How Things Begin

I can’t explain to you the smell. If you’ve smelled shit, you’ve scented only a fifth of the putrescence that overwhelmed my nose and filled my mouth.

I was stuck on top of a van in the midst of a river of shit. Around me a huge crowd gathered, an ill-planned-for mob grasping for the goods we were distributing. I was only seventeen, and I was completely unprepared for what I was experiencing. The poverty and need was profound, the people absolutely desperate. I was completely failing to take it in or even cope, so I’d escaped to the roof to get as far away as I could.

Many people will criticise the practice of sending teenagers on trips to third-world countries, ostensibly helping an orphange here or a house-building program there. For me it was life changing. After we drove away, my limbs would not stop shaking. It wasn’t from fear. It was from the complete brain-altering reality I had just encountered. Had I not had that experience on that van, I would not be where I am right now.


I’m in Nepal. I’ve come here as part of journey that began on that van half my life ago. I’ve always been fascinated with how things begin. That first spark. The moment that, had it not happened, would change the world in unknowable ways. Most moments are made up of a tapestry of many others, woven together in the chaos of our lives. This moment is one that I’ve chosen.

It’s not that Nepal is particularly suited to this moment in my life. My life has had many twists and turns. In many ways I’ve felt carried by the current of my culture, responding to its flow by paddling in one direction or another. This is my attempt to step out of that stream, to find an eddy that I’ve seen forming for some time. Nepal just happened to be the next country on my list.

Our culture is obsessed with now, with new, with change, with more. My feeling is that these are mostly neutral things, not providing much benefit on their own. What I’m truly interested in is what deeply benefits us—as a society, as individuals, as humans connected to each other.

I believe there’s a story of now that I can listen for, that holds its own rewards if I can find it. I want to listen to my own heartbeat and the heartbeat of the humans I encounter. How do they sync up? I want to reconsider who qualifies as “in” and “out” of my social group. I want to examine small acts of kindness and the pursuit of empathy and generosity—things which, by doing them, create their own reward. I feel like there’s a secret here, something to unlock… if only I can find it.

So being here is my experiment. To pursue presence and gratitude, to strive to be personally generous and grow my connection to new friends, and the to share what I experience as best I can through nurturing, empathetic and generous storytelling here on this blog.