The Oda Project

Essential healthcare and education - giving Nepali communities in extreme poverty a fighting chance

Reflections on Living in Nepal by 2018-2019 Health and Operations Fellow, Radha Bhatnagar

Recently, I have been asking myself, “When does one start to live somewhere?” Perhaps there is a time factor to this question. Maybe I began to live in Oda after three months of staying here. Or maybe it’s more abstract. Maybe it’s what you know. The more culture and customs, and even village gossip, that you know, the more you live here. Oda will have a nook in my heart forever and maybe for that reason, it starts with intent. The first week, when I bought a Nepali SIM card, or even the first hike in. I have settled on the answer being that you simply feel it in your bones. When I walk to other villages, or through our own, I am constantly stopped to chat, to play, to come in for tea or food. Leaving Oda for vacation, I was excited to see my family, but missed Oda and felt embraced by the rolling young hills when I came back. Being here, I’ve learned a few things about Nepali village folk:


·      They love to yell your name from across the valley, even if it’s the wrong one (Do I look like a Sarah?)

·      They will shout your name at the top of their lungs and never answer when you ask “ko ho?!” “who is it?!”

·      They love to ask Lucy about America despite her never having been

·      They will take an hour-long shower but when you are five minutes into yours they will ask you “bhayo?” “are you done yet?” (I’m still very bitter)

·      They love to wear their jackets all day, even through 70 degree heat

·      They love to feed you (and tell you if you are skinny or fat)

·      They judge age based on weight

·      Their feet never touch the ground going downhill, but you do not want to be stuck behind a Nepali person going uphill

·      They love to tell you the who, what, when, where, why, and how of who was maimed and who died where you’re currently standing

·      They will never correct your wrong Nepali, they’re just glad you’re trying

·      They will put inordinate amounts of sugar into each batch of tea

·      They love to chew on hay off the floor

·      They love to eat snow because it’s cold and rhododendrons because they’re sour (now I do, too)

·      They love to eat raw instant noodles (it’s called chow chow and I’ve picked up many eating preferences here)

·      They like to turn their used chow chow packets into water bottles (very convenient)

·      They love to give you smoked grains and you MUST take them, (“khannos, khannos. Alikothi khannos.” “eat, please eat. Just eat a little bit”)

·      They love to put food in their pockets, with no wrapping, and then offer it to you barehanded (sometimes covered in crumbs)

·      They love to tell you that you look your best in traditional Nepali wear and that you should wear it every day (it really feels like they think I don’t look good in anything else)

·      They are impressed when you complete any task that requires a small bit of strength (they call you “dherai baaliyo manche” “very strong person”, even though a small child here could carry more than I can)

·      They, regardless of how heavy their load is, will stop and stare at you on the path until you’re out of sight

·      You can’t walk past someone without them asking “kahaa jaane?” “where are you going?”

·      If you slip in front of someone once, they will ALWAYS tell you “bistaraai jannos” “go slowly”

·      For emphasis, they will say a word slowly and with a very high pitch (for example, when they say “bistaraai jannos” it will really sound like “bistAAAAAAraai jannos”)

·      They love to invite you in to sit and then just stare at you

·      When they invite you into their homes, they will kindly put out a rug that happens to be dirtier than the space you were going to sit on

·      They will most definitely brighten your day


No group of people is a monolith and no community is made of perfect people. There is a lot of hardship here and many social issues to be tackled, but I have certainly found a different kind of perfection. Those who are good are so entirely good. Here, love is a language of action, both small and large. Families who have nothing share everything. People do what they can to give their families a chance, no complaining and no stopping. For me, I am surrounded by new members of my ever-larger family. Older siblings and aunties who make sure I’m eating enough, not carrying too much, and giving me hugs exactly as I need them. Younger siblings who want to dance with me and talk about issues in the community. Even younger siblings who love to be held and play silly games. I have received so much love here, I just hope that I have given back a fraction of what they’ve given me.