I recently returned home from my fifth trip to Nepal. Spending time with my team is the most rewarding part of my job, and this trip was particularly special.
I was going with a small crew from The Atlantic who is producing a 3-part multimedia series on "The Nepal Earthquakes: One Year Later"—featuring Possible and how we're (re)building healthcare systems differently.
It felt like a moment in my career where I subtlety grew up. It's been a huge goal of mine to get an organization I work for a feature like this; ever since my first day at Greatist, now some five years ago, I had pipe dreams of getting us on the cover of The New York Times. This type of dream carried over to my current job.
This goal also helps explain how I ended up in marketing. I care less about marketing's technicalities: SEO/SEM, content automation, and display ads. I could never market for Coke or GE or something. I do marketing because I've only (luckily) found myself in careers I care a lot about. It's a natural response to want to talk about the work, and convince others they should care, too.
In light of all this, I haven't written about my trips that often. I've found each experience to be particularly hard to articulate: traveling to one of the poorest corners of the world—to live at a hospital where there is a constant ebb & flow of life and death—is hard to swallow. The stark beauty in the hills, the overwhelming chaos in the cities, the dull food and vibrant personalities, the resilience embedded in despair, the clean mountain air and dense Kathmandu smog—I can't collect all of these ideas to accurately & respectfully paint a picture of what Nepal is like.
So rather than a "once upon a time" type thing, I decided to simply collect a bunch of moments from my latest journey across the world and back, and write about them here.
The unsettled earth.
One night, I had just turned off my light and collapsed into bed. Less than a minute later, my bed began to rock—almost playfully, like it was quietly taunting me while I tried to fall asleep. It shook for 2-3 seconds too long before I realized what was happening. I jumped out into the hallway to greet the other harried guests who were also erupted from their sleep. Co-workers immediately started calling from all over Nepal to find out where the epicenter was— something that has become all-too routine. This was the the 429th significant aftershock since Nepal's first major earthquake only nine months ago. It's incredibly sad to see how psychologically distressing the continuous tremors are. After the aftershock (which was a 5.5 mag and resulted in 71 injuries) I scrolled through Twitter, following the #NepalEarthquake hashtag that was flooded with outcries of fear and frustration—people who just want the earth to stop shaking.
Despite everything Nepal and its people have endured, there is a constant brightness—something that pulled me through the long jeep rides and lack of sleep. Whether a golden reflection of the sun against the tumbling hills, the colorful prayer flags against the sprawling city, markets filled with fresh produce, or the present energy from simple conversations with others, there is light.
Becoming an aunt!
I left for Nepal on my brother & sister-in-law's due date, something that really sucked. I wanted to be with them when their first kid was born, but alas, I had no power over when the little one decided it was ready to grace our presence. Every time I had the chance to get on Wifi for an update, I did, but since we were constantly on the road, I was often without service. Finally, one evening, I found out they were at the hospital. I decided I wouldn't sleep that night. I stayed up wrapped in my bed cocoon and 4 million layers (it's freezing at night with no heat) staring at my phone and waiting for the news. It finally came ("it's a girl!") and then I was so excited I couldn't sleep for the rest of the night. Luckily I was saved by a fellow colleague who had a 5-hour energy she graciously gave up. (Note: I had never tried one before and was scared to drink it. But damn do they work.)
The first hot "shower."
Showering in Nepal, especially in the winter, is tricky. There's rarely hot water from the tap itself, and oftentimes getting a bucket of boiling water is even a stretch. Since I rarely shower every day in NYC (#SaveTheWater) this usually isn't a big issue. But still—everyone wants a hot shower every now and then. By some miraculous gift of one of the 330 million Hindu gods, I got word that our bleak hotel had turned on the hot water tap for 30 minutes. I raced to get my fill, only to watch the water pitifully spit out of the shower head in small fits, dribbling against the bathroom wall. I decided to still go for it, pulling my body into the tile as my shoulder blades knocked against the shower knobs. I got about 30% clean.
Traveling throughout the hills of rural Nepal with a film crew is funny. I often felt this sense of displacement—shlepping equipment valued at $50K through a place so untouched and serene. It was interesting to notice the intersection of technology and purity, and how something as clunky as cameras, light reflectors, and microphones could help extract the raw stories that are buried in this beautiful corner of the earth.
If you like eating the same thing three times a day and are particularly pumped about rice, Nepali cuisine is for you. I had a few moments when I was too exhausted (and cold) to get out of bed in the evenings, so defaulted to eating 1/3 jar of peanut butter at a time for dinner. Still trying to decipher if that was the healthy choice.
Walking through new histories.
Below is the first picture I ever took in Nepal. My first trip was in May of 2014, and immediately upon landing I ventured to one of the main squares with my coworker. I snapped this photo with a constant desire to print & frame it. After the earthquakes hit, Google soon told me this temple no longer exists. In addition to the incredible loss of life, Nepal is also suffering from a loss of history; temples and towers that were hundreds of years old & a part of Nepali's daily existence were reduced to rubble. When our team went to Kathmandu Durbar Square to film, it was like walking through a different history.
On the road (again, and again).
The total trip, from the day we left New York to the day we touched back down, was only two weeks. And yet when we did a little math, realized our crew spent 41 hours on planes and 38 hours in jeeps, working about 12 hours a day without a day off. The end result was 20,000 photos, 55 hours of raw footage, more than one moment of exhaustion, too much dal bhat to stomach (pun intended!), the first time I EVER slept through a flight (on the way home), and an incredible time taking five people to a place they have never been to, hopefully connecting to it in their own way, just as I have.