After being gone from home for over 50 days and coming home to write a blog, I honestly do not know where or how to start. My family has all wanted to know the highlights of my trip. As I talk to them, all I can think is, “How do you shorten such a trip and learning experience into just a few highlights?” I am not even sure how to put a Humla experience into words in a way that will do it justice. On arriving back to Kathmandu from Humla I am realizing how different things are and I am going through almost a culture shock as I readjust to the facilities of a more modern world. As I sit here at my computer, staring at a blank screen thinking back on everything, I am overwhelmed by all that has gone on. To me, the best way to bring you along on this experience like my previous Humla blog is to again just start from the beginning of my journal and I will do my best to encompass you in all that has gone on.
Our trek to Humla started off a little rockier than our trek in September. My team leaders had been in Puerto Rico for the past month assisting with some relief from the hurricane that hit in October and arrived back in Nepal with just a few days to spare before our scheduled head out date. The couple from Romania on our team had recently announced the exciting news that they were expecting their first child and would be finishing their first trimester just as we were scheduled to depart. We had a couple join us from California who were to be with us just for a few weeks in Humla for some filming purposes, and we had another member of our team join us here in Nepal two weeks before heading out. A lot of my prayer time in the weeks headed up to Humla was spent praying that God would keep our team healthy during the trek and that he would help us make wise decisions. However, my prayer time had not prepared me for the many changes in the schedule that God had planned for us.
My time working as a nurse in the USA had taught me that time was everything; here in Nepal time is relative as I am continuing to learn.
We left Kathmandu headed to Nepalgunj with a few stomach issues but for the most part well. The couple from our team who is expecting decided to hold off for a few weeks before joining us in Humla to make sure everything was going okay with the pregnancy. We (the couple from CA, my team leaders, Jetho the new member to our team, our trekking guide, and myself) arrived in Nepalgunj as planned ready to fly to Humla the next morning. We arrived at the airport at 0530 and were told that our flight would not leave until 0900 so we returned to the hotel that we had stayed the previous night called “Candy’s Place” to enjoy a good breakfast before takeoff. Once we arrived back at the airport we were told everything was good to go. We boarded the plane taxied to the runway and then as the pilot was doing a routine check before takeoff one of our engines on our small little twin-engine plane went out. Needless to say, we all got out of the plane and the plane was pushed into the terminal. Our flight was delayed for a day, allowing us a day to relax and giving those on the team who were having some stomach issues a day to recoup before heading to the mountains. It also gave us a time to connect more as a team and it gave me time to dig more into my devotions. The next morning we got up ready to go. On calling the airport to confirm the times of our flight before arrival at the airport, we learned that a mechanic had not even worked on our plane yet and that we would be delayed at least a couple more days. This would mean that the couple who were with us from California would only be in Humla for a very short time, which was going to be hard especially with the trekking time. So, our team leader arranged plans for us to spend a week in Surkhet, an area that we had been wanting to visit due to its accessibility to both Humla and Kathmandu for some time. Surkhet is a nice-sized town with a thriving church, a couple of hospitals, a bible college, and an airport that has flights to both Kathmandu and Simkiot (Humla).
On arrival to Surkhet we set up camp in the backyard of a children’s home. At the children’s home we did a small camp with the kids in the afternoons for a week after they had completed school. Our team leader and Jetho taught at the bible school in the mornings and then I was able to do some health education at the bible school as well. Our team members helped do devotions at the bible college and at the children’s home. We were kept busy in Surkhet which was nice. On Saturday, four of us were sent to four different churches to preach. The area I was sent to was a smaller church in a more rural part of town. The church was made up mostly of women and a few men. The people there were hungry for the word of God, which made being able to share with them a huge privilege.
Our team then split up for a short time the following day as our team leader and the couple from California headed back to Kathmandu so the couple could fly home. Our team then rejoined in Nepalgunj, joined by the couple from Romania, ready to go to Humla.
