When going somewhere or doing something for the first time, you have a lot of thoughts on how things might go. Besides what research you have done prior to the journey, you really do not know what to expect. This was me as I headed to Humla for a twenty-one day research hike. I honestly had never been on a true hike other than a few sightseeing adventures with the family that may have lasted one night. I did not completely understand what I was getting myself into. By the end of day two I had learned that when going uphill it was smart to go at the pace of your Nepalese guide because, though you think you see the top of the hill you were currently climbing, you only saw a bend in the road as your hill loomed in front of you for another mile. So, to steady yourself and keep yourself mentally grounded you take one step at a time, trusting the pace of your guide knowing they understand the mountains you are facing much better than you. I learned that when going downhill it was okay to take your time and get your footing to prevent injuries and that not all shortcuts are worth the risk. I also learned that altitude sickness medications make me have to constantly go to the bathroom, which the rest of my team learned to appreciate as we took at least a rest every hour so I could search for a place to do my business. I also learned to take advantage of the hours of trekking time and turn them into amazing prayer times with God as I enjoyed His breathtaking handiwork everywhere I turned. When I had asked for people to partner with me on this adventure to the beautiful Himalayan Nation of Nepal I did not understand the complete beauty I had talked about.
In this blog, I want to be able to bring you along in my journey as much as I can, and I do not know how else to do that then to go through my journal and bring you along a day at a time.
We set out on our trip to Humla at the beginning of October. There was a total of four of us on this trek: our guide, our interpreter/language teacher, my team leader, and myself. We flew out of Kathmandu to Nepalgunj and spent the night there and then we were scheduled to fly out from there to Simikot at 0600 the following morning. On arriving at the airport at 0500 the following morning I quickly learned how Nepal time worked, as we did not fly out from the airport until after 1100. As we waited for the plane to arrive, my team leader was explaining to me how the flight system for this area worked. A small plane that seated probably about 25 to 30 people flew to a couple different areas. Dropping off and picking people up (almost like a bus system), it stopped only long enough to get refueled and probably have a quick safety check done on it before heading back up into the air again. In other words, if the location you were going was not the first one on the list for the plane to take, it would be at least two hours before you would board since you were waiting for your plane to return, so you just sat patiently until your flight arrived. Once aboard the plane, the flight to Simikot was one of the most beautiful flights I have ever been on as we flew over and into the mountains. On arrival to Simikot, we decided to wait a day before we started our trek since we would not be able to set up camp at the next village until after nightfall. Our extra time in Simikot was spent hiking to the school and hospital. Along the way we met different people Nepal-style, where they invite you into their home and serve you tea “just because.” The hospital we visited was more of a clinic; there was one doctor there at the time, but he only comes a couple times a month. There were people lined up outside, mostly with different orthopedic injuries. One man had what looked like had been a severe injury and an external fixator had been placed. The dressing looked really dirty, but he seemed to have good movement and color to his toes, which I thought was pretty impressive with all things considered. We were then able to talk to some of the people in charge about the possibility of volunteer medical personnel coming to work at the hospital a couple weeks at a time throughout the year. They said they thought it was a possibility and I just have to attain a special license, which I think might be doable.
Our first day of trekking was hard, but it went much better than I had anticipated. We arrived and set up camp by late morning/early afternoon. We then went to the river to wash and do laundry (we each only brought 2-3 outfits, so we did laundry about every day to every other day during the trip). Some kids came and found my interpreter and me shortly after we had started doing laundry, so no bathing was done. It was fun talking to the kids and watching them play in the freezing water. The second day of the trek was a little more of a challenge, as we took some shortcuts that were not the wisest (we did not take them on the way back). However, it was very beautiful as we passed by a couple different waterfalls and walked along the river. We saw a lot more donkeys and cows this trek versus the day before and my interpreter quickly taught me the importance of walking on the inside of the mountain path as the animals passed by so I would not accidentally get pushed off the cliff. It was also this day that I came to the discovery that, no matter if you are rested or not, hiking uphill is still crazy hard and if you do not have the right mindset getting to the top of the hill is very challenging. I also realized that there was a reason that everyone else slowed down their pace when climbing a hill: until you are at the top of the hill looking down you never know if what you are seeing is the top of the hill or just another bend in the road.
On arrival to Kermi, the second village we would stay at, I was introduced to a family that had taken my team leader in during one of his first trips to Humla. They thought of him as a brother. We were given a room to stay in here and, though the beds were slabs that we placed our sleeping bags, it was nice to be indoors.
