Tuesday, February 27, 2007

The children and didis wave good-bye. Won't you come for a visit?

The children in the kitchen. Rekha designed that background (on top of the professional-grade Danfe paint). Each child will have their name written on a separate flower--the growing family.

Nabina Pun (she goes by "Niki")

Pratima and Manju all showered up and modeling their new clothes.

After receiving tika from the didis.

Sweet Sorrow

I'm back in Kathmandu now, having left Pokhara yesterday afternoon.

I'm not that familiar with too many cultures (Cleveland OH, rural MN--see what I mean) but I'd have to say that as far as farewells go, it'd be hard to beat the Nepalese. They always make you feel like the very most important visitor ever to grace their presence. It's remarkable.

Two nights ago I walked over to Sam's House to say goodnight to the children and the didis. When I made to leave, the didis sat me down in a chair for giving me tika, which is a customary blessing made with red dye on your forehead. They also had prepared a tray of sweets for me to enjoy--logdu (which they fed me personally), grapes and a Kit-Kat chocolate bar. Then they each said how grateful they were to have a new job and they each gave me a single gift, paid for by their meager (by our standards, not theirs) Sam's House salaries. It's enough to make you weep.

Then I went back to the Rajbhandaris for yet another awesome meal with peanut masala, prawn chips, chicken chili and dal bhaat. Rekha actually said she'd been too busy to make something special during my visit, which seemed incredible to me since every night was a treat. Ritesh gave me a chocolate bar as a farewell treat.


As you can see in the pictures, Nabina Pun (poon) has joined us at Sam's House. She was living with her grandmother in Pokhara since last year when her mother went abroad to find work. No one has heard from her since. Her father was killed a year and a half ago when his taxi (he drove them) ran over a Maoist mine. Nabina's grandmother is quite ill and she knew that she needed to make arrangements for Nabina before it was too late.

The day Nabina arrived, her grandmother was completing paperwork with Dinesh (which she had to sign with a thumbprint). I watched Nabina's face as they started to talk about the grandmother leaving. Nabina's face just melted. It was so sad. She didn't make any sound but her eyes filled with tears and they poured down her cheeks. As consolation, her grandmother took her to a playground one more time before returning to Sam's House. I'm happy to report that Nabina is quite happy and running around with Pratima and Manju in the yard.


I'm back at the Hotel Tibet, at the opposite end of the hall from my pre-Pokhara meltdown. Thank goodness.

Today there's another bandh so I'm planning a walk to Swayambhunath with Anita Rai. After that some brief shopping in those stores brave enough to open today.

There's lots more to share but I'll have to wait until next week when I'm back in Mo-town.

Thanks for all your notes and comments and kind wishes.


Saturday, February 24, 2007

Dear Sam's House Supporter, Here's What You Did Today!

The first day we can officially call ourselves Sam's House.

Across the back are the didis: Tara, Indreni and Sushma.

That's Manju and Pratima from left to right. And Sushma is holding Suresh Devkota, Tara's son who wanted to see his mom's new job.

There are many more needy boys and girls to join this group. Please come see for yourself sometime.

Giving a push on the new swingset.

Manju Joins Us

After the bandh we were free to start bringing children home. We picked up Pratima on Friday morning, returning to her mother's room in Parsyang. I got a peek inside their home, which was a 5' 10' cinder block room decorated mostly with posters and pictures of Hindu gods. Their bed was a construction of wood planks covered with a straw mat. Steel dishes and cups were strewn about the floor.

Despite these humble surroundings Man Maya dressed up her daughter as best she could, combing Pratima's hair and making her wear her wool school sweater. Before we could leave we had to complete some paperwork with witnesses present. Finding witnesses never seems to be a problem in rural Nepal. Always lots of people around interested in goings-on.

Dinesh read the various forms to people, making sure they understood who we were, what our intentions were, what responsibilities we would assume, and where we'd be in the future. They were all very helpful and thanked Dinesh for taking Pratima, having been familiar with her situation for some time.

