Saturday, May 31, 2008

Free Tibet

Though only 6pm, it has been a wonderful day today already.

I think we’ve whipped the jet lag already. At breakfast we compared our sleep from the night. Brittany and I slept fitfully after 1am, waking several times until 7am but at least we managed to keep in bed until then. Hannah has had no problem and slept all night through. Very impressive.

After breakfast we walked to the Ason market, a traditional marketplace which was busier than usual because it was Saturday. We walked around, did some filming, some of which was staged and caused a great deal of embarrassed laughter on the part of my co-stars. It’s really fascinating and thrilling to be in the midst of all the action. The market seems like no market at all, in economic terms, as every other store seems to be offering the same goods. So it’s left to you, the buyer, to barter and work and be patient. I’m sure there’s a proper economic term to describe this but I teach English.

We walked from Ason (with a brief stop in the Kathmandu Mall for refreshments—blazing hot today) to another market near the bus park. I don’t know its name but it’s comprised of what has to be nearly two miles of aisles underneath blue tarps stitched together and held in place by wooden cleats and used tires. Down here it’s more of the same in terms of goods but you get the feeling the sales are (even more) dismal. I thought it would be interesting to see these places to get an understanding of the economy, particularly the fact that Nepal produces very little in terms of goods (except agriculture), relying almost wholly on China and India to provide materials. As the US and Europe found out, it’s very difficult to energize or build your economy when you don’t make anything.

We grabbed a taxi to Thamel for a short lunch and then continued to Swayambhuanth, also known as the Monkey Temple. It’s situated on a hill on the west side of Kathmandu. (Readers may recall that I made my mother climb all 385 stairs to see this back in January. Go Carole!!!) We made the climb quickly because it appeared that a rain storm was approaching from the south. Swayambhunath offers great views of the entire Kathmandu valley, which Hannah and Brittany seemed to enjoy. It’s also a holy site for both Hindus and Buddhists, featuring many icons and structures of both faiths.

We made a couple trips around the top and then entered a Buddhist temple where some monks were saying prayers. Hannah made conversation with a gentleman who explained the worship process such as the bells (for good luck) and the large horn blasts (so God can hear it). Photo taking was allowed so Brittany snapped some pictures. A few of the younger monks sitting in the back rows hammed it up for her benefit.

Then we walked to the back side of temple and made our way down to the alternate entrance. On the way down the hill, a man motioned our taxi to stop. On the hillside above us, under a large tent, sat 50 or more Tibetans who have been fasting (today marked day 49) since the Chinese crackdown in Lhasa. The man asked us to sign a petition to free Tibet. We agreed and got out of the car. It was incredibly moving. As we walked to the table, all the demonstrators made Namaste and peace signs at us. They were chanting prayers, some of the women were twirling prayer wheels. What really amazed me was the age. Some of the women looked to be 70-80 years old. And I thought how incredible it was to see people with that sort of commitment and the incredible lengths they were willing to go to support a principle. Something you don’t see much these days.

Tomorrow I have to go to the Nepal tourism office to get a visa extension. Because of my brief visit in January, my current visa will not cover the length of this stay, so I’ll need to pick up another sticker for $30. I wish there were an easier way. So Brittany and Hannah will be on their own in the morning and they plan to shop and find gifts for people back home.

Brittany and Hannah have been really wonderful—their spirits are high, they’re interested in everything and ask great questions, and, best of all for this kind of travel, they’ve been endlessly patient and sensitive to the new environment. It’s been so much fun having them along. Everything I’d hoped. I only wish Jenny Rothchild were here.

Pictures below. Thanks to Brittany from sharing. Hannah has some too. I need to get them off her computer.

In the meantime, for an alternate view, please read Brittany’s blog. She’ll have pictures as well.

And a quick fundraising note, people in the Cleveland area, please stay tuned for the date of our upcoming summer fundraiser.

Life is good. CB

A member of the Young Communist League celebrates the new republic (and the impending departure of the king).

Hannah among the journalists and riot police on Durbar Marg (though not Durbar Marg anymore, as previously explained. New name forthcoming.)

Worker places bunting around the top of Boudhanath stupa.

Hannah and Brittany with monks at Boudhanath.

H & B with the sadhus at Pashupatinath.

Inside the monk's prayer room at Swayambhunath.

Tibetan demonstrators at Swayambhunath.

Inside the tent.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Touring Kathmandu

A quick update on the day, though no pictures because we are in Thamel and the connections rates are s-s-s-s-s-s-s-s-s-slow.

Brittany had an adventurous ride to Kathmandu, which included three stops and a 10-hour layover in Dubai. To add insult to travel weariness, the flight from Bahrain to Kathmandu was delayed because—in her words which were the words of the Gulf Air representative she consulted—a car ran into the side of the plane while parked on the runway. Fortunately they managed to fix this problem and her flight arrived at 11:30 last night.

