While traveling, people have asked me, “How do you decide where you will go next?” The honest answer is that I never really know. It is more of a calling than a logically researched plan. I’ve tried that before, where I’ve booked tickets in advance, designed a travel route, and had a general idea of where I will be at a certain point in time. These rarely worked out as planned. True and authentic travel has no plan or destination. To create a path to walk before you even see your feet in front of you is to limit yourself from all the possibilities that lay ahead. This is how I ended up in Nepal with a woman I had met for a few hours on a flight from Southeast Asia to Europe.
To begin, I wasn’t even supposed to be on that flight. Or then again, maybe I was and that would explain why I had to repurchase an entire new ticket to Europe. After spontaneously deciding to join some new friends for a hike in the Pyrenees, I booked the same flight as them that would take us to Czech Republic where their family lived. The flight had a quick layover in Iran and there was a warning that I may need a visa. There was another flight that was recommended, but I wanted to be with Pavel and Tereza so I brushed off the warning and decided I would figure it out once I went back to Kuala Lumpur. As it turned out, I did need a visa and even with the generous help from the Iranian embassy in KL, it was not going to be possible to get one in the few days before take-off. Frustrated, I thought maybe it was a sign that I shouldn’t go to Europe, but it didn’t feel that way. I booked a new flight, the one that was first recommended to me, and would soon learn it was meant to be.
On that flight I sat next to an older woman named Doreen whom I felt an unexplainable and instant connection with. She was warm and genuine. I usually plug in my earphones or read a book, oblivious to the people next to me, but a conversation started between us and from there we took off.
She shared with me stories from her vibrant life and how for the past five years she had been running a charity called Book Reach that creates libraries for schools in Nepal. She told me of her struggles with funding and how she was getting too old to do all this work on her own. As I listened, there was something about the passion, yet subtle defeat in her voice that sparked within me a desire to help. I told her about crowdfunding and things she could do to get support. I also offered to help her with the libraries in November when she was flying to Nepal, although I’m not sure she realized how serious I was.
Once that fire was ignited, no amount of water or depletion of oxygen could put it out. It was July at the time and we kept in touch through email. While hiking in the Pyrenees I started a fundraiser for her and $2040 U.S dollars were raised. Then a few months later in November I was being greeted at Kathmandu International airport by Doreen and her cheeky smile.
It was that initial connection with her that led me to Nepal where I spent two weeks helping her furnish and set up libraries at schools where children may have never seen a library before. Although in her 70’s and lines from a difficult past are etched into her eyes, Doreen has endless amounts of energy and determination within her that has inspired me to be as selfless as she is. She promoted her life to education and helping those less privileged.
Doreen reminded me of my purpose for traveling. It is not merely to see the world or to check something off a list. I travel in order to step outside of my comfort zone, expand my awareness and create a new path, refusing to bow down to the conventional ones that have been molded over generations for the purpose of ‘progress and production.’ I realized that it is the people I cross paths with that ultimately shape my experience and inspire me to never stop listening to the voice within that says, “Don’t let this world tame you.”
(Hetauda, Nepal, November 2017)