On the cab ride to Sam's House, Man Maya talked nearly the whole time. And though my Nepali is far from perfect I could barely follow anything she said. Usually I can pick up a word or two to discern the topic under discussion but from her I could understand nothing. Later I asked Dinesh what she was talking about during the ride. He said he didn't know either.

We gave Man Maya a tour of the house to show her that Pratima would be well looked after. She was extremely impressed. The separation, as all anticipated, was kind of rough. Pratima is a loving, trusting, easy-to-laugh child, but she's no fool. After some negotiation we gave Man Maya some money to buy Pratima a snack, this being the deal maker. Man Maya promised to come back tomorrow, which of course she couldn't do, but she knew this would be the only way to part. Dinesh and I stood nearby promising Pratima that she'd soon have lots of friends to play with.

Then last night, Indreni told us that Pratima cried for a long time before bed because her mother hadn't returned. Then she said that "Dinesh Uncle" and "Chris Uncle" were liars because she didn't have any friends to play with yet. That was mildly heartbreaking to say the least, but we would soon redeem ourselves in her eyes...


Today we drove to Lumle to pick up Manju Devkota. She lives in a tin shack with her grandmother. Her father is a drug addict living in India, parts unknown. Her mother is mentally unstable and left Manju to go back to her village.

We were accompanied by Sushil from Namaste House, which referred us to Manju from their waiting list. Also along were Bharat Malla, one of our trustees and Manju's cousin who was familiar with her case. We piled into a taxi and headed on Baglung Highway to the north, up and down 30 kilometers of switchbacks. To wildly understate the matter, it was an exciting ride.

When we got to Lumle, Manju's grandmother was not there. She knew we were coming but being Saturday she had walked across the nearest mountain to go to temple. Her cousin arranged for us to work through the exchange forms with the some relatives and neighbors with the promise that he would personally bring the grandmother to Sam's House sometime next week.

Unlike Pratima, probably because her cousin was with us, Manju eagerly led us back to the taxi and jumped in the front seat. The clothes she wore are the only clothes she owns and the only material things she has. Tomorrow she'll get two new sets.

Back at Sam's House, I watched Manju feeling happy for her but also wondering how bewildering this must be--to be ushered off with strangers into a home where suddenly everyone is making a fuss over you, talking to you, but no one or nothing looks familiar. She followed the didis to the water tap where they washed her hands and feet. Soon after she was on the playground, passively following me to the swingset and letting me give her a push. As all of you with children already know, kids are a lot tougher than adults.

So I left Manju eating churra and vegetables with chiyaa. I imagine now she's outside playing with her new sister. Suminder Gurung had come downstairs to be the mothering figure over the whole playground. Very sweet.


In an hour Dinesh and I are going to Archalbot to see Amrit Ranavat, a seven year old boy who lives in a room by himself, where neighbors give him food. His father is alcoholic and lives in Pokhara but wants nothing to do with Amrit. His mother left years ago. Recently Amrit's father saw him at a buspark. Thinking his son had money, the father asked him to give it over. When Amrit refused, his father tried to throw him under a bus. Fortunately on-lookers intervened.


I have to run now but I just wanted to say that I wish you were all here right now. And I know you are in some way or another, but you all really deserve to see this up close. Your generosity (through money, work, or a kind word shared) has literally changed (even saved) the lives of two little girls and one little boy.

Tara gives Manju's feet and hands a good scrub before lunch.

Manju's home that she shared with her grandmother in Lumle.

Manju Devkota

Pratima running around the playground. I was pretending to be a tiger. Or that's what she thought I was doing.

Indreni checks Pratima's hair for lice then gives it a good comb. All part of the admissions routine.

Pratima enjoying some dal bhaat. That smile captures her personality well.

Pratima meets the didis at Sam's House.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Bandh? Check.

Someone called for a nationwide bandh today, so motorized vehicles are not permitted on the roads and most stores are closed with the exception of some brave shop owners, such as the gentleman proprietor of the cybercafe in which I now sit.

(This morning Ranjit called and I expected him to say that we would not be playing tennis. How could I doubt his inner sportsman? We walked to the tennis courts instead, 20 minutes one way. One good thing to be said for the bandh--you can walk in the middle of the street.)

