By Bella Butler EBS Editorial Assistant

For months, my trip to Nepal had been little more than an object: something pleasant to think about when battling through another slow shift at work, or a colorful mental picture to summon while watching the grey winter pass. I was always looking ahead, looking to that one day when I would be standing still in the glorified Himalayas, so far from everything I had ever known, but so close to everything I had ever wanted.

Then, like magic, one day became today, and the formerly intangible dream of Nepal became so real that my feet stood on its very ground.

That moment, though highly anticipated, was nothing my mind could have previously conjured. In the presence of a stranger, I stood and I stared. He was like a painting, his backdrop a peak encrusted with cascading ice and sharp black rock. He was small, maybe 5 feet tall, and he had leftovers from lunch on his left cheek. At first, he did not smile, but he met my curious stare with his own, studying my face as intently as a scientist studies his subject. Then something changed, and he smiled.

“Name?” he asked.

“Bella,” I replied, happy to exchange words. “And yours?”

He mumbled something back to me that I could not recreate with my own English-burdened tongue, but I nodded in comprehension nonetheless. We were at a soccer field in Namshe, a mountain village settled in the nook of a hill at about 11,500 feet.

Field might be a generous term for our location, as what really lay beneath us was a medium-sized plot of dirt. After touring some of the classrooms at the Namshe school, our group of eight American students claimed the space for a pick-up soccer match in a quest to make use of the treasured afternoon sunlight.

Five minutes into our amateur play, we noticed some eyes peering out at us from the doorway to the school above. We gestured for them to come down and join us, only half expecting them to accept. Sure enough, the peering eyes rapidly transformed into sprinting bodies, and within minutes, we had ourselves a game.

During our time in Nepal, we experienced a plethora of stark contrasts from our quaint little town of Big Sky in our even quainter state of Montana. I remember holding a crying baby, orphaned just months before, her twin just barely recovering in the bassinet below from a major heart defect; distributing small t-shirts and toys to children in a village that’s been set back hundreds of years by a tragic earthquake; and driving past a man, clothed in torn blankets and washed in dirt, stripped of life, his last moments spent begging on the side of the road.

These disparities were far from anything on my radar in the comfort of my “first world” country. But the disparities revealed in those moments provide for something bigger. Tsering Dolkar Llama, the center of the service aspect of our experience, shared a bit of wisdom. “The poverty, the cremation, the death, it is right in your face,” she said during a particularly dusty cab ride through the city center of Tamal. “But that being said, it keeps you grounded, it keeps you relevant to life.”

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Bella Butler (right) said the March trip to Nepal was her first, but it won’t be her last. PHOTO BY LUISA LOCKER

This, just one of the many insights Tsering imparted during our time with her, resonates with me. For it is these things that make the Nepalese people who they are. In my own town, I waved to each car I passed on my ride home from school one day, and received only one wave in return. On the trails in the Khumbu, each individual in passing wastes no time greeting you with “Namaste,” an acknowledgment that translates roughly to “I bless the divine in you,” and eye contact.

Nepalese people are gratuitous beyond measure; I was dumbfounded by a band of women who traveled miles out of their way to thank us for providing education for their children through Tsering’s Fund. The people we saw, and even the people we didn’t, appear to be living the simplest of lives. While beyond image, they each possess a treasure box with countless stories worth telling.

In the face of so many differences—religion, race, values, lifestyles, and the lot—the Nepalese people pushed us to dig deeper than we knew we could to find a common ground, one that exists for all of us across humanity.

This was revealed to me by the kids on the soccer field who blended themselves into our game, communicating through passes, cheering and high fives. It came out in other ways, too:, in the elderly Tibetan home we visited, I ate lunch with a woman named Tsering Choten, and over our meal we talked, but not in the conventional manner. “Do you know the language,” her eyes seemed to beg of me. “The language with no words?”

The general break from my routine life was enough the give me a new peace of mind, but the interactions, the things I witnessed and the things I felt brought me to an entirely new place I never knew existed.

Now, back in my home, back in school, back in my routine, all that I can do is miss it. From the people that won my heart to the views that stole my breath and the realities that captured my attention, Nepal opened a new door for me—one that will lead to many more adventures, near, far, and back to the place where it all started. Namaste.

Isabella (Bella) Butler is a senior at Lone Peak High School. The outdoor-oriented community of Big Sky she grew up in has shaped her life, and she loves to snowboard, hike, rock climb, and practice her writing outside. Butler is also a member of many clubs and organizations at her school.