On the fourth of May we woke up scheduled to fly to Humla. On calling the airport before we left the hotel we were told that it had snowed in Simikot and so they were not sure if our plane would fly out. After praying and eating breakfast at the hotel we drove to the airport to get ready to fly, praying that everything would clear off so we could start our journey in Humla. We checked our bags, boarded the plane, and this time we flew out without any complications!!!! The plane ride was beautiful as we flew into the mountains. I really think it is one of the most beautiful plane rides one can experience. On climbing out of the plane we were greeted by beautiful snow-covered mountains and fresh, crisp air. We got checked in at our lodge in Simikot and went to the local hospital/clinic, but it was closed. Our guide then started searching for some mules to take our extra luggage into the mountains and then we went and visited the church. There are only a few churches in Humla and it was neat to be able to join our sisters and brothers in Christ that Saturday for fellowship.
The following day after arriving in Simikot I got very sick, which delayed our trip a couple of days. I am still not completely sure what I came down with, but I am glad that it only lasted a couple of days and God helped me regain my strength quickly. In the time that I was sick I did a lot of thinking and praying for our trek. I could not and still cannot figure out why we had so many delays in getting us into the villages of Humla, but I trust that God had it all in his hands.
We finally were able to set out trekking on May 9th. The weather was beautiful. It had rained all night in Simikot but in the mountaintops it had snowed, so we woke to snow-covered mountains and a beautiful sunny sky. We left Simikot a little later than planned and went a different route than normal, which ending up leading to a 9-hour trek. The start of the trek was fun as I had a little boy hiking with me cheering me on in pretty good English which made me smile. Every time he got excited he would do a little skip and when he got frustrated or tired he would let out a huge sigh. We sadly parted ways not even a mile into our trek. The rest of the trek was beautiful. We went at a pretty slow pace and I was able to connect some with our guide. One of the conversations my guide and I had was on name clarification since he thought my name was Hammer, like the tool we use to drive a nail, and not Amber. Once we got the name thing down we quickly went to more important matters like what we should call each other because didi (older sister) did not feel right for him to call me and bai (younger brother) did not seem right for me to call him. Thus, to him I became Kanchhi (which means youngest sister) and to me he became Kanchho (meaning youngest brother), which for this trek those were the age rolls we filled on the team. In Nepal every role of the family has a specific name from the oldest child, to the second oldest, to third, clear down to the youngest. The youngest child is always called Kanchhi and Kanchha depending on if you are a girl or a boy. Once we arrived at Dharapuri, our first stop, we quickly set up camp, enjoyed a great dinner of dal-baht (rice and beans), and went to bed since we had another day of trekking to follow.
Our guide was from Humla. It was neat to see his perspective on different things. He is a Christian man who had escorted the team to Humla on a previous trip. His parents are not Christians but his siblings are. His older brother is one of the few pastors in Humla. He was a very cautious guide who took great care of us, yet he was quick to laugh and joke about things, which for me was appreciated.
From Dharapuri we traveled on to Kermi where we stayed for about a week. Kermi is a village where my team leader has made some connections in the past. This is where his Mithini lives, which means Nepali brother. To become a Mithini to a Nepali they choose you and then do a ceremony welcoming you to the family. The first morning in Kermi was cold but beautiful. My team leader and I did a short workout and walked up to an area called “Tatoo Pani,” which means hot water. We then arrived back to camp, ate breakfast, and our team as a whole headed to the school. On the way to the school we had many kids who remembered our team leaders from previous treks stop and say hi, which was great to see! We spent a little over an hour at the school getting permission to come and teach for a couple of days and then we went on into the village. The village at this time was very empty since most of the people were in the fields so we went on to the medical clinic. The medical clinic in Kermi is more of a birthing center that is connected with an NGO (non-government organization). At the time we went there was an education class happening on the birthing of a baby which I found interesting. We asked the man in charge who was present there at the time some questions about different education done, precautions taken, prevention education done, and about the facilities in general. We then returned a few days later when the midwife was there, asked a few more questions, and left some health education pamphlets for them to utilize.
