My Exit from Nepal: The Journey I Wouldn't Trade

I spent the summer in Nepal on a visual storytelling fellowship with Accountability Lab based out of Washington, D.C. 

Meera Uprety, a Female Community Health Volunteer for 15 years in the village of Nuwakot, Nepal, received  basic training in primary healthcare and kit equipped with drugs and supplies to promote safe pregnancies, family planning, contraception, pills, packets, vitamins and hospital deferrals. (Photo by Brittany Wait)

Meera Uprety, a Female Community Health Volunteer for 15 years in the village of Nuwakot, Nepal, received  basic training in primary healthcare and kit equipped with drugs and supplies to promote safe pregnancies, family planning, contraception, pills, packets, vitamins and hospital deferrals. (Photo by Brittany Wait)

Working with the nonprofit, I produced a series of short films and photography projects to add a visual arsenal to their already impressive work on the ground.

Meera Uprety has been a Female Community Health Volunteer for 15 years in the village of Nuwakot, Nepal. (Photo by Brittany Wait)

Meera Uprety has been a Female Community Health Volunteer for 15 years in the village of Nuwakot, Nepal. (Photo by Brittany Wait)

Thanks to my mentor Ken Harper, with the Center for Global Engagement at SU, I was selected to join the team. While there, I worked independently on projects, setting my own deadlines with the mission to add value to their efforts. Not only did I feel I was a value to the team, but I saw my artistic eye flourish the longer I stayed.

Meera Uprety, a Female Community Health Volunteer for 15 years in the village of Nuwakot, Nepal, offered us jack fruit and milk. (Photo by Brittany Wait)

Meera Uprety, a Female Community Health Volunteer for 15 years in the village of Nuwakot, Nepal, offered us jack fruit and milk. (Photo by Brittany Wait)

The fellowship became so much more than I ever expected. Don’t get me wrong, it was an adjustment, but I was so lucky I met the people I did and make waves in visual form. The people I worked with had my back at every step of the way. I’m convinced my experience wouldn’t have been the same without them. I am so grateful for their warmth and acceptance.

The Accountability Lab spent two days working alongside Nepali nonprofit, Visible Impact, educating 15 local girls in the rural village of Nuwakot in Nepal on accountability and activism in August 2016. This was a team building exercise in trust. (Photo taken by Brittany Wait)

The Accountability Lab spent two days working alongside Nepali nonprofit, Visible Impact, educating 15 local girls in the rural village of Nuwakot in Nepal on accountability and activism in August 2016. This was a team building exercise in trust. (Photo taken by Brittany Wait)

It felt like family. Everyone at the office is close, respectful, open to new ideas, supportive and motivating. I felt welcomed and like I would always have a home there. There was this great energy and culture in togetherness and pushing each other to be better. And there was trust. They trusted I would deliver on my promises, finish my work and give them quality visuals they could use to demonstrate their mission.

The Accountability Lab holds an informal meeting in their new home at the Open GovHub in Kathmandu, Nepal. (Photo by Brittany Wait)

The Accountability Lab holds an informal meeting in their new home at the Open GovHub in Kathmandu, Nepal. (Photo by Brittany Wait)

From the grants they apply for to the interior design of the new office, Accountability Lab holds itself accountable, showing transparency in every aspect of business, which I think demonstrates the seriousness of their mission. They promote this kind of accountable, genuine and transparent attitude in  local organizations and individuals so much that they are themselves living this mission. I’ve never felt such an attachment to the well being and prosperity of an organization as I do with Accountability Lab.

Accountability Lab's Suresh Chand and Samita Thapa talk to 15 girls at a school house in Nuwakot, Nepal about accountability and integrity. (Photo by Brittany Wait)

Accountability Lab's Suresh Chand and Samita Thapa talk to 15 girls at a school house in Nuwakot, Nepal about accountability and integrity. (Photo by Brittany Wait)

Sitting down for fresh donuts and milk tea, we were visited by a local man, Ram Kumar Kandel and his daughter Devi. He told us how much it would mean to him to have his daughter, who lives with a disability, to join us in the next workshop. (Photo by Brittany Wait)

Sitting down for fresh donuts and milk tea, we were visited by a local man, Ram Kumar Kandel and his daughter Devi. He told us how much it would mean to him to have his daughter, who lives with a disability, to join us in the next workshop. (Photo by Brittany Wait)

Moving forward, I take with me this same mission and hope for a brighter future in my country.

While in Nepal, I produced multiple films and photo projects and kept up a personal blog.

Take a look at a 5-minute film I produced of iPhone timelapse and slow motion footage from my 3-month experience: “Nepal, Through my Lens” 

And, documentaries on inspiring people: Basanta AdhikariMedha SharmaAnita Thapa, and Govinda and Surath with Onion Films.

And check out the films I created of their campaigns; Mobile Citizen Helpdesk, and Integrity Idol 2016. I even created a bloopers reel from the ten 30-second PSA videos I created.

If you're thinking of applying for the fellowship, you need to be prepared to work hard. How do you even know it's the right fit?

  • You already have experience traveling. (At least one trip abroad lasting longer than three weeks.)
  • You keep an open mind, adapt easily and have no problem being your own motivator and editor.
  • Although you will be your own boss and have the freedom to express your own creative vision, you will still be expected to explain that intention.
  • Remember that you are there to visually demonstrate the impact Accountability Lab has on Nepalese society. Take it seriously.
  • This experience will help you grow into yourself, to bring out your voice and creative vision, so take this as an opportunity for growth and be sure to show everyone what you’re capable of and what you can do in a short three months. It's short. Trust me.
  • You're not there for yourself. This is a job. Make us proud.
Street dancers celebrate the lives of those who passed away recently during the Gai Jatra "Cow" Festival in Bhaktapur, Nepal on Aug. 18, 2016. (Photo by Brittany Wait)

Street dancers celebrate the lives of those who passed away recently during the Gai Jatra "Cow" Festival in Bhaktapur, Nepal on Aug. 18, 2016. (Photo by Brittany Wait)

A boy readies himself for another plunge into a holy well during a celebration of Kumbashwar Mela at Kumbeshwar Temple, one of the valley's three 5-story temples and the oldest in Patan, Nepal on Aug. 19, 2016. (Photo by Brittany Wait)

A boy readies himself for another plunge into a holy well during a celebration of Kumbashwar Mela at Kumbeshwar Temple, one of the valley's three 5-story temples and the oldest in Patan, Nepal on Aug. 19, 2016. (Photo by Brittany Wait)

The time will fly by, but it will be a life-changing experience you will never forget.

The view of the clouds from the balcony of my apartment in Kathmandu, Nepal. (Photo by Brittany Wait)

The view of the clouds from the balcony of my apartment in Kathmandu, Nepal. (Photo by Brittany Wait)

You will fall in love with Nepal. And it won’t be for the trekking (I never went trekking), and it won’t be because you found inner peace or enlightenment. It will be because of the beautiful people you encounter and what kind of mark they leave on you that you will carry with you throughout the rest of your life.