I say "someone" because the bandh, according to Dinesh, was called by "ethnic groups of Nepal" who feel they are not adequately represented in the National Assembly or Congress. But no one can tell me which members of ethnic groups or which ethnic groups in particular. Now, as Newars, Dinesh and Rekha are members of an ethnic group, technically speaking, so I asked them at dinner last night why they were calling for a bandh. They could not tell me why. Then they went back to eating silently. I slept with one eye open last night.

Obviously they have nothing to do with the bandh, like many other people considered to be members of an "ethnic group." I asked if ethnic people's weren't already represented by the eight political parties who have representatives in Congress. They agreed that was the case.

OK, so who's sponsoring the bandh?

After walking around the streets today, through Bagar, down to Chipledunga and Mahendrapul, my educated guess is that the bandh sponsors are young men feelng particularly disenfranchised by the current political situation. And there are thousands of them. The bandh is a way to call attention to their dissatisfaction. The "ethnic group" mantle might just have been a cover.

A few intrepid souls ventured out on motorcycles and they were likely caught at an intersection by a group of young men standing over the piles of ashes that had been tires asking why they were disobeying the bandh. I couldn't follow the discussion standing so far away, but it seemed that some people were permitted to pass while others were forced to go back. I couldn't distinguish the difference in physical appearance. One rider who became openly defiant has his cycle key taken by some guy wearing mirrored sunglasses, like the prison boss in Cool Hand Luke. Kind of intimidating.

Interestingly the fruit and vegetable vendors are allowed to operate, which I'm guessing might be due to their low status or because their goods can spoil in day, and a bandh is only meant to send a message, not ruin your business. Or, it might be that, borrowing from John Kennedy's Toole's epigram in Confederacy of Dunces, "no one respects a produce vendor."

For Sam's House, the bandh was an inconvenience, yes, but also a reality check. Inconvenient in that we were planning to visit a village for an interview and process with the hope of having 5-6 children in house by Sunday at which time we could hold an "opening' with the other trustees. Losing today means we will possibly only have 1 or 2 children. It's a reality check in that despite all our good intentions and all the good work we may come to do someday, there is a much larger situation here in Nepal and presently no one seems to have an idea how they can work themselves out of it. Sometimes I think, "What's Nepal going to do?" They have virtually no natural resources to export except for hydroelectric power which is so saddled with corruption the infrastructure may not ever get built. The conflict has chased away tourists. Because Nepal has no seaport, it's not profitable for foreign companies to manufacture here. Because the populace is so generally uneducated, these same companies have no desire to outsource information sector jobs here either. So, as they say in Nepal, ke garne: "what to do?"

Dinesh is one of the many people who have lost faith in the political system to bring positive change. For this reason, he says "I'm just focused on trying to do something good for people." Unfortunately more people here do not share his humanitarian impulse, or I should say, haven't had the set of advantages needed to be in a position to make such a statement.

The bandh is supposed to be one day only. Hopefully we'll get out tomorrow to meet a few more children after we pick up Pratima and her mother.


Speaking of Pratima, after I wrote yesteday, I had some misgivings about how I presented her information, fearing I might confuse some people. While Sam's House is an orphanage, not every child will be a pure orphan, meaning that both parents are either deceased or unaccounted for.

In processing the children needing homes, we rate them according to certain criteria. I think I described this before. These ratings determine their level of being "at-risk." Obviously pure orphans are significantly "at-risk" but this is not the only consideration we make in our selection.

For Pratima, her father had abandoned her and her mother was unable to work consistently, or at all. She told us she worked from time to time but, according to other reports we heard from locals, that may have been for pride only. Therefore, as a young girl with no father and a mother unfit to care for her, Pratima's "at-risk" level we considered to be very high. And when we say "at-risk" we mean the likelihood that they could be indentured to families in India as servants or worse.

This is why we call Sam's House a home for orphaned and abandoned children.


