Wednesday, January 31, 2007


Local parcheesi game. I lost $20.


In Mahendrapul, loading the taxi with kitchen items.


Rekha pricing a pressure cooker with the sahuji.

The List

The List

13 bunk beds (with 2 bottom drawers built-in)
4 single beds for guest room(s)
1 wardrobe for guest room
2 metal trunks for house mother and house sister
clothes hangers
6 low benches and three desks for study room
4 low dining tables
1 white board
1 bulletin board
1 steel cupboard for stationery and school supplies
1 steel cupboard for medicine
1 set sofa for office
1 padded bench for sitting room
1 playground set—swings and slide
21 single foam mattresses
29 pillows
30 blankets with quilt covers
60 bed sheets
30 bath towels
12 sets of curtains
carpeting for three rooms
20 seating cushions
3 door mats
1 computer
1 printer
1 UPS unit
1 volt guard
1 digital camera
1 plug extension unit
assorted toys and books—no specific
2 large aluminum washing bowls
2 large pressure cookers
2 large cooking pots (dekchi)
2 frying pans
1 momo pot set
2 steel pots with lids
2 large thermoses
2 serving spoons
4 cooking spoons
3 chopping knives
1 stone grinder
8 large plastic containers
spice container set
6 oversized plastic containers for storing rice, dal, etc.
30 steel plates for dal bhaat
30 steel bowls for dal
30 steel soup bowls
36 plastic plates for khaja
30 tea cups
36 plastic juice cups
30 steel cups
36 spoons
1 chulesi (Nepali kitchen knife)
1 khukuri
2 nanglos
1 sieve
2 sets belna chakla (rolling pin and plate)
4 gas cylinders
1 gas stove with two burners
1 TV with DVD player
6 emergency lights
first aid kits
basic medicine—paracetamol, etc
iron
ironing board
4 fire extinguishers
1 Eurogard water filter
1 refrigerator
1 electric grinder
stationery
school bags
2 sets of clothes per child
clothes pins
clothes line
hair brushes and picks

Typically when a person moves into a new place, he or she accumulates things over time, starting with necessities and gradually working up to "luxury" items. But when you plan to move 15 children into a home with little start-up time, gathering the necessary items for daily function can be an awesome, awesome task.

What this list (complied by Dinesh and Rekha) cannot convey is the incredible effort to shop for, transport and organize all these items.

Today we shopped for just the kitchen items. We arrived at the store at 1:30p. Prior to this visit, Dinesh and Rekha had spent time pricing various large items for bargaining purposes. At this store, we were fortunate to have a connection—the owner is friends with one of our Nepali trustees, Bharat Malla. Like everywhere, but especially in Nepal, it's all about the connections.

The store was fairly small so I stood outside most of the time, watching the proceedings from the sidewalk, occasionally snapping photos of interesting street vignettes. Dinesh and Rekha, accompanied by a store worker, set about locating and finding prices for each item on the list. Once located, they inquired about the price and responded, as expected, with their opinion about the price being "mahango chha" (expensive) or "sasto chha." Once that was established, the next question became quantity. Because the store was small, it was also in question whether or not the store had 30 of the soup bowls they wanted. The store worker then disappeared into the bowels of the shop, returning with an answer; but sometimes, if an inadequate supply was on hand, he might insist on calling another store to see if they had more.

The store grew crowded as they day went on and the three moved up and down the aisles, checking the list. By 3:30p Rekha had to leave so she could meet Ritesh at home after school. Dinesh got through the final items by 4p. Then he and I went across the street for chili momos (65 NR or 90 cents!) at the Almond Cafe while the store tabulated the final cost.

When we got back, the store had moved everything into a service alley next door. And then it was time for chiyaa, always a cup of tea before the deal is done. So the store owner invited us inside to sit while he made final preparation for the sale, among which was how to transport all these items back to Sam's House. Because of some unrest in the south, Pokhara is nearly out of gasoline, so Dinesh did not bring his truck to the store. (the unrest is preventing gas trucks from India from entering Nepal. No worries. We're safe as kittens.) The owner graciously offered to hire a taxi to bring everything to Sam's House and absorbed the fare in the overall cost. So we piled into the taxi along with all the goods (the two pressure cookers lashed to the roof with the thinnest twine you've ever seen) and drove back to Bagar. Dinesh was extremely pleased with the overall price—tremendous saving within budget and without compromising quality. And it was nearly 5p.