I can honestly say I left Nepal with more than I came with. My heart’s heavier as I move forward. My plan was to feel different at the end of this journey and I can’t even explain how different I feel. The world is now 10 times larger than it was before and now there’s more of a yearning to fill the holes than ever before.

Gai Jatra "Cow" Festival in Bhaktapur, Nepal on Aug. 18, 2016. (Photo by Brittany Wait)

Gai Jatra "Cow" Festival in Bhaktapur, Nepal on Aug. 18, 2016. (Photo by Brittany Wait)

I defended my master’s thesis film, Rose-colored, at a public showing on Sept. 16, and now I’m on to the next adventure.

A film still from "Rose-colored," a student film about forgiveness and moving on. (c) Just Wait Productions.

A film still from "Rose-colored," a student film about forgiveness and moving on. (c) Just Wait Productions.

I’m not entirely sure what the future will bring, but so far the journey is something I wouldn't trade.

Cow Festival in Bhaktapur

Squeezing through the crowded streets in Bhaktapur over the weekend, we witnessed dancers in parades during a Gai Jatra "Cow" festival to celebrate the life of loved ones who died last year.

The photographer falls behind as usual, so my hand’s immediately taken and I’m pulled into the chaos. As I hold my lens to the sky to shield it from flailing arms, I get caught up in the beat of the drum, a constant wave carrying my mind into the music.

Clicking away, I stop. I realize I’m alone. But then I look up and see my group waiting by a corner shop, so I head for them, squeezing through the crowd, so enamoured by the performance I’m unnoticed.

As we reach the durbar square, I notice hundreds of people standing along the steps, on top of each other. Vendors with cotton candy, ice cream and other sweets make their rounds. And the parade has now come back through, but now we’re in the middle of three different parade routes.

It’s chaos.

I hold my lens to the sky. Take a breath and plunge it into the crowd, cocked and ready. Click!

I compose with my eye, wait for moments and look around, capturing candids of strangers.

From left, Kalpana and Samita.

From left, Kalpana and Samita.

After an hour, we made our way out from the chaos and to get Indian ice cream: Kulfi.

Festival selfie: From left, me, Kalpana, Sara (back), Samita (front), Ashmita.

Festival selfie: From left, me, Kalpana, Sara (back), Samita (front), Ashmita.

I held onto the back of my friend as we led each other out in a single file. Making it my priority to protect my camera at all cost, I didn’t notice it at first. But I felt it again. Someone touched me.

My backside was being squeezed and in close quarters I couldn’t do anything. I could barely keep myself from falling forward as I tried pushing past people to move away. I searched the crowd and no one’s eyes met mine. During my time in Nepal, I’ve never not had curious eyes on me and in this moment I couldn’t find a single person to own up to it.

No one should ever be touched in that way. I felt so weird about it afterwards. Maybe I wore the wrong clothing? I wore baggy cargo pants. It just doesn’t matter what you’re wearing. 

This can happen anywhere in the world, but this happens to be my only experience with physically harassment, but it should never happen, anywhere. Should it? 

Educate your friends, your kids, you colleagues. 

I am someone's daughter, someone's sister, and someone's friend. I mean something to someone.

Don't stare. Instead, say hello. Wave. And don't ever touch me. I wouldn't never touch you. Ever.

- B

Festival of Purity & Security

I was lucky enough to witness the Janai Purnima Festival in Patan, Nepal on Aug. 18 (2073). All over the world, Hindus celebrate this festival, observing the bond of purity and security.

At Kumbeshwar Temple, one of Kathmandu Valley's three five-story temples, and oldest in Patan, is dedicated to Shiva as indicated by the large bull facing the temple. Its two ponds hold water that are said to come straight from the holy lake of Gosainkund, along trek north of the valley.

During the festival, many ritually jump into the waters to cleanse their souls of sin.

On a full moon, members of the Brahmin and Chhetri castes tie sacred threads called Janai around the chest of upper caste Hindu males devoting them to follow their religion and the path of truth.

The Janai, symbolic of body, speech and mind, must be worn every day of their lives.  

Chanting a prayer/raksha bandhan mantra, a priest tied a doro (sacred yellow, orange and red thread around our wrists for good luck. The thread should only be taken off when it is then tied onto the tail of a cow on Cow Worship Day (Laxmi puja) in October. I'll have to find someone with a cow in New York — a cow that won't kick me in the face for tying it around its tail.

It was a lot of fun to be able to walk around and take pictures, then get dinner. Thanks for being patient and not losing the photographer, guys. 

Ashmita (below) thought she might want to get blessed, but the line stretch out too far and it would've taken well into the night. It was hard to move on the street, it was so packed. I witnessed such a beautiful display of family togetherness, friendship and unwavering faith.

We also got some Kulfi, traditional Indian ice cream. That was pretty delicious. Yeah, I didn't take a picture. Just imagine it. :) Here's an image of this beautiful bell instead though. Enjoy. :)

Thanks for looking through some pictures I took in Patan during one of the many festivals that go on through August. Believe it or not, there are many, many more happening in the fall. And I'll miss out. :( Oh well, I'll get in as many as I can now. In the next post, there will be pictures from the Cow Festival in Bhaktapur ("Places of devotees"), which is consider the old city of Kathmandu. Gorgeous place. To be continued...

- B

And Then There Were Monkeys

On Sunday, alongside my friends Ashmita and her niece Garmia, Sara, Kalpana, Samita and Thukten, I got to visit one of the most beautiful places in Nepal: Swayambhunath, or also lovingly referred to as "Monkey Temple." You know I had to. :) So, here's what it was like:

A selfie. From left; Samita, me, Kalpana, Sara holding Ashmita's niece, Ashmita, Thukten. 

A selfie. From left; Samita, me, Kalpana, Sara holding Ashmita's niece, Ashmita, Thukten. 

Swayambhunath, also called "Monkey Temple," is an ancient religious architecture atop a hill in the Kathmandu Valley, west of the city. The Tibetan name means 'Sublime Trees', for the variety of trees. It might be the most sacred among Buddhist pilgrimage sites, second only to Boudhanath.

Swayambhunath's worshippers include Hindus, Vajrayana Buddhists of northern Nepal and Tibet, and the Newari Buddhists of central and southern Nepal.

I read that each morning, pilgrims ascend the 365 steps that lead up the hill, file past the gilded Vajra and two lions guarding the entrance, and begin a series of clockwise circumambulations of the stupa. 

On each of the four sides of the main stupa you'll see a pair of eyes, symbolic of God's all-seeing perspective.

You won't see a nose, but rather Nepali's number one, signifying that the way to enlightenment is through the Buddhist path. His third eye signifies the wisdom of looking within. He has no ears because it's said Buddha is not interested in praise.

