Familiar Scenes in Unfamiliar Settings

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Heavy mist clings to a lush mountain landscape. Each evenings cool humid air invites dense fog to descend from lofty altitudes flooding the surrounding valleys as if it was bedding down for a restful nights slumber. At dawn, for a few fleeting moments, as light illuminates the dark sky, vast towering peaks of the Himalayan range are exposed. A breathtaking sight that is difficult to comprehend. Thick clouds envelop the base of these behemoths reminiscent of massive islands floating away in an opaque tranquil sea. A bright orange orb emerges from a distant horizon and begins to dispel the previous evenings chill. As cool air warms, so too does the hovering ocean. Within minutes its rapidly rising tide swallows the whole of this impromptu archipelago into its depths shielding them from view for another day and signaling the start of mine.

While walking to the office I witness familiar scenes playing out every morning in this small town. Businesses open doors and prepare for their first customers. dhulikhelChildren, dressed in school uniforms, play and roughhouse on the street as they wait for busses to arrive. Adults fill cafés for their morning “pick me up”, chatting away while staring at smart phones. As the hour wears on traffic starts to accumulate and with it more people. By 9:00 am the whole town is awake and in full swing. Cafés clear out, government offices open and work begins. It is all so “normal”. In my past travels I was often surprised when preconceived notions about a country or its people were immediately shattered but now it’s what I’ve come to expect. This regular routine could be picked up and dropped in any town in most any corner of the world and would not be noticed in the slightest. It stands as a constant reminder; though we may eat diverse foods, worship varied gods (or not at all) and live under different governments with varying economic wealth, we are all so similar.

I am forced to ponder this often while visiting the many remote areas of this country. It always blows my mind when families who (I think) have so little, on a moments notice, invite me into their humble homes for a meal whilst adamantly refusing any compensation. When asked why, my workmates curtly say “Guests are Gods”. On further inquiry I receive a more satisfactory explanation. Nepal is a nation of many traditions most of which stem from Hinduism. Hospitality is a form of worship in Hinduism and is considered a household duty to treat (even unexpected) guests as they would if a god arrived at their door. There are lots of parallel concepts in other religions but this is the first country I’ve visited where the application has been so widespread. The principle makes a lot of sense; I would never expect or accept any form of payment from a guest of my home. Why should I suppose that these generous people would feel any different?

Spending less time focusing on what sets us apart and more on our commonalities has been my surefire way of adapting quickly to new situations and new groups of people. How could anyone aspire to build relationships if all we ever saw was what makes us different? It brings to life a quintessential adage learned early in childhood “walking a mile someone else’s shoes”. I always assumed I had a good grasp on the meaning of this phrase, but a true understanding did not present itself before arriving in Nepal. For me it’s about considering a person’s circumstances with an open mind and fully appreciating the reasons behind his/her decisions. A lot like those majestic mountains, hidden behind rising clouds, if not seen at just the right moment the complete picture will be lost.

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