20 July 2009

Hundredth

It was going to be a very fortunate turn of events. I was going to be able to post my 100th Dash Does Kathmandu post on my very last day in Kathmandu. Ironically, that day we were plagued by power cuts, the origin of which no one really understood. "Is it Load Shedding Raj?"
"Load Shedding hoina, I don't know what it is Rob."

There you have it. My last meal at the Lazimpat Gallery Cafe and Raj finally uses my name instead of "sir".

My last day was filled with insane activity. I wanted to deliver Bejoy-guru (my Nepali teacher) a gift of white tea from China (apparently there is one type that is his favourite, not sure whether I found that one or not). I made a clothes delivery run to Rinzi's orphanage and managed to avoid being dragged in for a meal. To do all this I borrowed Sascha's bike and got myself horribly sunburnt on my final run through the mental streets of Kathmandu. I ran in to work to say my final goodbyes, deliver Chinese presents and steal all of my 2.6 GB of computer files I had collected over the course of the year.

This blog has now done its Dash. Plenty of humbling lessons. Plenty of fabulous friends (as mentioned beore, there is more than one for every day I have spent in Nepal). Beautiful countryide. Beautiful people.

Too many nights with Charpi. Too many goodbyes. Too many friends that I may never see again.

Goodbye Nepal. Good times were had.

10 July 2009

What's the Chinese word for Exhaustion?

You know how every time someone goes to the Great Wall of China, they go on about how "Great" it is?  "It's wider than a road...it's amazing....its not believable!"
 
Well, It's wider than a road...it's amazing....its not believable...humongous...its EPIC!
 
I somehow, after seeing many many photos and reading what is probably a great amount about it over the course of my life, still did not grasp the enormity of it.  Along the ridges of the beautiful naturally defencive hills north of Beijing the walls slinks up and down at horribly steep angles.  Angles that defy quadriceps, belief and the tons of rock that are sitting there to prove me wrong. The most amazing thing is how it keeps going as far as you can see.
 
I likened the moment I saw it to that moment when I first saw the grand canyon.  No amount of talking, writing or photograping can make anyone truly understand how great a wonder it is.  Any bandit or marauder insane enough to have a crack at scaling it had to be desperate or in greater fear of his master than of death itself, which is probably a testament to how scary some of the big bad guys they had in the olden days.  It's (see Mum I do know how to use apostrophe 'S') amazing what you can achieve with 4 bazillion megatons of rocks, and a limitless army of serfs to do your bidding.
 
We walked along the 8 km stretch from Jinshaling to Simatai after a hair raising early morning adventure to get there.  I apologise if you live anywhere in the vicinity of our hostel as we walked down the street at 6 in the morning swearing and yelling at each other for our lack of communication regarding the the day's (did it again) plans.  Catching subways, buses and negotiating with taxi drivers when all you know how to say in Mandarin ir "Yes", "No", "Thankyou" and "I don't want" is something of a test on already fried nerves I can tell you.  I actually think that I only learnt "Yes" and "No" part way through the day. 
 
Beijing is fairly simple to get around, if you have a thick skin and are prepared to work hard using every communication skill in your bag of tricks.  After yesterday's (haha!) trip I actuly understand why I met some people that came to Nepal who hated every second of it.  Any time you need something, someone somewhere is probably trying to take advantage of you.  That's really a little bit unfair, but I can understand if people in Nepal, who don't speak any of the language and are a little unsure of how much you should be spending on things feel like people are out to get you.
 
That said, we had a great time on the wall, our legs are screaming abuse and profanities at us although we still have another day to spend ion Beijing.  One more in Macau, one in Hong Kong, a lightening tour back through Kathmandu and I'll be seeing you all soon.

08 July 2009

Chinni Chaina! (No Sugar!)

Street food in Bangkok, rooftops of Hong Kong.  Met up with Archie (Rob), Poccy (Pat) and Megan Lui.

Made it to China...stop

Can't access Facebook, Blogger, or Skype...stop

Love to fam...iends..op

Conn...must...soon...stop

29 June 2009

At the Last Minute

So just as I was starting to think (ok worry) that the guys at work were gonna let me go with completely no fanfare at all, Mohan busted in on me and Khem during a meeting this morning and told him to make sure he was free at 6pm tonight for a party for Rob.

I said, "what's happening at 6?".

Mohan took a step back, and goes, "you understood me?"

"Yeah, my Nepali's not that bad. Come on, I've been here for a year. What's going on?"

"We are organising a program for you tonight."

He actually had to idea where were were going. But it seemed that more and more people knew about it. But no one was talking. I wasn't sure whether it was because they didn't want me to know or because nobody actually knew. I left work early because I have been ffeeleing a little sick and wanted to get better before leaving for Hong Kong, but I made sure that Mohan or Nhukesh would call me to let me know where I was supposed to go.

I passed out pretty soon after getting home and woke up at 5.45 with no missed calls and no clue where to go. I called Nhukesh, but mobile phone in Nepal make it impossible to understand even English speakers, let alone English speakers with broad Nepali accents. I eventually found the Marco Polo Hotel, which was the only thing I understood from out conversation. I called again and he told me to go tot he Windmill Restaurant, its well known and very close.

I spent the next half hour searching to the south and east and not a single person knew what I was talking about. Its amazing how when you really need people to understand you that you can't construct an intelligible sentence in Nepali nor can they speak any English at all.

Finally I did a loop back and found Mohan and Krishna standing almost outside the Marco Polo, and they led me out the back to the Wind BELL Restaurant. I mean, what the hell is a WINDBELL anyway?

Inside Dr Reeta, Dr Govinda, Nabin-daai and Khem-daai were already waiting. More of the guys slowly joined us until altogether there were about 20 of my TIlganga friends there. It wasn't long before KHem-daai was pouring me whiskeys and demanding that I have more. In true Nepali style the snacks kept coming and coming and coming. I knew I had to pace myself as a big meal of Daal Bhaat was just around the corner waiting for me to have one momo too many before making its appearance.

Bikram, who we discovered yesterday is 2 years my elder (much to his surprise), found out that I am partial to the occaisional beer. I have always found him to be so professional and curt, very strict in his conversations and not very likely to laugh, or smile. He apologised. "Rob, I am so sorry, if I knew that you liked to drink I would have had you over to my house. I didn't think you drinked." So there you go. 12 months, in almost the same office and bad communication had led us to believe that one may not want to be friiends with the other.

We got some great photos and they presented me with the most amazing present. A map of the disctricts of Nepal, in a beautiful model Nepali window (they have some of the most amazing wooden architecture adourning windows in Nepal). It is obnoxiously heavy, and I hope I can get it home OK, but I really do love it.

Nhukesh also gave me a special present, a rather smaller version of the above with a photo of us during the Festival Jatra in his village.

I had the most amazing impromptu night and I really hope my colleagues and friends realise how much I have appreciated them this year. They are such a great group of people.

Tapaailaaiharu dheri dhanyabaad!

26 June 2009

Ma American hoina

For God's sake. I went to the Chinese embassy this morning to collect our visa's and passports. After going through 2 levels of security and waiting for 15 minutes I find out that you can only collect passports from 3 in the afternoon.

Returning at 3 I waited in an entirely empty room waiting for someone to notice that I existed. When they did notice I went to the "pickup window" but was ushered to the one next to it that was labelled something else. Fine whatever, there's one guy on the other side of the glass, what do I care? He gave me a printout that said I had to pay them 66USD quiet as a churchmouse. Annoying as it is to constantly be given costs in US dollars I have unfortunately become accustomed to it. I took this to a seperate window where I was informed that I had to, in factm PAY in USD. THere is also an additional 2USD "handling charge".

The most infuriating this about this is that Nepali citizens can pay in Nepali rupees! I mean of all the insane shenanigans. "Tell you what, tell me the exchange rate, I'll work it out and I'll pay you in rupees." The cheerful Nepali guy about 7 years younger than me said "Not possible sir, you must pay in dollars."