Dearest Kalpana. Look at that beauty! :)

Dearest Kalpana. Look at that beauty! :)

And let me tell you, I've never seen such beautiful views. Well maybe I have, but I can't remember.

 I clearly couldn't stop taking pictures of the view at every stop along the way. 

Swayambhunath is also known as the Monkey Temple for its monkey tenants.

They are holy because Manjushri, the bodhisattva of wisdom and learning was raising the hill which the Swayambhunath Temple stands on. The monkeys sprouted from his head lice.

And from personal experience, they're not to be messed with. They're actually quite terrifying if they want to be. One almost lunged at me because I took too long to take his portrait. ha. But sometimes they can surprise you with their humor. Sara witnessed one monkey stealing a bottle of water from a tourist and not even drinking it, but pouring it out in front of the tourist's face.

I know, so sassy. :) 

The complex consists of a stupa, a variety of shrines and temples (some dating back to the Licchavi period), a Tibetan monastery, museum, library, shops, restaurants and hostels. 

Samita throws her coin into the wishing well. It was intense.

Samita throws her coin into the wishing well. It was intense.

We would look above us and it seemed like Tibetan flags were every where. I have expected monkeys to be dangling from them. 

It such a humid day, but that's because it didn't rain. For once, in the midst of monsoon season, there was no rain. Well, we got lucky. Blue skies definitely elevated these visuals. Wasn't me. ha.

Oh and also, if you're interested in watching a really beautiful 4K video on this place, check out Devin Supertramp's: https://youtu.be/JKlW-FIXHRI

Alright guys, thank you for sifting through the photos. I was a tad trigger happy, I have to say. 

'Til the next post.

- B

Celebrating Teej with Women Who Can Dance

Most people in Nepal follow Hinduism (80%) and Buddhism (10%), but this country is known for its religious tolerance and harmony, which I think the rest of the world can learn a lot from.

This passed weekend, I was lucky enough to get invited by my friend Ashmita to her grandmother's to celebrate Teej, the most famous festival celebrated by Nepali Hindu women.

It's a festival that celebrates marital bliss and the long life of their husbands.

Ashmita, clearly impressing with her dance moves.

Ashmita, clearly impressing with her dance moves.

We danced. We sang. And we feasted (dar). The women had to fast a couple days from then.

A dish of rice, lentils, potatoes, yellow beans, edamame, bamboo. Rice pudding for a snack.

A dish of rice, lentils, potatoes, yellow beans, edamame, bamboo. Rice pudding for a snack.

Ashmita (left) trying to teach me some Hindi dance numbers. I'm clearly a professional.

Ashmita (left) trying to teach me some Hindi dance numbers. I'm clearly a professional.

Ashmita's grandmother clearly "killin' it" on the dance floor and me looking like an idiot, ha.

Ashmita's grandmother clearly "killin' it" on the dance floor and me looking like an idiot, ha.

As soon as I walked inside, Ashmita told me all about the festival. We made our way to the roof and as I approached, dozens of women and kids smiled and greeted me with Namaste (hello). 

And Ashmita's grandmother Ruku, who lives in Maligaun, gave me two green & red bangles.

Ashmita and her grandmother.

Ashmita and her grandmother.

The colour green is for luck. And red, well...Teej is a small red insect that comes out of the soil during the rainy season and I hear it's the reason most women wear red during festival time.

Check out how I saw the festivities: (Ashmita's family was super pumped to get family photos.)

I am in love with this family. They're so warm and welcoming. I have to admit, knowing little Nepali worried me, but once I picked up my camera they were loving the attention and communication become that much easier. 

Clearly, a selfie of Ashmita and I. No one can figure my Nikon out, ha.

Clearly, a selfie of Ashmita and I. No one can figure my Nikon out, ha.

'Til next time. Over and out.

              - B.

Nuwakot: Land of Dreamers and Healers

Walk with me...

...through Kharanitar, a rural village in the Nuwakot district of Nepal still rebuilding after the 2015 earthquakes. 

We spent two days working alongside Nepali nonprofit, Visible Impact, educating 15 local girls on accountability and activism. One of our accountapreneurs, Medha Sharma, its president and CEO, and her associate Sharmila Acharya, took Samita and I along with them.

There, we met our colleague Suresh Chand and another Visible Impact associate Sudip Nepal. Traveling by car was less exhausting than by bus. It was a luxury, really. Suresh and Sudip caught the bus at 6AM. I got picked up at my house at 8:45AM. The guys beat us to Nuwakot, even with their bus, due to heavy rain and mud, almost falling off the side of a cliff. Even with the road backed up for hours, our car managed to get around.  However, we did happen to also get stuck in mud, but people stopped to help. And because of the remnants of flash flooding, we got muddy to move a boulder by hand. And when I say we, I took pictures of our driver, Samita and Sharmila manhandling the boulder.

We didn't know until we got to Nuwakot that Suresh and Sudip happened to be on the very bus that blocked out route.

We settled into our rooms at Dhungana Hotel and Lodge, owned by Bhagwati Dhungana and her husband Laxman. They've been in the donut-making business for 30 years and are known for making the best donuts, selling almost 1,000 donuts a day. That's 50kg of dough.

The hard bed took a little getting used to. Guess I'm just used to a mattress. At least a much thicker one. But if that's the worst, I'll take it. Couldn't beat the view we woke up to though.

After it rained the first day, the fog cleared and you could see beyond the countryside and to the tiny houses scattered across the hills.

On Saturday night, after we finished our Daal Bhat dinner, Samita, Suresh, Sharmila, Sudip and I climbed the spiral staircase to the roof, and they introduced me to some Nepali ballads and dance numbers. And naturally I of course introduced them to some soft Indie music.

We looked out over the lights among the dark hills like stars across the sky. The wind kissed our faces as we opened our arms and embraced the cool breeze. The freshness of wood and nearby rushing river fill our senses and keep us here in this moment. I couldn't imagine a more beautiful existence than among the stillness, the laughter and freedom of this place.

And during the workshop, though the 15 girls knew little English, they were still so curious about me. They looked at me as though I was the most beautiful person they'd ever met. They loved my humidity-induced curls for some reason. And I saw admiration in their eyes.

Too often do people tend to think about what they don't have, rather than what they do.

These girls live in a village that was leveled over a year ago by earthquakes.

Many lost their homes. Their businesses. Their livelihoods. But they continue to rebuild.

Even their schools. And people here were just started to move away from burning firewood to cook. 

Point is, these girls seem to appreciate what they do have, which has made me appreciate the same. They look at me with admiration, but I'm the one who adores them. I'm the fortunate one. I'm lucky enough to know them.

Karuna Poudel, 17, is one of Visible Impact's 15 social champions from Kharanitar, a village in the Nuwakot district of Nepal still rebuilding after being devastated by the 2015 earthquakes. She aspires to become an English teacher and study abroad before getting married. 

