Nepal: A Love Story

Nepal: A Love Story

(Clearly the featured image is not Nepal, but rather my parents on their wedding day in West Virginia in 1983). My parents met in Nepal in 1981. Dad describes this meeting as a humble event in chronological order. Mom describes a brief meeting with dad on her way to the hospital. She acquired a bloodstream infection from a hand cut, and some amoebic dysentery. (Very romantic). I grew up with these images of Nepal, and one of my favorite requests was, “Play a slideshow!” Dad organized rolls of faded Nepal slides and set…continue reading →

Nepal: A Love Story

(Clearly the featured image is not Nepal, but rather my parents on their wedding day in West Virginia in 1983).

My parents met in Nepal in 1981. Dad describes this meeting as a humble event in chronological order. Mom describes a brief meeting with dad on her way to the hospital. She acquired a bloodstream infection from a hand cut, and some amoebic dysentery. (Very romantic).

I grew up with these images of Nepal, and one of my favorite requests was, “Play a slideshow!” Dad organized rolls of faded Nepal slides and set up his dusty projector on a stack of National Geographics. The lights flicked off, and there was Nepal on the screen: bursting with mist and green, Himalayas soaring in the distance, wrinkled Nepali women laughing, screaming children being vaccinated with a sea of onlookers, and my parents donning 80s style gear.

Barpak 1981

1981: Barpak

Of course, all faraway places and “otherness” are romanticized, especially in the eyes of a child. My parents tried to keep their Nepal experience genuine, and always remembered to tell me the names of their Nepali friends and co-workers. And I knew, someday I would see those grainy screen images in real life. Someday, I knew I was going to Nepal.

My father, Gene, first went to Nepal in 1964. He was a small-town West Virginia kid with a forestry degree and previous experience as a USAID employee in Laos (during the Vietnam War)**. His mother (my dearest Grandma) was an ex-schoolteacher turned homemaker. His father, Pete, was an electrician for the railroad. I can’t imagine their reactions to dad’s adventures—reading smeared ink letters from the inside of their modest, but immaculate duplex. My devout grandma was no doubt praying each night for my father’s safe return.

42 Marpha & Dhalagiri, 1965

1965: Dad along the Kali Gandaki River (world’s deepest gorge) with Dhalagiri (mountain) in the background. 

Meanwhile, Dad helped establish several forest nurseries in the southern jungle of Nepal near the Indian border called the Terai. He was part of the USAID-financed forest inventory survey of the entire country of Nepal. He traveled to remote areas of Nepal with two Nepali foresters named Pal and Sharma. The group was “dropped off” by helicopters and later picked up at a designated spot (sometimes several days later than planned). This was prior to much tourism trekking, so dad was one of the first foreigners to visit some of the secluded areas. He was twenty-three years old. He celebrated his fifty-year Peace Corps reunion this summer.

After more traveling through East Africa and Europe after his first two-year Nepal stint, dad came back to Montana to work for the Forest Service. He went back to school for his teaching certificate, and taught school in the Flathead and at a job corps center in Ronan. Dad fell madly in love with Montana, especially the east side of the divide. He continued working jobs for the Forest Service, Youth Conservation Corps, and as a packer/guide for the Seven Lazy P Guest Ranch while also teaching school in Choteau.

My mom, Linda, grew up in Ohio and graduated from a nurse diploma program in 1969 and a BSN program in 1981. She worked multiple nursing positions in Ohio and Georgia. She saw an ad for a nurse position with the Tom Dooley Foundation in Nepal and thought, “This is exactly what I’m supposed to do.” She went to New York City for an interview and was sure she had landed the job. She was denied the position. Although she had strong nursing experience, she had little experience with overseas travel (minus two backpacking trips in Europe between nursing jobs). Another nurse, with more overseas travel was initially hired. Several weeks later, mom was contacted. The other nurse changed her mind, and mom was given the position.

Nurse Linda in rice field 1982

1982: Linda in a rice field.

