Sunday, September 29, 2013

Holey Friday, Boudha, and Hiking

This past weekend was really fun because I had a lot of free time, no big assignments to worry about, and I'm feeling really comfortable in Kathmandu.

On Friday, my friends and I were casually talking about piercings and tattoos. We asked one of our language teachers about a good place to get such things, and next thing I knew we were wandering around and found the place. I was with 6 other girls, and we all ended up getting piercings. Because so many of us got piercings, I got my nose piercing down from 500 to 400 Rs ($4). If I had done that back home, it would've been around $50! The needle was the most painful thing in the world, but right now, I can barely feel it or see it. My friend got an industrial and it looked like she was dying. It looks cool now though! I'm loving my nose piercing! All the Nepalese have it on their left side, so that's where I got it.

getting poked

post poke

a tiny li'l bugger

On Saturday, I went to Boudha with some friends. We took a couple buses to get there which was fun and cheap. Boudha is the largest Buddhist stupa in Nepal. It's a nice place to hang out because it's so peaceful. There's a huge Tibetan immigrant population there. The Tibet study abroad program is located about five minutes away from Boudha.

The following pictures of the Boudha stupa are from the view from the internet cafe I was in. They may all look the same, but look for tourists doing weird things.

Tourists doing yoga poses (?)

More yoga poses?

The best way to study!
Today (Sunday),  I went for a hike with the same people. Again we took buses, this time about an hour long. We were probably nearly outside the valley. We went on a hike and saw some waterfalls and waded around in the river. At one point we had to pay to go into a national park area. My friends paid 250 rupees and I talked my way into a Nepali rate of 10 rupees. score.
Super clear (but not necessarily clean) river.

Tansen: Extra bits

Reminder: you can click on pictures to see a larger version.

Square man-holes? These are circular back home because if it's square shaped, the lid can fall in diagonally.

Why use the trash can when you can just burn your trash? yikes.

My dream building as a child - purple everywhere.

Shiva mandir. Andrew is pulling a string attached to many bells, so you can ring them all at once.


The last morning in Palpa, I hiked up the hill with some others and watched the sunrise. We climbed an observation tower to get a really great view. We were hoping to see the Himalayas, but it was too cloudy. So early, so worth it.

Above the tall trees at dawn.

Nearly sunrise.

The sun came up so fast! look away for a minute and you'd miss it.

View down from observation tower. Three specks are my friends waiting for us to drop a frisbee.

The White Lake at dawn.

Sometimes, grammar is important.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Tansen: Moms, a Hosptial, & Coffee

The next set of excursions included an women's group, called the aamaa's group, a hospital visit, and a coffee cooperative.

We met the aamaa's group in Madan Pokhara, the same location of the community forestry and Radio Nepal. They served us a huge lunch, then started telling us about themselves. Their objectives for the group were to be self sufficient, spread women empowerment, environmental cleanliness, health awareness, and fight "bad behavior" (heavy drinking, corruption, etc). To be a part of the group, they have to be a mother. During the discussion, 5 of their cell phones went off - my neighbor and I kept track. They sounded pretty successful with their goals by helping people to stop drinking and almost all the women in the area area part of the group. They said that fathers and husbands were supportive of the group. It was interesting because after their speech, they asked us for feedback on how to improve, which no other organization had asked for. They also asked us questions like, "why did we come to Nepal?" and, "how are the women in Nepal different from the ones in America?"
Finally, they started dancing and convinced everybody to dance too. It was fun!
aamaa's group - all the women wore red saris.

Beautiful hills.
We visited a United Mission Hospital and received a presentation by a white, British lady - our first presentation in fluent English or without a translator. We got the usual speech about what they're up to and how great they are. I thought it was interesting because the hospital is a missionary church, but you don't have to be Christian to be treated, nor do they attempt to convert patients. The director said they ask if they can pray for the patients, and people usually seem to appreciate that. Later for an assignment, I interviewed some locals about their healthcare and all the families love the hospital. They like that it's foreign, so the medicine seems more trustworthy. It's also affordable and near by. The other option, a new teaching hospital has long waits and the Nepali doctors are "lazy." I think this hospital is still trying to get on its feet and locals aren't used to it yet.
Hospital in Palpa

More green hills.
We took the jeeps out to a coffee co-op. It's government registered and regulated, but not run. The members don't like doing the bureaucratic stuff. The co-op requires a monthly fee, which they use to make a local banking system. It was interesting because they just got an espresso machine, but they have no idea how to use it, so one of my friend's showed them how it worked. They also gave us coffee - and it was so delicious I had 2 cups! But it was Nepali coffee, so it had tons of sugar in it, which is probably why I liked it.

