I first met Niisha in November of 2015 while traveling to Nepal with a group of volunteers. We arrived in Pokhara Nepal two weeks after our time in India building a Chicken Coop as a lay over before we headed into the village of Arnakot to complete the final stages of the computer lab the organization had raised money to build.
We all stayed at the Hidden Paradise Hotel just outside of the second largest city in Nepal. Pokhara is a very popular destination for tourists as a rest point before heading off to many of the popular treks in the Himalayan Mountains. The city is also a great place to stay as it has many activities including Paragliding, Kayaking, River Rafting, Horseback Riding, and short outdoor hikes such as Sarangkot and to the Peace Temple overlooking the lake. The most popular location for tourists they call “Lakeside” is just a 20 minute walk from the hotel making the hotel’s location a prime place to visit. I met Niisha at Hidden Paradise as she cooked our meals and took care of us. The hotel was started by Laxman when he was just a teenager. The family had lost their Mother at a very young age and with a Father that was busy they needed to find a way to care for themselves. Laxman, being a man of great vision and ambition grew the hotel from a simple few room Guest House to a completely functioning hotel after 16 years of being in business. Niishaa was married to one of the brother’s, Manish and was tasked with caring for the guests along with her Husband.
I had enjoyed my few days at Hidden Paradise so much that I extended my trip by an extra week. By doing so, I was able to enjoy the daily celebrations that lead up to Diwali including a day to honor dogs, the day for children, and a Brother/Sister ceremony.
While the 3 women I had traveled and spent my 4 weeks volunteering with flew back to our home in Seattle, WA I was able to participate in the celebrations that the family running the hotel hosted. The morning of the Brother/Sister day Niisha was stringing Marigolds for lays to put around all of her guest’s neck. Her 3 year old Daughter Nishima was helping her and collecting pieces of candy handed to her by the guests and the family. The family had decorated the hotel with flowers, while they played traditional music on the loud speaker outside. The extended family consisting of a few of the Brother’s cousins including Shanti, Shanti’s Husband Gyan, Mira, and others who I would later come to know well all helped in the decorating and the celebrations to come. The women of the group prepared a rice paste and collected a series of various powdered colors along with a leaf that had a rectangle cut into it to use as a template. All of the guests at the hotel were encouraged to join in the celebration as the men were all first told to sit on the rectangular pads placed on the grass just outside of the main building overlooking the beautiful Lake Phewa. Laxman explained the ceremony the men were about to partake in. It was a way that the Nepali Brothers and Sisters solidify their bond with one another by drizzling an oil around their siblings, followed by dripping a few drops of oil and placing flower pedals on their head. They would then place the leaf on the forehead of their counterpart to paint the rice paste just between the eyes and above the nose then decorate the paste with the various colors. Traditionally the boys would then do the same for their Sisters, but since the male guests that had just had their tika (as they call it) placed on their foreheads didn’t quite know what to do they had us women sit down where the men were and the Nepali women in the family all performed the ceremony for us. Niisha and her cousins painted the rice paste on my forehead and then decorated it with multiple colors. I laughed as Laxman took my photo, and I believe I even scowled at him at one point since I don’t like my picture to be taken. Afterwards we all joined together and ate the meal that Manish and Niisha had prepared for us. A group of children followed by their parents and many of the local villagers had come up to the hotel and began singing a traditional Nepali song for the day. There was music being played and they all started dancing around us. One of the women and her three boys grabbed a guest that had been staying at the hotel for many weeks and volunteering at the local school by the hand to encourage her to dance. Missy had refused at first, but eventually gave in as the laughter and encouragement of the celebration set in. I was then asked to dance, to which I refrained for quite a while, but then gave in as well. We danced as the sun set around us and the villagers placed a plate for the guests to donate their Nepali rupees honoring the celebration. It was a fun evening and a great send off as my short time in Nepal was coming to a close.
I had gotten to know Niisha a bit more the couple of days that followed as she sat with me and talked while I enjoyed my breakfast in the garden overlooking the lake each morning. She added me to Facebook as a friend so that we could keep in touch. I had enjoyed my stay so much that I booked a second trip to Nepal the following year, so knew I would be back to get to know the Brothers and Niisha more.
A Best Friend and Sister
Upon my return to Nepal Laxman and his Brother Milan picked me up at the airport in Kathmandu. I had been tasked by a mutual friend Matt Cone (and Missy’s Cousin) to bring a few Paragliding Wing’s for Laxman, his Brother Manish and cousin Shree to try out. Matt, being an avid Paraglider, started the organization “Karma Flights” that is based in Pokhara Nepal in that popular tourist area of Lakeside as a way to raise funds for the people of Nepal. The organization employs many Paragliding Pilots that the tourists pay the pilots to take them on tandem flights. The money earned from those flights, along with many donations is what Karma Flights uses to give back to the community. Laxman is a good friend to Matt and serves on the Board of the organization. He has put in a lot of work supporting the people of Nepal, especially after the devastating Earthquake that hit earlier in 2015. The two helped me get the large bag of the three Paragliding wings from Kathmandu to Pokhara by bus the day after I arrived in Nepal.