Kermi is a town with a small school that kids come from miles to attend. There is a small boarding house for kids to stay at if they come from outside villages (I found this to be how most of the schools were set up). We were able to see the outside of the clinic (which looked very nice). We learned on arrival back to the hostel we were staying at that the clinic had just been built and it was to specialize in maternity. At first I did not understand why you would build a clinic for maternity in an area that just needed a basic clinic with a doctor who could educate and treat the people on basic healthcare needs. Later in my journey I learned that babies here are not always given a name until up to a week after birth and they are not given a birth certificate until after a year due to the mortality rate (why give your baby a name and get attached until you know it will live?–that thought in itself brings tears to my eyes). When asked about volunteers working at this clinic, they said that they would not turn down short-term volunteers, but they would prefer to build the staff with people from the area who had done training in Kathmandu, which I could respect. I do hope to be able to help in some education areas of the clinic just to see what doors may open on one of my return trips to the area. We were not able to see a lot of people in Kermi due to the harvest season. Our hope was to be able to connect with people more on the way back, however, on the way back was during a major holiday so there was no school and most of the people were caught up in the events surrounding their days of celebration.
Our trek from Kermi to Yalbang, our next village, was again beautiful. We were able to trek about 7 miles in 4 hours, which I felt was pretty successful (this is about the speed we were able to trek the remainder of the trip). In Yalbang we stayed with a woman and her family who had become good friends with one of my teammates (who was unable to join us on this specific journey) on a previous trek. I quickly learned to enjoy this woman, not because either of us could understand what the other was saying, but because she smiled easy and had a contagious laugh. This family was Buddhist (as were all the families we stayed with during this trip). The family was made up of a loving and hardworking father and mother and two beautiful kids whom I greatly enjoyed. The little boy of the family got sick the second day we were there. I was asked to examine him, but with the language and cultural barrier I felt rather helpless. They took him to the clinic later during the day. I later learned this was just a pharmacy where they did not assess him but instead gave him some Tibetan natural medication. When I discovered this, I reassessed the boy and treated him to the best of my abilities with the medications I could provide.
The second day in Yalbang was spent hiking up the hillside to spend some time with the older people of the village. The older people in the Buddhist belief believe that it is good to separate themselves as they prepare for death. The older people still work, family still comes and visits them, and they still go visit family, they just feel that it is best for whatever reason to isolate themselves due to their beliefs. We then went and visited the monastery and talked with a couple different monks. One of the monks who spoke English very well asked if we were Jesus followers and we said yes. He then proceeded to talk about the benefit of different religions which I found interesting, but he also made it clear that the Buddhist religion and it’s gear towards family and community was what he thought was best for the Humla people. The end of my day was spent talking to my team leader trying to wrap my head around everything I had learned so far during the trip; I knew my trip was still just starting, but I already felt like I was swimming and I prayed that God would continue to open doors for us to minister as we continued our journey. That night, as we were brushing our teeth before bed, my team leader told me to look up at the stars. As I looked, all I could think of was Psalm 19:1 (one of my grandpa’s favorite verses), “the heavens declare the glory of God: the skies proclaim the work of His hands…” The trip so far had been beautifully breathtaking yet overwhelming. In this moment, all I could do was thank God for His many wonders and for allowing me to be a part of this journey.
The third day spent in Yalbang, my language interpreter/amazing female companion took me to an area to wash our hair (it really is the little things in life that make the difference). From there we went to the school and talked to the headmaster to get things ready for us to come spend time and teach the kids when we return in March. The goal when we come to teach is that we get to spend an hour with the kids connecting and providing with them a story in their own language based on moral values. We then will split up among the teachers and help them teach a subject we feel comfortable with. My team leader really has a passion for kids and strongly believes that kids are a huge door into the home. The people of these villages are very family and community-oriented. Our goal here is not to just share the love of Jesus with one person, which would cause them to be cast out of their family as well as community, bringing great shame to everyone and burning bridges. Our focus is on families and communities, praying that God will soften hearts and open doors for us to minister. A big part of what we were doing in this trek was making connections and learning the culture.
