I have lived in Kathmandu, Nepal for over a week now. Since arriving, there have been two earthquake tremors major enough to jostle my three-story room (both of which mum knows nothing about), power outages almost daily, and a very real withdrawal from the cushy, indulgent North American lifestyle I did not even realise I was partaking in.
Pre-Nepal, I lived in Western Canada with my love, back in his hometown where he was born and raised. Home of supermarket giants, top-notch brunch, cheap oil, stores upon stores of fine threads and slick wire sunglasses and Sephora – all reachable in an after dinner drive; and we’d browse the aisles while each clutching a gigantic plastic cup of bubble tea. Dry shampoo bought because we didn’t have that brand back in New Zealand; coats bought first out of necessity and then out of want. It was the height of winter but there was central heating and underground pedways. Every single day I was cocooned in more comfort I’d ever known. Being mindful of consuming in a country of plenty was a stern lecture I had repeated to myself over and over before leaving home, but nonetheless, I was sitting atop a throne of indulgences that was steadily growing by the month.
Seasoned travellers before me have described living in Nepal to be equal parts wonderful and frustrating, because of the lack of structure that infiltrates into every part of the day: a bus breaks down so you hop on the back of a corn truck, the electricity cuts out at 1pm on a sweltering 33-degree day, the struggle to find produce as nutritious as you’re used to. The common denominator with all of these is that there is no tantruming out of them; they are part of this beautiful nation’s life and the frustrations felt only exist because of a separation from the continuous stream of comfort we are so damn used to. In my first week, I had the runs and mild heat exhaustion, and most of my days were spent hunting down a nutritious and varied diet, including fresh fruit and vegetables.
I learned that I didn’t miss:
- My clothes. Half my wardrobe was left in Canada, and they can stay there.
- Malls and shops. Thamel, my neighbourhood, teems with vibrant clothes, dreamcatchers, souvenirs and knick-knacks, but even the thought of more stuff to carry around made me break out in sweats.
- Snacks. I used to eat lots of chocolate and biscuits because I could deal with the eventual lethargy, but when most of your energy is being used up in the day, there isn’t room to feel crappy.
And what I actually needed:
- Fresh fruit and vegetables, every day.
- A sustainable way to regulate body temperature. I will never take being comfortable in the weather for granted ever again.
- Internet. This was revelation realised with a grimace, but I found that in trying to adjust and grasp my new reality, relying on familiar comforts helped infinitely (my friends will know I’m talking about them, but I have to plug Instagram here too)
- A relentless openness to everything, especially in moments of defeat and/or exhaustion.
- To photograph and to write. It never fails to enrich my bones with strength and meaning, bringing my truest self back to me with new energy.
I wish I could say that I embraced the journey of being happy with less from the beginning, but that would be a total lie. Kathmandu pulled me away from my incredibly privileged Western life by the feet, confronting me with wonderfully smiley faces, making the absolute most of what they had, with laughter-filled lives, despite the quakes. Of all the places I have travelled, none have showed me how much more I could do, and how much less I could live without.