Karuna Poudel, 17, is one of Visible Impact's 15 social champions from Kharanitar, a village in the Nuwakot district of Nepal still rebuilding after being devastated by the 2015 earthquakes. She aspires to become an English teacher and study abroad before getting married. 

I'm blessed to have the opportunity to be here. In Nepal. 

With the help of my mentor Ken Harper, who first of all inspired me to apply for the fellowship and probably had a strong hand in selecting me, I got the funding I needed to tell stories in one of the most beautiful places in the world, among the most beautiful people.

This occurred to me the moment one of the girls grabbed my hand to keep me from falling, camera in hand, my feet slipping in my mud-caked sandals, as we dodge rocks and deep mud along a trail in pitch darkness on our way back to the lodge we stayed at.

While sitting down for donuts and milk tea in the morning, we got a visit from a local man, Ram Kumar Kandel and his daughter Devi. He told us in Nepali how much it would mean to him to have his daughter, who lives with a disability, to join us in the next workshop. 

Ram Kumar Kandel and his daughter Devi.

Ram Kumar Kandel and his daughter Devi.


Through Medha, we also met her aunt, Meera Uprety, a Female Community Health Volunteer (FCHV) for 15 years. A FCHV receives 18 days of basic training in primary healthcare. She was given a certificate and medicine kit with drugs and supplies to promote safe pregnancies, child health, family planning, supplying contraception, pills, packets and vitamins and deferrals to hospitals. Basically, she knows everyone in her village down to the lastest newborn.

Meera Uprety.

Meera Uprety.

When we visited her, she gave us jackfruit to dip in cow milk as a snack.

Samita Thapa.

Samita Thapa.

On Saturday, before sundown, and again on Sunday after sunrise I filmed one of the girls at her home. Inspired by his innovations to make the world a better place, Monika Upreti's role model is Stephen Hawking. After the 15-year-old and her mother lost their house to the earthquake, she became determined to become an engineer and help rebuild her village. Monika and her mother were so brave to let me into their world to tell their story. Even her mother welcomed me with open arms and even blessed me on our way out.

After we left Nuwakot, we met with Parshuram Nepal, a poultry farmer and local leader in Ratmate, about an hour or so away from Nuwakot. The second story of his home was destroyed by the earthquake and made unliveable for his family of four, forcing them to live in small quarters out back. Now, his turkeys live in the rooms on the second floor. Litter scattered about. Yup, so I climbed a ladder to that second floor, camera in hand, to film it all.

Parshuram Nepal.

Parshuram Nepal.

That was when I ran into the largest turkeys I've ever seen in my life. And they just stared me down. After we interviewed him in Nepali, we left for lunch where I tried goat intestines for the first time. Not for me. Nope. Not. For me. On the left, you'll see Newari Khaja food - yellow beans, bhutan (goat intestines), potatoes, black soy beans, onions, peppers and chiura (beaten rice). To the right, you'll see Samosas and chickpeas and potatoes (had that for lunch with the girls).  

After, we found out busses rarely stop in Ratmate, so Parshuram got a worker of his to drive me via motorbike, camera gear and overnight bag and all, to the next village 20 minutes away. And Samita and Suresh hopped on his motorbike and followed.

I didn't expect what came next. The ride felt like we were moving in slow motion. We zipped past a vast landscape of hills that looked more like mountains (but I'm told Nepalis only consider them mountains if they're snow covered.) and a rushing river surrounded by rice paddies and farmers and grazing cows. Much like on the rooftop in Nuwakot, I felt a stillness that I never wanted to leave.

I didn't pick up my phone. I would've surely dropped it. I didn't pick up my camera. I couldn't reach it. But I was fine with that. I couldn't take my eyes off the winding roads, the blue skies that met the mountainous hills and the herders on both sides of the river to our right.

This was better than traveling by bus. I'm glad the busses didn't stop for us. Another reason to appreciate life more. 

And ps. I won't find myself in Nepal. I don't need to. I'm turning 28 next month. I found myself. Now, I'm just exploring who I've become.

Thanks for following along guys! 'Til the next post! :)

Cheers,
            B

A Weekend of Pioneering

Over the past weekend, we had our Accountability Incubator workshop at Cocina Mitho Chha in Lazimpat, an area of Kathmandu with the only road connecting the northern part to the southern. 

The workshop was an effort to help our "Accountapreneurs" connect with each other and guest speakers, as well as learn new skills and develop a timeline for their initiatives. We not only covered how to gain visibility and credibility as a new organization and how to recognize success stories that promote their narrative, but also sustainability, visual storytelling and crowdfunding.

First off, meet our FOUR amazing Accountapreneurs: Basanta, Anita, Medha and Govinda.

They are a part of our Accountability Incubator, a flagship program for young civil society leaders to build sustainable, effective tools for accountability, participation and social impact. We assist these change-makers in their efforts to transform their communities, providing them with two years of support in training, mentorship, networking, media outreach and seed funding. 

What makes them the driving force behind this initiative? Well, here's a little more about them:

Basanta Adhikari started his organization Bikalpa ("The Alternative"), to train youth in eastern Nepal on civic leadership and advocacy for fundamental rights. With the support of Accountability Lab, he's leading youth in conducting surveys of governing agencies in Biratnagar.

Anita Thapa began her nonprofit Sambhawana recently and has since established a hand-on civic education program that evaluates schools, builds custom curricula on democracy and governance and enables students to lead community improvement projects in their schools.

Medha Sharma founded her nonprofit Visible Impact to empower young girls in creating sustainable change in Nepali society. With Accountability Lab's support, she plans to train, mentor and equip adolescent girls in the earthquake-affected district of Nuwakot to become pioneering citizen journalists through writing blogs and news articles. Follow her @shmedha

Govinda Siwakoti co-founded film company, Onion Films, to use the power of film for social change. With the Lab's support, he set up an Accountability Film School to empower young people in Nepal to speak up about economic, social and political issues in their communities.

We discussed the pillars of creating a value driven organization, shared stories that had an impact on us and that we could model after in our own storytelling.

Truth is, we want to open people's minds — and ultimately change them.

On Sunday, I gave a talk on why and how storytelling is effective in creating a narrative to implement change in society. I shared my experience last summer filming the life of a Palestinian olive farmer and his unique bond with an Israeli olive farmer amid political tensions. This was an experience that shook my core and taught me more about love, devotion and hope than I had in my 28 years of life.

Nahed Kayed, a Palestinian olive farmer who lives with his family in Sabastiya in the West Bank.

Nahed Kayed, a Palestinian olive farmer who lives with his family in Sabastiya in the West Bank.

I explained: It doesn't matter if you have a smart phone, a $3,000 digital camera, or $12,000 cinema camera. It matters not how much your equipment costs or how beautiful your footage is, first comes the story. Honestly, it's great to have both. But if you could only have one, you focus on story. And you put your all into telling that story. If the story isn't there, it doesn't matter how breathtaking the footage is, it can only take you so far.

