Sometimes you just have to throw the rulebook out the window – and that’s exactly what Maltese editor and content creator Hannah Cremona did when she made the move to Nepal, where she now lives with her Nepalese husband Niranjan.
Looking back on how her journey there started, Hannah explains that she has always loved to travel and had previously volunteered at a school called Maya Universe Academy, which provides free education to children in rural Nepal.
Then, in 2015, she was eager to hit the restart button on life and make new choices. So, in February that year, she finally took one of the hardest decisions she’s ever made and told her family that she would be leaving Malta.
“I started saving and making plans,” she says. “The journey wasn’t easy. In fact, it was highly emotional and scary. I often experienced anxiety regarding my finances too. I was scared that I wouldn’t ‘make it’ emotionally and professionally. I had a fear of loneliness in a very different culture.”
Her first destination would be the Maya Universe Academy again, where she was ready to dedicate nine months of time – or as much as her visa allowed – to the project. “When I wasn’t crashing with other volunteers, I had a little room I rented in a village house; a 20-minute hike away through the jungle and mango groves. Here electricity was scarce or weak, often going out for days after heavy storms. We collected water in large vessels from a nearby communal water spout (it was pristine!) and cooked our meals on an outdoor wood fire. Lacking any ‘scouting skills’, it would often take me an hour to make a cuppa!”
Then, the social enterprise she was setting up took her to Nepal’s capital, Kathmandu. It was during this time, when she was travelling back and forth from the village to Kathmandu, that she met Niranjan. They started a relationship and eventually got married.
Reflecting on life since then, she says it has changed in many ways. “The whole idea of making new friends and growing networks in your late 20s and early 30s was not something I thought would be tough,” she admits. “But I guess it was! Life in the village, despite being physically challenging, was an easier scenario – its laid-back attitude was perfect for me. Life in a new city can be lonely and heavy, and at the same time constantly all-encompassing and vibrant. It’s been an inspiring place to start working again as a freelancer; I’m enjoying the lifestyle so far.”
Describing her average day, she says she is a ‘typical’ freelancer – working through countless hours of screen time with the flexibility of taking breaks, naps and lunches without having to explain herself to anyone. “I love taking a weekday off to enjoy the countryside when everyone else is at work,’ she continues. “But I regularly need to leave my work-space (my kitchen) to attend to family rituals and gatherings – and they sometimes come unannounced and at the last minute. Any Nepali would agree that the ethnic group my husband belongs to has many of them!”
Her favourite thing about her new life is that this completely different culture challenges her on a daily basis, especially as she is married to a local and not living in Nepal as an expat. “Although they are often very compromising challenges that I face, I’m learning more about myself each day. And about the place itself; the fact that I can hop on my bike and be surrounded by nature is the best feeling ever.
“Meanwhile, living in such a vibrant city also allows me to connect with very interesting people – from natural healers to musicians and artists. There’s a certain attraction to highly-motivated and passionate people to drive positive change that I haven’t experienced before.”
But that’s not to say she doesn’t pine for a few things back home in Malta. “In no order of preference I miss: hobza (local bread), my dog, the sea, my family and my girlfriends,” she quips. “As much as we often feel claustrophobic in Malta due to its size, there’s something special about the bond between friends and family that I was lucky enough to have around growing up. Although miles apart now, those bonds are still strong.”
Hannah then shares tips for other would-be adventurers thinking of making a move. “Travel, explore and interact with as many cultures as you possibly can and learn from other people’s experiences,” she says. “But do remember that you don’t need to cross the world to ‘find yourself’. With the learning I have today, I might not have moved so far away, but I guess it’s what I needed to really break free and view my life from a different viewpoint, with new life lessons and experiences.
“Finally, really understand why you are making the move (if it’s long term). When you decide to pack those bags, be ready to drop all expectations! All is not always what it seems to be. Life is just as beautiful and tough no matter where you are.”