"Tara ma American hoina! But I'm NOT AMERICAN! I don't wander around with US dollars in my pockets! What am I supposed to do???"

Apparently, what I am supposed to do is go to Thamel and buy some US dollars to pay for our visas. I simply cannot comprehend why it must be this way. Are the workers at the Chinese Embassy / Consulate or whatever you call it going to go on a big trip to America to go and eat pizza on Broadway? Why in the hell would they want USD? Here I am in the Chinese Embassy, there's a mute Chinese man on one side of presumably bullet proof glass, there's one 18 year-old Nepali demanding money from me in a currecny I don't have, haven't seen since 2005 and which I am developing a rather serious hatred for. I even hate it when people call the stuff "greenbacks".

But here I am with no other option than to get the money as the Chinese government has our passports. So I go, I get the exact amount I was told I would need in USD at an annoyingly high exchange rate (the universe is conspiring again...) and return. Nepali dude it all smiles as he says "Ummmm...sir you are picking up two passports? That means there are two handling fees".

TWO HANDLING FEES! What does that $4 go to, can you imagine? Perhaps changing that money from USD to Chinese Yuen or Nepali Rupees I bet. What the hell is going on?

In an amazing turn of fortunes a new Nepali guy had arrived and magically procuded a $2 note from his pocket. I bought it off him and left with another docket that I had to return to the bulletproof glass and hopefully use to get our passports back. This time someone was actually at the pickup window. I went there only to be ushered again to the mute Chinese lad who printed something else out, went to find our passports from the pile sitting at the Pickup Window. As the older gentleman who was actually seated there watched on in approval. The mute lad signed some forms and checked some stuff all while walking around the older man who continued to watch in avid fascination before mute boy then returned to me, silently gave me our passports and I left.

To this moment I'm not entirely sure what happened but I hope someone was watching me the whole time having a good laugh.

25 June 2009

Monsoon is Come

Three weeks of waiting. It has been driving me bonkers. You may choose to blame my recent irritibility on the sudden lack of living space I have developed since my brtoher moved in. You may choose to blame it on the fact that no one had any work for me until the month before I left. I choose the blame it on the fact that it has been stinking hot, occaisionally overcast but never raining and that monsoon has been pending for 3 weeks.

Well it arrived today and in amazing fashion. 5 minutes prior to me leaving work the heavens opened up with all manner of cats and dogs whining, barking and screeching their way through the sky to come crashing down all around us. It was like a cyclone. Perhaps if you are a Tracey, Larry or Katrina survivor then you will disagree. I mean, the only experience I had of any of those is that the price of bananas went up to $12/kilo for about 6 months. But this was insane, like nothing you have ever seen (assuming of course that you are not a Tracey, Larry or Katrina survivor). There were no rain drops, just sheets weighing metric f-tonne's and washing everything in sight away.

The brief 2 second dash from the carpark to the front gate through the sheets of cyclone-like rain had myself, Swifty and my bag completely drenched. Quite astutely I decided against riding home, and subjecting Reeta-didi to washing mud slash poo slash whatever other refuse is kicked up off the ground in a storm from my clothes. Plan was to a) find a taxi with a roof rack for my bike or b) the staff bus to get me and Swifty home.

The bus driver, who up unto this point (about 49 weeks into my experience) has done a bang-up job of not being able to speak much English at all, told me that the bus would be going the long way today and that would have to be dropped off last in the best English I have heard this side of the equator. With the other option being a ride through mud and muck, I said I didn't mind.

As the sweat from the heat and the water soaking my clothes started blending and giving me that uncomfortable itchy sensation you always get when you are wet and don't want to be, we started weaving our way along the Ring Road (which BTW looks exactly the same no matter what part of town you are in) and dropping off staff, Swifty up the back like a king on his horse. I watched as we took on tuk-tuks head on on the wrong side of the road along the (predominantly dry) streets. But inside the Ring Road was another story. As started heading north through town the sewers were showing their protest to 8 (dry) months of abuse in the form of trash and other waste matter being shoved down them at any opportunity. I saw motorbikes parked on the side of the road being washed away as the gutters turned from lumps of concrete to white water rapids (except that the water was brown and gross).

People stumbled along with umbrella's useless against the deluge and every man and his spade was out trying to clear gutters and sewers to try and stop the rising water level from entering their shops.

Monsoon is back and it feels exactly like it did when I arrived a year ago.

23 June 2009

Dear Dot Dot Dot...

Dear,

Charpi, thanks for the good times buddy. When I eventually leave, I will mention to the landloard that maybe you should be retired or at least fixed. Its nothing personal, but really, wetting yourself and the bathroom every time you don't been so good gets old.

Ganga, thanks for helping to improve my Nepali tirelessly and explaining what all the bandh's are about. And thanks for the political insights. I will always remember the Ilam First Flush.

Smiling Kiosk Dude, our conversations never went much further than our special handshake and 'how are you?'. You are a crazy entertaining guy. Sometimes, that special handshake was just what I needed. Keep it up.

Grumpy Fruit Man, eventually, I got you to smile. Remember that, turn that frown upside down!

Nawuraj, nothings news. Not today, but thanks for asking...every....day.

Mohan, no I'm not finished. Not yet.

Bhojaraj, thanks for the kiss. I didn't ask for it, but I know you enjoyed it none-the-less.

Happy Fruit Granny, BI! Bye-bye. Bye-bye....bye.

To the hundreds of people I have met in this last year. I can't describe it. Thanks team.




Dear,

Shorts, I can't wait to see you again.

Power/Electricity, I swear I won't take you for granted again.

Grass, I can't wait to feel you between my toes.

Ocean, counting down the days till I see you.

Australia, see you soon.

22 June 2009

EEEEEEP

There are seven days left. There are easily more than five activities, but I have had to cut down to just five. And here they are with a short description as on my TO DO list:

Dr Surman - co-author a paper on glaucoma without having seen the concept paper, the questionnaire or had a say in how the data was collected before becoming involved. In the remaining week, perhaps I will just help with the preparation of the manuscript and wait for the hard work once I am back home.

Dr Raba - prepare results on Age Related Macular Degeneration where once again my advice on data collection was ignored and I have been left with a horrible horrible mess to make some sense of. But she did take me and Tim out to her house for lunch the other day to say thankyou. [incidentally, her husband Dr Kiran works at Jess' hospital so we refer to them as 'my doctor' and 'her doctor']. My doctor and her doctor's kids are very shy, but cute and the little one has a car with only 2 wheels - really, its miraculous it goes anywhere...wait, this isn't about them.

Cost-Analysis - where I work trying to say how two eye clinics will be cost-effective in 15 years. It's kind of a long period of time so a demented monkey could probably do it. But I'm struggling.

PPVA - where we look at how blind people are before having cataract surgery. And then we compare them, and make such strange recommendations as "if we take services away from these people, we can give it to these people". It really makes you feel good.

My Report - so I have been here for a year. And I sort of need to say to everyone "HEY! Look what I did." Unfortunately, its so far down on the to-do pile that the place will fall down before I get to doing it. Add to that, probably no one will read it. So I guess the universe evens out and I shouldn't stress that much that it might not get done.

12 June 2009

My Last Resort

I told you about the bandas the other weekend. I didn't get the chance to tell you about our fantastic weekend. Rather than just sit listening to music, this time our visit to The Last Resort took in Canyoning and a High Ropes course I have wanted to try for months.

I remember reading about Canyoning in the Lonely Planet this time last year. When I was on a plane back to Australia from Italy. I was so excited. Waterfalls, abseiling, rock climbing, hidden areas you couldn't access any other way. I'm glad I did it, but I have to be honest, the experience itself was a little underwhelming. Kind of just like abseiling, but your shoes get wet.

[Rosie's already gone! AAAAAAHHHHHHH!]

