Friday, May 18, 2012

Rolling with the rolling blackouts

Hey folks! Dave and I have landed in beautiful Bandipur Nepal, a quaint mountainous village that historically was on the India-Tibet trade route. Tourists have only started to visit here over the past 6 years after construction of a new road off a highway on a popular route for trekkers improved access to it. It feels like it could be a make believe village set up at Epcot Center's world showcase in Disney World. There are cobblestone streets with no motorized vehicles allowed, ("whew hoooooo!"), old houses with wooden shutters and slate roofs, historic relics and temples, and it is surrounded by multiple enthralling  hillside villages steeped in traditional Newari culture that are easy to walk to. There are supposed to be magnificent views of the monstrous mountain peaks, but unfortunately due to the pre-monsoon season, we have only caught glimpses of them masquerading themselves as clouds in the far off distance.

Watching villagers walk down steep hills to reach sparsely flowing community water taps to bath, wash their dishes and then carry heavy baskets of various size buckets of water back up the hill to home really makes you think twice about how often you need to flush, bath and determine how many buckets of water you really need to use to wash your body and hair.

As well, experiencing daily 12 to 14 hours a day of  load shedding (or intentional power outages due to lack of power supply) can really have you contemplating conservation. It's another reminder for me of how easy it is to have a false sense of unlimited resources when we have the privilege of living with such abundance of resources in our daily lives. Can you imagine what would happen in Europe and USA if the electricity was shut off for 12 hours a day to conserve resources? Even with generators chaos would surely ensue and businesses and daily functioning would likely become paralyzed. Or can you imagine having to walk around the block to carry your daily supply of water back home. How much would you use then? Just something to think about!

Politically, it really is an interesting time to be visiting Nepal. After years of conflict between the Maoist rebels and main opposition parties and several failed attempts at peace negotiations, all parties are now sitting together in parliament and are 9 days away from the latest deadline to construct a new constitution. There are regular strikes that shut down businesses, schools, and transportation due to varying conflicts. Some of which include the proposed desire to divide Nepal into states based on ethnicity and caste as well as various groups demanding their individual needs be included in the new constitution. One has to be really flexible when trying to decide when to transition from one place to another due to the occasional use of violence to enforce the strikes. This, aside from just loving it here, is part of why Dave and I have relaxed into staying in Bandipur for 2 weeks now, which hardly feels affected by the strikes and is an amazing place to feel confined. We will likely be heading to Pokara in the next day or so but no major trekking for me this time because I have decided to modify my trip!

In 10 days I am heading to Europe with Dave to do a road trip in his VW van through England, Ireland and ending in Southern France to do a yatra (or walking pilgrimage) through the country side! Then I will be heading to Florida and NY to see family and back to CO by the end of August! I am really excited about this new development in my journey and look forward to keeping you all apprised of  how it unfolds!

Arial view of Bandipur from a near by hike


On most walks you will come upon a large tree with a platform built around it to provide well needed shade. It makes for a great gathering site for locals to rest and visit.

Several of us lazy tourist watch the porters and wonder why they don't use rolling carts to transport their heavy loads especially in an area like this where they could! One of the many unanswered baffling outsider questions.

Inside the home of my friends Leela and Krishna

Krishna's crib


One of Dave's many fan club members. She adorned his pony tail with these lovely roses.

A new local monastery hosted a celebration on Buddha's birthday where there was a procession through the streets in which community members carried sacred scriptures and universal Buddhist flags, burnt incense, and chanted. This is a traditionally Hindu area but there appears to be a wide acceptance of religious differences.

Many of the children were dressed traditionally and were too stunning to describe!

See what I mean?

The dance party set to start at approximately 3:00 still had not gotten started by 4:30 due to the traditional droning on of political speeches of some sort, but luckily we caught the impromptu dress rehearsal.

Boy climbing the post of a large traditional Nepali swing on the monastery grounds

One of the villages Dave and I came upon during our ill-prepared 12 hour walk through the hills and valleys.

This woman in the middle had the whole village in stitches. Upon translation we found out she was telling Dave that she was going to make herself up, put on her jeans and baseball cap and go to the USA with him! She was actually pretty convincing even in pantomime and  Dave was relieved to find out that she was only joking.
The making of millet beer in a near by village.

Farmers working in a large rice paddy field.

Carrying food for cows.

Grinding corn for making Raksi, home made grain alcohol.

Young shepherd boy with a broken arm and very dirty cast.

Goat shepherds come in all shapes, sizes, colorful clothing and genders

I am intrigued by the variety of facial appearances in Nepal in a single region. In India it seemed like people had a certain look depending on the location you were in and if folks appeared different you could often peg what part of India they were from originally.

I could be wrong, but I am thinking you could probably fit a baby bottle through the slats of this play pen, in fact the space may be large enough for this little guy to escape!!! Not to mention he could easily strangle himself on those wires, but other than that I am sure it is perfectly safe!!!

