It’s almost 11pm in Matatirtha, Nepal. The power was out for 11 hours today. My laptop battery is about to die. My headlamp is secured to my fuzzy earflap hat, blanket wrapped cozily around my lap, scarf wound tightly around my neck. With no central heating, and portable electric heaters that don’t work when the power is out, the little propane heater in our guest apartment at Bright Horizon Children’s Home roars away, warming up the freezing space enough to be live-able… at least for us non-Nepalis. The bottle of whiskey helps, too.
Electricity in Nepal is a rare gift. Blackouts (“load-shedding”) are a reality for people here, especially at this time of year when water otherwise used for hydropower is frozen. Blackouts can last up to 16 hours a day. Generators are only available for those who can afford it.
For us visitors, it means that the few hours a day when the electricity is on, we furiously scramble to our laptops, send our important emails and post updates on Facebook, letting friends and loved ones know how we are doing. Connectivity is painfully slow. Sometimes it takes one hour to post one photo on Facebook…that is, if you have the patience to wait that long.
For Nepali locals, it means that working via computer is a constant uphill battle. Mobile phones may allow many Nepalis to connect on Facebook or text loved ones - but oftentimes even doing a basic Google search becomes a whole day-long ordeal. Never mind YouTube. Netflix? Uh, no. WebMD, Khan Academy, Wordpress, Wikipedia, or any other educational or practical web-based resource? Forget about it.
And yet, the kids here learn HTML for their national exams. Their teacher, Ajay, explained how difficult it is teach computer class when the electricity and internet are always out. If the power goes back on after the school day ends, Ajay often stays late helping the students learn whatever the day’s lesson should have been.
At night, sometimes the lights go off, like they did while we were eating dinner last week. When the lights flicker back on, our Nepali friends make a small gesture, moving their hand from their forehead to their heart and back again: a beautiful blessing of thanks for light, for electricity… for a basic necessity that we all take for granted.
Yet, in the absence of that connection to electrical power, the people here have a connection with each other. They laugh, cry, and share with each other - not through an electronic device, but in real, face-to-face conversations with each other.
Even tonight, we sat together in the dark, a battery-powered LED light in the corner of the dark kitchen, and we talked about the incredible hospitality, love, and connection among the people of Nepal... the connections we have made with the staff and teachers in the SETH training, the little children who hold our hands, desperate for a feeling of love and safety, the cook who smiles at us with a twinkle of kindness in his eyes, the Tibetan monk who shares stories with us about the hardships not just of Tibetan refugees in Nepal but of the Nepali locals themselves.
That connection reminds me to be grateful. So, as I sit here in the dark, I move my hand from my forehead to my heart, saying a little blessing for the ease and abundance of electrical power that fuels my connection at home, and for the lessons about love, life, and deeply meaningful connection here in Nepal.