As I walked up the path leading to Hidden Paradise I saw Niisha’s smiling face and her Daughter Nishima (who didn’t remember me, but was still very excited to see me) was there to greet me. After I was settled in my room, and slept my jet lag off, I started to spend my mornings on the garden terrace of the hotel and enjoying the view of the beautiful lake. Niisha would often come out and sit with me as we talked about our days and getting to know each other. As we became closer, Niisha asked me if I would like to join her shopping in the city as she would head into the market to buy fruit and vegetables to feed to the Hotel guests. Little did I know that those conversations and that invite would spark a close friendship. Niisha became what us Americans refer to as a “Best Friend” (or BFF – Best Friend Forever) and what the Nepali refer to as a “Sister”.
In March of 2016 I was invited, along with another long term guest Kim, by Nisha to join her in the village she grew up in and stay the night at her parent’s house there. What started as a fun trip to get to know Nisha more and meet her family turned into an idea that came to fruition to give back to Nisha’s village and the people she had grown up with. Nisha showed me the school she had attended as a little girl and talked about the children that were being educated there now. Most of the villagers send their children to private school which can run them anywhere from $20 to $50 or more each month (roughly translated to 2000 to 5000 Nepali Rupees) which may not seem like much to some, but to a villager who owns their small home and plot of land and grows the food they eat to keep their family in shelter and fed, and who has no job (or a job that pays very little) it is a lot of money. Many of the families cannot even afford the $20 each month to send their children to a private school, so they rely on the school in the village that is provided and funded by the Government. Nisha talked to me in great length about the school and the children attending. She spoke to me about how she would like to help them. She talked to me about some of the individual families and their young girls and boys that were bright students but who’s families couldn’t support their education because they do not have the means to for a myriad of reasons. One young girl, for example, is the Daughter of a man that is deaf and mute. Because of this he struggles with finding work and does not have money to support his family. The young girl is a very good student and wanted to attend the local University, but would be unable to since the family cannot pay for it.
Nisha wanted so badly to be able to help the people that need it so much, but she herself did not have the means. While she and her Husband worked at the hotel they did not earn a salary. The arrangement the family has is that each family member has their part in the daily operations at the hotel, in exchange they have a place to sleep (Nisha and Manish sleep in one of the guest house rooms with their Daughter Nishima in the room with them), they have food, and some of the necessities as needed. Nisha supplements what she receives by providing a personal shopping experience to the many guests that come through. Manish has also been known to guide guests on week long treks in the Himalayan mountains to help pay for their Daughter’s private schooling, clothing, and other necessities above what the hotel provides. By Nepali standards, the hotel takes good care of Nisha and Manish and they do quite well, but she does not have the means to be able to do the things she wants to for the people in her village.
A Nepali Girl of Tradition
Nisha grew up in a small village that is accessible by a 45 minute bus ride followed by another 20 minutes walk up a cobblestone road. As an energetic and outgoing young girl she delighted the hearts of the people around her. She had come to know the family neighboring her family’s home that included a young woman by the name of Shanti. Though a few years apart, the two had spent time together getting to know one another well. Shanti had eventually married a man who became a successful Professor, Historian and Author and she herself grew to become a Teacher at the grade school level. The two had bought a building in the city that could house several families and moved her many Sisters and their families in. Shanti is also the cousin of Laxman, Manish and Milan who operate the Hidden Paradise hotel in Pokhara. In 2010 Laxman moved to Spain to be with his Sister. The boys’ family discussed the option of one of the boys marring and Manish agreed that it was time for him. Shanti, being that caring woman that she is, spearheaded the arrangement and immediately thought of Nisha as a match for Manish. Nisha was 17 at the time and approaching the age where she would start to attend the local University. Her Mother and Father didn’t have much money to be able to afford her continued Education and were growing increasingly concerned that she would not be able to pursue her studies. Nisha desperately wanted to be able to help others and felt she needed a degree in Sociology to eventually have the career she was hoping for. As the two families discussed marriage an agreement was made that Nisha would be able to attend the University after she would marry.
By the time I had met Nisha in 2015 she had completed a couple of years at the University. Then a Mother of a 3 year old little girl, she had responsibilities that superseded her Education.
Building a Home in Nepal
The Earthquake that ruptured Nepal in April of 2015 has left many families homeless. While the city of Pokhara and the Hidden Paradise Hotel fared through the quake well, there are many people in the heart of the disaster in the District of Gorkha that have had to endure a wet summer and freezing winter still with no real secure shelter to protect them.
The organization I volunteered with in November of 2015, Karmaflights.org, and the Cloudbase Organization were one of the first to arrive and provide aid and temporary shelter to the people in Gorkha. They have continued to do work for the area with the current rebuilding of 2 schools, 22 libraries and a computer lab that I am assisting with funded by Orphans to Ambassadors and matched donations from GoPro.
