Thursday, April 28, 2011

April 14 -24: Nepal to home

April 14 

Baisakh 1 in the Bikram Sambat calendar. I hesitate to say Nepal new year because there is also Nepal Samvat and that new year is in November. I think Nepal Samvat is restricted to the KTM Valley – maybe it’s Newari, the ethnic people of the valley. Then there is the Tibetan new year which is in February (the lunar Chinese new year perhaps?)

April 15-16Kavre District Thulo Parsel

Up at 5 a.m., meet Bahadur and family at 6 a.m., to catch the 7 a.m. bus to their village.

[As we left the hotel there was evidence of an ‘incident’. Some large terracotta pots on the landings were overturned and cracked. In the lobby a large stainless steel floor ashtray (remember those?) was overturned. In the passageway from the lobby to the front door there was a scene of multiple decapitation! The passageway is decorated with four-foot dolls in traditional Tibetan dress. Two or three were knocked over with their heads lolling beside them. A mystery!]

The bus ride was hellish mostly because of the screeching Indian music. The women singers sounded like Alvin the Chipmunk with his balls caught in a mangle. Add Mantovani violins and bombastic John Williams arrangements – mind-numbing even with ear plugs.

After we left the paved road Ian got on top of the bus! A young man took his seat and struck up a conversation with me. How did he think that was possible?! Ian enjoyed the top of the bus and took lots of pix. The drop-offs were shear, long and unprotected. Because the road is so narrow the front of the bus actually goes over the drop-off while the front wheels stay on the road.

Six and a half hours later we arrived. A big change from 1989 when it took a 2 or 3 hour bus ride and two days trekking.

A big change at the farm is that they have a bio-gas plant. They use buffalo and ox dung to create gas for cooking. They still burn wood and corn cobs too but much less than before. A Dutch NGO put lots of them in the village. Two buffalo and two oxen create enough gas to cook for 4 or 5 people for a day.

Another change is that the village is wired for electricity. They only have it about 6 hours a day (load shedding) and only have 8 light bulbs (no espresso machines) but it’s progress.

We watched 3 or 4 women harvest a wheat field beside Bahadur’s house. They used small hand scythes. They cut and bound the sheaves and lay them down where they cut them. Eventually they made piles of sheaves about 5x3x3 feet that they bound together then lifted onto their backs and carried away. The field was about the size of baseball diamond. They worked from morning ‘til night and part of the next day.

Ian walked with Phursang when she took the goats out to graze. He didn’t know what he was in for! They came back about three hours later. Ian was exhausted and he wasn’t carrying a huge basket of fodder on his back like Phursang.

Later in the day Phursang was helping her friend. They were carrying big bags of sand on their backs. All the portering is done with the load suspended from a band around the forehead. It gives me whiplash just watching.

The village, fields and terraces were mostly brown. Planting will start after the rain starts.

A second benefit from the bio-gas plant is that the dung is still available as fertilizer after the gas is extracted. The mechanism ‘vomits’ (that was Marsang’s word) the used dung into a holding ‘pond’. It’s shoveled out, dried out and then carried to their fields. Ian and I marveled at the fact that ‘poor little Nepal’ is using such sensible practices while at home we use one valuable resource – water – to get rid of another valuable resource – shit. The Fraser Valley could produce masses of energy with all the cattle, horses, chickens they have.

We saw a man ploughing his field (two oxen and a wooden hand plough). I asked Bahadur why he was doing it so early. He had put his dung on the field too early and had to plough it in before the wind blew it away.
Bahadur killed one of his roosters for dinner. It was tasty and surprisingly tender. I didn’t witness the slaughter but was surprised to see it with his head still on.

I learned that nanny goats have litters. There were lots of kids around but only three nannies. I asked if they bought some kids. Marsang had to explain the facts of goat life to me.

Mom, Bahadur’s mother, took our facial features one by one – nose, chin, eye, the other eye, cheek, the other cheek in her fingers and then kissed her fingers. Then one breast, the other breast, then my crotch. She showed some discretion in not going for Ian’s crotch!

Ian and I were having a lie-down. Mom came into the room and motioned for me to kiss Ian. I did. Mom laughed and cackled and ran out of the room. I felt like a porn star.

Bahadur took us to the village temple. Someone unlocked the door for us and before too long a monk showed up – kind of a rough, countryside monk – no fancy manicure like the guys in Cambodia. There was an icon of Bairab. I’ve forgotten what his role is but I’m curious to find out.