In our time in Kermi our team went and taught at the school for four days. With the help of our guide who I had as my interpreter I taught different health education classes in grades 2nd through 8th. The health education done was on nutrition, hand hygiene, and basic first-aid. I had made educational health pamphlets of each of the topics back in Kathmandu and then had them translated into Nepali, which were very helpful and nice to teach off of. The others on my team taught art, geography, and English. The class sizes varied from 4 students in the 7th and 8th grade to about 12 students in the younger grades. For our last day with the kids we did a small program where we sang songs, played games, and did a skit portraying basic truths.
In Nepal it is very common for the kids to grow up in boarding houses so that they are able to go to school. Wherever there is a school there is a boarding house and that is where probably 80% of the kids live who attend the school. Kids start living at boarding houses as early as age 5 and then do not see their family for months to years at a time. School here goes to grade 10 if the school system is lucky. In Kermi, the school system only went to grade 8 so if the parents wanted the kids to continue in school they would have to send them on to a different school system. If the parents can afford to send their kids on to 11th and 12th grades they send them to Kathmandu.
Our time outside of the school was spent working to make connections. We went back to the village several times just to connect with the people. It is not abnormal here for someone to see you and invite you into their house for tea. My Nepali is still very limited, but it was always neat to listen to the conversations of those on our team who can speak Nepali well with those who had welcomed us into their home. The other thing we did a lot of in the evening was play card games such as UNO with different people. Cards only require you to know basic words in a language which makes them a fun way to connect with the people.
My birthday was celebrated during our time in Kermi. One of the women on our team mixed some ingredients together to make something like a sponge cake. It was cooked on a wood stove by a steaming method which I found very fascinating. The morning of my birthday I woke up early and hiked to a hill looking over the village where I was able to spend some time in the presence of God, looking back at the previous year and praying about the year to come. On arrival back at camp my team greeted me with the “Happy Birthday” song sung in several different languages. We then had a little party in the afternoon and people from the household who were not in the field and some other people who happened to be around all joined in with eating the cake. It was a one-of-a-kind, very memorable birthday.
From Kermi we then hiked on to Yalbang where we set up tents on the roof of some very good friend’s house. The following day we went to the hostel and school to see if they would allow us to come and teach for a few days. On getting their permission to start teaching the next day our team split up to get some research of the town done. I went, with the help of our guide, and researched the different clinics in the area including the Tibetan Medicine Clinic. It is very common in this village if people are sick to go to the Tibetan medicine man before going to a doctor. The medicine man was not able to give me a lot of information and encouraged me to seek further information regarding the medicine and Tibetan practices that are done back in Kathmandu. The rest of my team went to the government offices to do research since Yalbang is like the county seat of the area.
The Yalbang school was a much bigger school system than Kermi. Yalbang goes to grade 10, so its school system is of higher demand in Humla. Each class held at lease 50 students. The school had over 300 kids which meant the hostel housed at least 300 kids as well.
The family that we stayed with in Yalbang have two kids who walked with us to school every morning with their friends. The classes we taught here were 6th-8th grade. I taught the same health classes as I had in Kermi only I added the importance of physical exercise for one of my educational topics. After class our first day we went to the monastery which was just up the hill from the school. There was a ceremony going on at the time for a llama who had passed away the previous year, so we just observed from the entrance. The kids from the household we were staying at were there and it was hard to see them worshipping and performing rituals like it was second nature to them. Our evenings in Yalbang were spent with the family playing cards, doing different art projects, talking, and laughing. This family is an amazing, loving family who is quick to help you whenever and wherever they can. They know how to have fun with the simple things and the family loves each other which is neat to see in this culture.
The last day of school in Yalbang we taught some classes in the morning and then had two separate programs in the afternoon, one for the younger kids and one for the older kids. We then were able to buy some goat meat. It was nice to have something other than beans for protein for a night. That night we enjoyed playing UNO with the kids a little later than normal since it was our last night together for a couple of days.
