Sunday, November 23, 2008

Today was a business day so we rented a motorbike and visited the Women's Skills Development Project production center. This is the place where the women learn to loom the fabric for those great purses! We met with RamKali, the Executive Director and their current designer, a young woman from Japan. What a great day!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

This is the view I woke up to the first morning in Pokhara. It's Machupuchere or Fishtail Mountain, part of the Annapurna Range. Yeah, it's breathtaking.

So Sudip decides we should rent a boat and row over to a trailhead on the other side of the lake....only he fails to tell me that he knows nothing about rowing about a boat so I get to be the rudder. We laugh hysterically the entire way across the lake. After the hike up, we land at the World Peace Pagoda. From there we have great views of the Annapurna Range, the lake and the town of Pokhara. Nice.

Friday, November 21, 2008

On our second attempt we successfully rode the tourist bus six hours to Pokhara. We trekked up and down the road looking into the souvenier shops and then rewarded ourselves with a beer at a restaurant by Lake Fewa.

Pokhara is trash- and smog-free…at least the tourist area…and that is way more than you can say about Thamel in Kathmandu.


Thursday, November 20, 2008

It’s a rare thing for me to be excited about getting up at 5am but I was today because it’s trekking time. Our bus was scheduled to depart for Pokhara at 7am so the 5am rising allowed me enough time to finish packing (which I did in the dark – load shedding) and walk the 40 minutes to the tourist bus park on Kanti Path. Sudip met me on Lazimpat and we were both happy to be getting out of the city.

Only thing, what bus? The buses didn’t show up that morning because the valley was under a bandh. A bandh is a very big transportation strike to the exponential power. Nothing moves (except feet and bicycles) and everything closes. If you try to drive you risk getting a brick thrown through your car window and if you keep your storefront open you risk the same fate for your plate glass windows. However, some of the people who own stalls or sell their wares on the street at Indra Chowk or some other alleyway or square are usually left alone. These events are designed to gain UN, foreigner, media and official attention so the main streets are where the action is.

Today’s bandh is due to the murder of two youths by, allegedly, members of the YCL – the Maoist youth force. The families and many supporters are protesting to demand that the Maoist led government take full responsibility for those responsible and provide reparations for all the loss and damages incurred. Really sad. But at least now in Nepal, the deaths of two young men calls forth a protest instead of silent resignation which is the case in so many other nations.

While heading down Kanti Path to Lazimpat, we encountered the live protests and I took a few shots along the way. For those of you who worry, don’t, we stayed safely out of the way and these shots are taken with the zoom. The protest was fronted by the security force and what we observed was angry but peaceful. We did see the bus that had its windows taken out and you can see the shattered glass on the street in the photos. There were some injuries but none that we witnessed.

It’s a surreal thing to witness for a contemporary American but makes me think about our own civil rights movement and the protests that some of my generation were involved in. More surreal still, Kathmandu and especially Kanti Path with not a vehicle in sight.

Never ones to let a little bandh spoil our day, Sudip and I decide that since this officially day 1 of our trek that we are going to trek Freak Street. We left the bus stop (you know, the one without the bus)and headed for some power breakfast at Kumari's Restaurant. Sudip is staring unhappily at his fake cappuccino which was really quite dilute mocha. I, on the otherhand, am pretty happy with my bowl of muesli/fruit/curd.

Afterwards, we walked to Indra Chowk and down Asan Tole for some “window” shopping. There are small shops and stalls but it is also a street market where the Nepali people shop for fresh veggies, spices, clothes and almost anything. I think it is a requisite part of the Kathmandu experience for everyone who visits.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Tomorrow I'm (finally) leaving Kathmandu behind to go trekking with Sudip! Knowing Sudip is true friendship bliss.

We are heading to Pokhara and will trek from there. Pokhara is also home of the Women's Skills Development Project and we plan to visit the factory and talk about handicraft stuff. Plus, I have several orders to fill!

Needless to say, I'm pretty excited!

