a sabbatical rest, day 24
I normally think of arriving in Doha as being halfway to Nepal.
We arrive in Doha on Qatar airlines, after a 13-hour trip from Chicago. But then there is a 10-hour layover before the 4-hour flight into Kathmandu. We could have chosen a 45-minute layover, but making a transfer requiring two security checks in an international airport is too stressful for that.
The airport in Doha is busy (40 million passengers a year) and very modern, nicer than any American airport I’ve visited, so it’s not a bad place to hang out. Katie even has a favorite tea shop, and we did pay for lounge access that provides showers, food and comfortable chairs.
But in terms of the 27-hour trip, the halfway point is some point of time at the airport in Doha. In terms of distance, it is somewhere over Northern Europe. But there are other ways to measure the distance to Nepal. Like paperwork.
So today we celebrate the halfway point of our paperwork. Our request for a visa has passed through the university and was approved this morning by the Ministry of Education. Now it moves on to Home Affairs and Immigration. But two bureaucracies out of four is progress. So, in this sense, we are halfway there.
But we were really halfway there about this time of year in 2017, sleeping on a pallet on the cold concrete floor in Richen’s and Baleyna’s living room near Kathmandu, experiencing for the first time the gracious hospitality of a family. And of a nation.
They were surprised we wanted to eat what they ate. In fact, they had had visitors from the west who wouldn’t eat rice, which is, of course what they eat because it is what they have. We didn’t get to the Himalayas that trip (we went trekking in 2019), but we did visit a remote school in the mountains.
From the Himalayas along the northern border with China and Tibet to the tropical forests along the southern border with India, there is an incredible diversity of people, plants and animals. There are 40 tribal groups, and about 120 distinct languages in Nepal, a small country about the size of the state of Michigan. (For most of the people in the country, Nepali is their second language.). Since they overthrew the monarchy and established a constitutional monarch in 2008, they have had 11 prime ministers.
One could spend a lifetime figuring it all out. Perhaps we will, or at least what’s left of it. It was not love at first sight. We had already begun to experience Nepali culture when we visited Darjeeling in India. But the four or five days we spent in Nepal on that first trip sealed the deal. We were already halfway there. We loved the places we went, the things we saw, the food we ate and the people we met. We wanted to go back and did. And we wanted to go back, and will.
I’ve written about that first trip, and I’ve written about the second trip. And I’ll write about this trip too. To a large degree, this is a matter of the heart, with all the joy and anxiety that brings. Katie and I are not blind to the challenges we face. We expect our hearts to be broken. And we expect our hearts to be filled. We expect to be stretched. And we hope to be useful.
Why are we drawn to Nepal? Matters of the heart are not always subject to such analysis, but I’ll keep you posted if I figure it out. We do know that God is calling to himself people from every tribe and tongue. For now, these tribes and these tongues have touched our hearts, and we travel there to teach what we know and learn what we can. There is in people everywhere the image of God and a glimpse of His glory.
The halfway point of our experience with and affection for Nepal will keep moving. But when we get to Doha, we will be more than halfway there.