Not like the ropes course. This was an amazing activity. This was one of the last weekends that I was going to have a chance to spend with a group of my friends together. Over the past and coming weeks, people have started to disappear. They are going home. Somehow I managed to land myself in a crowd that are all leaving within a month of each other.

I was paired with Sanjana, a great experience as we have never really had much one on one time. She was so nervous at the beginning. "No Rob. I can't do it, go without me!". At that point we were about 1 metre from the ground. As we approached the end she jumped onto the last platform and gave me a low (she's short) five. She made it through 7 stations, including one where I pretty much dropped her. Luckily we're still friends...




We were all so proud she made it. On the way back to Kathmandu in the bus, you should have heard her chattering away to her mother, telling her all about wht she had just accomplished.


[Flo and Ulli, the intrepid Austrian adventurers]

The bus ride back (after the banda business) provided one of the greatest feelings and views I have had here. As the sun set in the west, we could see 2 mountains ranges distinctly to the north and north-west. The sun had set over the rest of Nepal, but it was still dancing over the tops of the mountains to the north. Gradually, the north-western mountains became cast in shadow. For about 45 minutes, as our bus twisted left and right, climbing the hills to get back to Kathmandu, I craned my neck this way and that. Resting against the window when they were on my side, straining in my seat, and shifting the eggplants nestled between my legs (remember we took a bus that was free as a result of the banda, turns out it was delivering supplies to the Last Resort) so I could get a view when they were on the other side.

I briefly contemplated getting out my camera and making a feeble attempt to get a photo. They were too far away, and nothing, no photo or description could do the scene justice. Immediately words came into my hed to describe it, and the feeling I had just then. But even as they came to me I could feel them slipping away as I got closer to those Himals even as they got further away.

The time I saw the sun set below the clouds in Perth and rise again below them only to set over the ocean again wasn't as good as this. That time we were 4x4'ing in Moab, and above the desert of Utah you could see the snow covering the mountains. It was cool. But it wasn't this. That time we spent Australia Day of 2000 on top of Switzerland throwing snowballs at each other. That wasn't this either. Not even floating down the Seine on a houseboat, staring at the sky from the top of our boat.

You have probably heard me go on many times about what these mountains are like. But there really is nothing like them. Nothing in Australia, anyway. You have no idea how frustrating it is to know that if there was no pollution or dust in Kathmandu, that you could see these every day. That you could almost throw a rock at them. As it is, we may as well be living in the Sahara for the amount of times I have seen the mountains from my house.

I have lived here for a year, and although it's not my country, I still feel the pride that Sanjana does when she stares out at those beautiful mountains. I am going to miss you Nepal.
[not mine, stole this from here and it simply doesnt do it justice]

01 June 2009

"My Country, My Pride"

"So man, why don't these villagers just kick these rocks off to the side of the road so the buses can get through?"

"Well, these villagers put the rocks there."

"Oh...so if we try to move them they'll get upset?"

"...Yep."

My feeling on bandas is well documented. Imagine my surprise when I find myself wandering along a road next to an American named Chris (I think) explaining the finer details of this particular political stunt. Chris is a man who this time last week was actually standing on the top of Mount Everest which I found really creepy. Impressive, but creepy. In an aside, these guys seem to all be about town at the moment. If you aren't talking to someone who was on top of Everest this time last week then you are talking to someone about someone who was there.


We had just spent another glorious weekend at the Last Resort. Many of my friends will be leaving over the next month and it was kind of like our last hurrah. I organised a weekend of relaxing combined with a little adventure in canyoning and a high ropes course. The crew weren't all that enthused about the idea but tell you what, afterwards they agreed with me. It was LEGENDARY!

I think I will give you more on the activities later, this is yet another banda post. Ironically, on our way home, IN THE SAME TOWN as the banda with the burning tyres with the photo that makes me look guilty and menacing we were stopped by a banda. This one was was so far in progress that 2 dogs were actually taking a nap underneath the bus that was blocking the road. We actually knew about this one ahead of time and as one of the staff (Raju) went to check it out we milled around enjoying the scenery. It had rained enough overnight that we had a beautiful view of the hills around us. The Bote Koshi raging below. And there was the sweet squelching below my feet as I realised I had stood in a rather thick mud puddle.

We collected our backpacks and walked around the two buses parked in the middle of the road. We loaded ourselves onto another bus that was trapped between this banda and the next, and went along our merry way. Liz and Rosie on the roof, Sanjana, Katherine, Rory, Ulli, Flo, Richard, Rhian and myself wedged somewhere between a smelly t-shirt, 400 eggs and a bag of spinach.

We descended from our chariot again to walk through the next banda, and it was here I found myself next to Chris. Kind of ogling at the idea that this guy my age has been standing on top of the world last week. It turns out that the villagers were unhappy that the policemen in town collecting taxes had had a scuffle with someone over his or her willing to or not to pay their tax. I really don't know how you resolve an issue where the people that tell everyone to disperse and break it up (the police) are the people you are protesting against.

My dear Nepali friend Sanjana (who was also my partner through the glorious high ropes course) chimed in to help explain things to Chris. "My Country, My Pride. That's what we say. When I am standing out work looking out the window at the amazing mountains around me I just think, My Country, My Pride. But then I look down, and I see the sewers backing up because no one has collected the garbage in 10 days and I think 'my country, my pride'. This is kind of one of those moments."



It took us 5.5 hours to do a 3 hour bus ride.


Fast forward to today. There is a complete traffic ban. The "Newars" have declared a banda as they want an autonomous Newar state. The Newars are the most populous people in the Kathmandu Valley. I put them in inverted commas because there appears to be a great deal of suspiscion that the Maoists are really creating havoc behind the scenes and pulling the strings. It's kind of like someone declaring that Melbourne be declared an autonomously white-ruled zone.


As I rode to work there wasn't a single car or bus. There were about a total of 10 guys waving red flags trying to get people to band around them but for the most part people were ignoring them (or probably swearing under their breath because they would have to walk for 3 hours to get to work). Their demonstrations definitely lacked the militancy behind any kind of Maoist protest we have seen in the past.

I have got to the point where I now accept bandas as a regular occurence. But they can't expect this one to work...can they?

28 May 2009

The Third Gender

So, I alluded to it in my last post.

The Third Gender.

Does anyone else think that thatmeans the aliens have landed?

According to an article I read in the paper a few days ago, in the 2011 census, the third gender are going to be acknowledged for the first time. People will be able to identify themselves as 'Third Gender'. There will be a 'Male' box, a 'Female' box and a 'Third Gender' box. This is a landslide, a victory in many ways.

According to a random fact Rory threw out earlier today, 15% of Nepali's classify as Third Gender. To me, this is a surprising high number, but perhaps I am getting ahead of myself. What is Third Gender.

From what I understand, Third Gender is a umbrella term to describe "lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex" people. In my brief search I found that 2% of men and 1% of women in Australia identify as homosexual, I have no idea about the others. But at any rate this 15% number intrigues me.

The articles I have read suggest that the Nepali Supreme Court's decision to that the government repeal all discriminatory legislation against the Third Gender is a milestone for the community. I respect that. People have suggested, that even allowing people to identify as Third Gender in the census can help health policy as homosexuals are more at risk from HIV/AIDS etc.

I accept the value to human rights and anti-discrimination. But speaking as a data manager, (currently) a researcher and my general opinion, you can't just lump sexual preference in there with gender. They are two entirely seperate things. I think at the last hospital I worked at there were 5 options fo selecting gender and ZERO for selecting seual preference. Perhaps collection of that type of information would be incredibly useful. The privacy and sensibility of such a move would have to be debated and I have no intention of doing that here.

