Stephanie's Update: May 2008
"For years I waited for a hand to reach out and change my life;
I had no idea the hand would be my own... "
- Cynda LuClaire
People are always surprised when they hear I am headed on another solo trip half way across the globe, without the companionship of a friend to share the experience with along the way. To me...well it's just normal!
I remember being 16 behind the wheel of my first car. I would just take off into the countryside and drive around for hours exploring dirt roads, farms, and little forgotten mom and pop gas stations. My family would have been horrified to know this and in the time before cell phones and On Star it was definitely more risky. But oh what fun it was to just follow my intuition of turning right or left, or turning around altogether. Stopping for a soda and finding a quiet place to park my car, roll down the window to hear the wind in the trees or watch a red-tailed hawk sit quietly above a field hoping for an afternoon meal. It wasn't the usual behavior of a teenage girl, but it was normal for me and it's still that way today.
So in typical fashion, when I took on the mission of helping to educate children in Nepal by volunteering for the Magic Yeti Children's Library Project this winter, it was no surprise to be boarding the plane to Kathmandu with just my thoughts and dreams for what lie ahead to keep me company.
The flight from Los Angeles to Bangkok is 17 hours ...plenty of time to reflect, read and write. I usually have several books and a magazine or two with me. This time only one book made the cut. Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. It's the kind of read that makes me laugh out loud and feel lucky to have an educated mind.
As the hours flew by I thought of all the people who had contributed to my fundraising efforts for the children in Nepal. I felt so strongly about what I had become involved in, that it had taken on a life of it's own, and before I knew it, I was collecting piles of books, generous checks and big hugs from family, friends, clients and even people I had never even met. I felt like a miracle was rapidly unfolding right before my very eyes. During those amazing months before my trip, I had the feeling that at any moment I was going to burst out of my skin with gratitude and wonder.
Each time a check or book would come in I would shout "YES", knowing that eager young minds were hovering at the tipping point half across the world high in the Himalayan mountains. And now the time had come and I was on my way to deliver those very books right into the hands of the children who live in the Khumbu Valley.
After spending a few days in Kathmandu, I took a small plane to the village of Lukla where many Everest climbing expeditions begin their 30 mile trek to Base Camp. I would then make the two day trek to Kunde to meet up with project leader Liesl Clark and her husband Pete Athans to work on the first MYL project site established last spring. A library that would benefit up to 400 children attending school in Khumjung.
This being my second trip to Nepal in 14 months, I was more interested in watching the faces of the new comers on the flight, than I was in looking out the window at the Himalayan outline I had memorized from 2006. One young woman in particular seem very moved by the whole affair, and as I watched her eyes tear up I felt a bit envious of her internal view of things. The Himalayas are neither shy or humble in their beauty and power. Seeing them for the first time in person is like getting a straight shot to the viscera, a warmth that instantly rushes to every cell you have...an immediate intoxication of the spirit.
For me it was as if I had never left. I felt so comfortable on the trail, moving easily along as my guide, Pemba Tenzing Sherpa, and I headed to the village of Kunde. Every so often, I would look ahead and spot Omar and Karme, the two porters Pemba had hired to carry the books. I had brought two duffels full of children's books in addition to my personal gear bag. I couldn't wait to see the books I had brought from home on the shelves of the new library at the Sir Edmund Hillary School, just 20 minutes walk from Kunde.
Once I reached Kunde and settled into the lodge with Liesl and Pete and their two children, Cleo and Finn, the routine quickly set in!
*Wake at 6:30
*Breakfast at 7:30
*Catalogue books until 9:30
*Arrive at the library at 10:00
*Sweep, clean, sort and catalogue books
*Pack up older books which would be taken to future libraries in need
*Lunch at 2:00 and head back to our lodge
*Spend the rest of the afternoon and evening cataloguing more books!
*Dinner at 6:30
*Bed by 8:00
All the while trying to stay warm, as this time of year in the Khumbu Valley is very cold! It was also very peaceful and quiet. Most of the villagers were down in Kathmandu or somewhere in India for the winter. And it would be another few months before the expedition teams would come through on their way to Mt. Everest. It was the perfect setting to work hard and focus on our vision!
Each day 4 to 6 Nepali teenage students would join us in the library, helping us to sort and shelve books. They warmed the room with their laughter, smiles and enthusiasm. Once in a while cracking a joke at my expense when I became a little more than confused over some alphabetical issues. They might have been speaking Nepalese, but I knew what they were up to, and I gave them a hard time right back in english. In all we had a lot of fun together, and I found myself at times in a corner of the library by myself quietly putting books away, trying to keep from being overwhelmed with emotion over the transformation of the room and the power it now had to change lives forever. Lives that would carry on well past my own.
As the first day of school loomed near, we made preparations to have a little tea party for the younger pre-school age kids, and then another for the older kids on the same day. This would be our "opening day" to be followed with an official assembly and announcement on the first day of school. With the teachers and Head Master, Mahendra, in attendance, it was fun to watch the kids in their excitement as they scrambled to find the "magic tape" we had placed randomly under their benches. Finding a piece of tape meant receiving a prize, which consisted of coloring books, puzzles and fun games to play to enhance their intellectual skills.
It was also our opportunity to share our profound and sincere gratitude for the privilege of being a part of their lives and their empowerment through learning, reading and exploring the world of books. Something that all of us can understand and appreciate.
It was finally time to head back onto the trail and we still had much to do in Kathmandu! The next 8 days would be spent cataloguing and boxing up more books for the second and third libraries respectively in Tsarang and Phortse. We also took the time to visit Room to Read and the Asia Foundation. Both visits were extremely fruitful and inspiring on what is possible when people come together for a common vision and purpose! John Wood, Founder of Room to Read is a personal hero of mine, and the Asia Foundation graciously gave us close to 200 brand new books for our growing reference section on science, art and health for Khumjung and the libraries coming up in the late spring of 2008 and the winter of 2009.
Pete and Liesl were also generous enough to show me parts of Kathmandu that I would never have experienced with an organized tour group. Food markets, restaurants, gardens and galleries full of Tibetan and Nepalese art were the norm each evening. I even became a trusted guardian for Cleo and Finn, putting me on official trampoline duty!
It was a trip I will never forget and it was hard to say good bye. We had become quite the working unit, and I left knowing I had spent time with some of the most honorable and compassionate souls I had ever met. I plan to repeat similar experiences with the MYL Project as well as other philanthropic pursuits that have captured my eye and my heart.
As I had time to reflect on my experiences while resting for a day in the city of Bangkok on my way home, I thought "I am having way too much fun for one person!". And then immediately began making notes for my next adventure. Maybe I would bring someone special with me next time ...hmm.
@Stephanie Graham 2008