When telling a story, you want to make your audience feel, connect, relate and walk away changed. There's so much more that goes into storytelling, but the most important truth is that "great stories go to those who don't give in to fear." We all change over time and our perspective sharpens with experience, but we all have that something inside us to tell stories. Use what's inside you to shape perceptive, influence change and lead the way in creating a better tomorrow.

My colleagues Kalpana Acharya and Sara Rodriguez also shared their updates on Mobile Citizen Helpdesk, an initiative that helped monitor and improve earthquake response in Nepal and now has since evolved. What challenges lie ahead? And how do we sustain a successful model?

Sara Rodriguez working hard. 

Sara Rodriguez working hard. 

Over lunch, one of our guest speakers, Lokesh Todi, talked to us about the importance of crowd funding — To do's and not to do's. It's important to put some money of your own in, or collect donations at smaller events before launching your online campaign. Why you ask? This will show potential donors it's worth investing in because others have already invested. And producing a short video showing who you are, what your organization is about and your mission is mandatory. You want to humanize your initiative and make people care. So first make us care about you.  Again, storytelling, is mandatory to get your organization recognized amid the crowded sea of organizations. Trust me on that.

Lokesh Todi talks with us about crowd funding over lunch.

Lokesh Todi talks with us about crowd funding over lunch.

There's a lot more to mention, but these were the things that jumped out at me the most. I'm so happy to share with you how wonderful I thought the workshop went over the weekend. I learned a lot, got to take pictures, spend quality time with everyone and eat great food, Dal Bhat.

I mean, what else do you really need than good company, good food and a heck a lot of learnings.

The People Make the Place

We spent a lot of time recently moving from our office in Panipokhari to Gyaneshwor. The building is about 100 steps from my front door. You heard that right. No more 45-min walking commute, sweating profusely, being confined to sneakers and carrying 20lbs of equipment.

But over the past month, especially this weekend, I've realized how amazing the people I work with are. It's true when they say the people you meet in a place make the place great.

That's exactly how I feel 34 days into my 90-day stay in Nepal. It feels like home. Thanks to them.

We moved into this beautiful building.

We moved into this beautiful building.

We have a culture centered around food. The culture here is to share food. Everyone is so giving. They can be starving, thirsty even, but they would never hesitate to share what they have. I grew up dining with my family and before we even took a bite, we'd offer it to the people around us. It's just something that made us happy — to see the person's eyes light up and take another bite. That made it worth sharing. And I see this happen all. the. time. here in Nepal. And I love it.  

I love the sense of community I get from joining in when the whole office goes out for lunch. It's like part of the work day — to walk down the street, get caught up in conversation, sit down and have a warm meal, and then continue more conversations on our way back. Even when only Nepali is spoken, I don't mind.

If you're still with me, you probably think I'm odd, but these things mean a lot to me. To be in a new place for more than two weeks is an adjustment. It's these little things that mean so much to a person who at first felt left out, or like she didn't belong, to making her now feel so at home.

It's not something you can take a class in. It's not something you can force. It's just something that comes with time. Great people help speed that process along. And that's what happened to me. I've never been out of the states for more than three weeks. I'll be here three months.

And already it's July and it feels like even this month is going to fly by. I am so lucky to be in the position I'm in, meeting wonderful co-workers and telling stories about Nepali change-makers spearheading the way to make Nepal better. I've been editing one of the films I shot last month. It had me thinking. My subject is the type of person whose energy rubs off on you by just being around him. He's the perfect leader for youth to gravitate towards in order to work towards a stronger, more open Nepal. It helps he has good energy and a heart of gold. 

One of our accountapreneur's Basanta Adhikari talks to young people about their next workshop. (June 15, 2016)

One of our accountapreneur's Basanta Adhikari talks to young people about their next workshop. (June 15, 2016)

Side note: This is off-topic, but I saw Legend of Tarzan in 3D down the street from where I live. First movie in Nepal. The subtitles were even in 3D. How exciting is that? Anyways, yeah celebrated Fourth of July by getting lunch with some co-workers, trying Jhol chicken momos. Delicious by the way.

And then a movie and ice cream. Not a bad holiday. And don't worry, I got my fill of firework displays, smothering my social media feeds. So, I was good on that. If you're interested in my thoughts on Tarzan, let me know and I'll give you my full review, as always. 

Thanks for reading guys. I love that you're interested in what I'm up to over here. I wish I could say everything I have to say in this, but I have to keep it concise. I don't want to bore you.

Any thoughts on what I should focus on in the next post?

Bask in the Beauty of Bouddha

I visited Bouddha, the largest stupa in Nepal and center of Tibetan culture and one of seven UNESCO World Heritage sites in Kathmandu Valley, Nepal.

Built in the 14th century, it's an important place of pilgrimage and meditation for Tibetan Buddhists and locals, as well as a popular tourist site.

My friend Ashmita told me that planes fly around the stupa so those on board can pray and then continue on their journey.

Apparently, from above, it looks like a giant diagram of the Buddhist cosmosThe five Buddhas personify the five elements of earth, water, fire, air and ether, represented in the architecture.

According to sacreddestinations.com, its nine levels represent the mythical Mt. Meru, center of the cosmos; and the 13 rings from the base to the pinnacle symbolize the path to enlightenment, or "Bodhi." The mantra of Avalokiteshvara, who embodies the compassion of all the Buddhas and whose 108 forms are depicted in sculptures, is carved on prayer wheels around the stupa's base.

You'll notice people entering and by hand spinning the prayer wheels, one by one. Yeah I did it, too.

The base has three platforms that symbolize earthThe two circular plinths supporting the hemisphere of the stupa symbolizes waterThe Nepali character for No. 1 replaces what would be a nose. This symbolizes unity and the one way to reach enlightenment through the Buddha's teachings. Above is the third eye, which symbolizes the wisdom of Buddha.

Unfortunately, the stupa was damaged in the last earthquakes and is still being repaired, so we couldn't climb, but we did bask in its beauty while drinking mint lemonade and eating momos and sandwiches on the rooftop of The Golden Eyes Restaurant and Cafe. 

And then we explored the streets and narrow alleyways lined with colorful homes, Tibetan Buddhist monasteries and shops.

The square tower is topped by a pyramid with 13 steps, representing the ladder to enlightenment. The triangular shape represents fire. The gilded canopy at the top is the embodiment of air, which above it is a gilded spire, symbolic of ether. You can see below how they're rebuilding the main entrance to the upper platform of the stupa on the north side. 

Did you know Bouddha hosts the largest celebration in Nepal? I wish I were still around in February/March. If you are, catch the festival of Losar (Tibetan New Year).

