Best Day Ever
Every once in a while (read: nearly everyday here) something happens that compels me to exclaim: “Best day ever!” Maybe it’s a beautiful hike, an exceptionally productive afternoon, or surprisingly good plums.
Today however is a day that truly warrants my typically casual superlative. For a whole semester I was bubbling with excitement to be here in Nepal, so much so that actually living here in Nepal never jarred or shocked me; it was such a natural progression of my life and I’ve fallen so easily into Kalinchok’s daily rhythms. Today, I was hit with the complete crazy happiness of being here.
This morning we sauntered up to the school to cut rebar for the valve box lids.
I walked up the the tank to check on the pipe we inserted yesterday. Muscling off the tank lid, I saw that though our mortar patching around the hole held well, the source itself wasn’t flowing (the supply line was probably clogged upstream). While pondering my options, I saw three Daai (older brothers) walking towards me from out in the field. I greeted them with the usual, “Namaste!”
Many classes I’ve taken, both in high school and in college, have emphasized the importance of effective communication: Write concisely to express your thesis; be considerate of other opinions during the design process for an engineering project; speak with your audience in mind when rehearsing a presentation.
But somehow none of that advice felt very helpful when I was faced with a situation in which I needed to understand what the problem was from a group of people that only speak Nepali and the local dialect, Tami (neither of which I have learned before this trip). Then I also needed to explain our water distribution system and collaborate on a potential solution. Lack of academic preparation for the moment aside, I was excited to give it all a shot.
Through broken Nepali, gestures, and some live plumbing demonstration on my part, I learned that one of the men was constructing his house today and had already hired the labour. Normally the second source would supply his house area, but today it was dry and they needed water for the cement work. I asked if he could use water from the school tapstand and carry it up (No, he needed continuous water). I offered to temporarily attach his pipe to our valve box a bit down the hill. (No, his pipe wasn’t long enough). Finally, I decided since the tank level was high enough already to fill the school and community’s needs for the day, to attach his pipe directly to the functional source inside the tank.
With now 15 or so curious community members gathered, I explained my plan and lowered myself into the water tank. Accompanied by laughing shouts of “Chiso! Chiso!” (“Cold! Cold!”)
I offered my phone to the home owner so he could speak with Bhupal, who was down at the homestay, to make sure all parties were clear. After 10-15 min of trying different sized pipes and attachments, I asked the homeowner Daai to take my storeroom key to the foreign girl with brown hair (Emily) and called Emily to give him wrenches.
The final product was a functional (albeit ludicrously McGuyvered) GI union+ binding wire+plastic tubing pipe that got water to the rebuild site.
Thoroughly soaked, I clambered out of the tank. The gathered group and I exchanged introductions, took some pictures, and laughed some more.
To me nothing has been a more exemplary engineering experience. In engineering it isn’t enough to draw up CAD designs and then clearly install the planned system. Here, engineering means halting conversations in an unfamiliar language and building solutions with what you can fashion together in the moment.
It’s difficult for me to explain exactly what this morning meant to me other than it felt like a breakthrough.
I fixed something! Yes, it was small, transient, and simple, but even so the rest of the day I couldn’t stop smiling. Nothing else is akin to the profound satisfaction of an immediate result that helps someone else. Using skills I learned in the past month, and not hiding behind someone who was bilingual in Nepali/English or someone with professional expertise, I made someone’s days easier and he was able to build a home.
The rest of the day I set about fixing the original problem: the second source wasn’t flowing. I hiked up to the source, along the way fixing no less than 3 sections of pipe that had come loose or were leaking. At the source I cleaned out the muddy and leaf-filled supply pipe, rejoined it to the upper stream pipe, and built up a stone dam to retain enough water to fill the pipe consistently. Another NGO working in this area built what seems to be a spring source protection box here a few days ago but nothing is connected yet. Hopefully that will offer a long term solution.
When I hiked back to the tank, the second source was flowing. Another small victory!
I helped the rest of the team finish the rebar lids (not sure if they’ll forgive me for leaving the rebar work to them ;) ) While I waited for the home construction workers to finish so that I could reassemble the original system, I took a nap at the tank, woken only by two little girls, one of whom was carrying her baby brother on her back with her head strap. We spoke for a bit. Though shy, they smiled and giggled more than any Nepali children I’ve interacted with so far. I so wish I had gotten a picture of their joy but my phone was dead (as my friends back in the States know, some things with me will never change).
I hung out with the grade six students down at the school and we taught each other new phrases (and animal noises) and a sweet baai gave me a delicious jello-like snack.
I have never had such opportunity to use a language in such a useful and fulfilling way. I am so grateful for the ability today, through language and a genuine attempt by all parties to understand each other, to feel a new level of closeness to part of this beautiful Kalinchok community.
Today was a day of new relationships, on the fly engineering, and sheer joy. One may even say, it was the best day ever.
Sending love your way!