From Yalbang we hiked to Muchhu where we met the older sister and younger sister to the woman we stayed with in Yalbang. Like their sister, they both had amazing smiles and laughter that was music to the ears. They also each had amazing families with hardworking husbands. The night that we arrived in Muchhu a man came in who had heard that I had taken care of the young boy in Yalbang and wanted me to assess him. I listened to what symptoms he had and went ahead and took a set of vitals and listened to his lungs. I then told him what I thought was wrong and told him to ask for certain medications when he went to the pharmacy. After that, the rest of the house we were staying at wanted me to get their blood pressures, which was fun but a little humorous at the same time. That night I ate supper, which most times was rice and beans that they served at the hostel we were staying at, and went to bed early since I seemed to have caught a cold (other than a few skin infections and my cold my team stayed very healthy throughout the trip). Our day in Muchhu was a little more relaxed than anticipated due to the fact the school was closed for a teachers’ day off (we were able to talk to the school about working with them in March on our way back through). This gave me time to get some laundry done in the morning and then we headed to a neighboring town for the afternoon. We were able to connect with a family there that we had hoped to connect with in Kermi. This particular family moves to different areas as merchants to sell things during different seasons of the year. I found this fascinating. That evening we went to the hostel for the kids at the school and played some volleyball, which was enjoyable (although their rules did not quite match up with ours).
From Muchhu we traveled to Yari. This trek was all uphill. I spent a lot of time in prayer just to keep my mind off my body that was telling me it was tired. This prayer time was much needed. As eye opening as the whole journey had been for me, the time spent with God was very refreshing. In Yari we camped up on one of the roofs of the place we had chosen to eat. This town was very barren, with not a lot of plant life due to the altitude and cold. The people were pleasant but a little more closed off to us than they had been in previous towns. Our day in Yari was spent hiking and just seeing what all doors God would open in our time in the village. It was not until the following morning as we were packing up our tents that we saw some breakthrough as a couple teachers from the school came and asked us if we would be willing to help the school there financially. We told them that we were not able to help financially but that when we return in March and April that we would love to spend time working with the kids. This seemed to please them at they said the doors would be open to us when we returned in the spring.
Yari was as far up the mountain as we had scheduled to go, so from there we headed back to Muchhu. It was here that I was able to take my first and only shower during the trip. They had an area in their greenhouse that allowed water to come in at a decent pressure and it had privacy. I don’t think I have ever thought a shower had felt better. They also had potatoes prepared for us here on arrival, which to me was a huge blessing (for those of you who know how much I love potatoes you understand). It was neat coming back to an area where just a couple of days ago we were strangers, and now, we were family and they were happy to see us. As we left Muchhu, they blessed us and put scarves around our necks in respect as we headed on to the next village. It was nice to be able to smile and say we will see you again in the spring.
In Yalbang, the family we had stayed with on our trip up had left to stay in a field a couple of hours walk away to harvest. They provided us with a key to their house and allowed us to stay for a couple nights even though they were not there. In Yalbang, my team leader and I sat down and talked about the different ways to connect with the villages, discussed different things we needed to research further, and made a list of things that we needed to make sure to bring when we returned. From Yalbang we then returned to Kermi and once again were greeted by friends who honored us with scarves as we headed out the following morning. From Kermi we hiked to Dharapuri. In Dharapuri they served us goat, our first meat the whole trip since Buddhist do not believe in killing. The goat was chewy but a nice change to the diet. From Dharapuri we then had a nice steep hike of about 4 miles uphill to Simikot. We arrived in Simikot just in time for a Hindu holiday called Tihar. There was a lot of singing (similar to caroling) and dancing in the streets. That evening we went and visited one of my team leader’s friends who served us tea and introduced us to his beautiful Christian family.
The following day it was time for us to fly out of Humla. Though I was looking forward to the more modern life, I had a lot of mixed emotions leaving the area that in less than 20 days had already captured my heart. From Humla, the plane departure was different than any I have ever experienced. We received a call at our hotel saying that the plane could be arriving at about 0900 so we went down to the airport, which was a runway, got our tickets, weighed our bags, and then waited for the plane to come in so we could board. We then flew into Nepalgunj, where we were able to walk onto a flight headed to Kathmandu shortly after we had landed. They literally had us pull our luggage from the plane that we had just landed on to have them put it directly on the next flight and handed us our boarding passes while we were on the runway, thus allowing us to return home to Kathmandu about six hours ahead of schedule, which was nice.
This research trek for me was an amazing experience. I learned a lot along the way and am looking forward to returning in the spring with the rest of our team. I will know a little bit more as to what to expect, and I have time to really research the information I need to look into medically and culturally.
As I said, I learned a lot during this journey. One thing that I learned that we can all take something away from is that when going up hill, not just physically but spiritually and emotionally in life, it is smart to go at the pace of your guide, because though you think you see the top of the hill you are climbing you only see a bend in the road. So, to steady yourself and keep yourself mentally and spiritually grounded, take one step at a time trusting the pace of your guide, knowing He understands the mountains you are facing much better than you.
“For I know the plans I have for you declares the Lord, plans to prosper you not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11)