Student - December 11, 2015

‘I learned to do nothing’

Who? Donya Madjdian, just completed her Master's in Health and Society
What? Four months' internship at The Nepal Trust, an NGO
Where? Humla district, Nepal

‘Humla is a very remote area. With the nearest road-head a nine-day walk away, the only way to get there is by light aircraft. Terrifying. The pilot only flew with clear skies. I had to wait for hours before we could take off.

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I was there to do research on the distribution of food in households. The villages in Humla are interesting because Hindus and Buddhists live side by side. They have different family systems. Buddhist women marry several men in one family and are relatively prosperous, partly because land stays in the family. In these households food is distributed equally. In the monogamous Hindu community, I saw women who were very much discriminated against and almost all the women were undernourished because they eat only leftovers. These women and girls live such desperate lives without any hope of improvement that many parents offered their daughters to me.

My host family spoke no English. Actually no one did in the entire district except for my translator. I had a room measuring two metres by one in a small loam house where rats scurried across the ceiling. But you soon get used to it. There was barely any electricity, so I got up at sunrise and went to bed at sunset. Power cuts were frequent. And there I was, trying to use my MacBook.

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I learned to do nothing. I wanted to do an interview twice a day, but often I couldn't because the women were working on the land. I had a choice between feeling lonely or dealing with the peace and quiet. Eventually I could spend an entire day sitting and looking at the mountains and beautiful surroundings, doing nothing, thinking of nothing. I thought: I must hold on to this experience. But once I was back in the Netherlands, I still had my entire report to write.

At one point a group of Dutch tourists came to the district as part of a pilot to see whether tourism could work. Being typically Dutch -  tall and blond - they were offered even more children than I was. They would walk around in tears because it was all so shocking. When I saw their encampment, I ran down the mountain. It was so nice to be able to speak Dutch and they had chocolate spread, chocolate and cheese with them. Never in my life have I appreciated a piece of cheese more.’