But as a data manager, the idea that 15% (if that is indeed an accurate number) of people will no longer be listed as male or female in the 2011 census is horrifying. I mean, what the hell will that do to the statistics, TO THE ANALYSIS???? ARGH! It blows my mind. OK, so you get a win in being abe to target health policies towards homosexual PEOPLE (not specifically men) or ttrans-gender or intersex, but you lose the ability to target health policies at do that same thing specifically at both women and men that have also ticked that box. Just because somebody has ticked the box to Third Gender because they are gay doesn't mean that they have changed body parts (they still have genitals). Women are one of the most underserved groups in Nepal (like most of the developing world) if the census (that a great many statistics are based on) don't accurately represent their number in any given population, they how good can any health policy or research be?

Yay to the Third Gender, but perhaps, a more practical implementation of it's meteoric rise?

26 May 2009

Security Meeting

Given the rise in protests and unruly behaviour on the streets of Kathmandu following the resignation of Chairman Prachanda, we had a security meeting. Herewith lie my minutes of said meeting.

Venue: The Lazy Gringo (I recommend the burritto)

Time: Was-meant-to-be-6pm-but-Rob-and-Jess-and-Gemma-and-Dee-come-to-think-of-it-were-late (6.45pm)

Date: 14 May, 2009

Moderator: Rob
Scriber: Jess
Present: Put your hand up if you’re not here. Kat, Gemma and Dee were not present (Gemma and Dee came soon enough though)

The group waived reading of the previous meeting’s minutes as there were none. As everyone had read Susan’s email with security questions, reading of that was also waived. For completeness’ sake, they are included here (but there’s nothing really funny in that part).

“Susan understands the security information that she is providing is still not very good. She is now on an sms link, and will be providing more pertinent updates throughout the day, thru sms and email.

This coming week she is having a meeting with the UN about being included in the Sitreps, and other UN information about security. She has continually begged for this inclusion since taking on the job in 2007. And it had fallen on deaf ears up until now. She is now receiving more updates on a daily basis from AusAID in Kathmandu.
· How are each of you feeling about the daily activities on the streets of Kathmandu?
· What sort of information are your Host Organisations providing to you?
· Are your Host Organisations willing to let you go home early if Susan instructs you to do so?
· How would your Host Organisations react if Susan told you to stay home for the day?
· Susan will ask you for details on email of your supervisor and counterpart mobile phone numbers, so that if necessary she will inform them that she has instructed you to stay at home
· What are the reactions of your family to the flurry of activities on the streets that they are hearing or reading about?
· In the Sanepa and Pulchowk/Kupondole/Jamsikhel area, are you taking precautions about getting home late at night? (The muggings are continuing).
· What about Lazimpat how is it there?
· What about your homes and flats? How secure are you feeling about your security in the house?
· The buddy system of smsing, has broken down already. If the city really hotted up, would you all agree to fulfil this requirement of sending sms messages for you and your buddies?”

ITEM 1 – Security Updates
The group agreed that although at the beginning information on the situation was hard to come by, Susan’s efforts were very good and they were happy with the information provided. Those working at iNGO’s were getting plenty of information, but those at Nepali NGO’s were not. It was decided that we should share informational emails especially from the UN (and not just the daily jokes).

ITEM 2 – Personal Feelings
The group agreed that the current demonstrations were a frustration but easy to navigate. All you had to do to fit into a crowd was grab a flag, an effigy and start burning stuff. But for the most part, demonstrations were avoided.

ITEM 3 – Going Home Early
Most agreed that Susan was in charge, and if she instructed us to go home there would be no problem. Just to be difficult Avi and Chrissy said that the UN would probably not be happy, but usually they would provide security where required, or would have ordered staff home before instructed by Susan.

The same conclusion was reached for Susan ordering AYADs to stay home for the day.

ITEM 4 – Updated Contacts
Susan requested AYADs to provide updated contact details for our counterparts and supervisors.
ACTION: Change the lightbulb in the bathroom – and then remember to email Susan the updated contacts.

ITEM 5 – Family Concerns
Everyone agreed that our families didn’t have the faintest idea what was going on, where Nepal was or what a Prachanda could do for you in the kitchen.

ITEM 6 – Patan Crime
Those in Patan said they were careful out at night and obeyed strict precautions against getting mugged. Woe betide the mugger that tries to steal Celeste’s ‘Last Cigarette’ (break into a Bon Jovi riff).

At this point, Rob interjected on the conversation and told everyone to shut the feck up as he had a meeting to finish.

ITEM 7 – Lazimpat Crime
What crime? Actually someone tried to steal Rob’s bike and he’s not happy about it. No one in the meeting really cared, so Chrissy went on the mention (via printed email in Rob’s hand) that she never walked alone at night but that we are pretty safe. Lazimpat’s AWESOME! [just like Barney]


ITEM 8 – Buddy System
The group disagreed that the system had broken down but that it was unrealistic to SMS Susan every night. Buddies could check on one another and report in to Susan in the unlikely event that someone was a) dead b) uncontactable or c) hooked up in Thamel on Friday night. There was no plan for buddies hooking up with one another and eloping to Pokhara*

Special thanks to the scribe for scribbling out the minutes (NOT).

Meeting Closure: The meeting was closed at about 7.30-ish, maybe? ‘Closing time - you don't have to go home but you can't stay here’.

*likelihood of event occurring – about 35.4%**
**not sure whether same sex marriage is legal in Nepal***
*** technically gay’s are now labelled as third gender, so potentially its not ‘same sex’****
**** what am I TALKING ABOUT?

23 May 2009

Characters >> Kamal

Kamal was our guide on our recent trip to Langtang and the Gosaikunda. Kamal is one of the most relaxed people I have ever met and a truly skilled, ingenious and resourceful human being.


Before becoming a guide, Kamal went to work (as many Nepali's do) abroad. He hoped to make enough money to send home to his wife so they could live a good life. He signed a contract, and had to pay a fee to the agent for finding him the work, along with his airfare, visas etc. He went with a bunch of other guys all committed to the same thing. They were going to be labourers on a worksite to build a new hospital in Saudi Arabia.

On arrival however, they were forced to sign new contracts, for less than half the pay and poorer conditions than they were expecting. Working it for a few weeks it became clear that Kamal was not going to be making enough money to feed himself, let alone send money home to his wife. He decided to take control.

He started making whiskey and rakshi and selling it on the black market. "I just buy the water bottles, refill them with rakshi, and no one know". Although he probably didn't make mint, he was doing well for himself and was happy that he was able to send money home. I can't remember how long he was at it. His biggest comcern seemed to be getting caught for working illegally, not for selling alcohol. Apparently he got away with that rather easily. "Oh, I am new here, I didn't know". I don't exactly buy that part, but that's how he tells it.

Eventually, that is what he got busted for. He was thrown in jail, and from what I have read, getting a trial or even someone to pay attention to you can be very difficult. "So I grew long beard, very long - I didn't like it". "I tell everyone that I am Muslim, I am not, but they called me the Nepali Muslim! The guys in there looked after me". He made money selling cigarettes and other things people needed (the Morgan Freeman of the Shawshank Redemption) - i have always wondered how someone goes about getting stuff to sell inside a jail, but he didn't really explain. He was still able to send money home apparently, and made more money on the inside than he did selling booze.

After three months, he was released and hightailed it back to Nepal and his wife Laxmi. He worked as a porter and using his ability to raise the best out of any situation worked his way to being a guide and now seems to live quite a comfortable life. He is very proud that his wife runs their tea shop and makes enough bank to look after the daily things while he makes enough money for school fees and books for their beautiful children. He and Laxmi make an odd couple, as they are from different castes, and he constantly fights a battle for acknowledgement with her father. Probably part of the reason he ventured abroad to try and make money.

I've been meaning to tell this story for ages, but was out at their tea shop today and it all came flooding back to me. His daughter Kiran tried to tell me a story, but there were far too many gods for me to keep up with, and she quickly gave up. She did tell a joke that she was very proud of, "there was a patient who loved a nurse. And then the patient gave the nurse an apple. But the doctor also loved her. But the nurse not know the men love with her. And then she asked why the patient gave her apple. He said, 'an apple today make the doctor go away'".