So I hope I've passingly described the effort for this kind of shopping. I should say that I have the easy part of it, going for short strolls and exchanging brief clips of Nepali with friendly street vendors while Dinesh and Rekha wade through the aisles, reviewing each purchase and each price.

I can't say enough about what an impressive job Dinesh and Rekha have done in preparation.

-------------------------------------------------------

A bit of good news to share… we now have seven house mother/sister candidates to interview on Saturday at Sam's House. We hope to find a few more to round out the pool, but we're certainly in better straits now.

The plan is to do a little more shopping today (Thursday) and organize the house Friday, as it will look when lived in, for the interviews. The curtain installers will also come today.

Once we have hired the house mother/sister, they will spend several days at Namaste House, observing the daily routine. Then Rekha will provide some additional training at Sam's House about expectations for child care, food preparation and scheduling. While this training is underway, the child admissions committee (Dinesh, Rekha, and Shova) will begin processing files for Sam's House children according to criteria we've set.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007


Carpeting in the second floor sitting area.


Putting the final touches on the "showcase." That's Ranjit on the left.


The trustees' dinner at Apple Cafe.


The bedding truck arrives at the front gate.


Dinesh and Rekha at the bedding store, haggling with the seller. Note the calculator in seller's hand for immediate computations.

Bedding, Carpets, Pillows and Much Much More...

I haven't written in a while but there's been plenty going on. Where to start.

Last night we had a trustees dinner with the Nepali board at a nearby restaurant called the Apple Cafe. There were nine of us altogether with Ritesh and Diksha. The board had met a couple times but this was the first time they had had a social gathering so there was plenty of get-to-know you conversation. Dinesh and Rekha have gathered a really interesting and capable group of people. There is one lawyer, an accountant, a former major in the Gurkha army, and local business man. We'll have biographies of each trustee on the website when I return to the States.

The lawyer trustee, Shova, has already done a great deal of work for us, helping prepare the documents for registration. She will also assist with the house mother interviews this weekend. Speaking of which...

Our first substantial bump in the road has already appeared. We have only two applicants for the staff jobs and, on paper, each seem unqualified. This has caught us by surprise. Dinesh and Rekha said they never imagined it would be so difficult, and I agree. But these are the circumstances: the adverstisement requested single women, at least 30 years old, with an SLC certificate (HS grad), and without children. We have several women available who fit all those recs except for the children. It is extremely difficult to find women without children.

The age requirement is to ward off house mothers getting married and leaving the job. The childless requirement is so that house mothers won't be tempted to show favoritisma. Since Sam's House will stress education for the children, we thought it was important to have educated staff as well.

We were talking the other night about possible exceptions to the child rule. Namaste House has a house mother whose child lives in. We were thinking it might be possible. We'll revisit that topic later.

In the meantime, we have feelers out in all directions. Dinesh is trying to contact someone at SOS Village for possible contacts. So, we were planning to do interviews today (Tuesday); now we'll aim for Saturday, giving us just three days to find applicants.

Of course, a little of this haste (not really haste; D and R are equally eager to begin) is to please me, in order to open before I leave at the end of February. If it came to that, I will change my ticket. If it still doesn't work out, we won't hire unless we find the right people. I can miss the opening for that; it honestly wouldn't matter to me. It's too important to get the right people.

One of the applicant--by the way, point of interest, just so you know some of the color of the job market here--is a divorced woman with a five year old. She says she is willing to leave her son with her parents to live at Sam's House. She doesn't even want the salary. Just wants us to send it to her parents so her boy can go to school.

We've been on a shopping spree since the last post, buying bedding, sheets, towels, carpets, floor liners, curtains, pillows and more furniture. It's so interesting to watch the bartering process. The other day we went to a bedding store where Dinesh and Rehka haggled for more than an hour on 30 pillows, 15 foam mattresses, towels, etc. It's the system but more importantly, our donations are being stretched as far as possible without comprosiming quality items for the children. In fact, the landlord's wife came downstairs today to inspect the work going on. When she saw all the new purchases stacked in the kitchen, she joked that she wanted to open an orphanage for old ladies.

Speaking of which, our landlord and his wife are really sweet people. I don't think they need the tenants but they are interested helping us.

