In case you didn’t know, I recently joined the United States Peace Corps and will spend the next 27 months in Nepal, working in the agricultural sector as a Food Security Volunteer.
I started this adventure back on 31st January when I said goodbye to my family in Tennessee and flew to Los Angeles, California for Staging. Staging was like a pre-departure orientation where I officially registered as a Peace Corps Trainee, got my government issued passport and, most importantly, met the 50ish other people I will be serving with for the next 2+ years. It was a busy, awkward and exciting 36 in hours in LA and, after wrapping up all our Staging activities, we headed to LAX the night of 1st February to start our 3-day trip to Nepal.
Our first flight was one of the longest in the world, coming in at 17 hours and 10 minutes in the air, from Los Angeles to Singapore. Lucky for us, we flew Premium Economy, so I was able to sleep well and feel rested by the time we landed in Singapore the morning of 3rd February.
We had a 10-hour layover in Singapore, but fortunately, Singapore has one of the best airports in the world. I enjoyed my last good coffee for a long time, explored the butterfly garden and even went swimming at the airport pool!
Our last flight to Kathmandu took about 5 hours and we arrived around 9:30pm the night of 3rd of February after 3 calendar days of travel thanks to time zones (probably about 40 or so hours of travel time total). We were greeted by the Peace Corps Nepal staff and some other important people who escorted us through immigration and customs before putting us on a bus that took us to our training site.
Our first four days in Nepal were spent in a small town just outside of Kathmandu where were attended Initial Orientation (IO). During this first phase of training, all of us volunteers stayed in dorms at a training center where we had sessions from 8am to 5pm every day. These sessions included briefings on safety, medical and cultural issues in Nepal as well as lessons on how to use eat with your hands, use a squat toilet (without toilet paper!) and take a bucket bath. We also received numerous vaccinations, learned how to filter water and even got to eat lunch with the US Ambassador to Nepal!
After wrapping up IO, we headed to Panauti, to start our next phase of training, Pre-Service Training (PST). PST is ten weeks of intense language, cultural and technical training and during this time, each volunteer lives with a host family in a village outside of Panauti. We were all anxious to find out who our host families were and, lucky for me, I got an amazing family! I have an aamaa (mom), buwa (dad), two bahinis (little sisters – one is 19 and one is 14), a bhaai (little brother) and a hajuraamaa (grandmother). We all live in a beautiful home with running water (although no hot water) and electricity that works most of the time – two luxuries I was not expecting!
For the next 10 weeks, I have a very rigid training schedule I have to follow. A typical day starts at 6am with tea, followed by two hours of Nepali language class from 7am to 9am. I then return to my host family for daal bhaat (lentil soup with cooked rice) before heading back to class at 10:30 for two more hours of Nepali language. The afternoons consist of a variety of cultural and technical trainings from 1pm to 5pm, which are always my favorite! After wrapping up training around 5pm, I head home for the evening, hang out with my bahinis and bhaai, have daal bhaat again with my family (most Nepali eat daal bhaat twice a day, every day) and get in bed by 8pm.
While it’s easy to paint a beautiful picture of life in Nepal as a Peace Corps Volunteer, reality is, this is really really hard. Learning a new language is hard. Trying to integrate into a new family and culture is hard. Living without hot water, a toilet (especially toilet paper!) and reliable electricity is hard. But, by far, the hardest thing is how sick I have been. Adapting to a new diet and different hygiene standards comes with a lot of sickness. From waking up at 4am throwing up, to making what feels like 83973 trips to the bathroom (a squat toilet outside) during class, to wondering how sick I’m going to get every time I eat something, the past two weeks have been full of lows that test me mentally every day. But the good news is, this is completely normal as my body adapts and hopefully, in time, I will build up a tolerance to the food and water situation here.
While the first two weeks in Nepal have been incredibly difficult and I wonder every day what I was thinking signing up for 27 months of this, I am really excited and happy to be here. It helps having the support of my fellow volunteers who are going through this crazy experience with me and the support of my friends, family and boyfriend from afar. Plus I have a new Nepali family who have already shown me so much love in such a short amount of time. The next 26.5 months will be probably be the hardest of my life, but I am excited for the day this beautiful country feels like home and I can’t wait to put my passion for weather and climate to good use in the agricultural sector, helping people live more resilient and food secure lives.