I first came to Nepal for Everest Base Camp. I wanted to visit a place I had heard about as a child and knew from books. I didn’t know much else about Nepal and signed up for a volunteer assignment after the trek ended. I was placed in a home with a local Nepali family.
This homestay changed the course of my life. Here are some tips for getting the most out of a homestay in Nepal. You never know, perhaps it could change your life too.
It was with this family I learned some of the subtle nuances of Nepali culture. Though my Nepali Amma, as I called her, spoke little English, we communicated through food, gestures, and meaningful glances. My English was slowly replaced with Nepali words as I began to find comfort in my new home. My phone would ring each night at dusk, “Bhat nakhanne?” Amma would ask. Aren’t you coming home for dinner?
Sometimes we would gather around a small wooden table. Other times we would pile into the living room and eat on the floor. Meals were always prepared by hand, the hiss of the pressure cooker counting down minutes until dal bhat was served. My Nepali sister would joke that we could judge Amma’s mood based on how spicy the curry was that evening.
In the mornings, tea with sugar – loads of it – was served alongside biscuits or homemade pancakes with waxy honey from the village. Quite often several generations would pack into our living room, and on the nights when the number of guests outnumbered the number of beds, we would sleep side-by-side on the faded carpet.
Household furnishings were nothing like I was used to. I learned to brave icy-cold showers and wash my clothes in a plastic bucket inside the bathroom. It took me a while to get used to a squat toilet. Power would flicker on and off in the evenings, and when electricity finally cut out, we would reach for candles to light.
In our close-knit neighborhood, eyes seemed to follow me everywhere. People always watching me, The Foreigner, and asking a series of questions in predictable order: Which country? Volunteer? For how long? Married? Why not? Sometimes I just wanted to blend in, to not be seen as the white-skinned outsider, yet slowly I came to accept that there are some differences that are always there. Even frustrating days added to my experience.
When Amma’s husband was away for work, she would enjoy her tea out back with the chickens. When her cell phone rang she would dart inside to answer it and set it down after the call ended to continue about her day. Sometimes I watched Amma pause before she scolded her son for asking for more meat. Other times she would reply thoughtfully when I asked her some of the injustices I had seen that day. Sitting around the table night after night with rice, I saw first-hand that not every family is perfect and was inspired to go a bit easier on my own.
Living with a Nepali family also showed me that many decisions are universal: whether to take out loans to pay off debt or pay for school, which job to take, who to love. I watched young adults fully understand the weight that falls on their parents’ shoulders and the acceptance that one day, the children’s turn will come to look after their own parents.
On most mornings Amma was up before any of us, sweeping the outside porch or peeling potatoes in a metal bowl. Despite financial hardships, strikes, or petrol shortages, Amma seemed to take each day in her stride. Some days she would be full throttle, bustling from rooftop to garden, hanging clothes to dry or digging around her small patch of vegetables out back. Other days I would find her collapsed with exhaustion, waiting for the electricity to return so she could turn on the water pump.
No matter what happened, however, we would always share rice at night.
My homestay wasn’t just a place to sleep. With time, the house became my home, the family my own. Amma’s quiet daily commitment was a simple reminder for me to always do my best and help those around me.
Had I not lived with this family, I would have never come to understand some of the thick ropes that weave throughout Nepali society: castes, marriages, families, friends, allegiances, even political parties. I realized many situations are beyond our control, and life doesn’t usually play according to any particular (or necessarily fair) set of rules.
During festival seasons, my Nepali sister and I would bundle in blankets and watch neighborhood kids dance and draw designs with colorful sand. My phone would ring, and we would return home together. Amma was always waiting with a hot cup of tea.