Who Knew That’s Where I was Hiding?
Growing up in an international city like San Francisco gave me so many glimpses into the huge planet we live on. Just a decade after the war ended and so many people came to the US. It was a colorful sea of faces on the playground with mine being one of the only ones adorned with blonde hair. When I saw the globe for the first time, I owned it; I wanted to go exploring. That exploration would have to wait many decades; widowhood finally allowed it to happen.
I was surprised by how many warnings I’d gotten even from strangers. Two men even suggested I wanted to go to Africa in order to get a ‘substantial’ lover. The biggest question was, ‘Have you seen America yet?’ When I’d answer that I’d seen most of it, but had missed states like Montana the retort would be to suggest I wait to see Montana first.
Why Don’t You Just Graduate?
Soon, I began dating again and found myself frequenting a bar just next to my university administration office. One day I decided to bounce in to see if my counselor, Sister Grace, was still working. She was at least 5 years older than I and a lovely woman. After a moment on the computer as we talked she asked, ‘Why don’t you just graduate?’ That question was something I hadn’t considered in many years; I just enjoyed learning. Having grown up with a learning disability, I didn’t think I was smart enough to go to college. I had actually slipped into various colleges and universities around the country through the years so I wouldn’t need to take the SAT, entrance test. I would literally take a summer school class that didn’t need the entrance exam or per-requirements and then continue in the fall like I belonged.
So graduation was never the goal, yet there was almost enough credits to get my Bachelors’ degree in behavioral science. I agreed on doing that last semester and graduated in 2009 at the age of 56. I loved almost every class I took and ended up with a 3.7 out of 4.0 possible GPA. I call it my 30-4 year degree.
So many people told me I couldn’t just get on an airplane without someone there to meet me that I worked to find a partner who wanted to go to Africa. I found a woman in Sicily from a person I knew and she welcomed me to Italy. Of course she did. She already had a young man from Romania who stayed with her and had overstayed his legal stay in the European Union. Soon, I was to be another trapped by her and ended up being her housekeeper. There was no plan for Africa. And my little bit of savings just evaporated.
Finally, nearing the 90 day mark which ended my legal ability to stay in Europe she decided ‘we’ would paint her home before she would leave and handed me a bucket of acid to prep the exterior of her home. In the heat of Sicily’s summer I scraped; she criticized. When she told me to take the books out of the bookcase in the living room to prepare it for painting I knew I had to go. Up to that point I thought we were prepping it for professional painters. There were no professional painters.
I had an American friend living in Nice, France that I’d kept in touch with through the years and decided to go to see her. Another woman older than me and suffering from a broken heart, she wasn’t so much fun. Our friendship ended and she took me to a monastery at the base of the French Alps and left me. I stayed there about a week and took ‘refuge’ there to become Buddhist before moving onto a work-exchange stay in the beautiful wine country of France.
Yet another woman a bit older than myself, she needed help with her overgrown hill and was soon to go to the hospital for a probable lung cancer scenario. My new host offered me a room and food in exchange for my work, but since she was on a 500 calorie a day diet I would be allowed to share only from that much food. She let me stay in the cabin on the hill behind her home and I pruned and cleaned for a week in the hot sun. That was when she said that I needed to go because she didn’t need anyone. If I gave her 135 euro she would be happy to take me to the train station.
What little money I had in savings was gone by this time and I had to wait for the pension my husband had left me. I placed an ad on Craigslist Paris for a room for the month and found a lovely apartment in the heart of Paris for just 400 euro. I learned a great trick for a cheap vacation in Paris, go in August. Everyone who can leave the city that month does, and it was a dream come true for me. But when the money exchange is 75 to 1 or so, an American widow’s pension doesn’t last long.
I had the darkest night of my soul as I contemplated my next steps. I was completely alone and with just enough money to make it to the end of the month-if nothing went wrong. While I was in Nice I got a bad euro note from an ATM machine and then in Paris I got my hair cut and $555 extra was taken from my account. So much for nothing going wrong.
For the following month I got a room with a shared kitchen in Amsterdam for another 400 euro. That was for the month of September. There was no way I could afford to be in Europe any longer, especially since I was not really there legally and didn’t have the money to take care of the issue. You see, when I got to Italy the man at the airport just looked at my visa and said, “Chow.” That was nearing 5 months earlier.
One night I heard myself say, ‘Oh my god! I have to go to India!’ I’d known several women through the years who had been to India and loved it. When they came home they were so changed, and I had always associated India with it being hot. But October was coming and it would surely begin to be manageable by then.
With my last little bit I managed to get to India and stayed with a friend I had met online. It was a lovely stay. I was so surprised at how friendly the people were and how much I loved India. My host took me to Varanasi, Khajuraho and a few other places in Northern India before I needed to leave for a visa run three months later.
The Journey to Nepal
It was either Sri Lanka or Nepal that seemed of interest and within my budget, but Sri Lanka seemed to be in a bit of a political mess at the time. However, Nepal wasn’t much better, but I didn’t do a lot of research. There was just something about Nepal that had already captured my heart. Just hearing the name made me want to go there. It was also cheaper to travel to since I could go by bus instead of flying and Sri Lanka being an island nation, it would surely be more expensive.
By this time I was more comfortable about traveling alone and had a great time on the train and then the bus to Sauraha, the border town. I learned the hard way to be careful in border towns with money. The people in India had been so lovely I forgot there were the other kind of people. I got cheated out of quite a bit of Indian currency by the local money changer due to my being tired and hungry when I went to take care of the money exchange issue.
It was on the way to Kathmandu on the tourist bus that I realized I had actually come to the end of my travels. When I looked out the window that December morning and saw the Himalayas on the way to Kathmandu, tears weld up in my eyes. I knew I was home. This little country captured my heart in that instant and I knew I’d never want to leave this amazing place. It just felt like home.
That was almost 9 years ago. Since then I managed to stay here just about every way possible. When my dear friend, Kamal, introduced me to his widowed grandfather I ended up marrying him and being accepted by the entire family. With such kind friends and now a lovely family, I was even more at home here than I ever felt even in the US. After the earthquakes many of the elderly had given up on life and many died in the wake of all the destruction. Since then, my husband had his age catch up to him and needs to stay in the village now where he is at home and has the care he needs. I’m not able to live in the village due to there not being any infrastructure like WIFI or electricity there. I do what I can for him.
I have a lovely 3 bedroom apartment at the edge of the forest in the Kathmandu Valley and plenty of money for a cook/housekeeper and day helper/editor for my projects and to make the quality of my life the best ever. Best of all, I have money left over at the end of the month. I eat organic, local vegetables and my lifestyle is much better than I ever had in the US. I have a lot more fun, too.
Other than the language issue, I’m more Nepali at this point than I am American and love to show this amazing country to travelers. No, I’m not a travel guide, but I have a Youtube channel where I’ve recently begun focusing on our channel to give tourists a glimpse of Nepal and a hundred reasons to come here. So, as I ask on my channel, ‘What About Nepal?’