Week old henna stains the front and back of my left hand. Brown, beautiful, and intricate, the under part of my hand’s design has begun to fade, thanks to climbing chalk and abrasive beach sand. I am back on the Pacific Plate (just barely), thousands of miles from where I started. Far away from the rising Himalaya, I am back in the comfort of my transverse mountains. My feet have been scrubbed, toes polished purple; my clothes are clean at the expense of the laundromat. Here I am, back in “real life”.
I am surprised at how little I get questioned about my trip, mainly because people don’t know what, or where, Nepal is, and wouldn’t begin to know where to ask. The big one, “how’s the food” gets old, especially when I charm stories of double servings a day of dhal baat. I walk across the street, trying to use the cross walk, but still manage to have my mom gripe at me to watch the road and look both ways. Cars are bigger and faster here, with no cows in the road to help speed control.
I’ve eaten my fair share of salad and California-grown vegetables, shopped at the Farmer’s Market, soaked in the sun on beautiful, siliciclastic beaches, gone rock climbing, seen my best friends. Some would say this is all they need for a return trip home to feel to-the-brim. The lights are overwhelming, the organized traffic seems annoying, and the careless consumption and comments are frustrating. People’s complaints seem hollow and selfish. There is a disconnect between what people actually have, and how lucky they are, especially in the U.S., especially in a place where it is sunny around 300 days a year. I tried to go shopping today, but labels and high prices don’t speak like they used to. Real life doesn’t have to mean home. Real life happens wherever your experiences are authentic. I am struggling to find the authenticity in the comforts of home, in a world now where everything seems to be a commodity.
I’ve had to reflect about my future academic and professional goals both in Nepal and once I’ve returned. I speak confidently of now that I have the experience of a pretty extreme developing country under my belt, I can go anywhere and do anything. Before I came to Nepal, I was working in the aqueous geochemistry lab, and have always had an interest in resources in combination with real life change. Being in Nepal has continuously evolved my “now what”. Now what? Now everything. I feel like I am unstoppable and have developed skills in many areas, ranging from hard rock geology mapping, to geomorphic observations, to manual geochemistry water quality analysis. I am excited to have had a range of experience here, and to get some insight on performing real scientific research in a developing country. I want to use my skills, and experience in a developing country, to help, to study, and to attempt to solve world water issues. Getting to have an academic experience, that had some bits of tourism, was wonderful, but I felt the one thing missing from my overall experience was the opportunity to volunteer or contribute back directly to this wonderful country that hosted me for seven weeks. That being said, I know what I want to do next time. I want to give back, using my skills and emboldened passions. I want to do this through science, and learning firsthand. My progress to this mission has begun, and will continue as I keep a connection to Nepal through my senior research. I want to show people my experience, and what I have learned, and inspire them to step into the magic zone and see what it can hold for them both academically and emotionally.