In this particular cybercafe that I visit quite often, I've struck up a friendly relationship with the owner and his assistants. Sometimes when I arrive all the computers are taken. I offer to wait but they insist that I work at the main computer, the one on the front desk which is used to log the usage of the other computers. No other patron has this level of access. It's embarrassing, yes, but very sweet too.


Tonight we having dinner at Ranjit and Ama Gurung's. I'm expecting Ama to feed us within inches of our lives, as is the Nepali way. So I'm skipping snacks today in order to have enough room because saying "no more" will not be an option.


Cute moment from yesterday... I came back to the orphange in the late afternoon, after Dinesh had already gone home. Earlier in the day Rekha had told the didis to buy some fabric so they could have some kurtas made for daily work, a sort of uniform. They were very excited about this.

I walked past their room to take something to Dinesh's office. Their door was open and I could see them holding the fabric in front of them, modeling in the mirror the way it would look after the tailors. They didn't see me standing there and when I said "hello" they burst into embarrassed laughter.


Ranjit has offered to teach tennis lessons to all the kids. One hour a week. He says he owns 10 small "trainer rackets" that they can use. Perhaps Sam's House will one day be the future proving ground for Nepal Davis Cup team hopefuls. We can dream.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Pratima Acharya

Man Maya and Pratima Acharya.

Namaste Pratima!

This afternoon, Dinesh and I took a taxi down the Baglung Highway toward Lakeside. We got out somewhere along the road; I don’t know where exactly. Dinesh had gotten directions from Shova, who herself was uncertain of the house we should be looking for. We wandered off the highway down some residential roads, heading up toward the foothills that lie on the western edge of Pokhara. They do not use addresses here in Pokhara nor do they feel that a grid is the best way to plan residential areas. Dinesh stopped a few times to ask directions from locals and they sent us twisting up and down different paths. Dinesh made a few calls to clarify the directions, but they did not help. We suddenly spotted a woman down the road waving at us to come.

And then we met Pratima Acharya. She will be the first child at Sam’s House.

The woman waving to us was a friend of Pratima’s mother. Quickly (hospitality first always) she brought two mudas (stools) outside for us to sit. Pratima’s mother, Man Maya, was seated on the grass; she called Pratima outside, who quickly ran up and snuggled in her lap, which she continued to do for the duration. Pratima was wearing school clothes that were extremely dingy, and I would guess may be one of two sets of clothes that she owns, if not the only set. (You frequently see that: schools require uniforms, so parents with meager means just buy the school clothes and make them the everyday clothes as well.)

For this process, Dinesh conducts an interview to determine the child’s situation and need, and to collect vital information about the child. When that’s completed Dinesh explains the procedure of admitting Pratima and the rules for visitation in the future. This is potentially the most difficult part because guardians and parents are not permitted to see their children very often, no more than a few times a year. And they cannot have them stay overnight even during the holidays. This is all for the child’s state of mind and creating stability.

Man Maya nodded immediately in response to every declaration, appearing to understand the conditions, asking very few questions.

I kept thinking about how courageous this woman was when you consider that she has no husband (he deserted) and barely any income (she works when able as a house servant). When you’re that poor and that uneducated the only thing you have is your children. Yet she still understood that giving up her only child was the best thing to do for Pratima. I could not imagine a more selfless and brave thing to do.

During the interview, Pratima clung to her mother's neck. Man Maya kept asking her to make a Namaste for us, but she was overwhelmed with shyness. I asked if I could take her picture. Reluctantly she posed with her mother but once I showed them the pictures in the viewer on the back of the camera, she agreed to have her picture taken alone.

We finished the interview and told Man Maya we would be back on Friday to pick them up. Man Maya will come with Acharya to Sam’s House, so that she can see where her daughter will be living: the open playground, the clean rooms, the comfortable beds and, the friendly didis.

We're getting closer. So, thank you, Sam’s House supporter. Thank you, thank you, thank you…


Tomorrow we're planning to go with Sushil from Namaste House to Lumle, a village about 1.5 hours from here. There's a young girl there who needs a home. Unfortunately there have been rumors of a bandh being called for tomorrow which means we might not be able to travel the roads outside Pokhara. Who knows?