Later they took us on a little tour of their the jungle. I need to stay away from jungles, that's where the LARGE spiders live. I heard my classmates exclaiming behind me, and one of my friends told me not to look up or to my left. I asked how big they were later - monstrosities.
Mollie teaching the co-op how to use the espresso machine. She said she didn't really know how to work it, but after being a barista, she had enough knowledge to teach some of the buttons' functions.

Coffee beans

Giant banana leaves

Pest control: Sticky panels catch bugs. Someone asked, "what happens if it doesn't catch all the pests and they eat the coffee?" The farmer said, "eh, ke garne?" meaning, "what to do?" They just roll with it.

Tansen: Radio, Forestry, Conservation, and Dakka

Our days were packed with little excursions to learn about different bits of development and community groups. We departed in 3 jeeps, each crammed with about 9 people.

First, we went to Radio Nepal, a community radio in Madan Pokhara (not the Pokhara near Annapurna). It was about a 45 minute jeep ride away, but basically Tansen's neighbor. The radio station broadcasts news, entertainment, and education. They market themselves as helping to preserve culture, language, and reduce poverty by reducing illiteracy. They gave and example that Dalits (untouchables) can't enter a Brahman or Chhetri household, but they could express their opinions and lifestyle through radio and enter their houses that way.
SIT donated a small radio. Radio Nepal will hold a competition and whoever wins will receive the radio. 

We did a short jungle walk after the radio talk. It was pleasant until we left the path and waded through a sea of giant spiders. Yeah, spiders again (I'm starting to sound like the boy who cried wolf), but these were GIANT. Right now, I'm sitting in my room keeping an eye on an extremely mobile spider, but it bugs (pun intended) me less because compared to jungle spiders, it's the lesser of 2 evils. I'm waiting for my room ecosystem to kick in: spiders eat the mosquitoes that keep eating me every night, and the 3 lizards in my room eat the spiders. Currently, no one is eating the correct prey. Come on, nature.
In the jungle, pre-spider viewing.

After the jungle walk, we listened to a community forest group talk. It was pretty interesting. At least one person from each of the 102 families must contribute work to the forest in order to reap the benefits. The families get a substantial bundle of wood every year for their work. The community self regulates the forest so that no one can sneak into the woods and cut down trees. Sometimes in other forestry groups, guards can be corrupt and let thieves in.

Next day, we went to the DSCO: District soil conservation office. Nepal's jungle-y hills were much more sparse 50 years ago because people were chopping down trees, which also meant the soil would get washed away. This office worked on rebuilding the environment. Some of their projects include water source and riverbank protection, landslide treatments, irrigation canal improvement, road slope stabilization, and educating communities about conservation.

Then and now, the area around Tansen. Much more green than back then.

Dakka (spelling varies) Factory- one of many in Tansen. Palpa is famous for its Dakka cloth. It is commonly used in Topis (see picture, but it can be used in scarves, shawls, dresses, etc. This particular factory used to employ 500 people, but it's now down to about 50. They say this was mainly due to the huge emigration of young people from the villages and Nepal. This factory said they mostly hire women and that they were a safe place for women to come if they'd been kicked out of their family. They also said they didn't have contracts, which raised some questions later in discussion about the potential for it to be a sweat shop. The queen used to order her Dakka from them, but since the royal massacre, their business has been slow until he recent addition of an American customer.

Making Dakka at a loom.
Foot pedal for the loom.
The factory's shop.

Tansen: Transit & Scenery

Last week, we went on our first excursion to Tansen in Palpa district.

To get there, we drove west, passing through the Tarai plains, then re-entering the middle hills*. We passed through Chitwan National Park, famous for rehabilitating rhinos, as well as housing other large animals, like Tigers. We didn't stop in the park, but our noses were glued to the windows looking for a tiger near the road. We saw a couple elephants, but they weren't wild. Close enough.

*Middle hills- The Nepalese term for Appalachian sized landforms, but are only hills because their sizes pale in comparison to the Himals. Everytime we exclaimed "Wooooow look at that mountain!!" our language teachers corrected us "oh those are just hills." Imagine calling the Appalachians hills!!
That means the midwest only has zits. Buck Hill --> Buck Zit? Kettlebowl --> Kettleplains? 

Passing through the Tarai plains. Very flat.

