Workaway in Nepal: One week living with a local family

I wasn’t sure whether to write a blog about my first workaway in Nepal. It is not for any reason other than that I felt there were no endless big activities or adventures to share or write about. All the days started and ended the same but of course there were many memories and stories from my short stay here. I realised that the experience I am having is one that I won’t get to have again, which was beautiful in its own way regardless of some challenging moments too. 

Workaway offers opportunities worldwide to experience cultural exchange whereby you work for a set number of hours per day and, in exchange for your time, you are often provided with accommodation and meals. It’s a great way to experience different cultures and get to know people from all around the world. It is also a great way to travel longer term as the costs of the stays are very low. My previous workaways have included working on an olive farm in Tuscany in Italy, and picking fruit in the Italian mountains. This was my first experience in Asia and somewhere where I knew the way of life would be very different to what I’m used to. I was really interested to learn about daily life here in Nepal.

After finishing our 11 day trek to Annapurna Base Camp we arrived back in Pokhara (a city 200km west of Kathmandu). We decided to fly from Pokhara to Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal – a 30 minute flight as opposed to a +9 hour (very bumpy) bus journey! I have never been to an airport where you are allowed to wander around the airfield asking at the different planes which one is the right one for your journey..! It is a very relaxed country in many ways that is for sure! When we eventually found our plane we enjoyed the scenery from the flight heading away from the mountains and back to the city. We decided to stay in Bhaktapur for two nights, an old city just a short taxi ride from Kathmandu airport. We really enjoyed our time here, looking at the many ancient sculptures and temples and stopping at cafes. Not forgetting the pottery square where the locals lay the pottery out on the main square for you to see and buy (in the photo above).  

Our days here went so quickly and it was then time for Will to return to the UK and the start of my solo travelling to begin. This was a big change for me, suddenly being alone in a place so different, and uncertainty started to creep in. After a few hours a taxi arrived to collect me from the hotel to head to a small village just north of Bhaktapur where I would be spending the week at a workaway. Only a short 20 minute drive up the winding hills and past rice fields I arrived. It was nearing the end of the rice harvesting season and I could see many people working out on the fields. Actually the roads were surprisingly quieter than what I have been used to in Nepal so far. 

Bhaktapur Nepal
Bhaktapur, Nepal

As I left the taxi and walked towards the village, I noticed some glances from locals and a lady stopped me to pay a 350 rupee tourist tax (which is quite common in Nepal when entering certain villages and towns). She handed me incorrect change and seemed annoyed at me about this, not the friendliest of starts but I carried on up the street, soon becoming on first name basis with a lady at a scarf shop and continued up the hill to the hotel where I would meet the host. 

 

I arrived at the hotel owned by the family who I was staying with. Nervous (I mean feeling really really nervous at this point) for what is to come, turning up to meet people that you really do not know at all and still little information provided to me about work would need doing during my stay was making everything very uncertain. I waited for the owner to reply to my whatsapp message, and sat overlooking a view of the Kathmandu valley – a feeling that everything was going to be okay. I felt a bit lighter as I watched the local crafts people in the shops opposite me, carving wooden masks and painting ready to sell in their shops. A local man came up to me and said hello, and in spite of the language barrier we managed a short conversation. Before leaving he said:

 

‘Life is for living, for smiling, not for thinking, just go and see what happens’.

 

It is almost like he knew what I needed to hear!

 

The owner soon arrived and within half an hour of chatting I realised I was observing such a slower way of life here. There was no work for me today – in fact I was becoming uncertain there would be any work to do at all! The workaway bedrooms at their house were overbooked and so I’d instead be staying at the hotel for one night. I was greeted by two large wasps and a cockroach in my bedroom, but soon I would become very used to all these new insect friends! I was certainly asking myself ‘what am I doing here?’, but truly I believe that opportunities happen for a reason and that there was something for me to learn here.

I sat in my room, no idea how many other volunteers might be at their house, no idea if I would be able to have dinner that night, no idea when I would definitely be moving to the other house, not sure what work might be expected of me the next day, what time I should get up. The worrying begins…and the owner had few answers himself, simply saying ‘we will see’. I noticed very quickly how the life of those I encountered had such little structure, routine, or expectations. Quickly this would become the biggest challenge for me here, living with what felt like constant unknown. Not even regarding big things, just day to day life, what would happen or what was expected of the volunteers. But it was perhaps a lesson for me, a chance to reflect on the reliance I have for some structure in my life and how uncomfortable the lack of certainty truly feels. This comes back to feelings of presence and this is what I am observing – the people very much living in the now with little worry or stress around how their days or weeks will be in the future.