The director models a recently-donated cane bench outside his office. (Will the sweater vest ever go out of style?)

Rekha conducts a training session with the didis.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Where Are the Girls?

We had our admission committee meeting this morning. The admission committee consists of Dinesh, Bharat Malla (owner of Seven Peaks Travel: free plug: www.sevenpeakstravels.com) and Shova. We had a list of 12 children from the waiting list at Namaste House; unfortunately our criteria only permitted us to take five. Here's why...

We have some basic requirements for the children we accept: between 2-5 years of age, true orphan priority, and 3 to 2 girl to boy ratio.

Strangely, it was the 3 to 2 ratio that was giving us problems. I say strangely because in a host of reports from the United Nations to UNICEF, girls always exceed boys in the "at-risk" category due to social and cultural discrimination (the degree of difference in the level of "at-risk" has been debated by economists). And yet most of the children we had heard about or for whom we had received applications were boys.

Namaste House told Dinesh that they had also tried to maintain a 3/2 ratio for girls but later abandoned it because it was too difficult to maintain. Nonetheless, our board has decided that this is a core value for Sam's House. While we are willing to negotiate on other criteria, the help to girls we wish to have enforced through admissions. Fortunately, Dinesh, Rekha and the Nepali board agree with us.

In maintaining the ratio, Dinesh has asked that we proceed at 3/2 rather than taking in, say, six boys and then having to admit only girls for the next nine children. That would be extremely difficult for him.

While discussing this in the committee, Bharat noted "Maybe this is just the year for boys." I agree. One batch of children is hardly a statistically significant sample. It could be that we will have a preponderance of girls to admit in the future.

Still, the need overall is beyond debate. We drew up a list of 14 children who will come to live at Sam's House within the next couple of months. It was a thrilling thought. Dinesh is making calls as I type to start processing the files for children living in Pokhara. It is possible we might admit a child tomorrow. Stay tuned.


Rekha observed yesterday that Tara seems much happier since she got the Sam's House job. She was a didi (domestic worker) for the Rajbhandaris, coming to help with Diksha and other household tasks. The R's hired her when they lived in a previous apartment. Tara and her husband and five-year old son lived in a small, single room behind their place. Tara's husband, for reasons unknown, does not speak to her though they live in the same home. She would move out but she has nowhere to go. So when Sam's House came about, the R's thought Tara would be great for the job, plus it would pay her more than they could and it promised long job security. So the R's sacrificed their didi for Sam's House (fortunately they found a new one yesterday) and Tara now has two friends to work with. I've actually heard her laugh which I couldn't say before. Rekha says Tara will keep this job for life.


The house staff signed their contract agreements yesterday. They were quite pleased. Dinesh emphasized again the need for punctuality. One of the staff reported two hours late.

Dinesh and Rekha are part of a struggling minority in Nepal who abide by western standards of time and punctuality. While Nepal, like many developing nations, has embraced technological advances like the Internet and cell phone, the awareness of time and convenience that these technologies emphasize has not influenced the behavior. It's still agrarian based.

During my stay Shova admitted to Rekha that she is typically late but comes on "thik time" (right time) for meetings when I am present.


A gentleman from the Child Welfare Council of Pokhara (not to be confused with the Social Welfare Council) called yesterday with a child referral. He mentioned to Dinesh that he had helped Sam's House process its application with the District Administration Office. This was not a casual boast but rather a reminder that we'll need to return some favors to this gentleman from time to time as long as Sam's House wants to operate free of hassle. At least this guy was requesting a favor of the humanitarian kind.


After tennis yesterday, Ranjit and I took his cycle down to the stadium to watch the finish of the Pokhara marathon.

I was going to run the 10k, but Dinesh said only if I gave half my winnings to Sam's House, a stipulation I simply could not abide.

So I watched with Ranjit, my new sports partner. We can't speak much to each other but that's the great thing about sports--you don't need to talk a whole lot. Plus, he fails to get my references to former Browns' greats such as Jubilee Dunbar and Fair Hooker.