BAM! from plains to the hills.

Not mountains.

Anyways, the hills were still beautiful and impressive. These hills are covered in jungle too, which is crazy. So green and lush. At one point in the drive, we had a clear view of the Himals which was SO COOL. They're huge and white and so far away, but so visible.

Gettin' jungle-y in the not-mountains.
After about a 10 hour bus ride we arrived at Hotel The White Lake (correct word order). Our hair was windblown from the open windows and caked with dust. Later I discovered my nose innards were an unnatural black color.

The hotel is not called the White Lake because it's situated near a pale reservoir. Every morning, the fog settles into the valley below the hotel, and it looks like a huge white lake:

The "White Lake." Click on the picture to see the panorama up close.
One of our professors was telling us that developed in the hills above this white lake because there used to be malaria down in the plains. There were farmers in the lower Tarai area, but most people stayed out because they weren't resistant to it. The malaria is partially what kept Indian invaders out. However, the Americans came in with a cure for malaria and people were less afraid of the area. What this actually meant was that foreigners from India and northern Nepal migrated to the plains and enslaved the native farmers already living in the plains. Development at its finest: never thinking the consequences through.

View from hotel at dusk.

North view from the hotel (opposite side of the white lake view).

Public parks are non-existant in Kathmandu, so stumbling across this field in Tansen was a novelty for everyone. We played frisbee and soccer there, sometimes local kids joined in.

Park in Tansen

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

300 Rupees richer

I was in Palpa last week without my computer, so I didn't post anything. This week is pretty busy, so hopefully I can write about Palpa later. Here's a teaser.

While we were in Palpa, we had a program wide photo contest. The theme was, "Learning in Palpa." I submitted 3 photos (below) and somehow one snatched 2nd place. I think this was lucky because the other kids with good cameras weren't on their A-games and forgot to submit photos by the deadline, ke garne (what to do)? I won 300 rupees (~$3.00 or 3 plates of buff momos).

2nd place winner: Learning the Loom. A woman shows us how she weaves dakka cloth at the factory in Tansen.

Community forestry area: standing among immature sel/sal trees (don't know the exact name).

Hannah in the Jeep: We played lots of card games in the back of jeeps because there was lots of jeep time.
 Also, grandpa requested a little run down of my group:
  • Mithu is from Hawaii and is studying International Studies at Point Loma Nazarene University. She's really passionate about anti-human trafficking, so her research is geared towards those types of NGOs.
  • Ajita is a Geology major at Whitman college. She wants to research the apple economy in Mustang.
  • Lina is another Geology major and goes to Carleton with me. She's looking into women's empowerment through participation in hydropower or rural electrification.
  • Manju is an Anthropology major at Tufts. She's researching social impacts of football in Nepal.
  • Rekha is a Health Studies (public health??) major at Tufts. She's researching how road conditions affect health care access in rural villages.
  • Archana goes to Pitt and is studying Urban Studies. Her research topic keeps changing, so I don't know what she's thinking now.
  • Isha is a Peace Studies major at Gaucher College. Emily is the biggest knitting nerd and proud of it. Any time we see or hear of knitting, she gets so excited. She's researching something about women's empowerment.
  • Luna is Danish and studies Anthropology at Copenhagen University. She's the only non-American on our trip. She's going to research Muslim schools and why parents send their kids to these schools.
  • Me (Durga). I'm studying Chemistry and trying to research adoption in Nepal.
  • Adarsha is an Anthropology major at Brandeis. He's into climate change, but I think his research topic just shifted, so I don't know what he's up to. It's hard to keep up with all these people.
  • Jiwan is majoring in Philosophy and English at Wooster College. He's researching something about hydropower.
  • Nabin is a Political Science major at Wesleyan University. Currently, he's thinking about researching how Dalits and other underrepresented groups are being portrayed in journalism.
  • Hema is a Math major at Davidson college. She's researching the elderly community. I can't quite remember what her specific questions are, but she's already done this research all over Europe this summer, so she's set.
  • Himani is a Geography major at Middlebury. She's looking into the Sherpa culture, especially how women are involved in the trekking industry.
  • Bishwa is a frat bro from the University of Washington. And he's a Journalism major. I have no idea what his research topic is.
  • Ishwar is an International relations/politics (?) major at George Washington University. He's researching about Thakali chieftains and how their power has changed.
  • Manisha is a Political Science major at Wooster College. She's looking at the population of people who convert out of Hinduism to avoid being part of the caste system. Most of these people are Dalits (untouchables).
  • Manu is an Economics major at Georgetown  University. She's researching something about the out-migration of people from the villages.
So many people, mostly girls! Most of these research ideas are still being refined, or even completely changed on a daily basis.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

A Bandh and a Birthday

Bandh (strike) #2: just a continuation of the last one they had (see Teej. or the post before teej). This time, there was a strike against the strike because people were grumbly that the bandh was hindering their daily lives. A Maoist group wanted their murderer back. I'm not sure if they got him...but I do know the gang rapists in India got the death penalty. I'm really bad at reading the entire newspaper.