[ Check the facts at SacredDestinations.com ]

Just Have to Let it Go

There are photos you just have to let go. Some things are just for you.
— My friend Tom
Aiming to start running around this pond mornings next week. | Near City Centre, Gyaneshwor.

Aiming to start running around this pond mornings next week. | Near City Centre, Gyaneshwor.

I'm in this new place, Nepal, and I can't stop picking up my camera and iPhone. It's hard, man.

So, about 20 days into my 90-day stay, I decide on one thing — it's okay to just enjoy the moment. Live in it. Let it wash over me. Let it sink in that I'm in one of the most amazing places in the world. A new, foreign, interesting place than I'm used to. but it's still okay not to lift my camera or phone every time I see beautiful light, balance, moments, or compositions.

Can't what I see be just for me? Can't I just let there be a story to tell, not a picture to share? I decided, I can.

And upon reflection, I realized why I was doing all of this and why any of us do. When we post pictures, lyrics, videos, words of wisdom, anything on social media, it's because we want to feel that connection. Connection to what's familiar. Connection to our network of amazing people. Connection to likeminded individuals in a world that separates so many of us around the globe. And I get that on so many levels while staying here in Nepal for the summer. It's hard to be in a new place and not yearn to connect to the other side of the world that I'm used to. I realize that's the reason for my incessant posting. It's because it can be lonely adjusting to somewhere new. 

Someone told me the other day, "I hate change." I responed, "But change is inevitable. And worth it." Anything worth doing usually requires you to change. Change your perspective, standpoint, even securities. It calls for stepping outside what you're used to and putting yourself out there. 

I'm 23 days into my stay and I'm feeling a lot better about my surroundings. Each day, I explore more of my street and adjoining streets. I walk 45 minutes to and from work each day and see moments and lovely people along the way. Some days I don't even pull out my camera. I think, it's just for me today. And I used to get anxiety when people stared at me. Even in the states. It happens here every step I take, but now before they even stare I look at them and smile. Many smile back. A few even practice their English and ask how I am and welcome me.

Feeding myself on the other hand, well.. that's an issue. It was hard enough to feed myself back home. I'm not what you call a cook... I'm a spaghetti, sandwich, cereal and fruits kind of gal. So since I've been here, I've slowly stocked up on real foods. My first week, I bought peanut butter and bread. A water jug (because we can't drink from the tap) and crackers. Maybe some cookies. Each week, I've been adding more real food to the mix like chicken sausage, rice, mangos, bananas, eggs, on-the-go breakfast bars, goat cheese, lychee and mango juice, apples. 

All I can say, is thank the heavens for lunches with colleagues. That's when I get real food and leftovers for dinner. I'm the worst, ha. And thankfully I found a coffee shop called Himalayan Java to work at right down the street from where I live at city centre. Talk about delicious mochas.

An iced mocha from Himalayan Java at City Centre near Gyaneshwor.

An iced mocha from Himalayan Java at City Centre near Gyaneshwor.

It seems like I've adjusted pretty fast, right? Well, it's been a process. First week, I settled into where I live and filled the space with my junk. Second week, I venture down the street, got lost, and started to find my way to work by myself. Third week, I figured out how to ask how much things cost at small shops and how to bargain, a little. Ok, not much, but I usually had Ashmita with me, so she could step in and save me. I know I sound like a 5-year-old, but you try! There's a science in bargaining. It's not easy being a westerner and people thinking you're rick. Taxis still make out great after a ride with me, dangit. 

A panorama of a taxi cab ride with Samita on June 23, 2016.

A panorama of a taxi cab ride with Samita on June 23, 2016.

The moral of the story, is I'm still adjusting. Yeah, it takes time. But I love it here. Yeah the monkeys taunting the local dogs around me wake me up early in the morning and I don't get a crazy amount of sleep because I go to bed late in an effort to stay connected with friends a world away. And this week I plan on waking up even earlier to start running in a nearby park, so I'll get even less sleep. But I've been starting to interview and film and conceptualize stories, so I'm in good spirits. I've even taken the weekend to edit more of my fictional short film "Rose-colored." I'll be defending it as my master's project in mid-September, so I want to make it the best it can be before the end of the summer. Even if that means taking my off-time to work on it. 

Thanks for catching up with me. Next post, I swear, will be more about food and or culture, etc. Anything else you guys are interested in hearing about? Let me know.

Cheers!

 

I Think I'm Starting to Like it Here

Last week, we traveled nine hours east to Biratnagar, the second largest city in Nepal, then to Itahari and ended in Jhapa. Four days later, after all the events we had to go to, we got back on a bus and headed for nine hours back to Kathmandu. As you can see below, most of the journey took us around mountains, along winding, dangerous turns, and if you get motion sickness should not attempt.

Luckily, I had my mate Ashmita and Bollywood films to keep me company.  Once at our destinations, it was back to my love of filming.

While in Biratnagar, I followed Basanta Adhikari, who leads Bikalpa (“The Alternative”), an organization that trains youth in eastern Nepal on civic leadership and advocacy for fundamental rights. With the help of the nonprofit I work for, the Accountability Lab, he leads youth in conducting performance surveys of local government agencies. And he even let me into his life, so I could see his every day, his work, his family life.

After struggling with drug addiction earlier in his life, it wasn't until he was asked the question, “Where do you want to be in five years, Basanta?” that he finally had had enough and from that point on choose to lead a different life.

Basanta said he wants his daughter Liberty to follow in his footsteps and strive for better out of Nepal — that it can be better than it is and to stay here and help make it a great country again. We had a great interview that I’m still combing through on top of lots of moments of filming. I'll be putting together a short film, profiling Basanta as one of the Accountability Lab’s Accountapreneurs.

On top of that, I filmed and photographed three events for Integrity Idol, a reality TV show through which citizens nominate and vote for honest civil servants. The public forums generate a discussion on the need for public officials with integrity, accountability and honesty. I have to say, it’s extremely refreshing to see young people so engaged and active in this process. 

On a personal note, I’ve been doing a lot of searching in between work. Yes, I ate a mango the way mangos should be eaten, pealing with your bare hands and biting down. I climbed the highest "hill" I've ever climbed in my life at 7,000 feet, then fainted later on. And drank actual coconut juice from an actual coconut in Jhapa. Truth is, these are experiences, yes, but first and foremost, I am so lucky to have the people around me. It's true when they say people are what make a place. Because if it weren't for my co-workers and friends here showing me around, taking me in for the night, feeding me, introducing me to new foods, places and habits, I don't think my experience would be as amazing as it has been if not for their embrace and support. Thank you again!! You know who you are.

At this point, it's the longest I’ve been away from the states. And it happens to be lonely at times, I have to admit. Getting used to a new place a world away from what you know isn’t easy. It’s an adjustment, one that’s taken me 18 days to finally start getting the hang of. But it's something I feel everyone should do.

People tell me, "Okay, but this is when you find yourself and get more comfortable in your own skin." Yes. Sure, sure, but really until I can feel myself in a place and not just a foreign object, I need people around me. We are social creatures, after all. 