17 May 2009

I'm Not Lost

So many people seem to think that I am here to "find myself". I don't know why. It seems that a lot of people say that maybe because they're not interested in leaving their homes or jobs or families or friendships for a year. They don't understand why someone would be interested in that.

But I'm not lost. I'm not looking for myself and I don't need to find the inner me. I've never really had a problem with knowing who I was or what I wanted in life. Sure there have been time when I haven't known what I was going to do next. I think that's kind of normal. But when I do know what I want I have never really had a problem is making myself go after it.

I don't think that I have left family, relationships, friends, a career or a home behind. My time here has allowed me to grow closer to some friends, learn more about other ones and learn more about myself. Just because I'm not lost doesn't mean that I can't grow and learn and change who I am.

At the moment this place is my home. My flat here doesn't smell like someone else's house that I'm living in, but mine. I know the back streets between here and work better than I did in Ballarat. Its normal to see live chickens and pig carcasses riding on the back of a motorbike. To see goats waiting to be slaughtered at the butcher on the way to work and not see them on the way home. Smiling protesters lighting fire to tyres is just another occurrence to me now.

I've learnt about communication. Not so much how to do it with people with different backgrounds, education and language to myself, but about how I communicate, and the faults in my methods of communication. That's not just at work, but in my personal life as well. In my year long-long distance relationship. With my close friends and my family.

I have been coerced into reading books that I wouldn't have previously looked at twice in a bookshop. They have taught me about Islam, Buddhism, Christianity, development, foreign aid, and what makes for some really horrible writing. I have had the time to do many of the things that I would love to do at home but never get around to because of work and life. I have been learning a new language that 2 years ago I didn't even know I wanted to learn and two years from now may only have uses as an ice breaker in a dinner conversation or as a tourist back here.

By living here I have learnt about Hinduism and Nepali culture, about India, about Tibet. I have made new friends, some that I normally would not have made the time to get to know. Immediately here, you have something in common with another ex-pat. I found about the gloriousness of Hashing. I have become a more interesting and interested person.

Nope, I'm not lost.

13 May 2009

Nepali Class

My Nepali teacher is either the most tolerant man in the world or he swears all the way home. Today we did some revision. Revision of 10 months worth of Nepali class. Below are the sentences he asked me to translate, followed by the English version of what I did in Nepali.

1. Till now, I have not eaten anything.
>>Now I don't eat.

2. Have you been to Australia?
>> You have went to Australia?

3. I am not yet married
>> I have not do wedding.

4. Is Katherine learning French these days?
>>These days, Katherine learn French.

5. What were you doing at 7 yesterday evening?
>> Yesterday evening to at 7 at, you did what?

6. I was thinking of going to India this June.
>> In June, it is my opinion that India I go to.

7. It is hotter today.
>> It is hottest today.

8. Immediately after coming here, we started leaning Nepali.
>> We came here and then Nepali language learn...*&#@% what's the word for start?

9. He always feels tired.
>> He is everywhere happy.

10. He has a bad habit of drinking alcohol.
>> He is a alcohol drinking man.

11. How long have you been working at the hospital?
>> How many years have you been working? DAMN! At the hospital? I mean, How many years have you work at the hospital...I mean... DAMN! How long have you been working at the hospital? [WHEW]

12. Who is this for?
>> Who's is this?

13. He knows how to play chess but he doesn't play.
>>Actually I got that one right -> not bad eh?


Thankyou Bejoy, you are so patient....

07 May 2009

Shave and a Haircut, Two Bits

An introduction to the friendly (or not so friendly) horn in your average developing country.

"Toot!" - Hello, I am acknowledging your presence and just letting you know that I have seen you.  Also, if you have not yet seen me, I am here.

"TootToot" - Hello, I acknowledge your acknowledgement and am thanking you for the courtesy you afforded me.

"TootTootToot" - No worries, how ARE the wife and kids?  Its been so long since little Subas has been to visit.

"BIP!" - Excuse me, I'm coming through.

"BIPbipBIPbipBIPbipBIPbipBIP" - Sorry, my child appears to have taken over control of the steering wheel and is playing with its horn.

"BAAARRRRP!" - You ^*%(^#(* idiot, you're in my way and I almost died trying to miss [hit] you.

"BIIIIIIIIIIIIIIRRRRRRWWWWnnnnnnnnnnnn" - I'M COMING THROUGH THE TRAFFIC LIGHTS AT AN INCREDIBLY FAST SPEED and now i'm gooooooooooooonnnnnnnne"

"DOOTDOODOODLE IDDLYPOP!" [to the tune of A Spoonful of Sugar] - I have too much time on my hands and I have tinkered with my horn (i mean, the one on my my truck) to annoy the living hell out of you!

"DIDDLE-IIIIIDLE-DIDDLE-IIIIIDLE-DIDDLE-IIIIIDLE"  - sorry, I think its stuck.

"FFFFNOOOOOOOOORRRRRRHNNNNNN" - Maybe I can make this traffic jam move faster by blowing my horn.

"NGAK NGAK NGAK NGAK" - look at me I have a horn on my rickshaw that sounds like a DUCK [angry mob] "so, if she weighs more than a duck...she's a witch?  and therefore?  BURN HER!".

"Briiiiiiiing" - I am at the bottom of the food chain and I only have a crappy little bell - ummm... excuse me.


04 May 2009

Oh Banda My Banda

So I was sent home kind of early today, but it wasn't a celebration like one might often expect.  

Over the weekend things were kind fo crazy - a huge group of us went away to The Last Resort, a cool  little getaway near the Tibetan border for a weekend music festival.  As a festival it went off!  They have bungy and canyon swinging and high ropes courses and all kinds of adventure.  Or you can do what we did and just chill out for a brilliant evening of music.  

We spent Sunday lazing away in the sun enjoying some cards and poking fun at one another.  Three o'clock rolled up and it was time to leave  We spent about 20 minutes at the gate waiting to get across the suspension bridge due to some beurocratic issues, but eventually got on the bus and headed on our way.

Before too long we came to a bruidge upon which was a rather lazy looking group of smiling teenagers, who had just set fire to three or four tyres lying, rather unconveniently, in the middle of the road.  Quite pleased with themselves they were waving the flag of whatever political party they happen to be currently associated with, but generally standing around smiling at everyone.

As a general rule I object to bandhs, especially those where people are doing for the simple sake of setting something on fire or as an excuse to take the day off work.  This particular one (like many like it this Sunday just gone) were because the Prime Minister recently announced the sacking of the Chief of Army Staff of the Nepal Army.  This is big news.  Its hard to give the full story, because not only don't I know it, but it's intriguingly complicated and twisted.  

To summarise (badly) the Chief was responsible for the integration of the guerilla army into the regular army.  Which has to be about as much fun as integrating toothpicks to you behind.  Suffice to say, they have always hated each other and there's no love lost right now.  Apparently, the President disagrees with the reasons for the sacking and has announced that the PM's word doesn't count.  It's very difficult to really know who to listen to as Nepal is still without a constitution, so the powers held by certain positions are a little unclear.

The only thing that is certain is that you know you can rely on this story as I heard it from Liz who heard it from the guy on the bus who heard it from a reliable source that heard it from his cousin's husband's concubine's cat.  Who in turn heard it from the mouse he ate for breakfast.

The big news is actually that at 3pm today, Monday 4 May, 2009, the PM addressed the public.  This is why many of us were sent home.  No one knew what was going to happen at this point.  No one knew what he was going to say, and no one knew how anyone else was going to react.  As far as security goes, that's a good enough call for me to go home and shut the door.  It turns out that he resigned.  I heard this from the same source.  I really won't know what has actually happened, or what it means until I get to work tomorrow. BUT resigned!  It's BIG!  I mean, what the hell happens now?  For a long time he and the finance minister have threatened to take up their guins again.  Against whom, we weren't really certain.  A coup (or perhaps anti-coup, I'm not really sure how you can overthrow the government when you are the PM) has been suggested.