On Sunday, at the invitation my new friend, Prabin (photo above), I attended a concert of the Kathmandu International Music Society held at the British School. The first performance was a jazz trio. The young Nepali drummer was amazing. In the second half an amazing Australian soprano sang several classical tunes. She works for an NGO here. Prabin organized the event and did a great job! Lots of culture in Kathmandu, Nepali and otherwise.

On my walk home, I was blessed with this sight. I think it is the Langtang range. This is the view that alluded Carly, Molly and I all summer.

I'd like to introduce you to my landlady, Janisha, who is a 28 year old force of nature. She visits me many mornings with a cup of tea. She is awesome! In this photo we are about to go out to dinner with her spiritual advisor, Meetra. Of course, this is him in the next photo. Meetra translates documents from Nepali into English for the Embassy and other groups. In his spare time, he practices living in the moment and advises others. Innnnteressssting!

Saturday, November 15, 2008

One piece of advice that you receive when you are new to a foreign country is "never turn down an invitation." I would add to that: "pay attention to serendipitous moments" and connections that lead to connections than lead to connections when you are working in a country the size of Arkansas.

As I was walking (hmmm...I'm beginning to notice that all good things happend to me when I am walking attention America!!!) through Thamel last weekend I had a conversation with a very cute 8 year old girl named Sophie. Later that day, as I was walking back home, Sophie and her Mom were walking in front of me and her Mom invited me to dinner and asked for my mobile number. Later her husband called me (because of better English), to set up the dinner. As it turns out, he is a pianist and has invited me to a concert tomorrow (Sunday) at the British school...jazz and classical. Last evening I met Prabin for refreshments and found him to be wonderful company. We talked music and politics and culture and lifestyles.

Did I mention that I love Nepal?

Visit with Indra

Today I am very lucky because one of my favorite things happened...a visit with Indra!!!

I have been suffering with a cold from the last 3-4 days (as has Sudip, Janesha and everyone else I know!) but decided to get out and walk to Thamel to the wireless cafe to catch up on email. Luckily I ran in to Raju and Indra as they were entering the READ Nepal office so I came inside to work here.

Indra and I had a "brainstorming" session about ideas to help the people of Nepal. It was GREAT!!!

By the way, here is the site of another great NGO working in Nepal: Indra worked with them and also Heifer project sites before coming to READ.

The other fun thing we did today was to set up Indra's blog:
Teaching blog development...another form of public service? ;-)

I’m here in Nepal trying on the dream: a chance to blend my love of art, craft, women and empowerment by exploring and working with women’s craft cooperatives. This photo has two cups of tea (Nepali milk tea) and not Three Cups of Tea like the bestselling book but the principles are the same. I had been sitting in at the retail storefront of Manakamana Handicraft Udyog (factory in Nepalese) and chatting with Krishna Sedhain, owner. For those of you who bought the wonderful felt bags, scarfs and purses from me upon my return, you’ll remember that I discovered this little store because Krishna’s laundry is upstairs and that is where I took my dirty clothes this summer.

Annnnnyhow, Krishna and I shared the prerequisite tea before business sitting on the little stools that are ubiquitous in Nepal. (I mean UBIQUITOUS.) This time I am excited that not only am I purchasing items and filling orders, I am creating new designs that the women will then produce. Also on this trip, I will be visiting the factory (ouch, can I call it production center please) to meet the women and assess the environment. I’ll file a report on that trip later.

Thursday, November 13, 2008


Here are a couple of photos of my apartment in the Baluwatar neighborhood of Kathmandu. I’m about 2 minutes from the READ Nepal office. Compared to the Basantapur/Freak Street area – it’s upscale and quiet. Compared to my space in Himalaya’s Guest House – it’s huge. I live in back of my landlord’s house and though called an apartment it’s really a small house: 2 bedrooms, 2 baths, and kitchen (although I only have a gas burner), dining room, living room and sitting area. It’s almost too much, really. But before you think I’ve gone too bourgeoisie this time around, please note that my shower spews only rusty water and has only two temperatures: scalding and ice cold. We still have load shedding (blackouts) 4 evenings a week, and of course there is no internet access. The ambient temperature is controlled by how widely I open my windows. So far it’s been Indian Summer here (warmer than Little Rock) so it’s been OK but we will see how I fare when the temperatures drop.

