In January I travelled to Nepal with a group of amazing women (and one amazing man) to see the work of Baptist World Aid and their partner NGO, United Mission to Nepal (UMN). We travelled for 8 days through rural Nepal and visited some inspiring women and children who are flourishing in business, education and community. It was an incredible experience that I hope has changed me forever.
It was late in the evening and we had been on the road since 3 pm. I was blessed with extremely good-hearted travel companions and we had spent many hours on the road together, sharing the stories of our lives while also taking in the incredible sights. It had been a long afternoon and we passed many accidents on the narrow winding road. Most seemed to be caused by trucks who had overtaken where there wasn’t enough space to do so. Some of the trucks were tilted, balancing precariously on the downward slope of the cliff, while others had been forced off the road, their wheels in the deep narrow ditch cut into the cliff side. I’d lost count of how many I’d seen.
By the seventh hour, we were silent in our seats. It was too dark to see the passing landscape and we were too tired to talk. It had not been the plan to drive at night, but with the wet muddy conditions earlier in the day, it was the safest thing to do. We’d decided to skip dinner in favour of arriving at the hotel sooner.
My head was pounding. It had started as a niggle but quickly progressed. I’d taken Nurofen and Panadol, but they weren’t making a difference. I leaned my aching head against the window of the van, resting against my balled-up jumper, trying to stay as still as I could.
But then the vomit.
The sick bags were at the ready because my friend Cathy had already needed several. Leigh had brought them to stash in his car the day before I’d left. “Maybe I should take those?” I’d wondered. They were the kind ambo’s use. A thick plastic bag with an even thicker plastic ring to hold the bag open, and I was extremely grateful for mine.
“Oh, Yvette!” someone cried. “Are you okay?”
The van pulled over so I could get out. My head was instantly better. The massive vomit was the cure. I climbed out of the van with my very full sick bag.
“What do you think I should do with this?” I asked our team leader, Steph.
“Umm…” she said, looking around.
We had stopped outside someone’s little store/ home. The family were sitting out the front by an open fire.
“Maybe just put it on the ground till we figure it out,” she said.
I eyed the four skinny dogs who had got up to sniff around the van.
“The dogs will eat it,” I said and we both grimaced.
I looked at the fire- maybe I could throw it in? It was a family’s cooking fire so that clearly would not do.
There are no bins in Nepal. Organised rubbish collection is just not a thing. I watched really nice people just throw their rubbish on the ground. I’d given our driver a muesli bar earlier in the day and he wound down the window to throw the wrapper out. I was gobsmacked and had to bite my tongue to prevent from scolding him like a naughty child.
This is something that shocked me every day I was there. ‘Why was there not a system?’ I wondered every time I looked at the littered streets and waterways.
I was still holding my bag of puke.
One of our team leaders, Nepali born beautiful man who loved his country with his whole heart, called to me and beckoned.
We walked to a spot where the deep ditch in the side of the road was uncovered.
“Throw it down there,” he said, pointing down into the murky water below.
“I can’t,” I whispered.
“Yes, you can. You have to.”
I had no choice. I couldn’t bring the bag back into the van with me. It wasn’t like we were going to pass a bin up the road a bit.
I dropped the bag down into the drain. As it hit the water, I called out, “I’m sorry Nepal.”
Months later, I’m still thinking about my vomit bag, in a ditch on the side of the road in a dusty Nepalese village. It will sit there for hundreds of years. Or it will be washed into the river and taken downstream. Either way, it will be with us on Earth for a very, very long time.
Eventually, the bag part will disintegrate and the hard-plastic ring will break down into tiny pieces just big enough to be mistaken for food and swallowed by fish and sea birds.
On the plane, on the way home I watched the BBC Documentary ‘Drowning in Plastic’. It compounded the heartbreak I was already feeling about the way this Earth is groaning with the destruction we are causing.
Before Nepal, I knew, in a head knowledge sense, that single-use plastic was bad. And that plastic, in general, is a problem.
But since the trip, I have understood with my heart why this is such a terrible problem. In that week I felt distressed at every grime covered tree and every waterway that bobbed with rubbish. “The leaves, they can’t breathe!” I said more than once.
I have committed to playing my part in the reduction of plastic waste. Since returning home, the kids no longer have plastic in their lunch boxes. At Fresh Conference this year, our containers will be made of biodegradable fibres rather than plastics. I am using my keep cup and my metal water bottle. When my plastic items need replacing, I am trying to go for products made from natural materials.
This is just one of the many ways that my trip to Nepal has changed my heart.
Cover image by Adli Wahid on Unsplash