In 1981, the Dooley Foundation/InterMed employed dad as an equipment manager in Nepal. He managed the solar refrigerator used for storing vaccines. He met mom in Gorkha in June of ’81. My mom had already been in country for several months. The two teams each consisted of one foreign nurse, two Nepali vaccinators, an interpreter, and 6 to 7 porters to pack gear. They traveled throughout villages in Nepal, living in tents and eating endless amounts of Dal baht (a staple meal of rice and lentils) while setting up temporary immunization clinics.

They spent roughly a year and a half in Nepal and became a couple in the summer of ’81. Mom says, “We fell in love with each other in Nepal.” They traveled through Burma, Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia after the Dooley Foundation trip ended. Mom came back to the states while dad continued travelling in Australia and New Zealand. She mailed some of dad’s belongings back with hers and met dad’s folks in West Virginia to drop off the belongings. Mom thought, “I’ll never follow another man again” and decided to move on with her plans.

Mom was broke from the travels, and worked temporarily at a nursing home in Ohio before finding employment again in Georgia. She was living with her ex-boyfriend and his new wife in Atlanta when dad contacted her.

Dad rode a Greyhound bus across country to West Virginia and then drove down to Georgia. He proposed to her in Georgia (although neither seem to remember the details of the proposal) and they were married in West Virginia in 1983. Neither returned to Nepal. Much has changed since 1983 when those grainy, dull-colored images were taken.

005

1983: Wedding pictures with Grandpa Kirk and Grandpa Pete. And a shotgun.

My birthday request this year was “Play a slideshow!” and the lights flicked off, and there was Nepal on screen. My parents still remembered everyone’s name. I know these images are of a past Nepal. These images will not be the same Nepal we see. This time, Ryan was able to see the images with me for the first time. And we both are so happy to be going.

 

**Correction: Dad was in Laos in ’68 after his first Nepal stint (not before).

This article has 12 comments

  1. linda Reply

    Thank you Sarah, you have listened to our stories well. We love you and Ryan, and we are looking forward to seeing Nepal through your eyes and stories. I just read your story to Dad; such wonderful memories….

  2. theSkyisPolkaDotted Reply

    **Correction: Dad was in Laos in 1968 (after his first stint in Nepal, not before).

  3. Amanda Kirkland Reply

    Great story! I love seeing Grandpa Kirk. I have very fond memories of him. Wishing you a wondrous trip to Nepal!

  4. Sara Walsh Reply

    Wonderful recounting of the story that’s now not just theirs, but yours too:) I’d forgotten that your dad was from WVa. We talked about it once because my grandfather was from there, too. I think we figured out we were probably related — as most people in WVA are… 😉

  5. Diane Inbody Reply

    Sarah, this is a beautiful love story…and beautifully written as welł. Too many stories are lost because no one ever writes them down. I cannot wait to hear your stories when you return. Happy Travels!

  6. Don Evjen Reply

    Great love story Sarah, now I see where you get your spirit for adventure!!

  7. Tony B. Ratliff, Sr. Reply

    Sarah, thank you for sharing that beautiful story. I grew up with your dad in WV. Even as a young lad, I knew he was special; always focused, always a finisher! As I recall, he was the only Eagle Scout in our troop. Thank you again!

  8. Ella Voise Reply

    What a beautiful story. I met your Mom while my step-father was in hospice care and I fell in love with her immediately. She was a fabulous nurse and so kind to my Mom during this trying time. I will have fond memories of her forever. Give her a big hug for me and tell your Dad hi. I think I met him once.

    1. theSkyisPolkaDotted Reply

      Thank you for the response, Ella. What an impact my mom has had in the hospice nursing world! Thank you for sharing.

  9. Lucy Sotar Reply

    A lovely story about two lovely people. (Correction — we went to Nepal in l963.) I didn’t know how much traveling around Nepal your mom did. She had to be very brave and strong to do that. Your dad was one of the nicest male PCVs. Unfortunately, he was always out trekking so we didn’t see him much. So glad that you and Ryan got to see Nepal for yourselves, altho your timing wasn’t too good!

    1. theSkyisPolkaDotted Reply

      Thanks for the response and date correction, Lucy! I can’t imagine dad doing anything but trekking. 🙂

Thoughts?