My time in Kathmandu started very slowly as I waited in line talking to a Nepali-American family that temporarily adopted me on the plane and two Australian girls who called me a “legend”. After 0ver 30 hours traveling, another waiting in line for a visa, and a panicked few minutes searching for my bag, I stumbled out of the airport and was greeted with a chorus of questioning “Madeline?”‘s. The girls arriving on the same day as I and an employee of the organization we are traveling with grabbed me, and we headed for our car. I was warned that the traffic here was crazy, but that may have been the most terrifying car ride I’ve ever been on. We met some of our housemates, had a dinner of dal bhat (a traditional Nepali meal), and collapsed on beds that felt akin to plywood. I fell asleep to a lullaby of dogs fighting. You get used to it quickly.
The first day we were given a short course in Nepal’s culture, history, and language. After that, our guide brought us to the Monkey Temple. It lived up to its name. After climbing 400 steps, dodging some very aggressive monkeys along the way, we were treated to a breathtaking view of the city and surrounding hills. I also saw one of the most gorgeous German Shephards I have ever seen. On our way back home, our guide had us take a bus. I guarantee that what you are imagining when I say “bus” and what pulled up in front of us are two very different things. This vehicle was much closer to a van, and, when the doors to the bus opened, one of my companions shouted “There’s no way we can fit in there!”. She was wrong. I may have accidentally sat on a stranger, shortly followed by one of my companions, but we fit. One thing I noticed over the course of the day was the vast number of motorbikes speeding through the streets. They zipped through traffic, cutting very close to buses and cars, and I thought to myself, “You couldn’t pay me to get on one of those things.”
I was wrong. The next day was my first day at the KAT center, and I was going to be brought there for the first couple of days because it is quite a while away from the guest house. One of the employees, Santosh, greeted me in the morning and asked if I was ready to go. We headed out, and he lead me to his motorbike. Nepal: where the traffic rules are made up and pedestrian lives don’t matter. I was terrified, but I didn’t see another option, so I hopped on. That ride turned out to be one of the most fun things I’ve done in a long time! Santosh made sure to point out important landmarks and fun facts so that I would have something to go by later when I was on my own. He clearly knew what he was doing, so I really wasn’t concerned. My first day was fairly short, I just met the wonderful people running the shelter, the other volunteer (an Austrian boy named Benedikt), played with dogs, and ate lunch (more dal bhat).
My second day was much more involved. The second I walked through the gate I was in a lake of dogs. My duties involved cleaning the puppy cages (and playing with them, of course), preparing food for the dogs, distributing it, and cleaning up afterwards. After this rush of activity, we had a break. Benedikt and I got tea, played with dogs, and chatted with the other workers. After that, it was time to bathe a couple of the dogs and treat them for mange. They were far less grateful for this than I would have hoped. Finally, I got to do some actual vet work! It wasn’t much, but I helped the vet tech, Krishna, administer injections and treat wounds. Whenever a dog complained about the injection, he would say “this is for you, not us!”. When I got home for dinner, I saw something I had never seen before: a wild lizard inside a house. Apparently I was the only person to whom this was a novelty, and my travel companions laughed at (with?) me as I excitedly shouted “LIZARD!!” and tried to catch it. One of them, a Spanish girl named Marta, attempted to help me, but the thing was way too fast.
The third day of work I was supposed to try to get there and back on my own. The program director, Anish, walked me to the bus stop and told me to get on bus 5. I hopped on and sat on the edge of a seat because there wasn’t anywhere else. An elderly woman across me scolded the men sharing my seat to move over for me. Or at least I assume that’s what she said because the men made room. I spent the whole ride panicked, worrying that I would miss my stop. When I got off and saw the KAT Center sign just to my right, I started laughing I was so happy that I had done it. People stared. I arrived at work and performed my duties amidst the most rain Kathmandu had seen on that day in 80 years. This was the day that the reality of what I am in Nepal to do set in. Before I left, a friend joked that I was going to spend these couple of months in an ASPCA commercial that I can’t escape (interestingly enough, the ASPCA does makes donations to the KAT Center). I wish I could say they were wrong. Over the past couple of days I’ve seen dogs in pretty poor condition, but this puppy took the cake. A sweet little girl not more than a couple months old was coughing and clearly laboring to breathe. My fellow volunteer Benedikt said, “I think this one will die”. Krishna thinks she has PARVO. They’re doing everything they can with what they have, these people are incredibly dedicated, but, realistically, her chances aren’t great. I couldn’t think of anything else to do, so I held her in my lap for a while, hoping that keeping her warm might help.
When I left work, I jumped on a bus labeled 5, like the one I got there on, and headed home. Or so I thought. It seemed to be going the right way for most of the trip, when suddenly it took a couple turns. I was pretty certain it had been a straight shot on the way there, so I was a bit concerned. I was ushered off the bus at what was definitely not my stop. I picked a direction that seemed reasonable and started walking. After maybe 15 minutes of this, I spotted a policewoman and asked her which way Thamel was (the tourist center of town near my house). She assured me it was just up and to the left (thank you, apparently functional internal compass). I started walking up the street and came to a street that went off to the left. I was unsure if this was the place where I was supposed to turn, so I stood there for a couple seconds considering it. Then, I noticed a boy in front of me. We made eye contact and he said “Hello! Thamel is this way!” pointing to the left, “I heard to talking to the police and wanted to make sure you were ok!” I thanked him and he began walking with me down the street. He asked me where I was from and, when I said “America,” he told me that he was trying to get there to study. I asked him if he knew what state he wanted to go to, and he responded with “Minnesota.” My shout of “THAT’S WHERE I’M FROM” may have given him tinnitus. Whenever I tell people I’m from America, they always ask either New York or California, so to meet someone who not only knew of Minnesota but wanted to go there was incredible. To add to the coincidence, he wanted to go to study biology! Thamel is kind of a maze of shops and streets, so I wasn’t entirely sure how to get to my house from there. My new friend called Santosh for me, told him where I was, and told me to just stay put until Santosh got to me. I thanked him and wished him luck in getting to Minnesota. I felt very sheepish when Santosh found me, but he assured me that I did great.
Tomorrow, I’m going to make it all the way!