My long-held dream of sharing the world with my two young children and helping to shape them into caring citizens in a global community came to fruition this spring, and we recently returned from three months in Kathmandu, Nepal. While my kids seem to have adapted beautifully to the flip-flopping of time zones and cultures, I am ambivalent and struggling to re-orient myself after having some extraordinary opportunities to experience what subsistence living is like – and the relative riches that our family has are overwhelming and, frankly, somehow embarrassing.
Take for example Umesh, a boy my son’s age whom we sponsor through Save the Children. With their help, we arranged to visit him despite the political unrest and strikes in southern Nepal. Along with his family, Umesh was driven 2-1/2 hours to meet us. We shared gifts and greetings through translations from English to Nepali to Maitili over lunch. Afterward the children played soccer while Umesh’s mother and I tried to speak to one another. Neither of us understood the words of the other, but her careworn, bright eyes and hopeful smile spoke volumes. Looking into her eyes, I keenly felt her gratitude as well as a shared sisterhood and hope for our children’s futures.
The contrast between our children’s present lives and probable futures is stark. Umesh’s daily rice-and-lentil meals are home or locally grown and all made from scratch; I am a minimally competent cook who often relies on packaged foods from our grocery store. They live in a simple structure with a mud floor and thatched roof; we have a small but comfortable 3-bedroom home. Umesh goes to school when he is not helping in the fields, walking over an hour to get there; our local public elementary school is merely a 10-minute walk away. Umesh has a few well-worn outfits; we have drawers full that we rarely wear.
Now that we’re back home, I will no longer complain about cleaning and laundry as I am fortunate to have a house with a washer and dryer, and the electricity to make them work. Even in Kathmandu, neighbors washed laundry using a scrub brush at the local water source. Scheduled blackouts in the city meant we were without power 8 hours daily; remote villages often have none. If villagers are lucky, a local water source is close by, but if not, they must go as far as it takes. I can now safely drink the water from our taps, and have committed myself to do a much better job of conserving it. I relish the extravagance of a quick hot shower in the mornings and am flushing toilets more selectively. Moreover basic services like trash collection, recycling efforts, and sewer systems are appreciated as never before. There, queuing for petrol and cooking oil could take all day; here I nonchalantly zip off after filling my gas tank, but now am driving less and biking more.
Almost everyone we met in Nepal seemed extremely gracious and incredibly resourceful despite, or perhaps because of, the many challenges of life there. The materialism and relative ease of life in the U.S. has shaken me. My husband is tolerating my shift in values and behavior with aplomb, as I am working hard to give away many things we don’t use or need anymore. We’re now trying to slash our frivolous purchases and looking forward to using those monies to sponsor Umesh’s younger sister.
So as it turns out, in addition to teaching my children about our planet and its people, our stay overseas has grounded me in the true essentials of life within a more global perspective — which all somehow come back to two mothers’ visions for their children and for our world.