I think we just have to wait and see.  


[I'm trying to look unimpressed, unfortunately, due to my unfortunate pick of clothes that day,
 it seems to appear like I just lit the fire]

03 May 2009

Characters > Rory

The Rormeister is Katherine's boyfriend and has quit his job in the middle of the recession to come hang here with us for the last 3 months of Katherine's year.  After that he's gonna return to do a PHD at Yale.  Lucky bloke.  


He's been here almost a month and pretty much has been sick at any point where one would really rather not.  He doesn't make good decisions regarding food.  

Rob:  Chicken Rory?  Really?.  You've been on the toilet for 2 days.  Why not go with the veg?
Rory: No big cat...I've got a good feeling about this!
Rob: I think you should reconsider.
Rory: Oh, look at this a ham, cheese, toastie.
Rob: Ham, Rory?  Really?
Rory: You think no ham hey? Yeah, I suppose that's a good decision.  I'm glad you're here man, OK, Raj, just get me an Ice Cream Float.
Raj: Uh, sur, we madea  mistake on the menu, we can't do ice cream float, that one is meant to be coffee with ice cream in it.
Rory:  Well I don't want that!  That sounds horrible.  How about a milkshake?
Raj: We can't do milkshake sir, there's no power.  
Rory: Damn, I really wanted that too...
Raj: Well, we could do it manually for you.
Rory:   Oh no Raj, don't worry about it, get me the ice cream float.
Raj: Sir...the...
Rory: Yeah, yeah, no power, OK. I mean the coffee thing.
Rob: Good decision mate.
Rory: No, its not.  I HATE coffee man.

Recently, having suffered a 2 day session of intimate love-making with Charpi, Rory became my self-appointed poo doctor.  The man is an expert.  He warned me against taking too many drugs to combat it as I'd be stopped up for days.  However, after 2 days I was at the point where mainly clear water was making its way out my poop-hole, I thought it was time to put an end to it all.  Blocking myself up with immodium (Gastro-Stop) appeared not to be working, until I woke up on Friday.  

Rory: I told you not to use that stuff...you'll be a lucky man if you ever get to poop again, man!
Rob: You have no idea what it was like.  I couldn't go an hour without running to the toilet!
Rory: Of course I know what it was like.  You are talking with a man who has been having his own love affair with the toilet for the better part of three weeks.  I actually feel the best today that I have ever felt for my whole time in Nepal.  This is really quite a special moment.
Rob: But now I am totally stopped up. I need to go before the music festival this weekend!  I can't go riding on a bus for 3 hours like this!
Rory: you should have thought of that before you pumped yourself full of those drugs man.  I'm gonna tell you a story.  Its a story about the American Dream.  The American Dream is the one that just comes out, no effort, thought or exertion need be made on your part.  Wiping is purely optional because you don't really need to (but you do anyway).  That my friend, is the American Dream.  One day, it can be your dream. 


28 April 2009

I Dread What Will Happen Next

Life is full of doing those things that your parents always told you not to do. Don't get a tattoo, don't get a piercing, don't drink too much, don't be rude, don't hit your brother, don't taddle on people, don't smoke. I even remember my father telling me not to draw doodles on my school books, because if I was then it meant I most certainly wasn't concentrating on the work.

Perhaps its an inbuilt function that we rebel against our parents. But then, I have done many of those things (not the tattoo) mentioned with no second thought to what my parents taught or wanted from me. Did they put the idea in my head, or would I have done it anyway?

I dread to think what I will do next.







22 April 2009

Langtang by Camera

[took us 6 hours to realise that the driver didn't know there was supposed to be oil in the car]

[I guess there'll be no hot water this morning then?]

[no child, its my camera]

[playing in snow, i never get tired of it]

[Himalayas - word]

[mastered the hill of death]



[Kamal thought he'd check in on the wife and kids]

[still slightly delerious from the hill of death, hair's so long!]

[Jojo pretends to be unimpressed, those aren't clouds kids...]

[in a pathetic attempt to dry my clothes i hang them from the back of my pack during the day...it doesn't work]

[Krishna and Subas borrow our sunnies to avoid snow blindness]

[Clint surveys the Gosaikunda]

[there aren't words]

[our highest point, 4600m - Gosaikunda Pass]

[view from 4600m - Surya Peak ~5000]

19 April 2009

Singing in the Clouds

Dash: What you are about to do means I will lose my work.  Do you understand that?
Guy: What?
Dash: You are about to unplug my computer without asking me first.
Guy: ummmmm...[unplugs computer]...[awkward smile]
Dash: Whatever...go nuts [ walks out to make a cup of tea and somehow try to relax]
 
I just thought you might like to get the events leading up to this entry, just so you know where my head's at.  We appear to have moved into a building that is neither complete, safe or comfortable.  It turns one's thoughts to better times.
 
Like perhaps when Lauren and I recently visited Pokhara.  One of the highlights was when I ran off the side of a mountain with nothing but a Frenchman named Benoit and a parachute strapped to my back.  I was not committing suicide, I was in fact going paragliding and if I could sum it up it one word that would be hol-chocolate-ships-in-an-ice-cream-sundae!  Its not everyday that you run off the side of a mountain with a Frenchman named Benoit strapped to your back, in fact, it was an absolute first for me.
 
We couldn't see any mountains for the pollution but it was great to be up over the lake with the eagles soaring on thermal updrafts  We cruised around for half an hour and then dropped 500m straight at the lake in a thrilling couple of seconds. My only warning was '"put yo' 'andz 'ere" and bam.  I was screaming like an 8year-old on his first rollercoaster as we rushed toward certain death in a flaming (minus the flames) spiral!  ARRRRRGH!
 
Obviously we didn't die, and we landed with a rather majestic plop next to Lauren and her lunatic Dutchman, who had apparently been singing to the clouds.  

18 April 2009

Rain on my Parade

It was so hot.  It was totally impossible to concentrate. Our new building isn't finished, but we have still moved into it.  We don't have curtains, the guys in my office have some moral objection to opening windows, there's no fan and guys come in an out plugging and unplugging wires into and out of the walls causing my PC to switch itself on and off at regular intervals.  With the temperature hovering somewhere around 30 and humidity starting to go through the roof I was losing my mind and was just hoping against hope that it would rain!

In a flash of anger, my mind turned to the Red Dingo Australian restaurant in Patan that serves the most amazing thickshakes you will ever eat in your life.  There's nothing like making yourself fat to deal with emotional problems.  Following that I stopped in at Puri Sabji place.  So I followed up my thickshake that is so disgustingly unhealthy for you that you need a spoon to eat it by chewing on oily bread, fried potatoes and what is mostly oil.

I thought it wouldn't hurt to stop by Rosy's to see if I could get my stereo back for the barbeque we had planned the following day.  Bad decision.  Rosy was not home.  In the time it took to eat my two meals, and stop at Rosy's the weather had turning into something from a movie like the Perfect Storm.  At one point I rode through a mini willy-willy without realising it.  There was so much dust and wind I had to just shut my eytes and hope that I came out of it the other side.  It was so rough on the inside of that thing that I'm surprised I even stayed upright.

That's when the delude began. The rain was so heavy that I started thinking back to that Myth Busters episode where they tried to work out whether you get more wet by sprinting through the rain or by walking.  Conclusion?  I was out there way too long for it to make a difference.  As I pondered whether the water slowly seeping into my mouth was rainwater or gutterwater I realised that it probably didn't really make much of a difference.  The streets cleared and many people were caught out by the mini-cyclone that seemed to have gripped Kathmandu with only about one in every 100 people carrying an umbrella.  Everyone and everything was out to get me.  I even started to wonder if the world was doing it on purpose.

