A friend said to me a few weeks ago, “Imagine if every person in the world had access to fresh water, even just one gallon a day. What a difference that would make.”
She’s right… what a difference.
In the spirit of hoping to make a difference, Pierce and I are headed to Asia in December to help install what’s referred to in developing countries as a MUS—multiple use (water) system. Our destination is the remote village of Majuwa Badahare in the Pokhara region of central Nepal. We’re traveling with a group from Denver, organized by the folks from Montview Presbyterian Church, who have been sending volunteers to Nepal since 2000. Eleven of us will be working under the direction of a team from International Development Enterprises (www.ideorg.org). They’re providing the expertise, we the physical labor. We’ll be digging trenches, mixing concrete and building cisterns. I’ll be leaning heavily on my Lake Wobegon where-the-women-are-strong childhood, and swallowing ibuprofen by the handfuls.
According to National Geographic (April 2010), women in developing countries walk an average of 3.7 miles for water. Nepal is no exception. The people in Majuwa Badahare walk miles for water or use what collects in puddles, jeopardizing their health and the health of their families. The MUS will draw from a natural spring and send water by hose or pipe to the village for cooking, drinking and cleaning… carried of course, but for yards instead of miles. The run-off will be used to water the crops of small-plot farmers in the village, potentially moving them out of subsistence farming into the cash economy. We’ll be working alongside Nepalese people, camping in the village, eating local food and using local facilities, if you get my drift.
This is a service trip. Pierce and I are fundraising our expenses. We just passed the $5,000 mark on our way toward the $7,000 required to cover our airfare plus in-country food, transport, and mandatory evacuation insurance. Many thanks to all of you who have sent donations! If you haven’t yet received a personal note, you will. Your generosity is remarkable. I’m deeply touched… awed is more like it.
I’m making the trip because I feel called to go, although I tried for a month this last winter to talk myself out of it. I’d be away over the holidays, leaving Tony with the family during his busiest season. Asia is a long haul. I have a hard time sitting still — how could I possibly do 21 hours on a plane. There’ll be other opportunities, I told myself. I’m healthy. But my sixtieth birthday loomed, with more years behind me than ahead. I couldn’t get comfortable saying no to a voice that never wavered. Two months go by. The deadline for applications passes. I call the group leader on a Wednesday in January.
“What’s the drop-dead sign-up date for Nepal?”
“The committee is meeting at six o-clock to review the applications. There’s more interest than we anticipated. Anyone who comes in after tonight goes on a waiting list.”
I pick up Pierce after school, invite him to come with me to Nepal on the ride home, complete the forms in an hour and hand deliver the packet at ten minutes to six.
So the two of us are busy preparing to share an adventure on the other side of the globe in a culture that will forever change how we see the world and our place in it. No dad or sister with him, just the mom he acquired at the start of fifth grade, one year before Adolescence grabbed him by the collar and hung on tight for a good, long run. He’s come out on the other side, his sweet, kind nature intact, re-connecting with parts of his self that went into hiding at the first sign of facial hair. Granted, the grades aren’t recoverable but hey, friends who have walked this road tell us there’s a college for everyone. “A journey without challenge,” writes Phil Cousineau in The Art of Pilgrimage, “is a journey without meaning; one without purpose has no soul.” I suspect Nepal will give Pierce meaningful and soulful gifts he cannot name — not at eighteen, perhaps not for many years, but no matter. The groundwork will be laid, the seeds planted.
Our culture of excess will be brought into sharp relief (and disbelief) against the ways and habits of a country ranked the 12th poorest in the world. I started to write that I’m prepared for the experience, but who am I kidding. Clueless is closer to the truth, for how does one prepare to be laid open, and left raw and unsettled. A friend that has traveled the world, including a dozen trips to Nepal, has shared with me how groundless she feels in that country.
“So why do you keep returning?” I wanted to know. We were parked at a stoplight in Boulder, on our way to a Nepalese restaurant.
“I’m my best self in Nepal, the person I’d like to be all the time. Something happens back here… things get in the way.” Her husband smiled. The light turned green. She’s going back this fall—both of them are—to uncover that best self yet again, and bring her home for another try.
If you feel called to support the work of bringing clean water to the families in Majuwa Badahare, we would so appreciate your support. Your donation is tax deductible. Every dollar brings us that much closer. All funding goes directly to Montview Presbyterian Church, where they’re keeping an account in our names. You can donate online (www.montview.org/montivew-in-the-world/global-mission/nepal-worktrip-2010) or by check, made payable to Montview Church, and sent to:
Montview Presbyterian Church
1980 Dahlia Street
Denver, CO 80220
Be sure to enclose a note, identifying the travelers your sponsorship supports (Pierce Westenhaver and Rebecca Lee). For tax purposes, do not write our names on the check. Any money raised beyond the $7,000 will go into a Hand-Up fund for disbursement to specific projects once we’re in Nepal.
I’ve been reading Rumi on the front porch this summer, showered in early morning light, a cup of hot tea on the flat arm of the Adirondack chair. Rumi is a sufi poet, a spiritual master for whom “everything has to do with loving and not loving.” He writes of the inner life, but with words and stories rooted in the physical world. The lines I read this morning brought Nepal to mind, and the journey that awaits us this December.
Someone who goes with half a loaf of bread
to a small place that fits like a nest around him,
someone who wants no more, who’s not himself
longed for by anyone else,
He is a letter to everyone. You open it.
It says, LIVE.
Thanks for your support, prayers and blessings. We depart on December 18th, returning with stories to tell on the second of January. Until then, I’ll be torturing myself with P90X, building biceps suitable for digging trenches.