The two upper pictures are of the Kathmandu streets right in the city. Empty! I almost forgot there was a bandh until I realized I didn't need to wear my mask because there weren't any buses farting black exhaust all the way down the road. It was a great walk to school. There were motorcycles and other pedestrians, but otherwise it was so quiet (no horns), and I didn't have to do the Jesus Walk* through traffic.

*In the states, I usually wait til both ways are clear. Here, you have to wait for one way, walk half way and stop in the middle of traffic, then wait til the other side is clear/until there's a reasonable gap. Jesus Walking occurs when you time your walk so that turning cars, rogue motorcycles, and bicycles in your blind spot are make a clear path for a brief moment and you make it straight across the street with out stopping, after which you exclaim "I didn't get hit! I feel like Jesus!"

Haterika!! This is Nepal's version of "Dern it!" We like to spit this out every now and then at the program center. Anyways as I was walking home, my flipflops from 8th grade finally broke. 10 minutes away from home, I didn't want to go half bare foot and get a worm, tetanus, or dried dung all over my foot. I turned me shoe around and tied my bandana to the shoe strap, and then to my ankle. It kind of kept the shoe on, but I pretended like I was a bad ass, street-smart person as I limped home.

 My first Nepali language exam was Thursday (the bandh day). I did really well! This is my creepy person with his body parts labeled (above). Below is the Devnagari script. It's the coolest. 
Top to bottom, I wrote malaai (to me), kukur (dog), guru (teacher), daai (older brother), dui (two), tin (three), chini (sugar), pakaaunu (to cook), aamaa (mom), bhaat (rice), git (song).

 For my birthday, the language teachers gave me this potato of my face. The back says "my name is potato Durga." They call people potato heads on occasion when we're potato heads. They gave me this before they handed back test results, so I was afraid I screwed up on the test. But no, it must just be a Nepali birthday thing (?)

At lunch, the cooks also made a cake for me! It says Durga, and apparently I'm turning 1 year old. The swastika is not Nazi related. In Hinduism, it is actually a sign of auspiciousness and luck.

 After class, my friend and I took the bus home, then back downtown for the first time. It was super cheap and really easy to use, so we'll probably take the bus more often now. At home, my aamaa gave me a kurtaa (just the fabric, it still has to be tailored) and my didi gave me some nice earrings. We met up with most of our classmates and went to a restaurant. I had my first legal drink (which doesn't matter in Nepal) - a tequila sunrise. It was pretty good. I had to leave early though, and didn't stay for dinner. They wouldn't let me pay for my drink.
     Next I caught a cab to Patan, where my sisters live and spent the night. Kanchan's birthday was the day before mine - she turned 23. I had dinner with Kanchan, then had cake and exchanged presents with her and the rest of her house. First though, there was a lot of singing and praying which was awkward but it passed. Kanchan and Smita were really generous and got me some a bag, a dress, and some jewelery. Ooops...I just got Kanchan some cookies and nail polish. I decided I'd stay for their church service the next day.

Before church, I did henna on 2 of the girls in Kanchan's house. It was fun! I also painted Kanchan's left fingernails. She didn't want the other hand because they eat rice with it. Makes sense. Later, Kanchan got my measurements and gave them to Sommaya. She is also making a kurtaa for me!

Church wasn't too bad. It was 90% singing. After an hour they kicked me out with the kids, Kanchan, and a couple other girls and we taught the kids some songs and stuff. The services and the kid part were all in Nepali which was good. I can understand things a little better, but it's still a struggle. I saw Kanchan's fiance, but he was busy the whole time playing the guitar for the whole congregation. Kanchan hopes to get formally engaged in November sometime, then married in December. They are unsure because elections are in mid November, along with strikes and who knows what. So their date is not set yet.

Smita is working a ton. I think she balances her time between 2 hospitals.

Monday, we go to Palpa for a week. No computer = no blog posts!