Today was a long day of labor at the house. In the morning the bedding arrived, piled high in the bed of a pickup truck. We put those items into the kitchen because in the late morning the flooring guys came with vinyl liners and carpeting. We put vinyl liners in most of the rooms; they look nice and they're easy to clean. We put carpeting in the upstairs kitchen and dining room, which will be play areas for the children.

By the way, the bedding, mattresses, towels and pillows came out to 49,000 Nepali rupees or (at 70 NR/USD) $700. And the purchased enough for 30 children. Quite a deal.

I'm always amazed at how Nepalis get the job done with the most rudimentary instruments. The carpet guys came in today with knives and free-hand scissors for cutting. No t-squares or any other measuring device but a tape measure. And still they get everything square and tidy.

With the carpeting guys, we moved a "showcase" (think massive wooden hutch with sliding plate glass front), that must've weighed 600 pounds (heaviest thing I've ever moved beside my brother-in-law's gym-quality treadmill) from the dining area to a sitting room. We had three carpeting guys, me, Dinesh, and Ranjit, our landlord, the 75-year-old, former tennis pro with diabetes. The showcase had very few places on which to grab hold so we moved it along by placing three welcome mats underneath and sliding it along the floor inch by inch. A very funny ten minutes.

Tomorrow we start shopping for kitchen items. This will take the most time and Rekha will be the lead bargainer. After that we'll move past the necessities for things like a TV, DVD players, toys, books, etc.

Keep us in your thoughts for some good applicants for the house mother position.

Tyatti ho--that's all for now. Life is good.

CB

Sunday, January 28, 2007


The director in his office.


Volunteer's room. There's another downstairs that can be used for volunteers as well.


Dining area. Dinesh ordered four small, low tables where the children will eat.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Movin' and Groovin'

Thanks to those of you who submitted names for the Rajbhandari's car. The name selection committee will meet after dal bhaat this evening.

Had a productive day today. In the morning, Dinesh and I walked to the carpenter's place to see the beds, tables, and other items he is making for Sam's House. The carpenter is also a car mechanic (multi-tasker) and his crew sits in a garage making everything by hand. It's beautiful furniture and appropriate: the corners on the beds are all rounded. Dinesh has ordered bunk beds that have drawers underneath the bottom bunk, benches for the homework room, and tables for the eating area. They will look very sharp.

After that we took a cab to Chipledunga, the shopping area of town, where we priced TVs and went to the PO Box to collect applications for the house mother job. The job has been advertised in the paper for about two weeks and there have been (surprisingly and not) no applicants. Until today. There was one. I say surprisingly because Dinesh is surprised, I'm guessing, that in a country of rampant unemployment no one would at least float an application. But also not surprised because the requirements are a bit unusual--30 years of age, educated to SLC, and preferably single. The age line has been set because we didn't want to hire women who were likely to get married. Past 30, those chances diminish greatly. Ideally, you find a childless widow who can be truly invested with the children. We'll see.

When the advertisement first appeared, Dinesh was contacted by a woman who heads the Single Women Association in Pokhara (who knew of such an organization). Dinesh is going to call her to see if she has any leads.

After the Post Office, we walked to a shop that makes cane furniture--looks like wicker but a little thicker. Dinesh ordered some office pieces from this place because it is cheaper (thinking frugally) but very durable if cared for properly. They shop loaded the furniture into the truck and we hitched a ride back to Sam's House where we carried the items upstairs to his office. We made some adjustments for feng shui and practical moving about and we found a good configuration of desk, file cabinet, bookshelf and guest seating chair. It really looks great--he can hold staff meetings, drink chiyaa with guests, and, from his seat, see into the play area on the second floor. He seems very pleased with it.

In the afternoon, after lunch, Rekha, Dinesh and I sat on their roof to review what they had discussed at their board meeting. They have their own board, like ours, and their own subcommittees for finance, child admission, and director review.

As for schools, Dinesh says he will ask a few local schools to submit proposals to Sam's House for our children. Sound strange? I thought so. But it's actually a very good thing for us. Private schools here are generally better quality but there's a glut so they need students. Having 15 potential students, Dinesh and the baord figured they should bid for us in terms of providing scholarships, financial aid and general quality of program. Smart idea, huh?

Dinesh and Rekha also walked me through their consitution, about which I wrote earlier in this blog. Sure enough, there was every trustee's name on each page. There's only one more bureaucratic hoops through which to jump--registration with national Social Welfare Council in KTM. Rekha will likely go sometime next week.

