Friday, October 31, 2008

Unlike most American airports that roll up the runways at around 10pm, the Doha, Qatar airport is a bustle of activity as I write this at 2am. The terminal is still brightly lit as flights arrive and depart here all through the night.

It’s not lost on me that tonight is Halloween and I am spending my time assigning all of the costumes that parade before me to their appropriate nation or ethnic group. Even though this is my third time here, I am struck that this is the most ethnically diverse population I have seen in any airport. I am pretty good at distinguishing the Chinese, Japanese, Koreans and South Asians, but sometimes have a hard time knowing is someone is Indian, Sri Lankan, Bangladeshi or Nepali. I can usually tell the sub-Saharan Africans from those in the North and can discern most Muslims, of any nationality, by their dress. There is something oddly sensual about the women in their burkhas or some in other robes where only their eyes are visible. I think it has to do with the way the cloth floats around them when they walk and the promise of what lies underneath. The Westerners are easy to identify as they travel around in pods wearing their trekking clothes.

During my total 10 hours (*sigh*) layover I have only seen 3 other people using a laptop and very few talking on their cellphones. What in the world are they doing with their time? Most are talking and laughing with their companions.

There’s a McDonald’s like playground and the noises of the children cannot be drowned out by the overhead flight announcements.

There is only one shop in the whole airport - duty free. It's filled with booze, cigarettes, chocolate, perfume and electronics for sale. No books. No magazines.

On to Nepal!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

The realities of life - school, commitments and cost of airfare - have me arriving in Kathmandu just after the main festival season. I've missed Dashain and now I'm arriving in Kathmandu on Saturday on the heels of Tihar or Deepawali, Nepal's festival of lights.

Tihar honors Laxmi, goddess of wealth, and prayers are offered up for prosperity. During the five day festival, days are set aside to honor man's best friend, dog, and for sisters to honor their brothers. Cleanliness or brightness are also celebrated and reminscent of the farolitas in Latino culture, every home is decorated with oil lamps, butter candles and lights. At night, the city sparkles and on the third day of the festival, Laxmi alights her steed, and owl, to tour the world and assess the celebration from above.

I'm hoping that Kathmandu will be still be glittering for one more night, just for me.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

I've been checking into progress made by the new government while I was away and the information I've dug up is not encouraging...

Six months have passed since the monarchy was abolished and the Federal Republic of Nepal was established. Four months were spent forming the government, and two more were taken up with the budget and the celebration of the festival of Dashain. The government has formed neither a high-level political council nor a special committee for integration and rehabilitation of the PLA. There has been no investigation into persons who disappeared during the 10 year conflict. Their families have been waiting almost two years for information. Lands grabbed during the insurgency have not been returned to their rightful owners. The new government is far behind schedule in drafting the new constitution.

Meanwhile, the people of Nepal go without the basic services of life: safe water, electricity, sanitation, healthcare, quality education...

Friday, October 24, 2008

VOTING! Yes We Can!

Today I joyfully voted for Barack Obama for President of the United States. Tonight I heard President Clinton speak at an Obama rally in North Little Rock. Pretty awesome day.

I voted "early" as I will be in Nepal on election day. So far this week, in Pulaski County alone, over 28,000 have stood in line for up to three hours to cast their vote.

As I stood in line to vote, I reflected - out loud to those around me - on the historic constituent assembly elections in Nepal this year. Some people walked for hours and others arrived at the polls before dawn to ensure that their voice was heard. Others braved incidents of intimidation and threats of violence. High voter turnout - approximately 60% of the 17.6 million voters - reflected the desire of the Nepali people to take part in a democratic process and their hope the elections would bring peace, stability and prosperity to Nepal.

Importantly, over 6 million of women voted in Nepal with hopes, for the first time in their lifetime, for better representation and a more promising future for their children. For the first time, women in Nepal have a chance for a voice in how their traditionally patriarchal country is run.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Mikel Dunham–photographer-has passed out digital cameras to Tibetan refugees living in Nepal, asking them to record their everyday lives. He hopes to put together a book, but in the meantime you can see some of the photos on his site (above.) Enjoy!