From Yalbang we arrived in Muchu. The trek to Muchu is very beautiful, as a lot of it is right by the riverbed. I, for some reason, had to go to the bathroom a lot more than normal during this trek (which might have had to do with the river or the herbal tea I had drank the night before;)). On arriving at Muchu we put our tents up in the buckwheat field of the sister of the family we stayed with in Yalbang. These sisters’ personalities and openness is very refreshing. The woman in Muchu’s husband was currently working construction in China so we were not able to spend any time with him during this trek. An 18-year-old girl, a relative to the family, was also staying with this family and helping out where she could. This girl will be coming to Kathmandu to further her education and I look forward to connecting with her when she arrives.
At the school in Muchu we helped teach classes in the 4th through 8th grade. The size of these classes was smaller again. My largest class was no more than 10 students and my smallest class was only 4 students. I enjoy the smaller classes versus the larger classes because it is nice to be able to talk to each student individually. The kids here in Muchu were curious and asked many questions about me and my home back in the USA. I taught the same subjects regarding healthcare here as I had in the other schools, but these kids were more willing to tell me what they currently did for different things in each of the subjects which was great learning for me. For example, in this area the kids are taught that if you need to clean a wound you do it with salt water. The kids told me that they knew how to wash their hands and when to wash their hands, but they very rarely had soap, so a good handwashing was not often done (with my time back in Kathmandu one of the things I will be doing is learning how to make soap with the resources that I can find in Humla). I also do not know that I will ever convince them here that a potato is a starch and not a vegetable. In one of my classes I had a boy stand up and say, “Miss, I know that where you are from a potato is a starch but in Nepal it needs to be a vegetable.” This made me laugh, but the truth is that what he said made since. The normal meal here is rice and beans with a side of potatoes and spinach. If you make potatoes a starch, you a lot of times remove the vegetable from their plate. To say a potato is not a vegetable means changing their way of thinking.
The woman of the house we were staying at was scheduled to cook at the monastery the week we were with her. The young 18-year-old girl, with the help of our guide, did the cooking for the week, then. One of the days during the week was a holiday so there was no school. This gave us time to go to the monastery where they were taking a special day of prayer. The spiritual atmosphere was very heavy. I only spent a short time in the monastery, but in my time there (besides almost tripping over a mattress and causing a huge seen ;)) I observed a prayer where they threw grain at different times depending on the beat of the drum and what was said during the prayer. On this specific day of prayer the monks had taken a vow of silence and were fasting for the day. After our time in the monastery we went on to a trading place, or a place where you can buy some basic things, where we were able to get laundry soap and some stuff that would work for toilet paper. We then returned to camp for a short rest. Altitude sickness seemed to affect me a little more in this village than it had anywhere else. After a short rest we went and played volleyball at the hostel. Their rules are slightly different than our American rules, but it was fun.
For the last day in Muchu we sat outside for lunch and watched the young kids play. They were so dirty with their runny noses and chapped faces, yet they were all so full of energy and just desired attention. It was nice to be able to play with them and give them my full attention as they tried to speak with me. We then did our program in the afternoon. It is always fun to watch the children’s faces as they watch the skit and learn new action songs. Following the program, we were then honored with traditional scarves and welcomed back to the school anytime we are in the area. It is nice to have a door open for us in Muchu.
From Muchu we started our trek back, first returning to Yalbang. We only stayed one night in Yalbang before continuing our trek to Kermi.
In my time trekking, especially on the way back, I listened to instrumental music and enjoyed spending time with God while being completely surrounded by his breath-taking handy work. It was good to be able to listen to God and pray for the people of Humla. My heart was very heavy as I prayed, bringing me close to tears several times. God is so very amazing!