Did I mention how great the Rajbhandari's apartment is? You can sit on the roof and see the mountains in the distance while getting some sun. A perfect place. They have me bedding in the office which doubles as Ritesh's room. Ritesh has kindly yielded his place and moved to his parents room.

So, this last bit I hesitate to put in print because I fear that will jinx the entire point. We were planning a schedule for the next couple weeks. We still need to hire house mothers, train them, purchase and move all items into Sam's House, process children for admission, admit children to the home, and probably many other things I'm not yet aware of. However, with all that, we set Friday, February 16th as the target day to open Sam's House with children and staff in place. That's 20 days away and seems ambitious.

In our favor is the day itself. February 16th is Shiva's Day (Shivaratri), the Hindu god of power who stomps out evil in the world. Dinesh and Rekha say this is most auspicious day for an opening. We'd appreciate thoughts from a few other deities as well.

I'm in a cybercafe now but heading back for dinner soon. I look forward to seeing Diksha and Ritesh in the evenings. Diksha brings my baseball hat wherever I am, calls me "uncle," and puts her arms up to be carried or lifted.

(Posting pictures was a little slow. I'll put more up tonight.)

CB


Kitchen on the first floor. In the background you can see some items we obtained over the summer from INF.



Front view of the house (formerly Rhinestone Tennis Club) from the street. To my right is an entry way onto the Tribhuvan University campus.


Me and Jeni Rai (Anita's niece). She's a little camera shy. And my teeth are yellow.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Viewing the House

So this morning I got to see Sam's House in person. As with many things, it is even better in person. And as with many things Nepali, it's always curious to see what Dinesh leaves out in his description.

For example, in the front yard, not visible in the pictures, stands a large, wrought-iron gazebo covered so deeply in bougainvillea (sp) that the inside is completely shaded. Inside the gazebo is a wicker table with matching chairs. Now I don't know how the gazebo will serve Sam's House, which is probably why Dinesh left it out, but it's a pretty stunning feature. I'll put up a picture later.

Also remiss from earlier description is that the house stands on the converted "Rhinestone Tennis Club" of Pokhara. The older gentleman who owns the house is a former tennis pro and he built the club on this site, though now the court area is overgrown and boxed in with a large stone wall. Halfway up the side of the house you can see spotlights affixed to the stone for night games.

The inside of the house is nice and bright and, walking through with Dinesh, it was great to hear how he and Rekha have envisioned all the rooms. Just fantastic.

---------------------------------

Yesterday Dinesh picked me up from the airport in his new car, which as you may remember, I had to drive home for him when it was purchased. Dinesh is driving now and it was quite a thrill to rush through the streets of Pokhara in a Maharuti.

Today we were driving downtown and I told Dinesh we needed to give his car a name.

"But my car already has a name. It is called a Gypsy." (The model is Maharuti Gypsy)
"Yes, I know but it needs another name. It should have another name." (How to explain the American tradition of nicknaming cars.) "My first car was the Millenium Falcon, then the Valdez, the Bu, and Trigger." (Kind but unappreciating silence from Dinesh.)

Irregardless of Dinesh's response, I still think his car needs a name so I'm putting it out to all of you. Name the Rajbhandari's car. I'll submit all the entries to Dinesh and Rekha then choose the one I like the best.

If you want pictures for inspiration, click on the "June 2006" link on the right side of the blog.

--------------------------------

So the rest of this post is rather graphic but the details are necessary to "color" the entire scene. And, in retrospect, it seems too classic to leave out any details.

On Monday, in KTM, I walked to Boudhanath in the late morning, one of my favorite places to go. It's a long walk, about three miles one way, but with not much else to do, I figured it would be a pleasant way to spend the day.

On the way home, however, I started feeling really tired, which struck me as odd since I had had a long sleep the night before. I pushed on, obviously, and made it home, blaming my fatigue on persisting jet lag. Who knows.

Our friend Santosh was planning to visit me at 6pm in the lobby for tea. About 5:30p I went down to the lobby with a book and to chat with the front desk guys, something they'd rather do with Jen because of her good looks and my bad Nepali, but they'll have to suffer me until May.

When I get to the lobby I realize I've locked my key in my room. This is no big problem, I figure, because I'll just notify the front desk after Santosh leaves.

