Have you ever been in a torture chamber for almost 12 hours straight?
Well I have. In the form of a packed minibus over hellish roads. To me, it’s equivalent to torture and this was by far the worst ride on wheels ever, all thinks to my stupid ultra sensitive stomach that churns over anything that induces sloppy motion. That really is the only reason. But more so than that, I felt really bad for the kids.
It began with a letter. During first period of classes, a student from grade 8 handed me a personally written letter on behalf of grades 5,6,7,8, and 9 to join them on an educational field trip on an upcoming Thursday. The letter also asked if I could also support them financially, since most of the students families here are poor and can barely afford to pay for their child’s education.
“Of course I’ll come,” I told them, much to their excitement. “But how much does the trip cost?”
They didn’t know the answer. It depended on how much me and the other volunteers chipped in.
I’m glad to help these kids financially but there’s no way I can pay for every single kid! I’d have to ask Aatma more about it.
Later that day, I asked Aatma how much the entire trip costs. He said $700 including the transportation, food, and admission costs. Each student would have to pay 700 rupees which equals to roughly $7.
“Where are we going?” I asked him.
Aatma speaks so-so English but still his accent is really tough and a lot of the time it’s hard to understand him. So with whatever he responded to me with, I just nodded and smiled. I’ll just ask the grade 9 students again tomorrow. They know everything about everything that goes on in this village.
Around that same time we also met a new volunteer who would be living with us at our home. Her name is Zara (Australia) and she is gonna be here for quite a while. Tim, Emre, and I decided we’d each donate $60 to lower the cost for each student. Now instead of them paying 700 rupees, they each had to now pay 500 ($5).
Upon the news that all the volunteer teachers were attending and each student now only had to pay 500 rupees, still some of the students couldn’t afford to go! I asked grade 9 exactly where we would all go. It turns out this trip is a five hour bus ride to a village called Lamja to walk around and look at temples and stuff and then another five hours back to Pokhara. Instantly I thought, “That sounds like the worst trip ever!” All because of that bus ride. Ten hours on these are sure to kill me. When they told me that, I think my face said it all but I reassured them that I would go anyways only because it would make them very happy. Besides, these kids are great.
Since this was grade nine’s last opportunity to go on a trip before they moved onto high school, I decided I would pay for the ones who couldn’t afford it. That made them really happy!
They only get to go on a field trip like this once a year so this was a big deal for them. I’ll just have to bring along a few motion sickness tablets and I should be alright.
The night before the big trip, my roommates and I, met up with Jess and Natacha and hiked up to Sarangkot that night. Sarangkot is the highest point of the mountain we live on and most people stay up here to watch the sunrise or sunset. It was Thanksgiving back home in America, the first Thanksgiving where I’m not home, so I wanted to do something special. We all feasted on pizza, pasta, and international wines at the top! But we couldn’t stay up long. The sun would rise around 6am and then we would have to hightail it down to the school to meet with everyone around 7am.
Early that morning, we went up to the viewpoint where Alexis, Billy, and Mats (Sweden or Switzerland…I don’t remember which one of those he’s from) joined up with us. The day began to show and all we could see were clouds. The clouds blocked the sun from showing itself, stealing the view away from us.
I should have taken that as a bad an omen of things to come. We decided we shouldn’t wait any longer and so we hightailed it back to down to the school. I slipped and fell a few times because of all the grass dew, but I got up unscathed, just a little wet.
We made it down in an impressive 14 minutes and saw all of the students and teachers waiting around. I barely recognized some of these students out of their uniform. All of them dressed like they were going to a club or something. All the girls were dolled up with make-up, purses galore, and shoes that looked like it hurt to walk in. The boys had on loose fitting baseball caps, jumbo sneakers and jackets, and gave off an aura of “swag” that they didn’t have when dressed in their normal school outfits. My hunch was that these students wore their best clothes for this occasion. To look their best in front of their peers on a special trip outside of the village that doesn’t happen very often. This trip was a bigger deal than I thought.
I bought some water at the small store there and took a tablet. This was a new tablet I bought in Pokhara so I wasn’t sure how it would work. The guy I bought it from told me to take it an hour in advance. Almost five minutes afterwards, grade nine eagerly waved for me to come on the bus with them.
“We’re leaving already?” I asked them.
“No,” said Kanchan, one of the students. “We’re just going to pick up a few students up the mountain so they don’t have to walk.”
It’s a bad idea if you don’t give the tablets enough time to settle. It’s also a bad idea to ride on an empty stomach. But still I thought a short bus ride to pick up the remaining students would be okay. Besides, they shouldn’t live that far away.
Let me remind you, that the roads on this mountain aren’t roads. They are more like obstacle courses for motocross bikes. Take Thor’s hammer and destroy the street in front of your house to smithereens. That is what the roads on this mountain is like. There was only a few of us in the bus. Everyone else stayed behind at the school because we weren’t actually leaving for the trip yet. It took about 15 minutes until we finally gathered another group of kids in the bus. Man, they have a hike to get to school. Soon after, I already started to feel it. My head and stomach were not agreeing with me and we haven’t even left for the trip yet! My instincts were telling me, as soon as I get back to the school, to tell everyone that I am staying behind because I was feeling nauseous but at the same time I did not want to disappoint these students, especially grade nine. They really wanted me to go. So upon returning to the school, I didn’t say anything. I’m gonna suck it up.
