Volunteering on an organic herbal medicine farm brought us to the small village of Nagarkot, an hour and a half east of Kathmandu. There, we lived with a Nepalese brother and sister who opened up their land, kitchen, and home to us. All the hills in the region are terraced, with hundreds of shelves of rice and vegetables, each about 4 feet above the last. We camped in our tent on the highest terrace of our hosts’ land, and each morning woke to a stunning view of the Lang Tang Himalayan Mountain Range in the distance.
While on the farm, we carved into the Himalayas to build a set of steps connecting several terraces, built a fire pit to keep warm and enjoy company at night, and ate lots and lots of dal bhat (rice with lentils). Dal bhat is a staple in the Nepalese diet, they often it eat three times a day and enjoy sharing the popular saying, “Dal Bhat Power 24 Hour”.
I also celebrated my birthday on the farm in what was one of the simplest and most dreamy birthdays I have had yet. In addition to waking up to a crystal clear mountain view, which was slightly thereafter consumed by the day’s clouds, I carried cinder blocks up the newly formed stairs to the building site of another cottage, and sandpapered and painted the frame of a building. When the work was complete, Lee, Richard (the other farm volunteer, who graduated from LSU of all places!), and I hiked through the clouds to the city in search of birthday cake. We didn’t find any cake, but bought a box of moon pies, had some tea, and walked back down the winding dirt paths to the farm. On our way we past many a water buffalo, goat, chicken, and duck – people do not generally tie up or fence in their animals, so they are free to roam. Nepalis don’t make too much of a fuss over birthdays (though the younger generations are starting to), so we had the standard dal bhat for supper and our hosts went to bed. Lee then busted out the 6-pack of moon pies, Tuborg beer we bought in town, and the local sour Chang beer we bought at the neighbor’s house for 30 cents to fill up our liter bottle (you always bring your own container for the Chang seller to fill up with the liquid from fermented rice or wheat known as Chang). Lee then placed the only light in town, the candle that lit our small dinner table, on top of the box of moon pies declaring it a full birthday cake and he and Richard sang me a boisterous Happy Birthday! After making a wish and blowing out the candle, we stumbled around for a few minutes in the dark trying to find a dry match to re-light the candle and then dug into our moon pie birthday cakes. It was a day to remember!