Of course, I made it home safely and realised that I owe myself a lot of money.  You see due to me negativity of late, I have instigated a system that Nunny referred to as my "Karmic rupe system" where I owe myself 100 rupees for each negative thought.  I think I better even out.

I had the most gorgeous chocloate thickshake at the Red Dingo.  O.....M.....G!

Following that, remember Puri Sabji?  The food so good that it prompted Brendan and Mike to develop a new system of currency?  Where every single item one buys can be broken down into PSU's.  Puri Sabji Units.  "Are you sure that you want to buy those brand spanking new awesome and gorgeously attractive spectacles?  You know, they're worth 100 PSU's.  You could feed a family Rob, do you want that on your conscience?"  Puri Sabji is also good for other reasons.  It takes them no time to prepare and it leaves you completely satisfied!  How could one not be satisfied?  Its oily bread, potato, oily soya beans all wrapped up in a nice little spicy oil sauce.  Pretty much, its like being in heaven.  And did I mention?  Puri Sabji has created its own currency!!!!

Unfortunately I missed Rosy, but as I struggled through the wind and dust to find my way out from her house I provided endless entertainment for the kids and dogs all well sheltered inside the shops from the storm.  Dustkciked up by the insane wind licked at my heels as I desperately tried to get home before the rain began.  I was too late, but the pleasing cool - that always comes with rain that was building all day - was such a relief.  The roads became mine as cars, tuk tuks and motorbikes disappeared in an instant.  I finally got the rain that I have been waiting for for weeks.  It has been so hot and dusty it was such a relief to get a drop of rain.  It brought back some memories of monsoon when I first arrived and was such a novice around here.

I made it home drenched, but full, content and could hear the pitter patter of rain on my roof.  ahhhhhh

Someone pedantic, work out how much I owe myself will you?

Ta.



15 April 2009

Thoughts Over Lunch (Chomper's Troubles)

Lunch.  Chilli.  Chow mein.  Black spot on the table.  Sahuji is washing dishes by the brick wall.  Fences, barbed wire.  Abandoned machinery.  Abandoned country.  Nepal.

Everywhere you look there are signs advertising businesses that get you "guaranteed visas" for Australia.  The US, the UK.  Switzerland.  Japan.  I've even seen the Phillipines.  Visas are not something that can be guaranteed ...anywhere as far as I know.  My quick google serach has suggested that getting a student visa for study in Australia could cost you up to $4500 and even then, the Australian Government might decide that you're not up to scratch.  There are signs for universities, jobs, permanent residency.  Emigration is big business and people will pay truckloads for it.

"Why is your country better than mine?"  I have been asked.  It wasn't accusatory.  It was remarkably innocent.  Well I think it was anyway.  Yet it still hit me like a persian sword through the belly, and left a marked impression, because it was asked 8 months ago.  I had absolutely no idea what to say in response then and I still have no idea now.  

You can understand why people want to go to Australia.  Its a great place.  It offers good universities, well paid jobs, power, water (in most places), roads on which you can fit more than a small bicycle and when it develops a pothole you can guarantee that someone has written an obstinate letter to the council.  For the elderly and school aged children, crossing the road doesn't have to be a 5 second course in Darwinism.  

Some people will go to Australia to study and bring their skills back here.  Some won't, if I were to hazard a guess, I'd suggest that its the minority.  As an Australian can you imagine how things would have to be for you to leave your home country just to make a living? Probably not.

Its sad that this is the case, but it is.  Is there one thing that we can put our fingers on and say, "if this weren't an issue anymore, poeople could live good prosperous lives in Nepal?"  If the government weren't corrupt, if there was power for businesses to thrive, if there was safe (or any) water to clean the dishes and feed the children.  If health services were distributed evenly.  If the roads were better eliminating, the geographical challenges that seperate vast areas of the country..  Just to think that if the World Health Organisation was really ever serious about "Health for All by 2000" they might have spent 10 minutes hearing about the issues facing Nepal and they might have revised their deadline?  Surely there are countries all over the world that have similar issues that are never just going to go away because WHO wishes it so in a feel-good policy.

Don't get me wrong.  Many people are thriving despite these setbacks.  But many are also suffering.  I don't know what my point is.  Perhaps its just that I would love to see people going abroad for the experience, or because they want to.  Not because they feel they have no options left in their homeland.

12 April 2009

April 12, 2009 - Sunday - Day 271

It's Easter Sunday .  I haven't written in more than a month.  I have been busy with the guys and Lauren here.  But even so, I have definitely had time to write.  I have forced down the compulsion to write anything because I don't want to have to confront these feelings.
 
I let myself get silly drunk last night.  I had hoped for a biggish gathering at my place following the Hash.  The Hash itself was an epic 2-3 hour death march that Rosie and I had to shortcut for our own sanity.  I was hoping for a bit gathering so that I wouldn't be alone long enough to realise that I am alone again for another 3 months.  There's a quarter and a bit left to this assignment and while part of me finds it very easy to deal with that and why I want to see it out, another part of me thinks that first part is totally insane and tries to talk him out of it.
 
Due to the death marching quality of yesterday's Hash our gathering was a relaxed group of 4, one fighting off nausea, and another fighting an uncontrollable urge to sleep while I determinedly ate too much for my stomach to hold in, between bouts of incessant chattering.  The other person was left to flit between the three of us and out rampaging illness, interfering emotions and uncontrollable fatigue/negativity -well not really, but none of us was really glowing with the fantasticness of the run that we just completed.
 
Today passed in a haze of desperate internet browsing, hangover food, cards, a nap and a 2 or 3 hours of solid reading.  All designed for the same thing, the same goal.  Don't let the brain have time to think lest dribble like this start pouring from my hand through a pen to paper.  I was desperate to find media - movies, music, news - or even gossip from friends back home to distract myself from the horrible realisation that 3 months is still an epic quarter of my assignment and I am living alone.
 
That, and that the Blues lost by 4 f'ings point to the Bombers yesterday in a clincher I should have been at, at the MCG.  Damn the internet and its ability to keep me informed wherever I am in the world.

07 April 2009

The Tang of Langtang

Some of you thought that it would happen.  But it didn't.  And I wasn't.  Or I shan't.  Maybe I couldn't.  But I don't remember.  And who really cares anyway?

Yes, its almost been an epic month since I last posted.  I have done so much in that time that my head has been exploding with the bloggability of it all.  Let's start at the very beginning (I have it on Julie Andrews authority that its a very good place to start).  You all thought that my friends Lauren, Jojo, Naomi, Clint and I were zipping off to Everest Base Camp for a romp in the snow before falling back down the hill again.  You'd be absolutely correct.  That's exactly what we thought we were doing as well.  However Yeti Airlines, did not appear to think that it wasthe best plan in the world.  In fact, they were so concerned with the last group of Aussies that they sent there were such a bad omen that they didn't want to send any more and cancelled our flights to Lukla (the most horrifying and probably one of highest air strips in the world) not once but twice.

Catching on that it just wasn't going to happen and obtaining the services of a very bouncy and happy little Nepali guide called Kamal (who has a very interesting life story that I will share another day) we re-organised our trip and decided to head into the Langtang range to the north of Kathmandu instead.  

You see, although Everest is very famous, the whole top third of Nepal is Himalaya and there are plenty of other places to go wandering through hills if you really feel like it. Luckily Langtang is accessible by car (well, sort of, there were roads in the parts that hadn't been wiped out by landslides or floods) and is remarkably less touristed than its sister regions Everest and Annapurna.

Day 1, Jojo on a mission to prove to himself that he can do... ummmm stuff like climbing hills almost died as the pollution in Kathmandu had basically turned his lungs into tarpits.  Determined to carry his bag all the way, by lunch time Kamal had taken over and was carrying not only Joe's but his own bag as well.  As we sat down to our dinner the rain came in and apparently brought some snow with us as it peppered the mountains above us with a beautiful little jacket of white.

