I’m on my knees in the hard dirt surrounded by kids screaming, “No full, you give me double”. I’m carrying a very large bowl of rice weighing approximately 20 kg, the kind of bowl you would offer an elephant if you invited it to tea, not that I have ever invited an elephant to tea. Sorry, back to me on my knees, in the heat and the dirt, hundreds of kids screaming for more food. Well about fifty but they were loud which kind of multiplied things, anyway it’s my story so we’ll stick to it.
So there I am not realising my esteemed colleagues were stifling there laughter at the magnanimous David offering himself to the earth. A dramatic look of sorrow on my face that would have taken the greatest of Shakespearian actors a few months to perfect. My colleagues had already been here for six weeks themselves and obviously my ego had gotten the better of me. There I was thinking I should somehow merge with the ground, as if offering food to the Buddha himself, but it only resulted in a very sore back and the inability to lift the bowl to the next person.
Eventually I adjusted myself and stood back for a while taking in the sounds, the sights and the smells. ‘Namaste’, says a young women with two beautiful kids. “Namaste”. I offer back, my hands in prayer mode trying desperately to connect with this Nepalese women.“Please more rice for my babies”. she said. Her eyes in pain. Initially you have to make sure not to let the poor mothers and their pleading children tug at your heart strings. There is only so much food to go around so you must only give one and a half portions to the adults, and one to the children. Otherwise it will be wasted. Anything left over will be handed out at the end.
I’m trying to paint a picture of what it’s like working in a soup kitchen. I will give you a guided tour of the daily routine. First we serve breakfast early in the morning starting at about 06:30 hours. We arrive to be greeted by fifty smiling and cheering children on their way to school offering you flowers. That is definitely the best part of the day. You need to make sure that the tea is ready and cups are prepared in baskets to hand out quickly, along with the warm and fresh Roti which is covered with towels to keep them warm. Normally three or four people would serve the families, while the rest pick up empty cups and refresh the baskets with bread and cups. After breakfast is served we then get onto preparing the vegetables for lunch. I can assure you, never before have I been so eager to do such a menial task. Its simplicity was so refreshing, especially if you’re escaping from the 9-5 office politics.
I would always look forward to chopping potatoes, cabbage, celery and even spinach. Nobody liked chopping spinach as it was awkward and cumbersome. You could notice on the spinach day the lack of enthusiasm as people shuffled away from the chopping table, and happily washed buckets instead. There is also a medical tent and two trained staff to help deal with people with injuries, anything too serious and they can be redirected to the local hospital.
Once you have finished all your morning duties you help clear up any rubbish and wash down the bamboo seats. After you have checked that no more repairs are needed doing for the kitchen you are free to have breakfast and relax in Boudha. Without appearing too lazy the hours are not that long only 07:45 hrs in the morning till 13: 00 hours in the afternoon. So afterwards there is plenty of time to relax and enjoy the shops, monasteries and vast amount of twisting alleyways and ancient ruins around the area.
If you are like me you’ll become obsessed with Tibetan momo’s they’re incredibly cheap and taste delicious. It took a lot to ween me off these delights and I was often seen wandering the streets murmuring Momos ! Momos ! You have plenty of time to explore the local area. Whether it’s one of the small cafes offering amazing apple pie with custard or ice cream, or the hustle and bustle of Kathmandu for some retail therapy, there are many things to do.
As a Buddhist I partook in a Buddhist study course in one of the many temples and visited his Holiness Jamgon Kontrul the 4th at his monastery in Pullahari and if you’ve had enough of all the spirituality and culture you can hit the discos in Kathmandu for some Everest beer and Hindi Music.
We worked with a large group of people from Switzerland, Holland, England and Scotland and we all managed to work well together and help when help was needed. You just have to turn up on time, make sure the food is delivered with a smile and if extra assistance is needed then fill in without asking. You can chop wood or food, serve rice or tea, clean dishes or tents, and most importantly communicate with your co-workers, adults, and the children of Nepal.
If you have a few weeks to spare, at least six, if possible twelve and you need a life affirming experience then please volunteer for ROKPA you will have a great time.