Seeing Through The Smog
As I looked to my left, out of the window of the plane, I saw the Himalayas as clear as crystal. I was lucky enough to have a window seat on my flight to Kathmandu, Nepal from India. As I looked out the window, several strangers, who were not as lucky as I, passed their phones to me and asked me to take pictures so they could see what I saw. I never thought I would ever see the Himalayas in my life, although it had always been a dream of mine. Honestly, I thought that Expedition Everest, a roller coaster in Animal Kingdom at Disney World, would be the closest I would ever get to these beautiful mountains. But there I was, hovering over one of the most beautiful sights I would ever see. It was there, as I stared out of the window at the majesty in front of me that I decided that my second month of the World Race would be impossible to beat. Nepal had become my new favorite country before I even set foot on its soil.
But then, I got off the plane.
One of the first things I realized when I landed was that it was really difficult to actually see the mountains from where we were on the ground. Turns out, the pollution in Kathmandu is extremely bad, so the smog makes it difficult to see past a couple of miles, and it forces most locals to walk around with face masks. Even I would end up buying a face mask after a week in this city. This was a bummer, because from up in the air, I saw what we could have seen if the smog were to clear out, and it would have been breathtaking.
As we were herded off of the plane and into the baggage claim area, I noticed that my squad and I didn’t attract as much attention as we did in India. I would soon realize why: we were just a few of the many tourists that were in Kathmandu. Trekkers, sight-seers, hippies and wanderers; there were tourists everywhere, especially in Thamel. Thamel was where we would be having our all-squad debrief, and where we would stay for our first four days in Nepal. From the airport, we were all dropped off at a hostel in the center of Thamel. At this point, I had been awake and travelling for over 30 hours, not sleeping for fear of missing out on beautiful sights and conversations with other squad members. I was going strong so far, trying to stay active in order to keep my energy up. After dropping off my stuff in my room, I and other squad mates began exploring.
We went to different street vendors, looking at the merchandise that would cost us very little, but would add up over the next four days. I marveled at the dozens of coffee shops we passed by, my sleep deprivation causing an insatiable craving for any form of caffeine. We stopped at a small restaurant where we sat on the floor and ate momo’s (basically just dumplings), and drank hot lemon and honey tea. Even though we had only been in Thamel for a few hours, we could already feel the effect of the smog in our lungs, and this popular tea soothed our throats. The streets of Thamel are full of life, with tourists walking from street vendor to street vendor, haggling prices, as well as locals roaming the alleys and streets and offering “hashish” to everyone passing by. These offers are most likely taken up by many of the tourists who had come to Thamel to do just that, smoke legally. Other people were visiting to trek, or just to wander around and live that hippy lifestyle.
The tourists come in two styles, sporty or hippy, so take your pick. They are always wearing either low-crotched harem pants, or cargo pants that zip off into shorts. They vary in purpose and ethnicity, but I saw the same thing surrounding them all: darkness and confusion, curiosity and disappointment. The Lord showed me something over those next four days: those tourists are all searching for something, usually themselves. They try to find meaning while smoking weed or hiking to the tallest peak they can afford to, and what they find at the top is something that’s fleeting.
Kathmandu was created to be beautiful, but was ruined by man’s pollution. When you look at Nepal from the outside, it’s breathtaking, but when you get to the heart of it, it’s shrouded by a thick, deadly smog. The people here were made to be beautiful too. They were created in the image of God to do His will and to glorify Him, but what happens when we get to their hearts, or even our hearts? Do we pollute ourselves? In our efforts to find meaning and adventure outside of Christ, do we lose our purity? Thankfully, no. My God cleared out the smog in my heart the second I decided to become a follower of Christ. Despite all that I do that would normally pollute my own heart, He sees through the smog and sees what I was created to be: a beautiful example of His majesty and grace. In fact, He has cleared the smog altogether, forever. The people here need that, because in their searches for meaning, what are they worshipping? What’s filling their hearts with smog? Adventure? Drugs? Lust? Some even turn to the temples and statues that are scattered all over Kathmandu. As they turn to those same things over and over, they find that they’re still not satisfied.
This was just what I saw in my first four days here. Now, almost two weeks in, I see that the Lord is doing amazing things here in Nepal. According to our new ministry host, it is the second fastest growing country in Christianity, behind China. That's incredible! What witnesses they are building up to bring other lost people to Christ!
So this is what I ask: Please pray for Nepal, and not just for the locals, but also for the tourists that come here searching for meaning. Pray that rather than just meaning, they find grace in Christ.
With love from Thamel, Nepal