Today Rekha began her child care orientation with the staff. When I left, they were in the study room. Rekha got up at 5am today to write her outline of six pages.

What would we do without Dinesh and Rekha?

Sunday, February 18, 2007

A better shot of the Court at Ratnaswori. By the way, I played Ranjit in singles this morning. He had me running around the court like a guy with his hair on fire.

Indreni at the stove. A two-burner Princess gas stove, that is.

Sushma cutting sog (spinach).

Indreni, Sushma and Tara bustle around the kitchen before dinner.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Me and future girlfriend, Saminder Gurung (Only after Jen leaves me, of course). Ritesh and Suresh Devkota look understandably perplexed.

Ranjit's grandson's enjoying the fare.

As in most homes, the mothers eat last.

Day of Rest

It is a lovely, sunny afternoon here in Pokhara and we are taking our first full day off since I arrived four weeks ago. I left Dinesh, Rekha and Ritesh watching TV and Diksha taking a well-earned nap.

Last night we had our test dinner with the house staff and they performed admirably. The power went out about 6pm, which compounded the effort required but they put the whole meal together with tremendous grace. In fact, Rekha had asked them to prepare three food items, but, as if to show they were up to the task and more, they prepared six, so there was plenty of food.

Ranjit and his family joined us--so that made for 12 guests in all. We had dal bhaat, of course, chicken ("Nepali style," Rekha says. With the bones.), sog (spinach), and, I believe, chunna (soy beans). Because it was the first meal, I had less luck that usual in resisting seconds.

Typically, when you are full, you place your hand over your plate and say "pugyo" or "bhayo." Everytime I did that I seemed to get another spoonful. It reminded me of the Ray Romano bit where his friend comes to dinner at Ray's mother's house. Ray tells his friend that if he truly cannot eat another bite he'll have to kill her.

Nonetheless, everyone seemed to enjoy the food. Rekha said afterwards that she thinks Indreni's "haat" (cooking hand) is more delicious than hers. I don't think that's true but it's high praise coming from Rekha.


Yesterday was also Shivaratri, a holy day, that celebrates the life of Shiva, but also, I learned, has a passing resemblance to our Halloween in that young people are free to create mischief into the wee hours.

Dinesh told me that when he lived in Okhaldunga, he and his friends would stay up all night tending a bonfire, stealing firewood from the neighbors to keep it going. (Because nothing says "holiday" like children playing with fire.)

In like fashion, there were bonfires visible around Pokhara, though they smoldered rather than roared because of the rain.

Unique to Pokhara is the addition of sugar cane to this celebration. Apparently when you heat sugar cane, the actual cane, it boils the juice inside and when you slam the heated part of the cane on the ground it gives off a bang like a firecracker. As we walked home last night you could see people coming down the street with carts full of sugar cane. At dinner I mentioned that I wanted to try the sugar cane trick. Ama Gurung offered to go upstairs and get me some.

Incidentally, I heard the former King had rocks thrown at his car yesterday. Times are a-changin'.


The admission committee is going to meet Monday. If all goes according to plan, Dinesh and I will go out on Tuesday and

Thursday to bring home the first children. I cannot wait.


So I redeemed myself (and country) this morning in tennis, winning my first match. I played with Ranjit, who has (to

his chagrin) become my regular doubles partner. The other guys call us "Baa" and "chhoraa," which means "father" and "son."

Much to the credit of my opponents, they discovered the key to beating us lies in hitting the ball to me repeatedly, and waiting for me to screw up. This usually takes no more than two or three exchanges at which point I blast one long or nub it off the racket frame. This morning, however, I was able to tame my swing somewhat and even hold serve a few times. We won 6-3, 6-3. I felt the urge to modestly celebrate so I wrapped an American flag around my shoulders and took a few victory laps around the court and then sang, a capella, "Proud to Be an American." I don't think they minded. Hey, it was the first time I didn't have to buy the tea.*

We have more photos to share. Thanks for all the notes.


