01.07.2015 Community

Paying Back Nepal

Jeremy Ball urges our ongoing support for a country that offered him rare kindness

Nepal is a place where so many travellers have had their lives transformed by the simple beauty and kindness of the people, the magnificence of the Himalayas and the lived spirituality that creates a container of sacredness wherever you go.

This happened for me when, at 26, I found myself at a crossroads in my life. Searching for direction, I ventured to the most off the beat and exotic place I could think of - Kathmandu! The name had immediately sprung to mind from an old poem my father used to quote on lazy Sunday afternoons. And Nepal was to give me far more than I could ever have hoped for.

During my 10 days in and around Kathmandu, my bubble of Western capitalist selfishness was burst and I found myself a regular visitor to Nepal over the next few years seeking to soak in the blessing and deepen the transformation. I loved Nepal so much I almost made the Himalayan kingdom my home in 2002.

Despite Nepal's beauty and the undying generosity of her mountain spirits and the people who dwell amongst them, this poor country has had a terrible time of it during the last 20 years. First came the Maoist rebels terrorist campaign, then the massacre of the beloved Royal family, followed by years of political instability. And now a series of devastating earthquakes has killed many thousands of people and left hundreds of thousands more homeless or in dangerous homes that could topple in on them at any moment, with harsh weather on its way.

In 2001, I had an experience that demonstrates the kindness of the average Nepali.

I had been trekking for 10 days on my way to Everest Base Camp and was staying at the high altitude village of Namche Bazaar for a couple of days to rest and acclimatise when I suffered severe food poisoning. I decided it was better for me to retreat from Namche Bazaar to a tiny village two hours walk below, down a steep pass to a significantly lower altitude. The greater density of oxygen would help me to recover and if things got worse I was just one day's walk to a helicopter flight back to Kathmandu.

A terrible storm was brewing and my trekking partner agreed to help me down the mountain but would need to turn around to get back up to Namche Bazaar before dark and the storm set in. I staggered every step of the way clinging to the mountain face for fear of falling through my weakness due to loss of vision.

Eventually, we got to the bottom, and then my friend dashed back up the mountain, having done me a great service. The storm was setting in and hail was lashing horizontally into my face. I staggered along the wall that ran beside the cobblestone walking track through the village, feeling my way as I went. The first house was deserted. I was in great pain and feared sleeping rough in a terrible storm on a night that would certainly be well below zero. I thudded on the next wooden door that was already latched up for the storm. After a few heavy thuds, a couple of men in their mid twenties opened the door in surprise. This was a farming hamlet of just a few cottages not used to taking in guests, but when they saw how ill I was and with the storm approaching they gladly welcomed me in, despite my terrible appearance and soiled clothing.

My mind turned towards my upbringing on the edge of London; as kind as my family were we would have almost certainly thought twice about letting someone in such a state into our home.

The cottage was tiny. The small room downstairs with a fire measured about two square metres and then there was a wooden ladder leading to what looked like a wood store. When they saw the state of me and that I was unable to even sit up this is where they led me. It was an effort to climb up the handmade ladder made from roughly hewn Himalayan pine. One of the men about half my height helped lift me up and there I collapsed in a woodshed not quite as long as my body and about twice as wide.

For two days and two nights I groaned and moaned, writhing in agony as the poison worked its way through my body. The men checked on me several times and brought me water and food, but I could not move and the last thing I wanted to do was eat. Then on the third day my senses ever so slightly began to return. I could no longer hear them working in the field outside and it seemed they were gone for most of the day.

Just as night was falling the man gently opened the door to the cupboard. And with a nervous smile he said in very accented English, "We want to help you". As he muttered these words I felt love leap from his heart, a golden spiral of grace, into mine. In reality, it was in that moment I really began to recover. Enough, in fact, to lumber up the hill, slowly and in a lot of pain, to Namche Bazaar to rejoin my friend the following afternoon. I had been healed by the milk of human kindness.

I was later to find out that the man had jogged eight hours to and from the next village (two days' walk for a Westerner) simply to learn this phrase to reach out to another soul in need.

On ANZAC Day this year, Nepal, parts of Tibet, India and Bangladesh experienced a massive earthquake, followed by severe aftershocks. One had its epicentre at Namche Bazaar, killing many of the inhabitants and totally destroying the village and most likely the hamlet just below.

Right across Australia there have been many appeals and fundraising concerts to support a country that so many of us have grown to love. As time passes, I ask you not to forget Nepal but to please keep supporting her as the cold sets in and a huge number of homes need to be rebuilt. I plan to return next year and trek to that village and do whatever I can to support the people who looked after me in my hour of need.

My friend Mike Irving from Perth, who, with his wife Angela McSeveney, had just completed a trek to Everest Base Camp, was at Kathmandu airport waiting to fly home when the earthquake struck. He shares his experience:

"After passing through security into the last room of the airport, there was a loud rumble which turned into a vibration I felt coming up through my feet. A split second later, I felt like I was standing in a small boat in a three metre swell. I couldn't believe how much movement there was! I looked up and saw the security people at the airport panic and run outside. Then everyone else did the same. All regulations seemed to be thrown out the window and the next thing there were 2,000 people standing on the international air space on the tarmac.

"The ground was moving in waves. I felt frightened and very alert - the main danger was that the building would collapse and fall on us. If the quake had been any stronger it would have. When we were safely far enough away I looked up and saw the movement at the top of the lighting towers - they were swaying two metres! We had no idea how severe the damage was in other parts.

"I looked above the crowd that was standing on the tarmac at one point and saw very specific spots around the expanse of Kathmandu where there were dust plumes rising. It didn't hit me until later that those dust plumes were where buildings had collapsed. Five hours after the quake struck, we were lucky enough to board our flight and leave. Others remained stuck in Kathmandu for up to five days."

Mike is raising money to rebuild homes in his trekking guide's village. If you'd like to contribute, email mike.irving@advancedbusinessabilities.com

Jeremy Ball

At 26, following a “shamanic intervention”, Jeremy closed his business and left London to visit sacred sites and elders, later creating Transformational Tours and SacredFire.

When not roaming mother earth, you will find Jeremy at home in Byron Bay's hinterland, playing with his children and planning the next adventure. jeremy@transformationaltours.com.au