If you've just arrived at this post, it is a fourth installment, I recommend starting from the beginning HERE.
Eventually we returned to Oregon; I went to high school and college, embarked upon a career, got married and had a child. Over these past four decades, I have maintained my connection to Nepal, visiting as often as possible, but admittedly, I was living a rather normal and mundane American life.
In the summer of 2011, I began to feel the pull of something left undone. I realized that who I was as a person, my values and principles, and my perspective of the world and life in general, were to a significant degree the result of those early experiences in Nepal. I was haunted by a question from which I could not escape: how could I enjoy my successes so long as my Nepali brothers and sisters experienced so few, if any. I clearly needed to reorder my priorities and refocus my energies on projects that would bring greater meaning to my life and greater opportunities to those who had so few.
And so, Elevation Trade was born.
If you've just arrived at this post, it is a third installment, I recommend starting from the beginning HERE.
My father was so captivated by Nepal that he wanted to live there on a more permanent basis. However, he was unwilling to do so without having something substantive to offer in exchange. After assessing the needs of the Nepali people, he concluded that education, health care and/or public health were areas where he might make a contribution. He decided to return to the US and enroll at Western States Chiropractic College (now the University of Western States.) We returned to Oregon shortly before Christmas and my father enrolled at Western States Chiropractic College, intending to return Nepal upon graduation. This decision surprised nobody who knew him very well; he had served in the Peace Corps in the mid-1960s. Upon returning to the US following his Peace Corps service he was drafted into the Army and trained as a combat medic.
My father graduated from Western States in the fall of 1980 and in February 1981, we sold everything we owned and returned to Kathmandu. We found a larger, more comfortable home near Swayambhu. My father established a clinic for the local people (services were often paid for in the form of hand-made items, appreciation, a kilo of rice or a dead chicken.) To supplement a meager income from the clinic, he taught English at the Foreign Language Institute and substitute taught at the American School. My mother maintained the home-front, which was a formidable undertaking where electricity was sporadic at best, refrigeration non-existent, cooking was conducted on a Coleman kerosene stove, drinking water was constantly being boiled and shopping occurred daily. Even with these demands, she was able to regularly meet and work with local crafts people to encourage and guide their creative activities.
I attended the American School and led what appeared to me to be a fairly normal life: walking to the bus stop with an unobstructed view of the Himalayas; having monkeys routinely steal my lunch sack; befriending kid goats soon to be sacrificed as a spiritual offering during festivals. Only years later did I come to appreciate the profound impact these events had on me.
Next week this story wraps up and Elevation Trade is born.
If you've just arrived at this post, it is a second installment, I recommend starting from the beginning HERE.
We drove from Portland, OR to Buffalo, NY; trained to New York City and caught a one-way flight to Luxembourg. From there we took a train to Amsterdam, purchased a two-cylinder Citroen and drove south through Belgium, France, Spain and Portugal. We parked the car in Gibraltar for three weeks, boarded a ferry to Morocco and hopped on the Marrakesh Express to – well, Marrakesh. We returned to Spain, retrieved the car and spent the next four months driving along the Mediterranean coastline of Spain, France, Monaco and Italy. From Italy, we caught a ferry to Greece and drove on to Istanbul. For the entire journey from Luxembourg to Istanbul we stayed at designate campgrounds, except for the side-trip through Morocco. We sold the Citroen in Istanbul and took the train to Iran. From Iran we took buses to and across Afghanistan until we reached Kabul by way of Mashed and Kandahar. We stayed in Kabul for a couple of weeks before catching the mail-bus through the Khyber Pass to Pakistan. We took trains from Pakistan to New Delhi, India, but moved north to the Kulu Manali Valley in the foothills of the Himalayas where we waited out the remainder of monsoon season.
India did not provide my parents with the spiritually peaceful experience they had read about. They were not surprised or taken aback by the abject poverty; it was anticipate, but they were shocked by how the least fortunate of Indians were mistreated and marginalized politically, financially and socially. Finding India no longer to their liking, my parents consulted a travel agency to obtain a flight onward – ostensibly, to Thailand. While purchasing the tickets, they learned that for an additional $20/person we could be routed through Kathmandu, Nepal, remaining there up to a year if we wished. Knowing little to nothing about Nepal, the prospect of visiting this exotic location was irresistible.
To hear my parents tell the story, as soon as they stepped off the plane they knew Nepal was what they had been looking for. They contend to this day that peace and tranquility permeated the rarefied air. They felt this was the place their journey was intended to lead them. For me, it was just a place of exotic smells and sounds, bright colors, and wonderfully kind and caring people. It still is. And it felt like home.
Next week, learn how we ended up living there.
The question I hear the most is “Why Nepal?”
I imagine the idea of traveling to the other side of the planet on a 32-hour plane ride while navigating foreign languages and customs to manufacture a line of clothing, might lack appeal or appear off-putting to some. But for me, flying to Nepal feels like going home.
How did Nepal become my home is a question with a remarkably convoluted answer.
In 1975 my parents and I were involved in a head-on car crash with a drunk driver, the results of which inexorably altered our lives. The good news - all of us survived without serious injury. Nevertheless, it was a horrific crash, causing our VW camper-bus to roll over three times down an embankment. I was seated on my mother’s lap at the moment of impact. Inexplicably, our seat was ripped from the floor and ejected during the crash, but left the two of us untouched inside the cabin. My dad was thrown from the car entirely, but suffered only a bloodied nose. In retrospect, the crash was a defining event. Having survived an incident that onlookers agreed should have killed us, my parents reevaluated the direction life was taking them. From this reflection and introspection, they decided to dedicate their lives to a purpose beyond just getting by. It could have been simple good fortune or divine intervention, but in either case, my parents were left inspired to make a world. They didn’t have a particular purpose in mind, so they embarked upon a journey to find one.
At the time of the crash, my mother was running the family owned plant and flower shop while my father worked in the ski industry. They consolidated the insurance settlement with their savings account and profits derived from liquidation of the business. With financing in hand, they launched a year-long journey around the world.
The journey continues next week!