I regretted that decision almost immediately.
We had two minibuses. “How in the heck are we all going to fit in these? We had about 60+ students, all the teachers, and then us four volunteers. It was crammed. There were three or four students per seat. No one was able to sit comfortably. Either my legs were dangling over the side of the seat or I had a child on my lap. Either way, this was going to be hell on wheels. Do it for the kids Dan.
Just as I feared, the way down the mountain peeled me over. Some of the students saw how I was feeling and offered me candy and sweets. Bless their little hearts. I accepted the candy to their approval but kept it for later. The candy in Nepal is a lot different from the candy back home. And when I say different, what I mean is it tastes like $h!t. I put the candy in my bag and decided to lay down on the aisle floor of the bus. It was extremely dusty and dirty but it was a tad more comfortable than sitting halfway on a seat. The students behind me brought a speaker box on the bus and blasted Nepali techno music for awhile, belting out tunes at the top of their lungs. If I said I enjoyed it then that would be a lie. Do it for the kids Dan.
After a couple of hours of torture and on the verge of vomiting, we finally arrived at a rest stop where the kids could get brunch. I needed to eat. For people with bad motion sickness, it’s not wise to travel on an empty stomach, not should you stuff yourself. Studies suggest not to eat greasy foods though, that can make it worse. The lunches the kids and adults were served here was more like a snack. A giant fried potato snack and I don’t even know what the heck the other thing was. The volunteers finished in two bites. But the kids seemed satisfied and thats what mattered most. I’d just have to grin and bare it. Back on the bus!
This time, I went on the other bus to escape the loud music and singing. I snagged a seat up front where I shared with two other students. Milan, a student from grade 8, brought the speaker box onto my bus and continued the music and singing here.
Why haven’t my tablets kicked in yet? If it did then, these tablets must be really low strength. I closed my eyes to avoid looking out the window for the next couple of hours. The bus went through a town called Lamji which was great because soon enough we’d be in that village and I’d be on foot for awhile to recover. Our buses drove through and as we did, we were waved my men dressed in military camo who were waving us to park at their station. What gives? As the teachers all went outside to speak to the officers, the rest of us were instructed not to leave the bus. After about 40 minutes, on of the teachers told me that the school was fined because of over seating the buses past their maximum capacity. So the trip to Lamju village was cancelled.
“So what now?” I asked.
“We go back to Pokhara.”
You’ve got to be kidding me. These kids were looking forward to this for a long time and because of bad organizing on the school’s part, it was now a waste. Initially some of these students didn’t want to go on the trip unless it was to Lamju village. These students paid hard earned rupees and dressed their absolute best for a bumpy bus ride. All the money we donated was a bust. Surely, most of that money now was going to be used to pay the fine.
We went back in the bus and drove a couple of hours and had a meal at the same place we had brunch earlier. We also had the exact same thing. At this point, I was really upset. Upset with the principal for over stuffing these buses, knowing full well it was against the law . Upset that all that money we donated was now wasted. Upset that I didn’t follow my gut. I should have stayed back at the village. Upset that I just spent an entire day feeling like death. And most of all, I was upset that the kids trip was ruined…or was it?
Most of the time, the students were singing and even dancing in the aisles and it seemed like they were really enjoying themselves. I bet they were happy to just leave the village for awhile and spend the day with their friends, even if most of the day was on a rickety old bus. I could tell some of them were disappointed but none complained. They just went with the flow. Before it got completely, dark, the buses stopped at a very small buddhist temple where everyone got to walk around and get some fresh air for awhile before we headed back to Pokhara. But Aatma had planned one more thing at least. Dinner near the bus station, which is situated at the bottom of the mountain. What’s for dinner? Chicken! But…this chicken has been sitting in the bus for ten hours, unchilled. It was hot on those buses and this chicken Aatma brought was there, for the whole day. That was the last straw. I was sick, hungry, and needed to escape. This bus still had to go way back up the mountain. I couldn’t find Aatma anywhere, so I told a couple of the teachers that I wasn’t feeling great and was going to catch a cab to Lakeside to rest.
“What about dinner?” they asked.
“I’ll get dinner Lakeside.”
I slipped away and caught a taxi to Lakeside, to Simrik, my usual spot whenever I come here. Arun saw the illness in my face and gave me a private room. I plopped down and stuffed my head into the pillow. I had to force myself to vomit in order to feel decent. Afterwards, I joined a few volunteers who happened to be in Lakeside for dinner at a restaurant called Moondance. I spent the rest of the night sleeping in peace and quiet. I really needed it.
I woke up the next morning feeling like a new man, but left Lakeside early to get back up to school. As I walked back onto the premises, the teachers came up to me and asked if I was okay. I told them I was fine and I just couldn’t bare to be on that bus any longer and just needed to rest. They understood and was just glad I was okay. Aatma approached me and mentioned to me how we had such bad luck yesterday. “It happens,” I told him. I wasn’t upset anymore. It was mostly my sickness talking. Once I’m walking on solid ground again, I start to feel better soon enough.
I asked the students if they had a good time yesterday and most of them said yes. That’s all I needed to hear.
Nepal wins the award for worst roads ever…
So far at least.