Day 2, we got to the actual village of Langtang that was settled by Tibetan immigrants more than 900 years ago if I have my stories straight (which I probably have not).  There were a great many children running about our ankles as we investigated the town all with horribly runny noses, dirty faces and wind-blown cheeks.  

Apparently there's an Australian bloke that lives there who runs down and back from inside a few hours where we started 2 days before simply to check his email.  



Day 3, from Langtang village we crawled up an epic altitude that almost killed Jojo and had Clint speechless on account of altitude sickness at about 3800m from sea level.  Kamal and I were going to climb to one of the nearby peaks when a freak snowstorm blew up from Langtang and made visibility impossible.  

After a lunch sitting in a freezing dining room with no wood heater to keep us warm we rushed back to Langtang for the relative warmth of our sleeping bags only to be woken in the middle of the night by terrifying winds blowing through the cracks in the wall.

The rest of the days blurred together as I started to forget what day of teh week it was and what the outside world was like.  It was beautiful to spend time walking from  one teahouse to the next with everything I needed strapped to my back and the beaitiful mountains and jungles we walked through to see. 

We came  back down from Langtang, much to Naomi and Clint's relief as they were both very poorly from climbing so quickly the day before.  The down didn't last long before we started back up towards the east on our way to the Gosaikunda Lakes, a group of beautiful high altitude Himalayan lakes.  Lauren always led the pack, charging ahead at times about 20 minutes in front of everyone else.  Apparently she got some training in scooting up Mt Buninyong with textbooks in a backpack cos she was afraid of letting everyone else down.  In all honesty she just put us to shame.

Death threats were murmured about Kamal as he pushed us to our limits "just 30 minutes more, it couldn't be more than that, I promise" but we always took them back when we reached our destinations.  The walking was incredibly hard, but the views were spectacular and I think many of us were pushed beyond what we though were our physical limitations.  To quote Jojo "Rob, I'm having the time of my life...I can't lift my arms above my shoulders, but I'm having the time of my life".

Passing the lakes on the coldest night yet we started to see a pattern in the weather.  We would get beautiful morning with sunshine fresh snow underfoot and time temperatures.  But come 1 o'clock the cloud would set in bringing snow, hail, rain and misery.  Our moods always plummetted in the afternoon.  At one point I think I was carrying around an extra kilo because of the snow that had accumulated on my pack.

We had two porters, a 19 year old called Subas and a 50 something called Krishna.  Both were absolute guns.  Carrying Lauren, Naomi and Clint's packs they were absolute machines.  Charging ahead of us in the mornings, and always having our rooms ready and waiting for us by the time we arrived of an evening.  Krishna was a very pleasant old man, but he really kept to himself.  Subas was the real entertainer "Subas?  Do you know where the toilet is?"

"OK Mr Rob Daai"

"Yeah, OK.  But do you know where the toilet is?"

"OK, OK, OK"


Climbing the Pass after the lakes was the hardest except possibly for coming down them afterward.  That's where Clint had an innovative idea.  At one point he said "Rob, hold this" and promptly gave me his stick, sat down on his raincoat and toboggoned down the hill.  The man is a genius.  He even caught up to Lauren who had made a massive head start on us.  She turned around at one point to see a large man coming down the mountain at her on his belly screaming like a yeti.  Not before he got this cracker of a video of Kamal coming down after him.



There are plenty of other notables, including the Almost But Not Quite Nearly Snow Leopard Sighting (which I swore was really a Yeti), everyone was sick on something except for me, however I made up for that by trying to knee cap myself on a rock whlie walking down a mountain side over what was probably mainly ice.  There was the epic Middle of the Night Toilet FAIL (its supposed to go in the hole dufus) among others.  But that's enough for now.  



Enjoy the photos, and wish jealously that you took up a 12 month volunteer assignment in Nepal.


[for those of you receiving this by email - don't be lazy, visit the blog and actually see the photos, they're wicked!]

09 March 2009

Shooting Fish In a Barrell

A book with a title linking it to a rather epicly cynical life lesson. The Himalayan Book Club's latest effort was:



Unfortunately, again I found this book to be quite disappointing. When I say "again" its not that I read it twice and expected it to be better the second time around, but that this is not the first time I have been disappoo-inted in the promises set forth in a Himalayan Book Club book.

Fantastic premise.

In a "note to the reader", the author describes how she stumbled into an odd section of the library. Here ghosts had communicated stories through mediums (sometimes in languages never previously understood by the medium) about their lives. Saving Fish From Drowning was supposedly a story based on the actual tellings of Bibi Chen, a famous art-critique / collector / or something. She was to be going on a trip to China and Burma with some friends. Unfortunately, she was gruesomely murdered first. And that's where the story starts off. Bibi narrates the story as her friends continue to Burma without her. And, that "note to the reader" was just a pile of horse poop.

The grumpy and disparaging main character, Bibi, I found myself liking in spite of her prickly personality. She was a 60-something American immigrant who fled Shanghai with her family when the Communists took over. Initially narrating the story in a way only a ghost could, she ultimately had difficulty in having a lasting role throughout the later parts of the book.

She told us about the leadup to her death. And discussed rather amusingly how annoyed she was as she watched over her own funeral and was concerned for the welfare of her puppy Poochini. Normally, I would instantly annoyed with a person whose dog's name was Poochini, but that's probably not the first contradictive thing I have ever said. I found her dry wit and disdain for her "friends" very entertaining.

There were flashbacks to China, where she talked of the only character possibly more cantankerous and interesting than Bibi herself, the evil step-mother Sweet Ma. Probably the highlight of the book (a shame as it was in one of the first few chapters) was where she described how she had been paying for her hideous step-mother to stay in an old person's home described as "Death's Waiting Room".



When she became infirm, I put her in the best of senior residences, at great expense to myself. She was not grateful. She called it Death's Waiting Room. For years, I told myself to be patient, knowing she would soon die. Surely her explosive anger might cause a similar effect on the blood vessels or her brain or heart. She was nearly ninety-one and I only sixty-three when I passed her by and flew out of this world.

Oh, how she wept. She recalled our past together as such a rosy relationship that I wondered if she was more senile than I thought. Or could it be that she had actually had a change of heart? When I discerned the answer, I changed my mind about her as well. Whereas I once looked forward to her end, I now wish her a long, long life. Let her not leave Death's Waiting Room and join me as her companion in the afterlife.




Haha, oh dear.

Unfortunately it seemed as if it was all down hill from there. That was pretty much the last of the interesting insights to Bibi and the person she became as a result of Sweet Ma's love and affection.

As a ghost she followed her frineds through China and Burma as they made one horrible cultural faux-pas after another before getting themselves abducted in a forest by a tribe of jungle people hiding from the Burmese military regime. To summarise, the characters were boring and sex-obsessed. Quite disturbing when one of the couples to get it on in the jungle had an age gap of about 40 years. And if they didn't I only thought Heidi was in her mid-twenties because she was as equally immature and dopey as I am. Moff, her sexual deviant in crime was late 60's as far as I could tell and some kind of hippie trapped in the wrong decade.

The jungle people mistook young Rupert (a 15 year old) for a reincarnated Jesus in their bizarrely warped version of Christianity because he was carrying a book - they took to be the bible - and could perform card tricks. The rest whinged about their marriages, their incompetence, their lack of significant others or were simply forgotten by the author who, at points, seemed to also forget that Bibi was actually narrating the story. Bibi's insights and understanding of Buddhism, Chinese and Burmese culture all appeared to dry up as the book progressed. It became more and more frustrating and dull as the main characters made one appaling decision after another.

There was one or two references (in various forms) to Saving Fish From Drowning. One was totally literal, where a fisherman claimed to be actually saving them. The other (one paragraph later) was an argument about the US' role in the world, and how it goes in to save people from themselves but does as much collateral damage as it helps, but the book never really came to a head on the issue.

I think rather than save these from drowning, it might have been less painful to have just shot them in their barrel. Stay tuned for more book club rants...