A Letter Home from students on the IHP Human Rights: Foundations, Challenges, and Advocacy program:
Transitions from one country to another are often the most challenging aspect of IHP. In this picture, we are just arriving to Nepal, and as you can see, sleep deprivation has kicked in. Nevertheless, ourexcitement of being in a new place is what allows us to hit the road running.
Walking to and from class every day I see this breathtaking view over my shoulder. On days when the smog clears for an afternoon, like today, we can spot the Himalayas peeking over the rim of the valley. Kathmandu is one of the most colorful cities we have had the fortune to wander through, and besides the pink-, green- and blue-coated buildings, prayer flags add a rainbow to every potential gray patch. No corner of this city escapes the reach of color and light.
The juxtaposition of this landscape’s foreground and background reveals the rapid movement of the city. Nepal is the fastest urbanizing country in Southeast Asia, and Kathmandu appears to be caught in a jumble of construction and constant road-paving, as well as pockets of weeds, cows, and flowers.
One of our favorite things to do in Nepal is to spend time on the roof of our home stay. Most of our homestay families own their own buildings so we have easy access to the roof. The sunrays’ warmth and light breeze is an ideal way to decompress whenever one needs it. One can always find the tranquility one needs here, seven stories away from the potholes and honking taxis. And no matter how much time one spends on this roof, the beauty of Kathmandu never ceased to leave one in awe and remind one of how remarkable this experience is.
One of the most striking moments we had while in Nepal was getting to meet some Tibetan refugees. We walked around a Boudha Stupa–the religious site of one of the largest Tibetan communities in Nepal–with them on the holiest day of the month. Conversations spanned from the role of religion in society to nonviolent protest, and from the international community’s responsibility to intervene to which member of One Direction is our favorite. It was a powerful moment because we were inspired by these refugees who were so resilient and hopeful in the face of so many challenges–such as their lack of Nepalese citizenship–and to realize that we as students have a powerful role to play by allowing these refugees to tell us their side of the story.
If you go to Nepal, you have to go to a Nepali wedding! Think beautiful Saris, hundreds of guests, a throne of honor, and best of all, lots of appetizers. This is a picture of me and one of my homestay partners, Julia, in our saris and tikas (similar to Indian bindis), getting ready for the wedding. This was definitely one of my favorite nights in Nepal!
One of the most magical parts of living in Nepal is the walk to school. Living in Patan, the old part of Kathmandu, you’re surrounding by history and modernity. Walking out the door in the morning, if it is early enough, I see my host mom on her way to pray. I walk down a street lined with carts of people selling brightly colored vegetables and the sounds of passionate haggling. Turn the corner to the right and now the street is lined with pants lying out, plushy blankets, and aromatic tea. At the end of the street is Patan Durbar Square, a UNESCO heritage site. A truly awesome sight, its magic is in the fact that no one treats it like a museum. Children run around it, older men rest on its benches, couples perch on the steps of the temples. Here, we hang out after class and sometimes even play music as the sun sets. From there, the street turns modern with shops named after American ones (Urban Outfitters, Zara) and cars and motorcycles speed by. The soundtrack of the street quickens and busies. Then you arrive at school and in the past 20 minutes you feel as if you’ve walked through hundreds of years.
Our Nepal country group got special treatment one of our last nights in Kathmandu with a traditional Newari dinner and performance. In this picture, a dancing stuffed peacock is feeding Travis, Julia, Ale, and Clelia (right to left). Our country group planned this letter here at this dinner! One of the greatest things about IHP is how many of our academic experiences take place in nontraditional locations and situations.
“This changes you.” You’ll hear that a lot if you decide to go on IHP. You’ll try to imagine how you’ll change; the great endeavors that’ll permeate your character. Well, it will be nothing large that will spear your change, so I’d like to advise you to stop looking for growth in the intense and explicit events. It is the unanticipated that truly alters you: the tiny, the detailed, the secondary. We climbed a mountain at four in the morning to take this picture. It’s of the sun rising over Mt. Everest (to the left) and the Himalayas (to the right). But stop looking for the mountains: that’s not what this photo is about. It’s about the tiny bundles of prayer flags in the foreground. Prayer flags are believed to spread their blessings when the air pushes them back and forth. Nothing in this world can be more beautiful than a delicately inscribed piece of cloth rippling through the wind, billowing off wishes of good fortune and health. Even amongst the most brilliant sunrise over the tallest mountains, these squares of fabric were what truly changed me.
The hike up to our camp ground in Begnas, our stay on the hill, our visits to the villages, and our jog down were some of the most fun times in Nepal. We were able to get a better perspective of life in the city versus life in the more rural areas and how these locations affect abilities to influence political decisions as well as have access to basic resources. Sleeping under the stars was also an event not to be missed, along with Meghan and Michael singing songs, our two randomly adopted dogs, the delicious food made by our hosts, the cool eco-bathrooms, the view of Fishtail Mountain as the sun rose, and the amazing personal moments shared with our coordinators and staff. One of the most cherished moments shared by the group was our talk with the group leaders of the local village. This was the first time that we were asked questions about our experiences in the United States; it gave us an understanding of how we value and understand knowledge, perspectives, and exchanges. We will definitely take this knowledge into Jordan. Overall, the ability to be out in nature, exhaust ourselves a bit, have a learning exchange with the community there, and share some time with one another really allowed for a nice wrap up in Nepal.
The IHP Human Rights Spring 2014 Nepal Country Team