Santosh arrives and we order tea and right when I take a sip I realize I'm more than tired--I'm not feeling well. And then I remember that I haven't had an appetite since the day before. I ate Zone bar at 8am this morning but nothing else, save a Coke.

I excuse myself from Santosh, saying there's something I want to get him from our room, though there's nothing but an envelope I've already given him. Then I remember that I'm locked out. I ask Sachin at the front desk to let me in and he says he'll call maintenance for me.

I return to my seat with Santosh and push on through some more conversation but the gas in my stomach is starting to rock and roll, but I wasn't yet sure if I would vomit. I ask Sachin about maintenance and he tells me the maintenance worker is at dinner and he will open the door in a few minutes. Of course I say "no problem" and return to Santosh, who has abided these interruptions with all kindness.

Before I can bid Santosh farewell I excuse myself again. I'm not sure why I didn't elect to use the public restroom in the lobby, but for some reason, I felt I should be sick in private. I left Santosh sitting in the lobby again.

The maintenance worker materializes and we go up in the elevator together. He is trying to talk to me but I can barely respond. Naturally my room is at the end of the hallway. We walk down and he begins going through his keys. First one, nope. Second one, nope. Third one, nope. He goes through the entire ring of at least 15 keys and none works. I'm bent over at this point with my hands on my knees, staring at the floor, feeling sweat on my back.

He starts the ring of keys over again and after three or four more tries he opens the door. I push past him and take off my fleece vest. Then (don't know why) I look for my key, as if I needed to let the maintenance guy know this was a legitimate call (which it was. At the time I locked myself out I didn't know I was going to be sick, but somehow I still felt explanation was necessary--this is my biggest problem in life). I find the key next to the TV and hold it up for him to see. I lurch forward toward the bathroom but don't even get the door open when the first wave rushes out--in the hallway, on the wall. Then I bang the door open and dump another blast on the bathroom floor, finally scrambling my way to the side of the bathtub so I can have my final heaves in the right place. (The best part is still to come)

So I'm sitting there on the side of the tub, wretching into the toilet. And even before I'm through, I'm already lamenting the clean-up process, or lack thereof. The maintenance guy has poked his head around the door frame so he can see me but without standing in the much. "Sir? Thik chha? Sir?" I apologize profusely, embarrassed as hell. I ask him to bring me some towels while I sit hunched over, waiting for the end.

When I grew up, we had something euphemistically-known as "Norbert powder" named for Norbert DeWitt, the janitor at my grade school who would dump a bag of powder on top of vomit, when this occurred in class. Later, Norbert came with a vacuum--vomit gone! I already know that I'm not going to get Norbert powder to clean up this spill. In fact, I'm guessing I'm going to have to live with this odor until I check out. I was partially right.

The maintenance guy reappears with a bag of dirty towels which he dumps on the floor and we begin swishing them back and forth, over the carpet, over the tile, using our feet. When these are saturated, he holds open a plastic bag. I pick them up and drop them in. Nevermind that we have failed to get the spots between the tiles where the grout is. And frankly, at that moment, I didn't care.

So with splotches of rank on my shirt, I walk back downstairs where Santosh is STILL WAITING and with a smile on his face. I explain to him that I'm sick and have to go back up. He kindly wishes good-bye and leaves. I feel terrible to have ushered him out like that but beyond my control.

Best part still coming...

Nepalis are so kind when they know you are ill and everyone has a remedy. Back in my room, I quickly get into bed and I'm shivering with a fever. The maintenance guy comes back to my room to see how I'm doing. I tell him I'm fine but cold. He checks the unit in my room and discovers the heat does not work. I try to tell him that's OK, but he's determined to fix it. He leaves and one of the waiters from the restaurant, sent upstairs by Sachin, asks if there's anything I need. I say "no" and then ask him what he thinks. He suggests lemon and hot water and I say fine, please bring me some.

The waiter returns with the hot water and the maintenance guy and they both set to fix the heating unit. I tell them it's OK but they persist. Then another maintenance guy walks in to help. So, I'm shivering with the covers pulled over my head, still smelling foul in all my clothes, and there's three guys in my room trying to fix the heater. Then the phone starts to ring...

First it's Santosh calling from the bus stop to see if I'm all right. Then it's Anita from the bar. And then Sachin calls from the front desk. Then Jen calls (15 times*)...

