Saturday, May 31, 2008

Avoiding large gatherings of people is sage advice especially when visiting a country in political transition. However that is quite impossible here in Nepal. First, Nepal is the size of Arkansas with a population of 28 million and by the feel of things I think they all live with us here in Kathmandu. Second, the people are gathering everywhere, everyday to celebrate the abolishment of the monarchy.

Last night, Carly, Molly and I walked to Thamel for dinner and came upon a very cool sight: about 100 people gathered around a 30x10 chalk painting of Nepal. It was outlined with hundreds of butter candles (Nepali votives) illuminating it in the dark. It was inscribed with "1128 - Freedom from the King." Two speakers addressed the crowd, a man from the NC and a woman Maoist leader. This gathering symbolized unity for the country and joy at the freedom to pursue peace and prosperity. Having speakers from the two different parties represented the future of all the people working together for Nepal. This was all translated to me by one of the local guys I was talking to. The feeling was more like that of a prayer vigil than that of a demonstration.

The night before Molly and I encountered a large wave of people leaving a gathering in Durbur Square and felt like the salmon swimming upstream. We were not quite as successful as fast as the salmon though. That night we also walked by several other groups creating their chalk art.
All peaceful.

Please remember that the people of Nepal are peaceful and we feel very welcomed and safe everywhere we go. If anything, they seem happy to have us here with them during this time and are happy to share their joy. Whether pro-monarchy, pro-reformist or pro-Communist, most of the people are anxious for change and prosperity in this beautiful land.

So, as far as avoiding crowds goes, the only way the three of us can do that is to stay locked up in our guest house. And if you know anything about Carly, Molly and I you will laugh with me for you know that it is quite impossible.


Friday, May 30, 2008

Zone of Peace

Just as the READ libraries around the country are zones of peace for the people of Nepal, the READ office in Baluwatar is a zone of peace for me in Kathmandu. From 5am until 10pm my world is a noisy mix of traffic, chatter, Sadhus (holy men) chanting, horns honking, bike bells ringing, and dogs barking. LOTS of dogs barking. These noises are not only heard on the paved roads but on the uneven brick thoroughfares, and down the alleyway where I live. Another layer of stimulation is the dust. Since many of the roads I travel are dirt, the covering of dust each day is amazing. I look like I’m getting a tan! The final elements of sensory stimulation are the smells: incense, dung, curry, spices, and mud. I love it. Yet, when I close the gate to the READ courtyard it is nice to leave it all behind for a little while. The READ house is surrounded by a brick wall and located down a dirt alley off a paved road. Behind the wall lies a blooming flower garden. Each day a READ volunteer brings us a fresh bouquet. VOLUNTEERS!?!, you ask? Yes, just like the Clinton School we have volunteers at READ. Each morning, along with the flowers, they bring me bottle water and serve Nepali tea. One of the volunteers, Gheeta (sp?), has the sweetest smile and two of the cutest children you’ll ever want to see. Watch for their photos as I post my Picasa web albums. The people here are great and the work atmosphere is calm. I share an office with Tee, a college-aged student volunteer, with whom I discuss politics and culture each day. We are having a good time deconstructing America. Downstairs is a reading room filled with books and those of you who know me well understand how that adds to my sense of peace. In fact, today, I gave my 100 rupees and 3 passport size photos (you give photos here for everything) and became of member of the READ library. I checked out a book on micro-economic development in Nepal and a collection of one page Buddhist readings to read before morning meditation. Peace out!

Here in Kathmandu, the declaration of the new Republic of Nepal is met with celebration and hope. Hope for peace, development and prosperity for the entire country and hope for the individuals who have been marginalized. For the Dalit man interviewed in today’s edition of The Himalayan, the hope is that he will no longer have to live like an outcast. He hopes that he can now eat in restaurants and be served tea without having to bring his own cup (considered dirty because of his caste). He hopes he can make new friends unavailable to him before. Yet, he worries that even though the system has officially changed and the new Constitution legislate will legislate equity, he may still be shunned by certain people and institutions. I am reminded of our own civil rights movement in the United States and how we continue to struggle for equality despite the rule of law. This Dalit man already knows that cultural norms and generations of bias are much harder to change than law. Here’s to hope!

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Yesterday was a big day in Kathmandu and all of Nepal. The Constituent Assembly voted, as expected, to abolish the monarchy and Nepal was declared a federal republic. We had a national holiday, in fact, the first National Republic Day. It was a peaceful day and the people were out in a festival atmosphere. I toured Durbar Square and enjoyed the beautiful weather. It is expected to take up to two more years to write the new Consitution. The assembly also decided to establish a ceremonial Presidency but still have to decide the functions of that office.

