's work, we enjoyed a delicious meal of homemade chiapatti bread (similar to small flour tortillas), potato curry, spiced carrots and radishes, chicken morsels, and warm, freshly squeezed mango juice. The talent of the cooks when preparing such a diverse palette with such limited and simple ingredients is rather reminiscient of wizardry. We rounded out the afternoon with friendly games of volleyball and soccer in the school yard, some quick shopping for small necessities in town, and a hearty meal of Sherpa stew (we've been assured it does not contain any actual Sherpa). A few games of pool and a Khumbu Kolsch later, it was time to turn in for the night, in preparation for another full day to follow. Spirits are still high and, if anything, the group chemistry only continues to build. Tomorrow morning we welcome Nic Rummel and Jangbu Sherpa, the final members of the team. Signing off now, good morning to those back in the States.

Kyle Moore:

Dec. 31st - Jan. 1st
Well, we have officially been in Nepal since last year!

Yesterday, half of the team went down to the school to get a start on the server installation, but quickly encountered a compatibility problem that halted the progress. Luckily, arrangements were made to ship in an adaptor on the morning flights to fix the problem. In the meantime, we made our way back into our favorite septic tank hole and made some more headway. We channeled the power of milk tea and were able to get a couple hours of work done, relentlessly pounding away at the bedrock of the Himalayas. We left the site in time to hike back up for a lunch of chicken burgers and french fries (because potatoes are a necessity in every meal!), and were greeted back in Lukla with light snow.

After lunch, it was time to sort through the donations we brought with us. The back room of Starbucks looked like a Goodwill had exploded for a while, but eventually we had the donations sorted into 100 separate bags. Each bag contains some combination of shirts, pants, jackets, sock, and shoes. Lhakpa and the others powers that be decided that the best use of our donations is to give these bags to individuals of the ethnic minority, known locally as the dalit, or the untouchable cast. The donations are all packed and ready to go, and are sure to make a gigantic difference for these underserved people.

For dinner, we had our favorite Nepalese meal, momos, which are delicious little dumplings with fillings that must be sent straight from heaven. Most of the team spent the night downstairs in the Irish pub dancing and enjoying hearty libations to bring in the New Year. As far as team building activities go, there aren’t many better than a few glasses of wine, a round of tequila shots, and the beats of Lady Gaga. The characters on the team make everything so enjoyable, and they made it a New Year’s Eve I will not soon forget.

Needless to say, the team awoke very slowly this morning. Eventually, some found the energy to do a bit of shopping or play our new favorite pass-time, a card game called 22. At about ten o’clock, we all headed down to the school for a ceremony to honor the Hike for Help team. Most of the school children and many locals gathered in the school courtyard for the event, and we sat in front of the crowd while Biruman (the school’s long-time principal) and two Lhakpas gave speeches about the the importance of an education and how much this project will mean to the region. Lhakpa presented a check to the school, symbolizing the generous contribution Sherpa Brewery and Hike for Help are making to kickstart the project. The entire team was adorned with beautiful scarves (known as Khata) as gifts to show their appreciation for our efforts and to welcome us into their big, wonderful family. It was a very rewarding and humbling experience, especially with the epic backdrop of 20,000+ foot peaks rising high into the clear blue sky all around us.

We enjoyed another delicious lunch down at the school, followed by our first taste of chang, which is a home-made “Sherpa Beer” that more closely resembles and tastes like soy milk. It is very tasty, and packs quite the alcoholic punch.

The team has turned in for an early night, which is quite understandable considering what went down at the Irish pub last night. We are all very content. Our stomachs are filled with heavenly potatoes, fried rice, chang, and chai. Our heads filled with heavenly views and the countless memories we’ve already made. There is still so much more to come in this adventure, and I am

beyond excited to experience it all with all of these wonderful people, Sherpa and American alike, that I am proud to call my friends. 

Chase Li:
I woke up this morning at 3:30. It is the last day of the year and my mind treated it as such. I awoke in a warm stupor in my negative 20 degree farenheit sleeping bad under the comforter with a racing mind and a dry mouth. I laid there for an hour hoping that my mind would stop racing. I finally could not take the rambling thought and I proceeded to head to the end of the hallway of our hotel across from the Lukla Starbucks to write down my thoughts and finish my book. After some time I began to walk the streets of Lukla at around 5:00 and amongst the stars and packs of dogs in my own rambling thought. The thoughts came and went as I released them into the Khumbu valley. My thoughts were revolving around.

Today we had a ‘breakfast set’, which is what most people (with money) are having for breakfast in Kathmandu.  It consisted of toast, jam, eggs and potatoes.  The idea of a set breakfast of what I see as ‘Western’ food items is bizarre to me.  I believe that is because I believe parts of the developing nations in Asia embodying a fading exoticism.  I have been struggling with this belief and it has been challenged with my recent summer spent in China and again on this trip.  China presented a situation where culture was being thrown away by the higher powers and then the younger generations were fully embracing the IPhone generation (a slight overgeneralization).  Kathmandu seems to be following suite, except the Nepali people have an advantage the Chinese did not.  Nepal was not invaded by Japan and treated as the foundation for conquering Asia and a painful cultural revolution.  The Nepali people are resilient and I look forward to seeing how Nepal develops in the coming years.

Now that my tangent is over with I will return to the documentation of what happened on our last full day in Kathmandu.  After breakfast we traveled to the Monkey Temple, or Swambunatha Temple.  At the temple there was another Stupa and a copious amount of prayer flags and wheels scattered through the trees and compound.  As the name of the temple implies there were monkeys all around the compound and if you were fortunate enough to make eye contact or as Hannah found out, carry a cup of coffee, the monkeys would attack you in full force.  Or, they have an aggressive form of love and they loved seeing Hannah’s coffee on her shirt instead of allowing it to caffeinate her body.  The sight like the few others I have seen in the United States and China were littered with trinket sales people.  It was hard to gain the sense that I was a world heritage site unless my sight gazed into the prayer flags woven from tree to tree.  Maybe herein lies a problem with why societies will throw away their culture.  Because there is a market for ‘exotic’ trinkets and a livelihood can be formed from that we are drawing people away from the culture and towards capitalism or a materialistic mindset.  Meh, this is a complex thought that will need to be developed later in order to be more coherent (thank you for the attempt in understanding or even just reading). 

Once we left the temple it was time to shop.  My least favorite part, but a necessary evil when on vacation and other people helped make your trip a possibility.  Luckily since we were in a tourist trap area I was not morally conflicted with bargaining.  Nic and Kellen were able to successfully tag team certain shops with James’s advice and obtain their goods at a reasonable deal.  Jessie started out rough, but after a couple purchases she evolved into a well-rounded bargainer like a butterfly breaking through its cocoon.  The group obtained all of the necessary purchases and some members had enough energy (and weren’t blessed with a sickness like myself and a couple of others) to experience the Kathmandu nightlife after dinner.  For me, after dinner and back to the hotel is how my night ended. 

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