On Sunday I visited the technical center for the Association of Craft Producers (ACP), a local private (no NGO support), not for profit professional organization providing design, market and technical support services for low income craft producers. I was taken on a tour by Gabish Joshi, a wonderful young man who serves as the trading coordinator. He leads a team who manage all of the exports.
Most of the craft production occurs in the villages but the 43,000 sq.ft. technical center prepares raw materials, develops and tests prototypes, and provide space for the finishing of crafts. ACP maintains a full-time staff of 60 and employs over 200 producers in 30 groups in 15 districts around Nepal.
Since it’s inception in 1984, ACP has shifted from an NGO-based development approach to one that is more aligned with how the private sector works. This is very closely aligned with the ideals and values in my philosophy.
Three cool things about ACP:
1. Design Quality. Meera Bhatterai, Executive Director, has focused the organization on this and it is clearly evident in the products for sale at Dhukuti, their retail outlet in the Kupandole area of Patan.
2. The Environment. ACP is committed to protecting Nepal’s environment and has taken a number of proactive steps: waste water treatment center; rain water catchment system; change from kerosene-based to water-based printing inks; use of recycled paper; smoke free work environment; and, the avoidance of using hardwood or plastic in production.
3. Producer Benefits. ACP has provided more than 1200 producers with not only increased income but benefits as well: savings program; performance rewards; workplace cafeteria; continuing education; education allowance; loans; counseling; paid maternity leave; clothing, medical and household allowances; an emergency fund; and professional membership and fellowship.

Pretty cool, huh? Wait until you see the stuff they make…

Friday, November 7, 2008

What's Up in KTM?

I am very happy to be back in Kathmandu!
The weather here is like Indian summer - blue skies, no rain, no humidity.

I am living in a large 2 bedroom, 2 bath apt. behind the home of a family. It also has a kitchen, dining room, sitting room, garden...all for less than the guesthouse last time.

I am in Baluwatar which is a more upscale area of Kathmandu. I am only 2 minutes walk from the READ Nepal office so I can put in some volunteer hours with them easily. For now I am scheduled to teach (?) some conversational business English to them week after next. I think this is funny.

Next week I am going trekking with Sudip into the Langtang region to visit his home village. I'm pretty pumped about that.

I could not have a better friend in the world than Sudip Lama. There are no words.
A true friend is someone who has your best interests at heart and he is certainly this for me.

We have been working on the handicraft business and also the jumpstarting of his trekking business. It's a lot of work and a lot of fun!

Cheers to All!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

(Wish I had a photo but no cameras allowed in embassy!)

This morning (evening your time), I attended the election watch party at the American Embassy in Kathmandu.
There were about 250 Americans and embassy employees (Nepali) watching the results come in.

It was solidly an Obama crowd and with every state called the room echoed with cheers and applause. We were served a breakfast buffet and most of us had a beer in our hands (at 9am) when Barack gave that moving speech.
The young event photographer (American, about 28 years old) had to put down his camera because he was crying so hard. There was hardly a dry eye in the house and it was great to be there.

I have never been so proud to be an American and while I miss being there with all of you it is great to be in a country where the people are celebrating right along with us.

Tonight I'm attending an Obama celebration at Mike's Breakfast restaurant - it's a place started by an American Peace Corps volunteeer about 20 years ago.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Back Home in Nepal

I've arrived safely after a LONG plane ride or two.
Sudip met in the airport.
I have a wonderful 2 BR 2 bath apt. with a kitchen, dining room, sitting room and patio with a garden.

I am at the Himalaya Java internet cafe and forgot my elecronics converter so my battery is about to go.

It is noisy, smoggy, crazy, beautiful, strange Kathmandu.

I am SOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO happy to be here!

More later...