After Kermi, we took a detour to a small village called Khagalgaun. This is a village where some of our dear friends in Kathmandu are from. The trek up to this village was hard, as the day was hot and the trail was straight up the mountain. On arrival to Khagalgaun, the mother of our friends welcomed us with her traditional Tibetan Dress and served us fruit juice. It was very refreshing. She then served us a lunch of rice, beans, spinach, and potatoes, which I loved since it was the first real lunch we had had in our time in Humla (here we often pack our lunch to go, which is just Tibetan bread with peanut butter–not that it is a bad meal it just is not very filling). We then sat and talked a while with our friends’ mother (which means I did a lot of listening and observing since my Nepali is still so broken). It was neat to finally meet this woman that we had heard a lot about. She was very hospitable, quick to smile and laugh, and pleasant to be around. We then set up our tents on her roof and went down for a supper of Thokpa (spicy noodle soup) before heading to bed. However, I did not go to bed right away that night because the night sky had me mesmerized. It was so clear when I had gotten to my tent, so I took time to stargaze and thank God for all he had done and continues to do.
The next morning was the first morning since we arrived in Humla that I was not scared to get out of my sleeping bag due to the cold. I got up and did a workout with my team leader and then we went down for our hot cereal breakfast of buckwheat and honey! After that we went to the monastery in the area and visited some friends of our guide. For lunch we were invited to an aunt’s house who happens to be the mayor’s wife. It was a nice connection to make. Mayor in this area means not just mayor of the village but of the whole area, like what we would think of more as a county. After lunch we went to the village school just to observe. There was no one there, so we returned to our camp to relax before supper.
From Khagalgaun we headed to Dharapuri. Before we left Khagalgaun, the mother of our friends honored us with the traditional scarves and walked us all the way out of the village and waved goodbye until we were out of sight. I am very glad we were able to take the time to come to this village. I may not have been able to do a whole lot to personally impact this woman, but the couple from Romania on our team were able to help show the love of God. I pray that God continues to soften her heart and that she would long to know Him more in the days to come. The trek from Khagalgaun to Dharapuri was a nice, easy trek. The first half of the hike was all downhill (I may have gotten slightly lost on this half ;)) and the second half was fairly straight, not taking us more than 3 hours to get from one place to the other.
On arrival to Dharapuri we got our tents set up and our guide left us to go to his home village to spend some time with his family (he would meet us on the way to Simikot the following day). His parents at the time were pretty sick. We were able to give him some medicine to help with some of the symptoms but we felt that the best thing we could really do was pray. This was the first time our guide had been able to return home in four years. After our guide had left I went down to the river to read, journal, and pray. To me, there is just something amazing about watching the water barrel around the rocks. And, it is relaxing to just listen to the water.
From Dharapuri we hiked to Simikot. This is the toughest trail we hiked, as around 70% of it is up hill. It started to rain on us pretty good about an hour into the trek, so we rested at a house along the way and had breakfast. Our guide was then able to meet up with us at about this time. He had brought some Tibetan bread with local honey on it from his mom. It was very good. Since the trek was a little more complicated, our team split up in groups of two so we could go at different paces as needed. My trekking buddy and I arrived at the top before the others by over 30 minutes so we enjoyed some snacks and looked over the town before heading into Simikot. My highlight of the day’s trek was a small boy of about age five who was helping his parents herd cows. One of the calves was getting away so he grabbed it by the tail and yanked it back onto the trail, making me laugh out loud! 😉
From Simikot we then flew to Nepalgunj, and then on home to Kathmandu. Our flights were pretty uneventful which was nice.
Our team has made it safely home to Kathmandu. Thank you all for your prayers during this time. I ask you to continue to pray as we work to re-adjust to life back here in Kathmandu. Pray that God continues to guide us in our time here and as we work to prepare for our next trek.
Some random things that happened during the trek was that two small earthquakes did occur. I guess this was good experience for me in knowing how they feel and what to do when they occur. Another random thing that happened was I may have fallen off a cliff. Thank goodness it was an area I could only fall a few feet. Lucky for me, no one on my team saw it happen, either, though they all saw me crawling up the side and were very curious to what exactly had occurred. It sadly was a case of my own carelessness, as I was not paying a whole lot of attention where I was putting my feet. It was something we all got a good laugh out of once I had explained what had happened, and looking back it still brings a huge smile to my face.