Truth is, there's probably no better place to get sick than Hotel Tibet. It turns out I had some 24-hour flu bug and right now I'm good as gold. The fever was gone by next morning. I ordered some tea the next day and the waiter brought it to my room. I had been in the room so long, I had forgotten about the smell, which I quickly remembered when I saw him quickly retreat without saying goodbye. Good grief.

Anyhow, those were my last 36 hours in Kathmandu. It's good to be in Pokhara. Lots to share about Sam's House in the coming days.

CB

In PKA

Lots to update you on but I will wait for tomorrow when I have more time. I was a little ill on my final day in KTM.

I'm in Pokhara with the Rajbhandaris, where they are, as usual, making me comfortable and welcome. As dinner was prepared, I sat at the kitchen table while Rekha prepared everything including conversation, and I felt a strong impression of being in my other home.

Speaking of homes, the Rajbhandaris are renting a new home. It's one floor, and unlike their last place, it is theirs alone with vegetable and flower garden. It's a really beautiful place. I'm happy for them as they'd been looking to have their own place for quite awhile.

Diksha is walking and talking a lot. A beautiful little girl. Ritesh is friendly and intelligent (the top student in his class; I'm teaching him Uno tomorrow) and a good big brother.

I'm going to bed. Life is good.

Love, CB

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Lost and Found

I managed to sleep until 5:30a this morning. About 7:30 I decided to go for a walk around town. I like getting off the main roads in KTM because there's hundreds of smaller streets and paths that don't show up on any maps. You can wander about for hours and pass lots of interesting domestic scenes as the towns wakes up.

This morning it was very cold, I'm guessing about 40. There was heavy fog and overcast skies as well. I was walking around with my camera, stopping to take pictures every so often. I pride myself on a good sense of direction and the whole time I kept an eye on the direction of Hotel Tibet. After a mile or so, knowing where I was, or so I thought, I imagined writing a post later in the day, like this one, about how I had gained the ability to walk anywhere in this town without getting lost. Why don't I know any better?

I decided to turn back and I began taking the steps I thought would lead me back to a main road. I couldn't find it and suddenly I was in Nayabazaar, an area I couldn't remember seeing on a map. Then I crossed the Bishnumati River, which in my mind's GPS should have been far away to the south. I decided to hail a cab but strangely there were none to be found. Just as I finished the thought, I saw three young men stop a private car coming down the road. Apparently, some group (the Maoists, the taxi drivers, I don't know) had called a bandh and there were to be no vehicles on the road.

I stopped a young guy dressed in a suit and tie who was crossing the Bishnumati heading west. I asked him to point in the direction of Lazimpat. He said he would show me because he was going there too, but then he reversed direction on the bridge and we started walking back from where he had come. I thought about asking him why he had been going the other way but I didn't. Instead I said I hoped I wouldn't make him late for his interview and he assured me that wouldn't happen. He said again that he had been going to Lazimpat. Totally confused, I just walked alongside.

The man's name was Amar Gurung and he had just come back from Dubai where he, like many Nepalis, was working construction. He said he quit his job, which I thought was unlikely since so many Nepalis are leaving for the UAE every day. We made pleasant conversation until I realized we had found Leknath Marg, a road not far from Hotel Tibet. As we drew near, I bid Amar goodbye and he continued on. I felt a short bit of uncertainty because I am not used to that kind of assistance. Did Amar expect a tip or payment? Not that I could tell. But then how often does someone walk you 15 minutes out of his way to show you the way home?

CB

Second Home

Familiar place, familiar situation... I'm sitting in a cybercafe in Thamel, the tourist district of Kathmandu. It's almost 5pm and I'm struggling to stay awake in order to kill the jet lag in one day. Though I'll probably make it to 10pm tonight I know I'll wake up at 3am, as I did last night in my seedy Bangkok hotel: the world-famous Garden Queen Hotel Near Suvarnabhumi Airport (offical name).

Actually the Queen (as I'll now call it) wasn't bad but I'm pretty sure I was one of a very few guests. It sat on some frontage road near the airport and I could hear trucks roaring by through the night but that was rather soothing in a way.

I didn't mean to stay at the Queen. I had reservations at the Amari hotel, which is connected to the terminal by a footbridge--ultra convenient, but one small problem. The Amari is located at the Don Muang airport, the FORMER international airport of Thailand, nearly an hour away by cab. Thailand opened the new airport a couple months ago. Oh well. So I forewent those reservations and stayed at the Queen which was very inexpensive. So much so that I ordered myself a one-hour in-room massage (which had me feeling a little creepy for the first 15 minutes) that cost just seven dollars.

