"Five minutes Madam... I've run out of petrol!" Our taxi driver has just run off on foot down a dark alleyway somewhere in Kathmandu, leaving me and the intrepid Vera, my 84 year old Mum, sitting in the back of his cab looking anxious. As we waited, a young Thamel hotel tout jumps into the cab, flashing a winning smile and the promise of luxurious accommodation for a fraction of the cost. I think, 'You cheeky so and so', he doesn't realise that Kathmandu is my second home and I have no intention of staying at the hotel he hopes to take us to. "On your bike, mate", I tell him, then shepherd him gently out the door.
The driver returns with a thousand apologies and we're moving again. Our vehicle, like most things in Nepal is held together mostly by Nepali ingenuity and will power. We're cocooned in a projectile that appears to be constructed entirely out of rust, builder's tape and divine intervention. Ah Nepal, where anything with wheels can and will be used as a cab.
I glance over to see that my Mum's knuckles have turned as white as the poor darling's hair. She's squeezing the door handle in a mighty grip, as our driver does his best to add to the chaos of the streets by weaving in and out of traffic. We pass shanty towns of plastic tarpaulin, beggars with missing limbs and Mum hasn't stopped coughing from the pollution since she arrived. I only hope she doesn't try and jump.
"What do you think so far Mum?" "Well, it's different!" she offers. Too right Vera. It most certainly is. Welcome to Kathmandu!
It's amazing that within the craziness of Nepal, our March to the Top team can pull together order out of such chaos, but they have. We have a precise itinerary that has been organised with 'military precision', so we won't be thrown into the deep end like my poor Mum.
It is true that visiting a developing country for the first time can be a real shock to the senses. The Tibetan traders loaded down with salt and yak butter may be gone, but Nepal is still a developing country. However, like my Mum, I am confident that our soldiers will soon warm to the 'No worry, chicken curry' mentality of such easy going people.
When our team arrives in Kathmandu, they will be greeted at the airport and in the days that follow, they will be carefully outfitted for our expedition and will have an opportunity to see a little of the city.
Kathmandu holds the densest collection of Unesco world heritage sights in the world, so Ben and the film crew will have some visually stunning locations from which to share our soldiers thoughts and feelings with folks back home in Canada.
We are hoping to visit the great Buddhist stupa of Boudhanath, home of another Canadian charity, the Vajra Vidya Foundation of Canada. The foundation supports a school for over six hundred underprivileged children from remote parts of the Himalaya, providing them with food, accommodation and education.
Kathmandu is a fitting starting point for our expedition. Our team will follow in the footsteps of the great Sir Edmund Hillary. Not only did Sir Ed 'march to the top' himself by summiting Everest, but he also used the opportunity to benefit others, as our soldiers are doing by being part of this wonderful expedition. Sir Ed founded schools and hospitals for Sherpa people who were physically isolated from Nepali society. Many of these are funded by the Sir Edmund Hillary Foundation of Canada .
Our CF vets are 'marching to the top' of Island Peak to raise awareness and support for returning military veterans who can be left feeling isolated within our own society. The True Patriot Love Foundation is a means by which Canadians can directly help those in our own communities, back here in Canada.
For our soldiers, leaving family and friends can be heartbreaking and I am sure to some of our team our trip to Nepal will bring with it reminders of departures of a more stressful nature. As one soldier told me, "I'm excited and nervous all at once... excited for the journey and experiences, nervous about the challenges ahead. Also the whole deal of telling everyone I'm leaving again...but only for a short time at least."
Despite the initial bumpy ride, my Mum loved her time in Nepal. After all, she's a rock star is my mum. She has an open mind and an open heart, which is what you need in the great adventure of life.
It is my hope that our soldiers will feel the same. Excitement and nerves are all part of the journey to a new tomorrow - a tomorrow that will not only benefit the soldiers on our team, but also returning military veterans right across Canada.
As the old saying goes, charity begins at home.
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