Written by United Planet volunteer Hallie Riggs.
Yesterday was by far the craziest day I have experienced in Nepal (or perhaps anywhere). It was the Festival of Colors. As it was explained to me, this holiday represents the end of seasons past, and the welcoming of summer. Sort of like our version of the summer solstice. It’s all about new beginnings. A fresh start. I love this, and I woke up early in the morning just about as excited as the kids outside my window, who were throwing colorful water and powder at everyone who passed by. Keep in mind, this was 9am.
I jumped out of bed and went up to have breakfast with my host family. They were introducing my baby sister, Alya, to her first experience of this holiday. Putting red powder on her forehead and cheeks, and then doing the same to mine. I was giddy with excitement as I looked at my face in the mirror and took pictures of everyone.
Now, I was warned by my family, as we sat around the kitchen table, that sometimes this day can get a little out of hand. They suggested that perhaps I should stay home and watch the festivities from the roof. But I knew that this was probably something I’d never experience again, and that I had to be a part of the action.
So after breakfast, I put on the oldest t-shirt and pants I had, and decided I would brave the walk to the orphanage (despite suggestions that I take a taxi). How bad could it be, right? A few water balloons here and there, no sweat. I wrapped my camera and wallet in a plastic bag, and walked out the door into what I quickly realized was absolute mayhem. I hadn’t even gotten out of the gates of Jayabageshwori (try saying that 5 times fast) and I was already drenched, head to toe. Now, I knew that girls were the particular target during this festival, but I think that hitting naive, wide-eyed, female tourists was the ultimate prize. Man, was I nailed. And let me just say that the balloons that these kids throw aren’t balloons at all. They’re thick little plastic bags. And when thrown at close range, they feel like they are setting your skin on fire as they explode. Honestly, I fought back tears from the pain about three times on my walk, or should I say desperate sprint, to the orphanage.
Safely inside the gates of OCCED, I was overjoyed to see all the kids. Though some of them were hardly recognizable, what with the state they were in. They caught me up on the war that had been going on with their surrounding neighbors, and I helped them to launch water balloons at the enemy over the walls of our fort. But our fight against the other houses quickly turned into a fight against one another. I became even more soaked and rainbow-bright… something I didn’t think was possible. After sneaking a few pictures of the kids, shielding my camera from the mayhem, I decided to make a run for it and find the closest cab driver. My walk from the gates of the orphanage to the taxi lasted only thirty seconds, but it felt like an eternity. It was as if every kid on the street had been anxiously waiting for me to come back outside. Their anticipation as I inched closer to them suddenly spilled over, and I was attacked on all sides. All of the shopkeepers and passersby held their stomachs as they laughed at me and shouted, “Happy Holi!”
And it was, very happy.