After reading Down and Out in Kathmandu, the first fictional adventure of Zelda Richardson, I was eager to learn more about the incredible country of Nepal and author, Jennifer S Alderson’s experiences as a volunteer teacher. Jennifer was indeed a naïve traveler, who had left her family and secure job in Seattle to live with locals, deep in the Asian countryside, with little modern comforts.
Written in late 1999, this is a frank, spontaneous journal, augmented by messages home to friends and family. Beautiful word pictures are created of the lush countryside and fascinating shrines but we are also given details of the dirt, lack of hygiene and cultural clashes. So many interesting customs and festivals are included but we are also informed of how menstruating women are prevented from preparing food or even eating with their family for the first few days of their period.
Some of the places visited are so remote that few westerners are likely to see them. Jennifer describes a holy site up in the hills behind the house where she is staying, which is called Budhanilkantha. She finds an enormous sleeping statue of Vishnu reclining on a bed of snakes. There are also shrines to Ganesh, Shiva and other gods. Returning from this journey, she is stricken with diarrhea, vomiting and fever, as a result of a few sips of unboiled water.
Interspersed with the accounts of the killing of a goat and demands for donations from her host, Jennifer also enjoyed some thrilling expeditions where she proves herself to be fearless, but it is with some relief that she leaves for Thailand, at last able to have privacy. I was not surprised to read that Thailand is much more westernised and modern than Nepal, but after leaving Bangkok, Jennifer finds paradise in Koh Tao on the East coast and Krabi on the west coast.
This travel memoir is a great read, whether you have some experience of the East or not and it should be required reading for anyone contemplating volunteering in a different part of the world.