The following story is penned by the Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange & Study (YES) Program alumna, Aruba Binte Khalid, narrating her experience as a Pakistani participant for the Everest International Model United Nations (EIMUN) 2016 in Nepal under the Pakistan-U.S. Alumni Network’s regional travel grant. She, as a part of 8-member-team, won 7 out of 8 awards of the competition.
“Travel not to view landscapes but to acquire new eyes.”
A year ago, if someone had asked me to describe Nepal, I would not have said much but now, if I am asked I will say, “where should I start from?”
On 25th July 2016, I landed at the airport in Kathmandu amidst the hills and buildings. The valley on the first sight looked quite familiar. It reminded me of my hometown ‘Abbottabad’ which is located in Northern Pakistan. Although, I was traveling to participate at the Everest International Model United Nations (EIMUN) 2016, however, I had arrived three weeks prior to the conference in order to work with Youth Thinkers Society (YTS) Nepal and the U.S. Embassy in Nepal.
Kathmandu: Exploring the exquisite heart of Nepal
I still remember when I reached my host residence in the Lalitpur (an area of Kathmandu), the guests houses had quite fancy names like ‘Couch Potato’ and ‘Bread & Butter’. I was warmly welcomed by my pleasant Nepali hosts and two beautiful young ladies, one from Bangladesh who was interning at YTS and the other came to visit from the Netherlands.
It is amazing how in a span of a few weeks, I totally fell in love with the city. From its magnificent temples to winding streets and unparalleled scenic beauty, everything was captivating. I would delightedly mention that how I used to climb the 360 stairs of Swayambhunath (Monkey Temple) to reach at the top of the temple where one can have a picturesque view the city.
I still miss waking up early and walking to Patan Durbar, listening to the bells of a hundred temples, crowded streets of devotees, thousands of pigeons outside the temple of Krishna and morning chants by pundits. It is divine in itself to sit with the devotees at a temple, help in making Bhuj and serve it to hundreds of people despite all the religious or caste differences. Then, listening to life stories of old wise women draped in saris as I was learning how to make garlands for the temple.
Kathmandu Cravings: The Nepalese Food one can’t Miss!
Oh, do not even get me started on food. I can surely give up Biryani for Momos. I really mean it. Momos are the specialty of Nepal and you can have them in various forms with a variety of stuffing. I believe that the hot steaming Momos and local Nepali thali are the most scrumptious treats in the city. Initially, I had issues finding halal meat, however, my hosts would either bring a chicken from the farm or from a halal shop. They even took me out to halal restaurants so I could devour the halal food to my full.
I still look back at the endless jamming sessions at Fashion Delicacy (a local restaurant). I was never aware that Nepalese would be more obsessed with Pakistani dramas as compared to us. They knew the songs of Coke Studio on their fingertips and I must state that they hold immense reverence and love for Pakistanis. Almost every shopkeeper agrees to give you a huge discount on learning that you are from Pakistan. Well, that is definitely every woman’s dream. Thanks to Nepal that I have now become a master-chef of cheese and chocolate pancakes.
Diplomacy in Action: Learn, Grow and Inspire
Arranging EIMUN’16 has been the most enthralling and splendid experience of my life. It was the first time I was given an opportunity to fly abroad on my own and organize an international conference in a country I was never acquainted with before. EIMUN turned out to be a platform to learn, interact, and get inspired by young talented men and women. The conference was centered on the regional politics and contemporary issues pertaining to Central and South East Asia. It provided me a chance to interact with the representatives of various think tanks, senior representatives of the U.S. Embassy in Nepal and the Ambassadors of different countries of the region . I learned at the conference that no one can better understand the issues of this region than the youth of this region. We understand the importance of regional solidarity and no outer power can help us achieve it until we put aside our differences and work unanimously for it.
I could not have been more proud of the Pakistan-U.S. Alumni Network’s (PUAN) delegation which bagged seven awards out of eight awards and brilliantly represented Pakistan. Even two months after we arrived back in Pakistan, people could not forget the amusing mock Pakistani wedding that we arranged on the cultural night.
A Journey Beyond the Destination:
Growing up in Abbottabad, I always read and heard that the only reason behind the Indian subcontinent partition was that Hindus and Muslims could not live together. This perception was shattered when I saw a series of mosques in the middle of a busy city. It shattered again when I saw how respectable people were towards my religion, how they would compliment my headscarves and would even pray with me.
For the first time in my life, I did not hear any religious or racially insensitive remarks. My experience in Nepal taught me how life becomes a lot easier for everyone when a society chooses to become tolerant. Every religion in the world preaches love and peace, it is up to the people to make a difference.
I will title my experience as ‘amalgam of euphoric moments’. Last but not least, I will take a moment to mention a highlight of my trip which was a visit to the beautiful hill station of Pokhara. Along with our Afghan friends, we started biking on a difficult terrain at 4 AM along in order to reach Sarangkot. We witnessed the first ray of sun as it falls on the Annapurna peaks and jumped off a hill paragliding into clouds. I still remember strolling around river side, dining and enjoying beautiful music by some local singers. I have not seen a more serene place in a while.
This trip had been nothing short of a journey of self-realization for me. The life lessons I learned, the advice I gained and the moments I lived are worth any treasure. Not only did I learn a lot, but also acquired new vision and fostered wonderful friendships. It was definitely a time worth craving for.
As someone has beautifully said;
“cry for it was so good, after all it’s all about those meaningful connections.”
About EIMUN 2016
This was the third iteration of Everest International Model United, as a Regional MUN, focusing on the South and Central Asian Region, with support from the US Embassy in Nepal in collaboration with Youth Thinkers’ Society. EIMUN-III had an attendance of 200 young leaders from across Asia and beyond.