As I get to know many of the Nepali people while sitting in cafes and restaurants I have met many who work in the city of Pokhara and are saving their money to build a new home for their families in Gorkha. While there are some successful efforts in rebuilding Nepal such as the many reports in the Facebook Group Earthbag Rebuild Nepal, the Government of Nepal is struggling to get homes built for the people and many of the non-profits that have raised money to rebuild Nepal have not been as successful in doing so as some would hope.
Throughout my years I have had the pleasure of getting to know some really amazing people that help others both in the Seattle area and travel the world working with organizations like Habitat for Humanity. They have talked to me in great length about the requirements the people that receive homes go through before qualifying for a home themselves. One of the processes is that they work to build homes for others and earn the materials they receive to build their home through various efforts. I, myself, like to help people that help others without any expectation of return. I also want to be able to help the people of Nepal that need homes. Both those affected by the earthquake and the families that are helping their people without any expectation in return.
I see all of the work Nisha has been doing to help the people in her village. During my time there she brought her school and the struggles the children and their families face to my attention. She talked about all that she would do to help others if she had the means to do so as a desire that she felt was not ever possible of fulfilling. I sat with her many times for hours in her room where her family slept looking through her photo albums listening and getting to know her on a very personal level. Not once had she ever asked me for anything for her or her family. Not once has she ever said a word about a desire for anything more than what she has. She appreciates where she is and the life she gets to enjoy. Yet, when I think about the people in America with their many room homes and all of the benefits our country has to offer I can’t help but think that someone so humble and appreciative that wants to do so much could deserve more.
As my life path has thrown me into the role of being able to make a difference for the people I encounter, I can’t help but think of how I can help Nisha, Manish and the family that run such an amazing hotel. The family there have all cared for me, and have given so much for me during my time there. There has got to be a way I could give back.
I have talked with Nisha about the two of them buying some land or a home close to the hotel. She says “Not Possible”. The land surrounding the hotel is filled with homes that each have their land they use to grow their food and provide for their families. To buy land is difficult to find and can be very expensive being so close to the city. A fellow long term guest at the hotel, Tim, mentioned to me that the family has land there. He showed me around and discussed ideas he had to help grow the hotel and bring in more business. While Nisha and I were talking about a home I knew that I could financially make it possible to build it, but couldn’t afford land and didn’t even know where to look for some to buy. I talked to Tim about the dilemma and he mentioned that he had the same thought many times. He thought it would be nice for the whole family to have a home they could all live in that had it’s own kitchen away from the guests, but didn’t know how to even begin to start. Then it hit both of us, what about the land that the hotel is on?
I later asked Nisha, “If you could build a home at the hotel where would you want to put it.?” She replied again with “Not Possible.” I said “Think of it being a possibility. If you had all of the money in the world, and could build a home, where would you like to build it?” It took her a while to finally realize what I was asking and told me she has an idea. The next day she walked me to the back of the hotel to a patch of land that a few trees were growing on. She said “Here Jenny.” She pointed out where a room could be, a kitchen, a sitting room, etc. A few days later we showed the land to Tim and we all discussed how it could work. Tim had designed an earthbag building just behind the Karma Flights building complete as an earthquake proof structure so he knew how to properly construct a home. After weeks of talking it over with Nisha and Manish, the rest of the family and Tim I devised a plan on how we could get started.
I was to fly back to the US in May and return to Nepal in September. I would use that time to find work with either a client consulting them on their marketing, or find a temporary position with a company in Marketing. I would put part of the money I earned towards the first part of the home. Nisha and Manish would need to find a way to come up with the rest and put in the work building the home themselves.
Progress on the Home
I did end up finding work in the US. First with a small marketing agency in Seattle for a one month contract, and then another contract with a very large global marketing firm working on SEO and Social media for some very large corporations. I put some money away to cover my expenses for traveling to Nepal in September, and again in January of 2017. I paid off some of my debts, emptied my storage unit and downsized my belongings to just a few necessities. I put away the money I had planned for the home and Niisha and Manish began work on clearing the land.
The home, at this point, has just began. The land is cleared and the foundation has been dug, materials purchased, and the construction is beginning.
I have developed a partnership with an organization called the “Community Development Network” that was started by Jeff Lee, a friend of an old High School buddy that has been helping me with the curriculum for the computer labs. I have been talking with Jeff about the school supplies, scholarship programs, and the home I have been working towards and that I need a non-profit status so that the friends that send me money to help can receive their tax write off from our Government. As of today we have established that relationship and the 4 projects I have been working on are officially official, including the building of homes starting with the family at Hidden Paradise.
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…but wait there’s more!
The story continues as the home construction continued. We ran out of money and had to come up with a way to continue building. In addition, Nisha had to make plans for earning an income after the home was finished and they moved away from the family.
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