As a teaser, I've included one of the photos from his website with credit where credit is due, of course!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

On December 7, 2004 when he quit teaching and started cycling…across Nepal…and then the world. The 32-year-old Nepalese has already covered 32 countries, and intends to cover 113 by the end of his world tour in 2013. He is currently in Kenya for three weeks before moving on to Tanzania (keep your eyes peeled James Mitchell!)

Why did Lok abandon his teaching career and start cycling? To promote peace and universal brotherhood after conflict erupted in Nepal. Even though his role as a teacher was important, he felt that his mission for peace could do more good for his country.

"I've always felt that although we are geographically and culturally divided, we are all human." To Lok, peace is the most important thing in the world. "The whole world needs long lasting peace and if we can plant seeds of peace in our people and governments, every human as well as all living things will surely get free, fearless, meaningful and holy live."

"So let's not give priority to theft, robbery, kidnap, rape, murder and terrorism."

"Courage keeps me going," he says of his worst experiences in a journey which has also been characterized by robbery in Thailand, Malaysia and Sudan.

Mr Lok's bicycle has three flags at any time: one for peace, another for Nepal and the third for the country he is visiting.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

This week I'll receive my first shipment of handicraft goods from Nepal. I'm morphing into an entrepreneur, along with my friend Sudip, and this is our first transatlantic, heck transmultiplecontinental, transaction!

As you can see I'm making up my new words's what entrepreneurs do.

The good news is that I've sold all of the felt items and fiber purses, EVERYTHING!, that I brought back with me from Nepal! I've ordered more so the business can participate in mission market at my church in November. My friends (I have the BEST friends) are going to staff the table for me and make more money for the women of Nepal! Sudip did the shopping and sent the package my way on Saturday.

I'll keep you posted on the arrival and the contents of the entrepreneurship box!

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Katie and I are having fun here in Birmingham on all of our adventures: grocery shopping a Publix - real grocery store (Kroger, hello!); cooking together; sharing wine preferences; finding detours around ever-present I65 traffic; taking me to World Market (WalMart, pleeeeeeeeeease let World Market into Arkansas), and today, hiking at Oak Mountain State Park. Tonight, we'll watch SNL, and maybe a movie or two, together.

Nepal, however, even with Katie near, is not far from my mind. I leave a week from Tuesday. I'm looking foward to my treks with Sudip and us working on our projects together. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon will visit while I am there and I'll try to run into him. Also, the Asian Mountain Biking Championships open there on November 6th.

Mainly, I can't wait to see my friends there and hear "Namaste!" a hundred times each day.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Today is the first day of International Day on the Elimination of Poverty. UNESCO celebrates the right of every human being to:
*Food, Housing and Clothing
*Safe Environment
*Health and Social Services
*Education and Training
*Decent Work
*Benefits of Science and Technology
*Cultural Identity
*Peace and Security
*Access to Justice
*Freedom of Expression and Participation

In Nepal, Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal has appealed to political parties, civil society and international community to work in coordinated manner to eliminate poverty from Nepal.

In a message he delivered on the occasion of , PM Dahal said, "I want to remind all that the policies and programs and budget presented by the current government that I am leading also has put poverty alleviation as top priority."

He expressed full commitment to uplift the backward and disadvantaged communities in the country.

PM Dahal also reiterated his commitment to attain the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

"For any country, political stability and peace is the foundation for development," he said adding that the job of institutionalizing peace was, therefore, very important. "Judicious investment and distribution of public resources and services are the first duty of any state in the absence of which poverty-free country cannot be built," he stated.

The slogan of this year's international day against poverty is Lets Stand Up Against Poverty and Do Something.

For Nepal, the United States and the whole world I wish less rhetoric and more action to build the infrastructure needed for development work to succeed.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Breakfast with Heifer

This morning I rolled out of bed at an uncharacteristically early hour for a very good reason - breakfast with my friends from Heifer Nepal! Mahendra Lohani, VP of Asia/South Pacific for Heifer International joined me, Neena Joshi and Tirtha Regmi, Sr. Program Managers, and Shubh Mahato, Nepal Country Director, for fellowship and discuss buiding the partnership between READ Nepal and Heifer.

I'm really excited because, upon my return to Nepal I'll be able to travel out into the field to one the Heifer Project sites. The Heifer Nepal folks are great people doing great work and I am happy to have a friendship with them. Thanks, Mahendra!!!