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Weepy and weary in Kathmandu

Dave and I are in Kathmandu, Nepal now. I came without reading any guide book first… and was a little surprised by my presuppositions regarding what I would find. I imagined a small city surrounding a large Buddhist stupa with a view of the 22 - 29,000 ft peaks in a distance from any direction. The city is quite large, a bit dirtier than I expected and often too hazy to even spot the nearby rolling hills. None-the-less I love the beautiful and friendly people and the striking architecture.  

There are small alleys that lead to Alice in Wonderland like miniature doors which then lead to hidden courtyards with temples, shrines and living quarters inside. Many of the inhabited  buildings are ornate with beautiful wood carvings on the doors and windows but are dilapidated to the point of near crumbling. Walking down some of the streets can  make you feel like you are on a miniature set design of a historic city. Even I have to duck to go through some doors and to stand inside some of the rooms. You can imagine my delight when I bump my head on a door jam in that it is so rare that I feel averaged height, let alone “too tall” to make it through a door way!!!!!

Regarding weepy and weary…. Prior to arriving we spoke with a woman that has done some volunteer work with sex workers in Asia and she recommended the photography book, Fallen Angels. Dave and I found it on our first day in a local gallery and were engrossed in the tragic stories of current trafficking, child prostitution and abuse, which frequently occur throughout Nepal and India.

That same day we befriended four children begging at the local Monkey Temple and played with them for several hours until they followed us down the path towards their home in the evening. It reminded me of our friend Corrina, also a child with dirty clothes and poor hygiene who commonly begged in the streets of Bir, (See previous blog with photo subtitled “the most animated kid I know”). It wrenched my heart to say good-bye after establishing a sweet playful connection over the 3 weeks we were there. I was left with the uncomfortable feelings of… should I have tried to learn more about her situation, could I have done more, could I have caused harm or pain by loving and leaving? Similar thoughts to my time at the leprosy community of what does it mean to be helpful arose.

The next night walking the streets in Kathmandu we saw many street kids, an increasing problem in Nepal, wandering the streets. Most of them were stumbling or slumped over and high as a kite. The common drug of choice on the streets is inhaling dendrite, glue used for sticking rubber. It is used frequently because it is not illegal, it is commonly available, and it is cheap. It also slows down the body’s function and in part kids use it to decrease their appetite. At high doses it can severely affect your nervous system and cause death.

Dave noticed a group of kids that were obviously intoxicated exchanging money and inquired what they were doing. They pointed to two boys, the oldest appearing maybe 20 years old and the youngest the size of an 8 or 9 year old, but probably 12… with lacerations on their head and face. They were requesting money for medication and food. When questioned, they said that there was a fight and the other people had knives. Dave refused to give them money, but offered to get them to a doctor. The one wound, really looked horrible and needed stitches. They were reluctant but then hesitantly agreed. We walked down the street in the direction of the hospital, with them stumbling, veering off and eventually finding us again multiple times.  In the end, the youngest one already dodged off for good and the older one, who needed stitches, spoke to the most sober boy and walked off in the opposite direction… leaving the sober boy to shake his head and say good bye.

And as if that wasn’t sad enough, shortly after, a very skinny meek, boy wearing makeup approached Dave begging, but in a proposition like mannerism. We spoke with him for a little while and left feeling a bit drained and overwhelmed by the magnitude of suffering we witnessed in just one night.

After waking up weepy and weary I spoke to Dave about my reactions. And we discussed the difference between experiencing overwhelm and wanting a situation to be different with the desire to fix it, verses having an acceptance of the reality of the painful experience, while maintaining just pure compassion. This does not mean you are saying what is happening is alright, and that you don’t need to try to take action. But it actually encourages you to stay present with the reality of the sufferings that are happening in front of you and all over the world, allowing them to burst open your heart, which as I mentioned is not always pleasant, and let it motivate you to do whatever you can. While remaining  fully aware you may not be able to make a dent or a difference but choosing to do it anyway. A very rewarding, but challenging process for me to say the least!!!

May be a little long for some of you to get through… so if you did, thanks for listening and enjoy the photos!  We will be heading into the mountains soon! Much love! Jen

May be the most beautiful kid in Kathmandu!

But then again, I would never want to be the judge of that contest! 

Mah-valous fake nails

Porters carry unbelievably heavy loads throughout the city

Pagoda style temple in Durbar Square

Have you got your wires crossed?

Our friends at the monkey temple

Kathmandu from above

Prayer wheels at Swayambhunath, the monkey temple of Kathmandu

Butter candles for sale at the temple

The famous Boudhanath Stupa, one of the largest in the world.

A woman circling the entire stupa three times performing prostrations (a Buddhist prayer practice which includes a pattern of movements from standing to lying on the ground in reverence to their teacher and the teachings).

Jumbo Dave reaching up to the second story window

There are still political tensions with many rallies and strikes that happen frequently in Kathmandu.

Pasupatinath, burning ghats in kathmandu-

Peering curiosity

This hard working elder is wearing a typical Nepalese hat. 

More hard working elders! 

Sona, an incredibly clever and witty friend who invited us into her home to discuss Nepalese culture.

The carnival is in town and Dave is the one and only roadside attraction.