The word ‘Expedition’, generally understood as a journey, ended up becoming a significant part of my life. I can still recall the adrenaline rush throughout my body when my ears were caressed with the words, “Congratulations! You have been selected.”
Being an enthusiast, I’m always in search of adventure and exploration; Raleigh’s expedition program promised both. Raleigh International, an INGO of the UK, has been working since 1984, to ensure sustainable development. Luckily, I got a chance to become a part of this bigger cause. It would be a lie that the thought of staying away from home for almost five weeks did not raise my soft heartbeats into pounding. But a voice inside my head assured me I was competent. The adventure commenced with the trekking phase.
My shoulders still haven’t forgotten the strain produced by carrying about fifteen kilograms of baggage for almost nine days. Prior to this I had neither carried so much weight nor had continuously trekked for more than two days. For the first time in my life, I couldn’t go to my parents’ laps and complain; I had to walk until our destination arrived. When I looked around I realized I was not the only one who was struggling, everyone had their own battles to fight. Complications came in physical, mental as well as emotional forms. We all had different problems to deal with but one thing was common among all of us: persistence. This experience changed my understanding of comfort from ‘luxury’ to ‘satisfaction’. My soft, well-cushioned bed had never felt as comfortable as the rocks I used to rest throughout the trek. We considered ourselves lucky to be alive when huge chunks of rocks came sliding down through the mountain devouring everything that came into contact. Our fear of getting crushed down by nature overpowered our fatigue. The idea of death multiplied the significance of life. I still wonder if the places were real or just beautiful illusions sketched by the divine. I loved the waterfalls: when the drops fondled my body, all my exhaustion evaporated into the space leaving me with sheer satisfaction. Although, nothing was as satisfying as stepping foot on our destination. When spending another minute without resting our heads felt impossible, we would be active enough to spend time with each other. My backpack may have gotten lighter with time but my heart got heavier as this journey was coming to an end.
Our community phase started with a new team in a different location. My expectation of this phase being less challenging shattered when we discovered that our job included lifting numerous bags of sand and gravel. Under my smiling face was my terrified self when I lifted the sandbag for the first time. Lifting that sandbag made me realize, it’s not who we are that holds us back, it’s who we think we are not. We were praised for looking dirty because the dirt depicted our hard work. Dark circles vanquished my reflection, portraying the emotional seesaw I was riding. These days weren’t my happiest but happiness isn’t the best teacher. I could have never learnt so much if I had spent my five weeks at home with bliss. However, all my smiles weren’t forced- singing songs under the moonlight, enjoying fire-kissed food, shouting each other’s names while running, listening foreign tongues pronounce Nepalese words- provided irreplaceable beams. My chest inflated an inch when we built twelve handwashing stations including a Ferro-cement tank at the end.
While bidding farewell to everyone, I wanted to relive those five weeks again; even the tough times. For almost a week, I thought my return was a dream and I would wake up at Gorkha the subsequent morning. I’m not sure if it was the people or the places which made the journey beautiful. But, I am certain about something: the girl who returned wasn’t the one who had departed.