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Ok, so now that we have established (see previous post) that Nepal is my real home and I am only a missionary here in the U.S., I can admit that I can't wait to get away from here and back to Nepal. If Katie were here I'm sure that my feelings would be different but she isn't so...

In an attempt to cure my longing for Nepal I wandered over to the Asian Market in the same strip mall as T.J. Maxx. Demonstrating a total misnomer, the Asian Market is filled with things used in Indian and Nepali dishes. Well, OK, so they are in SOUTH Asia. But still...

In honor of Molly Brunkow and our love for it, I bought cubes of paneer cheese and some spicy sauce to go with it. How that works is that you stir fry the cheese and then add the sauce. I also bought some crunchy stuff that is the Indian version of Chex Party Mix except a whole lot spicier. This is the stuff that is in Mixed Chat, my favorite dish at Anmol Sweets, the Indian restaurant chain in Nepal. Mixed Chat is yogurt with fruit and this crunchy stuff in it. Carly and I had it and kept marveling at all of the goodness in one dish. So this morning for breakfast I had vanilla yogurt with strawberries and blueberries and the crunchy stuff mixed in. It was one creamy, crunchy, sweet and spicy dish from heaven!

Yesterday, as I was telling a friend - one that I hadn't yet bored with my tales of love for Nepal - about how open, generous and downright magical the Nepalese people are and she therefore reached this conclusion: Nepal must be your true home and you are only a missionary to the United States.

Man, I think she is one smart woman!

Friday, October 10, 2008

My friends in Nepal have been celebrating Dashain, their biggest holiday and festival. In importance it is on par with our December holiday season and New Year. Interestingly, the colors red (tika) and greem (jamra)are important in celebrating Dashain.

The 15-day festival falls around September-October, after the rice harvest. This festival is known for emphasis on family gatherings, as well as on a renewal of community ties. People will return from all parts of the world, as well as different parts of the country, to celebrate together. It's HOME for the HOLIDAYS, indeed!

On the first day, called Ghatasthapana, a special worship room is set up and used to worship the Astha-Matrikas (tantrik goddesses) as well as the Nava Durgas (the 9 durga goddesses), to whom the festival is consecrated. Married women will say the mantras for the next fifteen days, and guard the goddesses. Barley is sowed on big earthern pots which have a coating of cow dung. These seeds will sprout in ten days. The sprouts, which symbolize a good harvest, will be decoratively placed on the heads of family members later on in the festival as a blessing.

And here's the part that is VERY challenging to me...

The eighth day, Asthami, is the day of sacrifices. Goddess temples all over the Kathmandu Valley receive sacrifices, ranging from goats and buffaloes to ducks and chickens. Blood, symbolic for its fertility, is offered to the goddesses. This meat is taken home and cooked as "prasad", or food blessed by divinity. This food is offered, in tiny leaf plates, to the household gods, then distributed amongst the family. Eating this food is thought to be auspicious. (Auspicious is a BIG word in Nepali culture.)
Sacrifices continue on Navami, the ninth day. Families will visit various temples around the Kathmandu Valley. On the tenth day, "Dashami," a mixture of rice, yogurt and vermillion will be prepared by the women. This preparation is known as "tika". Elders put this on the forehead of younger relatives to bless them with fertility and abundance in the upcoming year. The red also symbolizes the blood that ties the family together. Elders will give "dakshina", or a small amount of money, to younger relatives at this time. The tika continues for five days, during which time people also gather to play cards around massive amounts of food and drink.

In several parts of Nepal, Dashain is the only time of the year when people receive a set of new clothing. Likewise, in poorer families, the animal sacrifice was eagerly anticipated since it might be the only animal protein the family would eat all year. This may be true in certain parts of Nepal where food is in low supply, but is less so in the cities. In general, the tradition of sacrifice is lessening with the easy availability of meat for daily consumption.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

From Yahoo! News:
A Yeti Airlines plane crashed Wednesday while landing in the Mt. Everest region during foggy weather in Nepal, killing 14 tourists from Germany and Switzerland and three other people.

The plane took off from the capital, Katmandu, and hit a boundary fence while landing at Lukla airport, about 185 miles to the east, said Mohan Adhikari, general manager of the Katmandu airport.