My row companion was Loc, a Vietnamese gentleman who lives in New York and works in the "fragrance industry." Who knew? He goes to Paris twice a month with new concoction to offer cosmetic companies. He was on his way to Saigon to see family. Best of all, Loc had the bladder of a camel, so he rarely moved from his seat during the 17 hour flight. Which, by the way, gets easier each time. It really did not seem like 17 hours this time, even though I saw four movies, read 200 pages and idled about the back of the plane, where the flight attendants asked if I was Tom Hanks son.

A quick word about the new Thai airport--it is simply unbelievable. It's the nicest and largest airport I've ever seen. The shopping area at the concourse hub is nicer than Saks Fifth Avenue and each store has roughly seven workers for every shopper. There's a sushi bar, massage spas, and all sorts of luxury items. It looks a lot like Charles de Gaulle in Paris (and, yes, I feel like a pretentious jerk using that as a comparison, but it's the best I can do) with all the glass panes and long connector beams.

On the flight from BKK to KTM you can see the Himalayas as you approach Nepal. I had a seat along that side of the plane with the best view. People started getting out of their seats and peering through the windows, pushing themselves into your space for a better look. It seems rude but I think people are just blown away by the vista. Anyhow, I got out of my seat and let people in to take pictures unobstructed. I wasn't even interested in looking... which leads to my point that this visit, so far, has none of the novelty of previous stays. In fact, this firmly feels like work, which it is, but I think also marks a turned corner. I love it here but I don't feel that giddy sense of new-ness that characterized our visit last year and the year before that. I feel like that's a good thing. Plus, so many of the experiences in Nepal are shared and since Jenny Rothchild isn't here, it's not as much fun (note to everyone but Jenny Rothchild: she will like that I wrote that).

I'm back at the Hotel Tibet and it appears to have some guests this time.

Tomorrow I have to run some errands. It's in the high 50s right now but most of the Nepalis are bundled like mid-winter in Minnesota. I've seen people wearing gloves and hats and winter coats. I like the relative cold here compared to visiting in the summer. It seems to keep the grime down.

This is the low point of the high season for tourists. It's a little cold to go trekking and too inclement for climbers, still I see a fair number of foreign faces walking through Thamel. I suspect by the time I leave, KTM will have a steady stream of tourists.

Speaking of which, the peace accord seems to be holding. The Maoists turned in the weapons last week and the Nepali army will follow suit this week. Let's hope this heralds better times ahead.

Those are all my notes for now. I'll talk to you all later. Thanks for the e-mails.

Love, CB

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

in NYC

I'm securely nestled in the apartment of Brad and Delta Schonhoft on the upper east side of NYC. Brad was off before I woke this morning and I just finished breakfast with Delta, who is now changing for work. They've got me lined up with a metrocard and subway map for today. I'm all set.

I arrived last night after some delays in MSP due to weather, but overall the flight was pleasant and uneventful and I spent time in the terminal calling people on the phone.

I don't typically believe in harbingers or omens, but something happened last night... I had collected my luggage at the baggage claim and was rolling toward the taxi stand at JFK. Before I got to the stand a guy approached and asked if I was wanting a cab. Of course, not knowing any better and unable to not respond when spoken to, I said "yes." Behind me, a female voice said, "no, you don't." I looked over my shoulder and saw a young woman pulling her bags. She looked college-aged and returning to school after winter break.

So I ignored the man and walked outside the terminal toward the taxi stand again. I thanked the young woman, saying, "I must have a sign on my back." She replied, "no, actually, it's on your front." I was wearing my Minnesota sweatshirt. Pretty funny. Anyhow, this woman was from Minneapolis and, as I suspected, coming back to school at Barnard College. She probably saved me a little money and a lot of hassle. A very nice way to start the trip.

Last week, the Nepalese government gave its approval to Sam's House, so we are now legal and legit in two countries. Best of all it means there are no more bureaucratic hurdles in our way (at least for the time being). Dinesh has placed "paper adverts," as he calls them, for house mothers and didis to work at the orphanage. He says we'll conduct interviews when I get to Pokhara in a week. Pretty exciting.

That's all for now except to say that I miss my traveling partner.

CB