I’m sitting on the edge of my hotel bed in Nepal, with the room curtains flung wide open. It’s a huge window and outside in the clear, night sky, a thousand stars are twinkling away over the top of the Himalayas, the crickets are chirruping madly and I’m perched here, thinking about my fantastic week.
I’ve been in Nepal for a week with UCB and Habitat for Humanity – just us and 450 other volunteers from around the world. Our task was to build 40 houses in 5 days and tomorrow, our team from GB will put the final lick of paint on House number 9, and say a sad farewell to the new home owner, an amazing Nepalese lady called Dalli.
Her new home is solidly built, plastered and rendered with a mixture of cow dung, rice husk and mud. And yep, we know, because we glooped the walls ourselves with the very smelly concoction! I have never (and I mean never) been so filthy in all my life! This is a big deal for me, lover of high heels and funky nails!
It’s been a tough week in a harsh, hot climate, with a lot of hard work and long days….but we had a great team and I’ve made some new, lovely friends.
In a week with so many extraordinary experiences, it’s hard to narrow it all down to one blog post but as I mull it over, I think the biggest thing I’ve learned this week, is the power of a story.
At the beginning of the week, the HFH staff encouraged us to not just get consumed in the task but to take time out to hear stories, to listen to what the community was saying. I’ll admit, in the busyness of life, I can sometimes forget to really listen…so I purposed this week to really open my ears and hear.
Dalli, the lady whose house we are building, is a tiny 50 year old with 4 children. Through an interpreter, we learned that her husband ran off 25 years ago to marry someone else, so she raised 4 children on her own. One of her sons later committed suicide and Dalli now lives with her daughter in law, a son (who has learning difficulties), 2 granddaughters, a cow and 2 goats. Their home at present was badly damaged in an earthquake and looks pretty unstable…so our project was to plaster and render and paint the new house she’d been built. She’s been with us all week, beaming quietly as we got busy, not afraid to get dirty or lend a hand…and faithfully washing out our yucky ‘dung gloves’ every night.
As the house started to take shape today and the roof went on, she started to move heavy rocks from a rock pile and quietly rearrange a path around the house. She was very particular about the way the stones were arranged…after the fear and insecurity of living in a crumbling house, cooking and eating next to where the cow and goats sleep, finally, Dalli’s got a home.
That’s Dalli’s story, but as it turned out, I ended up not just hearing her story and the story of the people in the community, but also the people I was working with too.
There has been some very genuine and honest sharing this week, between people who have only just met. Perhaps it was being thrown in the deep end, on unfamiliar turf but a level of honesty developed pretty quickly.
It’s amazing how similar people really are if we stop to listen to them. As various friendships developed and we talked honestly about life…I heard some pretty big and tough stories about death, divorce, alcoholism and so much more. So many people had a story to tell, some stories had yet to reach a hoped-for happy ending, others were able to look back and thank God for helping them to survive. Big stuff!
I’ve made some firm and lasting friendships with some quality people this week. I came with the expectation of being able to help someone else’s life be changed. But in the process, I think mine has been too.