Adhikari said 18 people were on board. The crash killed 12 German and two Swiss tourists, as well as two Nepalese crew members, he said. The identity of one passenger killed in the crash was not immediately known.

One Nepalese pilot survived the crash and was flown to Katmandu for medical treatment, Adhikari said.

Dozens of flights land in Lukla each day and Yeti Airlines has a good reputation.
Looks like the weather was a major factor.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

War on Sex and Liquor

Home Minister Bam Dev Gautam has declared a "War on Sex & Liquor" in Kathmandu.

Apparently, there is a robust sex industry extending out from the dance bars in Thamel - the tourist district next to my neighborhood. I didn't stumble upon any such places while I was there, but I was rarely out late at night either. Who knew?

For last Spring semester's American Grand Strategy course I did my policy paper on Trafficing in Persons so I DID know that many Nepali women are trafficked to India for sex work, but there is very little research done on prostitution in Nepal itself.

The subsistence nature of large parts of the rural economy meant that there was no mass market for commercial sex until comparatively recently. Economic development and urbanization and the increasing integration of Nepal within global consumer cultures has altered this. Also, the 10 years of the rural violence associated with the Maoist insurgency forced migration to Kathmandu and women into the sex trade in order to survive.

Critics compare Gautam’s move as another populist measure like Maoist’s resistance to Miss Nepal Pageant. But, Gautam comes from a moderate communist party UML which advocates a form of democratic socialist ideals. Some hotel entrepreneurs, too, criticized Gautam’s strict orders to the police to shut down all bars and discos by 11 in the evening as dictatorial, fearing such actions would be detrimental to tourism industry. However, the Thamel shopkeepers have issues a press statement in favor of the ban.

New Kumari

Here's little Matina Shakya after being appointed as the new living goddess or Kumari, with her mother Sunita Shakya in Kathmandu. She's a big three years old.

I'll see her when I return to Kathmandu as she'll be living, away from her family, in the ornate 15th century temple in Durbar Square. She regularly appears at a carved window to greet foreign visitors who are not allowed to see her in the upstairs chamber.

In a break with tradition, she was chosen by the President instead of priests following the abolishment of the monarchy.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

As yet another testatment to the wisdom and good taste of my friends in Little Rock, they demonstrated their love for the art and handicrafts of Nepal by buying almost everything I brought back with me from my summer trip: felt purses and scarves from Manakamana; women purses from the Women's Skills Development Project in Pokhara, thangka paintings, Tibetan bead earrings, and beautiful cards made from Lokta paper!

A special shout out goes to fellow artists Judy Henderson, Jann Greenland, Michele Fox and Susan Strauss who participate in the sale and contributed a significant percentage of their take to the women of Nepal.

I'm excited that they gave enough money to so that I can recycle some back to the women's cooperatives, begin work on a website for Manakamana, pay my great friend Sudip for his work on the ground in Nepal, and purchase some more products to keep this great cycle of giving going.

I return to Nepal on November 1st and am there for six weeks on another buying and business exploration trip. Stay tuned for the date of the next sale of fabulous Nepali products!

Friday, October 3, 2008

The number of tourist arrivals in Nepal in the first nine months of 2008 rose by 2% over the same period last year, officials said yesterday.

The Nepal Tourism Board said the negative growth seen from April to July had reversed and the arrivals in September were up by 1% as the total number of visitors arriving by air from January through the end of last month hit 257,181. "Tourists arrivals from the United States of America and Canada increased by 13% in September in comparison to the same month last year," it added.

Count me as part of the "surge."

Thursday, October 2, 2008

During the month of Kartik (late September and early October), the Nepalese people indulge in the biggest festival of the year, Dashain. Dashain is the longest and the most auspicious festival in the Nepalese annual calendar, celebrated by Nepalese of all caste and creed throughout the country. The fifteen days of celebration occurs during the bright lunar fortnight ending on the day of the full moon. Thorough out the kingdom of Nepal the goddess Durga in all her manifestations are worshiped with innumerable pujas, abundant offerings and thousands of animal sacrifices for the ritual holy bathing, thus drenching the goddess for days in blood.

A most happy and auspicious Dashain Festival to all of my friends near and far bringing you much joy and good fortune!!!

To learn more about Dashain, click the title to the article.