So, step outside yourself. Experience something scary. It's worth the fear once you come out from it. You'll look back and ask yourself, "Why was I so afraid? Was I not open enough? Was I too afraid to leap? Was I too shy?" The more days I spend here, the more I realise how much more often I need to put myself out there to do things I would never do. Don't get me started on cleaning my own clothes by hand and cooking for myself. Let's just say I wear things often more than I should and I stocked up on Nepal's version of Ramen noodles.

And yup, I'm still learning Nepali. My friends here think it’s hiiiiilaaaarious how I learn a word a day, ha. I’ll know 90 words by the time I’m finished here!, I tell them. That's more Nepali words than I came with. 

In other news, I saw my first couple Bollywood movies on the bus ride last week. Had to pass the time somehow... So, saw these two movies entirely in Hindi and I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised by how much I loved them. They were actually shot really beautifully. Though corny at times, (which is intentional) I did like the stories. And though I couldn't understand what they were saying, I could follow the story — a true sign the storytelling was quality. One was called Dilwale (2015), which is a crime, comedic drama about a couple in love who try to overcome a violent conflict between their respective families. It stars “Bollywood king” himself, Shah Rukh Khan, and Kajol. And the other flick was called Baaghi (2016), starring Tiger Shroff and Shraddha Kapoor, an action-packed romance about a bounty hunter and an agent with a price on his head, who realize they have a common enemy.

Ok, ok. So this post turned out to be me just throwing out there a bunch of random thoughts, but stay with me. I'll get to my point. 

It's officially summer in the states. Monsoon season is in full swing here. As you can see below.. we've been getting some rain.

I do miss normalcy back in the states, my home, dad, friends. Dapper. My bed.

But I do love fresh mangos. Savory Momos. Naan and curry. Hiking. Corny Hindi movies. Milk tea. Our office dog Pedro. Filming and meeting new people. Having a presence again on social media. Being a part of a team who goes after implementing change in Nepal. Exploring. Apple tea lemonade. Learning Nepali. Smiling back at locals when they stare instead of looking away. Feeling like a princess sleeping under a mosquito net. Falling asleep to, walking up to and getting caught in constant, cooling rain. Carrying my 20-pound backpack and tripod 45 minutes to work each morning, and back at night. Okay, that's not so fun, but still a nice workout, ha.

And did I mention I got honored as a guest, camera in hand in the middle of filming the event? Though, I wasn't exactly sure how to respond, I do have that look of "ma, I got an award."

All that and there's even more I could list and more I have yet to list. Stay tuned.

All I can say is... I think I’m starting to like it here.
— me

Adventuring

Exhausted and dehydrated, we jump onto the first bus we see. As I squeeze aboard, I could see that every seat was taken, so I stand in the back, shoulder-to-shoulder with those around me. There was hardly a place to breathe with 70 people packed in like sardines.

And it was 30 minutes to our stop.

A man slept in a seat behind me. Firmly wedged between everyone, I couldn't even reach for my camera. Both hands were occupied, gripping onto metal bars for dear life as I fell forward and backwards as the bus took corners along a rural road. My arms were so extended to reach the bars on opposite sides of the bus it felt like one quick turn would snap them off. 

29 more minutes to go, I told myself.

Six hours earlier...

I woke at 6AM to grab a taxi with Ashmita, my colleague and friend here in Nepal. I wasn't feeling too hot from the spicy dinner from the night before. My stomach hated me, but I rallied. Then my Accountability Lab co-workers and I traveled an hour to a rural town to hike.

We hiked over hills and through rural villages until we saw it — Champa Devi, a 7,496-foot "hill" to the south of the Kathmandu valley. At this point I couldn't help but find it so beautiful, yet feel exhausted by just how far away it actually still was. Would we reach the top?

Drenched in sweat, I take each step expecting leeches to try and worm their way into my shoe. The stone and mud-packed steps become slippery as it begins raining. I fell twice. Camera in hand. Safe!

At a certain point, I noticed a stone below my feet with "1500 more steps" scribbled in chalk. My heart sank. I was already so tired and ready to reach the top already, but I knew I had more in me, so I kept going. Maybe they got it wrong and it was actually 1400? One step after the other, it got harder to breathe. I'm thinking the altitude had a part to play in that.

But after three hours, even with taking frequent rests, we did reach the top, which overlooks the central and western Himalayan range. 

We were given biscuits, cookies and tea by some local men who carry food and water to the top multiple times a day. They make it look easy, man. Then, after a short break, we head back down for another three hour hike back to civilization. Or at least I thought it was down. Some of the journey back was right up another hill just to go down a different way. My legs shook in between every step.

Back on the bus...

The left rail broke off sending it flying into someone's head. Now, I had to hold onto the slippery wall on the back of the bus to keep myself from falling on the still sleeping man behind me. How could he sleep? I counted down the minutes until our stop.

But it happened. My body gave up on me. Five minutes before getting off, I start feeling dizzy. My vision was getting fuzzy. I couldn't breathe. Only five more minutes, I told myself. Just five more. I couldn't help it. I lost my hearing and everything went black.

I fell into my friend and she forced our group off the bus, a stop early. They sat me down on a pile of rubble on the side of the road as people hang their heads out the bus windows to stare. I was white as a ghost. So, we hitched a ride back in a smaller taxi.

I felt like such an idiot. We had one stop to go. Just one. And I went and fainted. Well, all I can say is that I'm so glad to be around such good people. With the Accountability Lab staff I feel safe, taken care of, and valued. I'm really excited to be able to work with them and produce some amazing stuff this summer. They're also introducing me to so many of the great wonders of Nepal each weekend.

So as my friend Tom put it, "You fainted on a bus in a foreign country after climbing a mountain in Nepal... you, my dear, are officially adventuring now."

Yes Tom, I am adventuring — and it's only been a week. More to come....

Culture Shock

People ask me not only here, but back in the states, "Isn't being in Nepal quite the culture shock?"

Sure, it took five days to really feel comfortable crossing the street, buying groceries on my own, walking 40-minutes to-and-from work wearing a mask over my mouth to protect my lungs from pollution. Even trying to memorize street corners and homes just in case I have to make the walk alone because there really aren't street signs or visible addresses.

But I wouldn't say it's been a shock necessarily. Just an adjustment. 

Since traveling to China, Spain, Palestine and Israel, I've realized I'm pretty good at assimilating.

Well, I care enough to, anyways. I enjoy experiencing a new place and fitting in where I can.

There are people in this world who are set in their ways, even on their views of how the world should work. But I find that if you're open-minded enough and flexible to what's around you, you'll get more out of any experience. And that's my plan during my stay in Nepal. 

I'll let it wash over me. Pull me in. Take me for a ride. Show me what's to love about Nepal. 

