This post is courtesy of Jaime Leah Jones, a study abroad alumna who went on the ASU: Re-imagining Environmental Sustainability in Urban and Rural Nepal Summer program. She was also a recipient of the Study Abroad Office Travel Grant.
My time in Nepal impacted me in new and challenging ways. I gained new experiences: like exploring ancient cities, seeing endangered rhinos from the back of an elephant, and eating some great food. We traveled around the country, beginning in the capital of Kathmandu and traveling south to Chitwan National Park, then west to Lumbini (the birthplace of Buddha), north to Pokhara, and then returning to Kathmandu. And one of the best parts: six Nepali students accompanied us and participated in the entire program with us. They were so helpful in helping us translate and in sharing their culture with us, and their friendship was a big part of what made this experience so unique and delightful.
But being in Nepal was challenging at times as well. During our first week, we traveled south from Kathmandu and spent three days/four nights in homestays outside of Chitwan National Park. It was one of the most humbling experiences of my life. We spent the majority of our time without electricity and about half of it without running water, continuously wondering if anything would happen whenever we flipped a switch or turned on the tap. In many small villages, they experience ‘load-shedding,’ which is where the electricity is purposefully turned off for four hours or so each day due to too much demand on the power grid. While we were there, though, a power line had fallen during a storm, which resulted in no electricity at all for the first two days. And when there’s no electricity, the electric pumps that bring groundwater to the tap don’t work, resulting in a lack of running water. I was only there for a few days and I was struggling, yet I was reminded that many people live in these conditions daily—no air conditioning despite high summer temperatures, dinners eaten with only one light bulb from the house’s solar panel during periods of load-shedding, hand pumping water for washing and cooking when the electricity is out—and I was humbled to see how many of them live. Women have their own kitchen gardens where they grow almost all of the food for the family, along with taking care of a flock of chickens and a pair of bison and farming larger fields that grow crops to sell. They cook three meals a day, take care of the family members, and tend to all the cleaning and maintenance of the home, often with a husband gone overseas for years at a time to make an income for the family. And they never stop smiling. And though our homestay experience definitely challenged me, it was one of the highlights of our trip.
This homestay experienced showed me how integrated food, water, and energy resources really are. Back at ASU, I am doing my PhD research on the food-water-energy nexus, which considers the interactions between food and agriculture, water, and energy resources. In Nepal, energy is needed to pump water into the water tank so that there’s running water; left over food and dung from chickens and buffalo are used as bio gas energy for cooking; and water is used to irrigate kitchen gardens and larger agricultural fields. These three resources are so closely tied that a lack of one can greatly impact the availability of the other two. I experienced this first hand and it really struck me how important it is for these three resources to be considered together. As I continue to develop my graduate research, this experience is shaping my academic goals, as I want to study and conduct research that will impact individuals within an international development context.
As we learned about both rural setting on our trip, we spent the second half of our trip living in cities. We spent four days in Pokhara and a week in Kathmandu. Pokhara is a cute lake town that sits at the foothills of the Himalayas, where the tallest mountains in the world loom over large hill to the city’s valley below. Hipster coffee shops line the streets and store fronts are filled with stylish clothing and unique souvenirs. During my time there, I went spelunking through bat caves, hiked up to several farms, lounged by the lake, volunteered at a local school, and relished the beauty of the Himalayas.
Katmandu, on the other hand, is a very different city. As one of the fastest growing cities in the world, it is much louder and crowded than the peaceful Pokhara. Yet the city is ancient and is filled with World Heritage Sites at every turn. We got to visit several of them, witnessing the damage caused by the 2015 earthquake and seeing Hindu and Buddhist temples that still remained intact. But the highlight of my time in Katmandu was getting to take a plane up to see Mount Everest—and it is a glorious sight that pictures cannot do justice.
This second half of the trip spent in cities opened my eyes even more to the cultures of Nepal and to the beauty of South Asia. Both Pokhara and Kathmandu allowed me to learn more about myself, such as that I enjoy doing development research and living in small cities. Though I had left the country many times before—and even lived overseas—this study abroad experience allowed me to see a whole new part of the world. I had been wanting to travel to Asia for a while, and this trip allowed me to achieve that goal. But even more than just crossing a continent off of a list, studying abroad allowed me to be completely immersed and absorbed into the native culture and to learn about classroom ideas in a whole new way. Plus, I gained six new Nepali friends, which all made this experience one that I will never forget.