 

My first day involved a hike up to Nargakot, a village which in clear weather can offer views over the Himalayas as far as Everest. I even experienced a local bus ride  on the way back…. which was interesting. There were about 50 people trying to fit in a little bus, there were people laying on the roof and hanging from the back of the bus. Meanwhile loud music playing making it feel like we were on some kind of party bus which was struggling to make it up the hill as there were far to many people making it so heavy. An experience though and I am glad to have tried a local bus, I have heard that sometimes there are even goats or cows on the bus! There were other opportunities for me during the week to visit Kathmandu or Bhaktapur but actually I declined and chose to stay at the village as I wanted to escape the city for a while. 

 

It was then time to move down to the family house from the hotel and I was so happy, having felt quite isolated up at the hotel – and being told to lock my door due to a strange man staying there at the time. I was so relieved to meet the other volunteers, some who had been there a couple of weeks and others just a day. I was quickly warned about being able to hear beetles scratching in the walls (turns out very loudly!). And my first night was spent hearing dogs barking, mice running in the walls and these loud scratching beetles! This was going to be interesting. Little did I know a few nights later a mouse would run into my room in the middle of the night and I would end up sleeping on the floor of the other volunteer’s room! 

 

As the days went by, there was little work for us to do. We tried to assist with cooking the dal bhat (lentil soup, vegetables and the biggest portion of rice), which we would have twice a day. Having a big plate of  dal bhat at 10am took some getting used to! We tried to help with some promotion for the hotel but again there was little to be done, just a few emails. Each morning we would walk to and from the community water tap with large water holders to fill the water tank at the house as there was no mains water. We would each fill the containers five times, walking down the grass path trying not to spill water all over ourselves. Never again will I take for granted having a long shower at home! Here, we were always cautious of using as little water as possible so there was enough left in the water tank. On some days we went in search for a cafe, found a sunset spot or spent time at the house. We helped with cleaning the house and had some free time to relax and read. 

 

As I reflect on my time here, the main challenge has been the adaptation to a different way of living. So far my workaways have been in Europe, and although different to my life in the UK, not such a contrast to life here in Nepal. Life is much slower here. The people have to work in ways that are so physically demanding – I observed women carrying large baskets of grass and rice on their heads up the hills into the village. And many women working out on the rice fields. We were able to help in the garden one day for a short while preparing the land for some garlic to be planted. Most families are self-sufficient when it comes to rice and vegetables, each having a plot of land. So far I could see cauliflowers, garlic, chillies and fruits. One day we walked through the village and saw many people laying grain out on a big mat. I asked a lady what it was and she said rice and our host then told us that as it is a warm day everyone is drying out the rice in the sun. As I stood on the rooftop I could see people sorting the rice on the roof of their houses.

 

On my last day, as I sat with the host separating garlic cloves from the harvest in her land, I tried to ask her about life here. Through her broken English we managed to communicate in some ways, and she told me she ‘slowly slowly’ learnt English through having workaway volunteers come and stay. She no longer works on the rice fields but did for many years. Now she pays other workers to be on the land and manage the rice. During the major 2015 earthquake in Nepal she told me that she was working on the fields when the earthquake began. Their house was damaged and the hotel destroyed. The entire community spent months living outdoors under a tarp unsure of when the next earthquake would come.

 

Walking among a community that has been through so much, yet who continue with such positivity and light is truly inspiring. Whilst I was only here for one week, and there were many ups and downs, I have learnt a lot from this experience – especially around letting go of expectations and allowing life to flow with more ease and less worry. Learning to let go of structure and embrace the unknown, changing thoughts of ‘what if something bad happens’ to ‘what if something really beautiful comes from this experience’, has been a really positive outcome.

1 thought on “Workaway in Nepal: One week living with a local family”

  1. Hi Molly,
    I hope you don’t mind but after following your wonderful S E Asia trip on Instagram I felt I should read your blog too.

    I found this very interesting. I didn’t know anything of ‘workaways’. Sounds like hard work and sometimes lack of organisation regarding the work away system can make it quite difficult for the traveler.

    It is so nice to meet people from other countries and cultures and I found your blog a great read.

    All the best….. and I look forward to reading a blog from your S E Asia trip in due course.
    Take care

    Ralph

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *