This fall it will be six years since I went to Nepal, but the vividness of my experience there preserves my memory with the freshness of an hour ago. I’ve been thinking about my trip there a lot lately mostly because I really want to return but also because my experience dramatically shaped the way I think about poverty, travel and needs.
I still remember getting off the plane after over 50 hours of travel. The air felt fresh compared to the stuffy insides of the airports, but it wasn’t long before I discovered that not all the air is fresh in Nepal. The sun was shining. I was carrying eye glasses from half way around the globe. I sat by the window on the bus. We drove on every side of the road in every direction. We drove by what looked like sewage where a woman was washing her clothes. The smell made me want to throw up; and in an instant, I began to see the world through a different light.
We were going to do a medical camp at a small village called Dumre. I was to be the optometrist’s assistant. Before we made the slightly unstable, day-long trek to the village, we spent one night in Katmandu. That night as I walked at dusk on dirt streets of Katmandu, a man grabbed my arm and began begging me for money. It scared me and confused me. I’d never had an encounter with a beggar. I remember wanting to give him everything I had. He seemed so desperate. The people I was with began to force him to let go of me and told me I couldn’t give him money because I didn’t know what he would do with it. They told me I’d run out of money quickly if I gave it all away. That day, I become a judge of intentions to a man who I couldn’t understand or communicate with. Every time a beggar asks me for money, I think about this man. I wonder where he is, if he really needed the money, if his wife or child was dying of illness or starving, or if he really was buying opium or some other illicit drug with the money he got from begging. Regardless, every time I think of him I wish I had given him something. I wish I would have given him value. He haunts me like a mirror into my own selfish, uncaring nature and my ability to be convinced of something that I don’t think is right.
It was in Nepal that every person became human to me. I couldn’t communicate with most people I met, but I imagined their goodness, hardships and determination. I find myself believing that I need to be a person of generosity even if it requires me to have faith and hope for people I’m not sure about. Perhaps, if someone asks me for some money, I should give them my coat as well.