How to Make Bailey's at Home by Dinesh Rajbhandari

Combine a small bottle (150 mL) of Royal Stag and a can of Lucky Cow in a sauce pan. You must use Royal Stag and Lucky Cow. Otherwise you're just drinking whiskey and condensed sweet milk.

Add two tablespoons of instant coffee and 300 mL of boiled (not boiling) water.

Be devastatingly handsome and stir.

Pour contents into a cleaned-out plastic Coke bottle. Chill in the refrigerator and serve in a Port Merion wine glass.

The Court at Ratnaswori Gym Hall in Pokhara. Usually you can see the mountains in the distance. Of course they were covered on the day I finally bring my camera.

Diksha helps grind garlic for lunch.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Test Run

The house staff moved in today. Indreni and Sushma will be living in and Tara will come and go each day. They all arrived shortly after 11am to get familiar with the house and to start cleaning and preparing for children. Possibly some time next week but you never know.

It's always humbling to see the amount of personal effects that Nepalis travel with. I brought two large suitcases for this visit. And while much of that space held items for Sam's House, I was fairly proud of my spartan collection of clothes--three sets, each worn three days in a row and rotated. Sushma, by contrast, showed up with a single bag, a square plastic satchel probably two feet by two feet by one. I don't assume that she brought all her things but this is what she felt she needed for daily living. Indreni brought a similar amount of clothes.

We spent a couple hours cleaning--sweeping the rooms, organizing food in the kitchen and cleaning shelves. I was painting. Then the staff prepared a small meal of snacks. This was Rekha's idea. Standards of food preparation and hygeiene can vary widely from family to family. She wanted to observe them working in the kitchen together, making sure they followed suitably clean procedures.

They made vegetables, churra (beaten rice), and bujhia--all served, of course, with chiyaa. It was all delicious. And from what I could tell, Rekha seemed pleased.

Watching the women buzz around the house I started thinking of you, Sam's House donor. It shouldn't be forgotten that not only are you providing a home for orphaned and abandoned children, but you are also providing employment to three women who desperately need it. Indreni arrived with her mother this afternoon. She said her mom couldn't believe she had gotten a job. Not in a "you are lazy" kind of way, but rather because good jobs are so few and far between. It was sweet. Sushma appeared to have a fresh tika on her forehead, likely given to her by family before her first day of work.

There remains little to be done for the house in terms of physical preparation. Dinesh needs internet access for his office; we need a cable hook-up for the television, and we need to find some fire extinguishers.

So now we'll begin processing children's files. We don't know exactly what to expect in terms of time and process. Some children are here in Pokhara; others in villages near and far. But first the admission committee needs to meet to review the files. One member of this committee is in KTM and we're not sure when he'll arrive back in town.

In any event, we'll probably admit 5 or 6 children until the house mothers become comfortable with the routine and work. Then we'll steadily admit more children until we reach 15, our maximum number for this year.


Yesterday it snowed in Kathmandu for the first time in 62 years! Can you believe that? There was snow visible in the forest tops not too far from here. Told you it was cold.

Waiting for KTM connecting flight at Suvarnabhumi airport in Bangkok.

Mattresses were placed in the bedrooms. That single bunk is for the house mother.

(L to R) Rekha, Tara, Sushma and Indreni. Enjoying some churra, tarkaari and bujhia as part of the cooking test run.

Indreni cleaning churra in a nanglo.

When I'm in Nepal I only paint with Danfe. Danfe... the south Asian leader in enamel-based paints. Danfe... ask for it by name.

This inconspicuous-looking document is our official registration with the Social Welfare Council of Nepal. In other words, we are completely legal now.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Getting There...

So as you can tell from the photos the beds and playground have arrived. The swings have been hung and the paint on the slide has dried. The beds are all put away. This weekend we'll lay down the mattresses and quilts. The place looks downright liveable now.

Yesterday Dinesh and I went to Ekta, a Nepal-based bookstore chain that specializes in children's books, toys and athletic gear. We stocked up on educational posters and children's books. Bought a soccer ball and some badminton rackets. Our library should fill up nicely. I think whenever we have a volunteer who would like to donate something to the house we'll suggest they go to Ekta.