While many in the country are still on holiday today and the banks and certain businesses were closed, my office, READ Nepal, is open. READ is an oasis amidst the sometimes chaotic noise, traffic and political transition of Kathmandu. More on my little oasis later.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The Long Path Home

Yesterday Molly and I walked home from work in Baluwatar because we were afraid of getting stuck in the gasoline strike related madness. The government controls the filling stations and when they open briefly during a strike the cabbies and other motorists have no option but to take their place in unbelievably long lines. Where these lines cross other streets traffic jams ensue. According to my map, it is about 3.5km from work back home to Freak Street which is fine except I was burdened with my laptop.

Pedestrians NEVER have the right of way in Kathmandu. This the first rule of survival in this city and one you must never forget. However, it just one day I am already developing an intuitive sense that moves me along with the flow, navigates the dung-filled potholes, narrowly avoids the motorbike that stops right in front of me without warning, and moves me out of the way of the rear-approaching cars and bikes. There is a strange rhythm to all of this and I can see that I will get used to it.

Noteworthy things from yesterday’s journey:
I experienced a near-goring by a cow. Tightly hugging the side of the road (to avoid being run over) we closely passed an oncoming cow and her calf. Molly took my picture as I walked by the cow right after which the cow sharply turned her head and horn into my rib cage. OUCH!

The military were out in force in preparation for today’s announcement of the new Republic. Ain’t nothin’ like passing by out-pointed rifles held by troops in barricades along the street. But for those of you who ten d to worry, don’t. REALLY. I’m safe here. It’s an everyday thing here and the residents have a very nonchalant attitude about it.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

My time in Nepal began beautifully. As the plane descended the tops of the snow-capped Himalayas poked through the 15,000 level cloud cover. Amazing. Mt. Everest right in front of me. As we broke through the clouds, the "hills" surrounding the Kathmandu Valley appeared. Keep in mind that the Nepal hills are as high as the Colorado Rockies. Terrace farming and small homes lined the ridges. The valley then appeared in it's colorful garb. The homes are painted bright colors and the people wear primary color silks. The entire descent was surreal. I kept saying "OMIGOD!" under my breath.

Molly and Carly came with Monish, my guesthouse host, to pick me up. I was VERY glad to see them. Freak Street, where our guesthouse is located, is crazy and New Road even crazier. For now, let me say that everything is on the road and nothing obeys the rules. Cows, bikes, dogs, motorbikes, rickshaws and cabs somehow coexist. You just have to practice letting go when you hop in the cab's back seat.

I've acquired my rupees and in country cell phone, learned where to get my bottled water, and fallen in love with Nepali tea. The three of us went to dinner last night and I fell in love with momos - like potstickers only better - steamed and spicy.

I have learned that the Nepali day begins at dawn (5am) when the roosters crow (yes, I am in the big city). Work doesn't begin until 9:30 or 10. Breakfast is Nepali tea (did I mention that I am in love with it?) and toast. The Nepalis have Dal Baat at around 10. Lunch is late. Bedtime is around 9pm - 10pm at the latest. The dogs bark all night.

Today was my first day at work at READ Nepal. I have my own desk. They brought me water and tea (did I mention the tea yet?) and flowers and their grace. What they say about the Nepali people is true: they are the loveliest of people. Everyone wants to talk and share and learn and help.

Life if so good here. More again soon.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Bittersweet Longing

Today I leave Little Rock for 75 days in Kathmandu, Nepal. While I've very excited about this huge adventure, this morning is filled with a bittersweet longing for those things I am about to separate from: Katie, Maggie, Ted, and all of my Little Rock friends. *SIGH*

I know that my going to serve the people of Nepal will enrich the lives I just mentioned as well as my own. But this morning, I just don't want to go. That's just the way I feel right now. I'm sure this feeling will wax and wane and be balanced by the excitement of the trip and the new friends I will make in Nepal. I'm going away to make us all richer.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Thanks to everyone who donated to READ during the Garden Party for Nepal event - either on-line or in person. We topped our goal of raising $1000!!!

Here's what this donation can accomplish:
40 sets of educational toys for the children’s section @$25 each OR
20 sets of children's books in Nepali for ages 3-15 @ $50 each OR
10 Women's sections @$100 each OR
4 sets of World Book Encyclopedias @ $250 each OR
2 sets of shelves, tables and chairs @ $500 each OR
1 Pre-school center @ $1,000 each.

