At 7:30 am on 26 April, the jeep arrived. Within a few minutes I loaded everything I own, said my goodbyes and was on my way.
It was only about a 30-minute drive to my village. Although, a very rough drive since there’s no paved road. I was glad it was so short because it gave me less time to think about what I was doing. I was leaving my safety net of fellow PCVs and staff behind to live in this foreign village alone for the next two years. Would my host family and community accept me? Would I be able to communicate effectively with my limited Nepali skills? Would I be able to do the work I know I’m capable of doing?
Fortunately, I didn’t have much time to ponder these questions before arriving at my new home. A small, but cute little concrete block with bright blue doors. Several people gathered around the jeep as my stuff was unloaded and moved into my new bedroom. A small room for sure, but a room I thought I could make cozy and homey. I met my aamaa (mother), buwaa (father), 24-year-old bhaai (brother), 14-year-old bahini (sister) and 5-year-old bhaai. I was relieved to find out that my older bhaai goes to university in Kathmandu and was able to speak some English, which made me feel a bit better in a very uncomfortable situation.
I spent the day unpacking and trying to get to know my new host family and community. I was well prepared for the challenges that come with integration; however, I was not quite ready for how reluctant people were to talk to me. Maybe it’s because my family and village had never seen or interacted with a westerner before. If I was them, I would probably be a bit scared too. But despite my best efforts, I was feeling really uncomfortable and couldn’t shake the feeling that something was off.
The next day my family woke me up at 5:30. I washed my face, brushed my teeth and sat around for a few hours until my aamaa and buwaa let me leave the house to attend a community event at the ward office an hour hike away. When I finally made it, I was immediately thrown into a ceremony, complete with tika (the red powder that goes on the forehead), flowered necklaces and some kind of ribbon. I had absolutely no idea what was going on, but I sat front and center in the hot sun, smiling and nodding, pretending like I knew what I was doing while everyone stared at me.
After the ceremony my aamaa and buwaa took me to Dipayal to buy a table for my bedroom. I was able to buy a table pretty easily, as well as a few other things, before we had a quick lunch. However, when it was time to head home, we couldn’t get the table on the bus; it became clear we would have to take a jeep instead. I thought this would be no big deal, considering there were plenty of jeeps around, but we ended up waiting on the side of the road for over two hours until a jeep finally came that would take us to village. I was miserably hot, tired, frustrated and emotionally drained. I just wanted to get back to my room and be alone.
When we finally arrived and my table was moved into my room, I was ready for a nap. But as I climbed into bed, I noticed more of these pesky bugs that I had been seeing all over my room since I moved in. I thought they were a type of beetle at first, just another annoying bug that I would have to get used to. But after a closer look, I thought it looked a bit like a tick, which is definitely more concerning than a beetle. Especially considering how many of them I had seen in my room, crawling all over my mosquito net, some even finding their way into my bed.
I messaged my fellow PCV who is a bug expert and he quickly responded informing me that no, it is not a tick.
But it is a bed bug.
I quickly called the 24/7 Peace Corps medical phone to figure out what to do. The doctor told me I needed to get out of the house and stay at a hotel in the district capital. There was only one problem – it was too late for me to walk back to the district capital before sunset, so I would have to stay the night in my bug infested room and leave the next morning. I put on copious amounts of bug spray that night, climbed into my mosquito net and hoped for the best.
When I woke up the next morning, I packed a bag and prepared to head to the district capital, Silgadhi. The plan was for my family to spray my room while I stayed in the at a hotel for a few days. However, the infestation was far worse than I originally thought. Before leaving, I realized the entire house was infested, not just my room. There were big bugs that had clearly been feasting on people’s blood for quite some time all over the house as well as dozens of smaller bugs living in the crevasses of the walls. There were hundreds of eggs under my bed frame and even blood spots on the walls from where the bugs had been squished (I’m 99% sure it was blood and I assume this is where it came from, but who knows really). There was no doubt, I had to get out of there.
Fortunately, Peace Corps is amazing. The Peace Corps Medical Officers authorized a medical hold, which allowed me to stay at a hotel in the district capital, since bed bugs are obviously a threat to my health. Meanwhile, my Regional Manager communicated with my family about spraying the house to kill the bugs (I definitely don’t have the Nepali language skills to navigate that situation!). The hotel was the same one we stayed at our first few days in Doti, so the staff knows who I am and they are absolutely wonderful. I spent three days and four nights at the hotel, drinking chiya (tea), enjoying running water, practicing my Nepali with the staff and taking advantage of the Wi-Fi.
After a few days, it was safe for me to return to my house. I was uneasy about returning, but I mustered up the courage and made the hike back (about 1.5 hours). I started unpacking again, hoping that this time around, I could unpack for real and start to make this place home. I got my water filter set up, my mosquito net hanging and tried washing my sheets (which didn’t go well because there’s not much water in my village).
After a few hours, as I was continuing to unpack, something caught my eye. Another giant bed bug crawling across my wall. I grabbed a flashlight and started inspecting the walls closer. Turns out the bugs were still alive and thriving, even after my room had been sprayed. I called Peace Corps again and was told to leave immediately. I quickly packed a backpack with the bare essentials and prepared to hike back to Silgadhi, not even 6 hours after returning to site. As I told my family I had to leave again, I could sense the tension. My family was visibly upset and, to be fair, I understand why. These bugs are normal here and then I come along and tell them that this house (a new house that my buwaa is so proud of) isn’t good enough for me. I feel bad being that person and causing so much trouble. But for the sake of my health and well-being, I had to leave.
This was over a week ago and, long story short, I’m still in the district capital unable to return home. Part of me is happy to be at the hotel, because, truth is, I never really felt comfortable there for several reasons and I’ve been dreading the day I have to return. However, it’s also been tough being in limbo, not knowing if or when I will be able to start my work. This whole situation has tested me mentally and emotionally and made me question my desire to be here. I’ve realized that, reality is, I can’t be a happy, healthy and effective volunteer if I’m living in those conditions.
But, after a whole lot of ups and downs the past two weeks, I finally received some good news. Peace Corps has confirmed that I will be moving out of my current home and into another house in the same area. What a relief! Even better, I had the chance to meet my new host family and check out the house for myself. Although the house is pretty basic, there were no bed bugs in sight (from what I could tell) and I absolutely loved the family! As we chatted and laughed I felt welcomed and I’m really excited to spend the next two years with them.
However, I won’t be moving in right away. For now, I’m going to continue staying at the hotel in the district capital while Peace Corps works out some administrative things on their end and my new host family prepares my bedroom. But, I’m happy that there is a plan in place and soon I will get to press the restart button – starting fresh in a new house with a new family.