We are currently looking for a weekend worker--someone who will be part-time, working three days a week, one to spell each of the full-time house staff. We had one interview yesterday but the woman didn't seem particularly interested, which seemed odd because she had gone through the trouble of applying. Dinesh has realized that recruiting staff will be an all-the-time task, constantly adding potential hires to his file.

Dinesh spent much of yesterday afternoon writing our admissions contract. This is the legal agreement between us and the closest guardian of the child who will move into our home. Oftentimes that guardian may only be a neighbor or village official, but we have to have someone as witness to the exchange. The contract stipulates that SH is now responsible for the child and states guidelines for visitation and so forth.

Speaking of admissions... we also did more work on generating our child list for admission. If we admitted children based on sad stories, of course we'd take them all. Last summer we established criteria for selecting children: 2-5 years in age; true orphan as opposed to one parent, or two parents both unfit; low caste v. high caste. Then we assigned points to the various grades within each category. It's kind of harsh business but it's what we do for now. Until we get a bigger place.

The house staff moves in to the house tomorrow to start cleaning and training with Rekha. On Friday night (maybe Saturday) they're going to cook dinner for us and Ranjit and family as part of their orientation and as a way to thank Ranjit and Ama for their generosity. For while we are paying them rent, they have gone above and beyond in terms of support and enthusiasm.


Now I know the US has been gripped in a freeze for the past couple weeks, but I'm going to ask you to relate to the cold here in Pokhara. It seems monsoon season has come early. The mornings are bright and clear. By afternoon you can see huge white clouds forming atop the mountains and they bring rain by early evening that falls until some time in the night. But today the rain has kept up since last night, a total downpour. The temperature is in the low 50s which probably sounds delightful until you consider that houses don't (typically) have heaters. So when its 50 outside, it's also 50 inside. After a while it chills you to the bone. It reminds me of camping when you have to leave your sleeping bag to use the bathroom. You have to decide whether you'll be able to get back to sleep or to dart to the bathroom as fast as you can.... just a painful decision.

The rain has also caused several power outages and the government said yesterday that the loadsharing of electricity will increase from 21 per week to 40 per week in KTM. Pokhara's 21 hour loadshare will be the same. This is due to low water levels and less electricity generated in the North. Loadsharing, by the way, is what the Nepalis call rolling blackouts. Each day the power in Pokhara is cut for three hours--but not all at once. Your blackout is determined by your location. And your blackout changes from day to day--the government prints a schedule in the paper. For two days you lose power in the morning, for another two you lose in the evening, and so on.

It's rather ironic because Nepal (according to Dinesh) has the second largest potential for hydroelectric power in the world (Brazil is first) and yet they are plagued in the dry seasons by lack of generation. There are hydroelectric plants in operation, just too few. If Nepal could harness the hydroelectric potential, they could sell massive amounts of power to northern India, Bangladesh and possibly Pakistan, and meanwhile offer power on the cheap to its citizens. Alas, that is not the case at present.

I've played tennis twice since last posting. I'm getting a little more comfortable but no better in terms of playing. I'll take some pictures next time I play.

Dinesh and I will shop for food this afternoon--huge burlap sacks of rice and lentils, and three-gallon tins of cooking oil.

I leave two weeks from today--as usual, far too quick a visit.

We have alphabets and numbers in English and Nepali.

Dinesh and I visited a bookstore this morning and found some educational posters. Now displayed in the study room.

The slide after painting.

The finished product. House mothers will sleep in the rooms with the children.

Each bed (ten in the house and four in storage) had to be hand assembled. They are solid.

The beds arrive.

Painting the slide. I didn't even know this was part of the deal. Color? Rangichangi (all sorts).

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Dinesh and Rekha evaluating fabrics for bed covers and sheets.

Inside a local cafe while Dinesh was buying vegetables.

Gurung cultural program next door to Sam's House.

And he will call this "Uninspired Portrait with Bad Hair #42"...

College students in a political march through Bagar Chowk. Dinesh says these marches happen "all the time."

Diksha being a little "badmas," going into my backpack. How can you not trust that face?