That said, I'll be going out in Thamel, the center of tourism in Kathmandu, tonight and hiking for the first time in Nepal on Saturday. 

In the meantime, have any questions? Anything you want to know about living here? Is there a place you've always wanted to go and I'm here so I can go for you? Let me know. But I'm not going to Everest. Ha. But anywhere near Kathmandu is fair game!

Finding My Way

Finding your way through the streets of Kathmandu isn't easy at first. But when you have a friend to look out for you, it makes the experience a bit less stressful and more fun. My new friend Ashmita, on her way also into work, picks me up and we walk 35 minutes to our office in Pani Pokhari. At the Accountability Lab, she's in charge of Integrity Idol Nepal 2016, a reality TV show through which citizens nominate and vote for honest civil servants. She's great. She has walked me there and back for the past couple days now, so I don't get lost. 

Anyways, on my route, I see rubble from what's left of homes and buildings after the latest earthquakes. Trash cover the ground. The sidewalks are a quarter of the size of ours in the states. Most people walk in the streets and don't even filch when a passing motorcycle honks. I flinch still. Cars and motorcycles (there are a lot more motorcycles than cars) rush by and unless you put your hand up to, and what a girl we ran into jokingly said, "pray to the gods" they'll stop, they'll run right into you, or at least seem like they would. I find it's about relaxing, knowing that you'll be fine, cars will stop and let you go at some point. You just need to be fearless and get out into the road. Take a step back before they hit you, if they don't let you go, I've been told. It feels a little like a game of frogger, to tell you the truth. And I never was any good at that game. Did I mention there are no street signs in Nepal? So I'm memorize businesses, government buildings and schools, so I know where to take a left, a right or keep walking. It's a complicated system, huh? ha.

Anyways, it's just an adjustment. Everybody goes through it. We all look like idiots, I'm sure, but I don't really care all that much.

Did I mention, I sleep under a mosquito net? You may ask, but "Why don't you just close your windows, Brittany?" Well, I'll tell you.. It's because it's extremely humid and warm here. I sleep without covers. And I'm a cover person. Yup, without covers. I know, crazy.

I'm just lucky it's monsoon season. I know, that sounds like a crazy statement, but when it downpours, it cools down. That's my jam.

Oh, and I'm learning Nepali. Yes, I should've prepared more in the states, but here it is and here I am. I need to learn it now to really get along. So, my friend from college Shiraz has been teaching me, as long as the great people I work with at the Accountability Lab.

I learned Tapai ko naam (what's your name?), Mera naam Brittany ho (My name is Brittany.) Dhanybhad (pronounced Daan-yay-vaad) (Thank you) and pani (water). Can't drink from the tap or I'll get sick, so I drink bottled water, even to brush my teeth. And a new phrase Nepal atti sundar desh ho (Nepal is a very beautiful country.) Ta-da! Yeah, and I'm learning names of places, stores and restaurants. Just wait..by the time I get comfortable, I'm sure I'll have to head back to the states. ha. 

Also, I did a little research into the Nepali Flag and I found it fascinating. The blue border symbolizes peace and harmony. The crimson red is Nepal's national color, indicating the brave spirits of the Nepalese people. The two triangles symbolize the Himalaya Mountains. The depiction of celestial bodies represent permanence, the hope that Nepal will last as long as the sun and the moon. The moon symbolizes that the Nepalese are soothing and calm, while the sun stands for a fierce resolve. 

The more I read about Nepal, the more I understand the culture and love Nepalese people have for their country. This makes me feel less of an outsider. Once I've started to understand the rich history, language, culture and way of life, I feel more like I'm finding my way.

 

The Tri-city | Kathmandu

Flew out of Syracuse, NY on June 3 at 7 AM. And after 23 hours of travel, I reached my destination in Kathmandu, Nepal on June 4 at 5:45 PM. 

I will be working as a visual storytelling fellow for 90 days with the Accountability Lab, a nonprofit that trains, mentors and supports active citizens and leaders to strengthen systems of accountability and promote positive social and economic change in Nepal, Pakistan and Liberia.

With a population of 1 million, and an elevation of 4,600 ft., Kathmandu is home to about a 12th of the country's population. A lot of its revenue comes from tourism. And it has the most advanced infrastructure of any urban area in Nepal. Not to mention its rich history spans nearly 2,000 years. Religious and cultural festivities form a major part of the lives of the people here, most following Hinduism and Buddhism. Nepali is the spoken language, but English is largely understood as well (with the educated class.)

Many people have told me how lucky or how brave I am to step into another culture just like that. Well, let me tell you it's terrifying. But a good kind of terrifying. The kind where you just say "yes" and go from there and you end up surprised by how much you learn by getting lost in it. Over the next three months, I plan on getting a hang of crossing the street without my heart racing, having go-to places to eat and shop. Maybe people will remember me when I pass by on the street? Everything you can think of that goes into being in a new place. Think of the tourists that come to Time Square in New York City. Yeah, they walk slow and stare up at sky scrapers far too long, but that seems so normal to me now. I can't help but analyze just how different things are here and I've only just experienced walking down the street. Between the humidity and my clock being on New York time still, I've been taking it easy. Jet-lag is an ailment.

Things to remember: Airlines do not like when you try to sneak a tripod onto the plane when you already have two carry-ons. If you talk to the right person, sometimes your seat gets upgraded to first class. You just might find an interesting farming, evangelical self-help public speaker sitting next to you. Next time, I'll change into cooler clothes before getting packed onto a bus to get shuttled to my 5-hour flight to Kathmandu. And I'll be sure to follow locals when attempting to cross the street. Don't go at it alone! It's terrifying.

My Sunday started off pretty slow as I was still trying to adjust to the time change, but later in the day a college friend of mine, Shiraz, came over to see where I'm staying this summer and to take me to try some local food and get more groceries at a larger store..

I tried chicken & buffalo Nepali momos, which were the most delicious dumplings I've ever had and he even said he's had better. Also, order Nepali chili fries, which were delicious. I was trying to balance my hunger with my effort to not get sick not being used to the food here, but I was just fine and even had leftovers. Then we went across the street to Bhatbhateni Supermarket, equivalent to a Walmart in the states. And there were so many choices. It was overwhelming, but it was nice to have my friend Shiraz there to lighten the mood.

This is only just the start, but I plan to keep an open mind along the way and be flexible to what's happening around me. I'm blogging for the first time in my life, so I remember all this. All I bet that by the end of my time here, I bet you'll want to come to Nepal.

 

Blogging, starting June 3

This is where I'll be blogging about my time in Nepal this summer (June 3 - Aug. 31). I'll be working for the Accountability Lab, filming and photographing life there. Thanks to Newhouse and the nonprofit, I will have the life-altering opportunity to experience life there over three months and I'm sure you'll be curious what I come across. So, come back and follow me this summer. This is the first time I'll be keeping up a blog, so please keep me honest and on track.