April 17: Boudha

We hired an SUV for the return voyage – 3 hours in blessed peace and quiet. When we got back to Boudha there was some festival underway around the stupa. Apparently a 3 day Tamang affair that goes from Boudha to Swayambu to who knows where.

Ian and I went out – just to walk 100 meters to a coffee bar. We got caught in a bottleneck of humanity. I felt panic rising. I thought about people being trampled to death and understood viscerally how that’s possible. Just as the panic was rising the bottleneck eased and we were spilled into an open space a few steps from our destination.

The festivities went on until 10 p.m. It was more carnival-like than spiritual – dancing, screeching music from enormous but ineffective sound systems, popcorn, food stalls, flute sellers. But there was also a lot of rice being strewn about and burned, incense and chanting. We learned that it’s mostly a Tamang women’s thing and it is about honouring dead relatives and ancestors.

April 18: Women's Foundation

Ian and I emerged from our hotel on Monday morning feeling safe – that the revelers had moved on to another holy site. But … there was another event underway! Purnima, the monthly full moon hoopla. More chanting, burning and drumming.

Ian and I went to Arunima Secondary to meet Kesab Joshi. He was proud and happy to show us nothing – classroom after classroom with nothing in them except some old wooden desks. He’s looking for help to attract English speaking volunteers.

Then on to the Women’s Foundation just to say hello. Suzanne mentioned something about a video and – BAM – we were right into it. We worked from 1 to 6 p.m. shooting the Production Center, the office, Mother’s Home. The more I see the more I realize that the need is bottomless. And that’s only in social services – education, housing, health.

All the children at Mother’s Home have been sexually abused and have been rescued, apprehended from their abusers. One girl was gambled away by her father to a man who married her to his leper son! The WF mobilized the government to intervene and annul the marriage. 

April 20, 21, 22: Ayurveda Health Home

The cast: 
  • Vladimir, Russian PR tycoon with a New Age twist. Bald, shiny head, intense blue eyes and a very smooth, deceiving complexion. He had some laser treatment to decrease the prominence of some scarring on his fright jaw and now he looks about 25 though he is 40.
  • Sylvia and her 13 yo daughter Milena. Sylvia is an Ayurveda junkie and comes every year from Austria for an overhaul.
  • Gerry. Rich American Maharishi devotee with bad skin and a proselytizing bent. I heard her discussing (read lecturing) various people about TM and the Maharishi and the Vedas and diet and basti (enemas). She even cornered Ian and somehow connected concern about some modern day plague like pollution to the myth of Ravenna and what the Maharishi said.
  • Mary, Gerry’s companion and caregiver. Also a Maharishi devotee but toned down and doing her own thing while Gerry does the full meal Ayurvedic deal.
Gerry and Mary – 6 weeks and counting.
Vladimir – 28 days.
Sylvia and Milena 14 days.
Us – 3 days!

They are very into Ayurveda, enemas and all. Ian and I just want to relax and get the smog out of our lungs.

April 23:  Child Haven

In the p.m. we went up to Child Haven. We saw lots of kids and didi’s. It was humbling to realize that everyone didn’t remember my name and hadn’t been thinking of me non-stop since 2008! But we got a warm welcome regardless. I was very happy to be there. Ian said I was radiant!

We spoke with Ruth, a volunteer from Sydney, BC. I liked her attitude.

Who did I see? Nirmala, still very quiet.
Kalpana, leaning toward fashion design of all things! She and Priyanka mimicked Ruth and me and were howling with laughter.
Shreejana, wearing stylish glasses now. She made a point of giving us a serious, heartfelt goodbye at the gate.
Damodar walked out with us. He’s starting grade 10 and doesn’t seem very optimistic about his future.
Raju – Ian told him he’d be a good model – so good-looking. I think he actually blushed.
Tiluk – tall, confident, handsome, despite his scars. I told Ruth what a creative artist he is.
Lalit - wouldn’t come close.
Iswora – adolescent stand-offishness
Meera, Neeru, Padam and Dolma and many more I didn’t know.
That ol’ bottomless need.

April 24: Last half day in KTM

6 a.m. to Durbar Square – got to get some tourist activity in.
Puja, puja, puja. Incense, marigolds, bell ringing, vermillion tikkas.
In Boudha it’s Buddha, in Kathmandu it’s Kali and Krishna – but it’s all devout, ordinary and integral.

Thunder and lightening storm when we arrived in BKK. A dark and stormy night, the sky lit up pink with sheets of lightning.

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