The people of Nepal, and the staff and volunteers of READ will decide the fate of the donation.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

This evening, Katie and I are hosting the Garden Party for Nepal in the backyard. It's a welcome home from college party for Katie and a send-off to Nepal party for me. But, REALLY, it's designed to keep my heebie jeebies at bay. As I write this, I am about 54 hours away from boarding a plane for Kathmandu, and my pre-trip anxiety has started to kick in. Being the smart person I am, I have learned a thing or two about living with me and knew that I would need a distraction------PAAARTYYYYYYYY!!! So, today, instead of 'checkin' my list, checkin' it twice', I'm looking for that tequila punch recipe and thinking about what time I'll put the brownies in the oven. Smart.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Clinton School Video

Here's the link to the recently premiered Clinton School of Public Service video trailer. It tells the story of who we are and what we're about better than a 50 page report or a slick recruitment brochure ever could. Best of all, it highlights my fabulous classmates who, for me, have made this experience so worthwhile.

O’Malley Creadon Productions, documentarians and creators of Wordplay and I.O.U.S.A., are the masterminds behind this project. They filmed us through orientation last fall and I wrote a previous blog about that experience. They are great people to work with.

The speaking roles go to: James Mitchell, the driver; Sanford Johnson, the proud Mississipian; Lukman Arsalan, builder of world peace; and Idonia Trotter, the powerful woman.

I am so lucky to be a part of this smart, funny, wise, talented and passionate group of people!

Monday, May 12, 2008

Scheduling Conflict

"I get up every morning determined to both change the world and to have one hell of a good time. Sometimes, this makes planning the day difficult."
~ E.B. White, 20th century American writer

Love. This. Quote.
Because the truth of the matter is that public service is just a hell of a good time anyway.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

When I return from Kathmandu in the fall I begin my Capstone project with the Arkansas Arts Council. I will help establish an arts advocacy foundation for Arkansas. Today, I attended their Board meeting and met some pretty cool people from around the state. Fun!

Ten Lessons the Arts Teach

The arts teach children to make good judgments about qualitative relationships. Unlike much of the curriculum in which correct answers and rules prevail, in the arts, itis judgment rather than rules that prevail.
The arts teach children that problems can have more than one solution and that questions can have more than one answer.
The arts celebrate multiple perspectives. One of their large lessons is that there are many ways to see and interpret the world.
The arts teach children that in complex forms of problem solving purposes are seldom fixed, but change with circumstance and opportunity. Learning in the arts requires the ability and a willingness to surrender to the unanticipated possibilities of the work as it unfolds.
The arts make vivid the fact that neither words in their literal form nor number exhaust what we can know. The limits of our language do not define the limits of our cognition.
The arts teach students that small differences can have large effects. The arts traffic in subtleties.
The arts teach students to think through and within a material. All art forms employ some means through which images become real.
The arts help children learn to say what cannot be said. When children are invited to disclose what a work of art helps them feel, they must reach into their poetic capacities to find the words that will do the job.
The arts enable us to have experience we can have from no other source and through such experience to discover the range and variety of what we are capable of feeling.
The arts’ position in the school curriculum symbolizes to the young what adults believe is important.

SOURCE: Eisner, E. (2002). The Arts and the Creation of Mind, In Chapter 4, What the Arts Teach and How It Shows. (pp. 70-92). Yale University Press. Available from NAEA Publications. NAEA grants reprint permission for this excerpt from Ten Lessons with proper acknowledgment of its source and NAEA.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

In 2004, the Norwegian Nobel Peace Prize Committee's official announcement contained these words about Wangari Maathai: "Peace on earth depends on our ability to secure our living environment. Maathai stands at the front of the fight to promote ecologically viable social, economic and cultural development in Kenya and in Africa. She has taken a holistic approach to sustainable development that embraces democracy, human rights and women's rights in particular. She thinks globally and acts locally. "

Dr. Maathai caught the attention of the Nobel committee by establishing The Green Belt Movement in 1977 under the auspices of the National Council of Women of Kenya. Basically, she started a worldwide movement to plant trees, sustain communities and save the planet. The program has already outgrown its name, The Billion Tree Campaign, since the movement is going to achieve the planting of 4 billion trees. Check it out and plant a tree:

Tonight Dr. Maathai was in Little Rock delivering the Kumpuris lecture at the Clinton Libary. My classmates and I had the honor, of hearing Dr. Maathai speak, and of shaking her hand. Notable were her spunk and engaging sense of humor. She shared with us stories from her work in many countries around the world. My favorite was from a trip to Japan. She noticed that the people were using their wooden chopsticks once and throwing them away. She inquired about the impact of this on the environment and her Japanese hosts replied, Oh no, it does not hurt the environment of Japan, we import them from other countries. Dr. Maathai replied, Well I am here as ambassador for the cocoa tree forests and the Amazon forest to tell you that you are hurting our environment! Now, many people in Japan carry with them their own personal set of chopsticks which they wash after each use.

Dr. Maathai also shared with us the concept of mottainai, the Japanese phrase literally meaning "what a waste". She is teaching everyone to use it when they forget to turn off their lights or recycle their waste. A one word reminder that it is everyone's responsibility to save the environment.