However, for me and Hannah waiting on the ground in KTM, the day became a struggle to stay awake after our own 36 hours sojourn with little sleep. After checking into the Hotel Tibet, we walked to Durbar Marg, outside the king’s palace, where hordes of demonstrators and riot police stood in the road. The demonstrators were waiting for (hoping to see) the king leave his palace for the last time. The new government, which began operating in earnest on Tuesday making Nepal the newest democratic republic in the world, has given the king 15 days to leave the premises or be forcibly removed. The demonstrators were celebrating the recent turn of events, mugging for TV cameras, singing songs, and chanting slogans about the king while the military stood by for any possible hijinks. There were a few tense moments where it felt like one idiot could precipitate problems by throwing a punch or rock or something but fortunately cooler heads prevailed.

It was not my intention to bring Hannah into the middle of a political demonstration within her first two hours in Nepal, but there we were, walking amidst all the police and demonstrators. The police were restricting Nepalis from moving into certain parts of the road but we were free to go where we wanted, which was a strange feeling, a little invasive. But the Nepalis seemed pleased to see anyone willing to record what was going on, more than happy to pose for pictures and explain to us why they were there.

We stayed a couple hours and fatigue began to win over so we grabbed a quick dinner. Brittany was originally supposed to arrive at 5pm but now we’d have to stay awake for another six hours. We decided to nap. I asked for a wakeup call at 10p and took a cab to the airport and waited among the taxi drivers for the flight. Tribhuvan airport at night is a little scary in a ghosttown kind of way. Lots of stray dogs wander around and you can find people sleeping, slouched up against the wall, presumably, waiting for a flight. Brittany eventually did arrive in remarkably high spirits.

This morning I called Sam’s House to talk to Dinesh and the didis. Dinesh wasn’t at the house so I spoke to Asuna which means then speaking with the children, which was hilarious, repeating the same thing… how are you (sanchaai chha)? Where are you (Kathmandumaa)? When are you coming (ma parsi aaunchhu)? We can’t wait to get there but there are some necessary cultural stops to make in KTM before then.

Brittany, Hannah and I went to Boudhanath this morning, one of my favorite places. We were invited for soda with a monk and got a small lecture on how thanka paintings are made. After that we went to Pashupatinath, the cremation temple, where we stood above a man who was mourning a relative moments before the body would be set aflame and scattered in the Bagmati river. We hired a guide to explain the various sites to us, which was a good idea because Hindu religion and cultural practices are absolutely byzantine to me. I can’t keep anything straight. It’s sort of like memorizing all the patron saints: after St. Christopher and the St. Anthony who helps you find things, I get lost.

Brittany and Hannah seem to be having a good time so far. Like many first time visitors to Nepal, they’ve noticed the basically wretched conditions for dogs and have remarked about the possibility of starting a dog orphanage.

In the afternoon we walked back to Durbar Marg (which is called something else now, since Tuesday, because Durbar Marg means ‘king’s way” and the king is no longer) because Brittany was wanting to see some “demonstrating” but she would be disappointed. It looked like the usual road of commerce that it typically is.

It’s late afternoon now and we’re pushing ourselves to stay awake and defeat the jet lag. Maybe another day or two.

Tomorrow is Saturday so I’m planning on taking them to Asan and some other traditional markets. Then in the afternoon I think we’ll go to Patan.

If I can, I’ll post pictures later today.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Going Back

Hello Everyone,

A quick post to say that I'm on my way to Sam's House right now with Hannah Smith (from Yale and Jefferson Court, yes) and Brittany Jablonsky (a recently graduated UMM Cougar and North Dakotan but not in that order) who's coming the other way around the globe through Amsterdam and Dubai.

We'll be in KTM for a few days and then to Pokhara where we'll stay nearly a month at Sam's House. Hannah and Brittany have graciously offered their summers to spend time with the children and will also be looking into other volunteer opportunities in Pokhara.

We'll be sure to follow with plenty of pictures and stories. One of my tasks for this trip is shooting video that will eventually be put into some sort of promotional piece for Sam's House. I have a great camera on loan from Pioneer Public Television (Are you a member?) in Appleton, Minnesota. If I don't drive Hannah, Brittany and everyone else crazy with the constant filming we will probably have some nice footage to help us fundraise and plan for the future.

I'll also have some details on Prema, who is the newest didi at Sam's House. She's been with us for roughly a month.

Otherwise, we're looking forward to spending a lot of time with the children, doing homework, playing, lounging around. Good stuff. All is well.


Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Swiss Financing

Michela, a former volunteer from Switzerland, recently held a yard sale in her hometown and raised $300 for Sam's House. Michela stayed at Sam's House in the fall of last year for three weeks. She is fondly remembered by all the children and the didis and they can't wait for her to return.

Michela (right) and her friend selling wares.

Michela and her friend holding up a photo display of the Sam's House gang.


In other financial news... we filed our 990 tax return for 2007. You can view it on our website.

Rina Schoolbound

We've had several requests for Rina in her school duds. She started nursery school last month and according to early reports loves every minute of it, and can't wait to go in the mornings.

Rina in the Friday whites.

In the morning queue outside the house.

Rina and gang at bus stop with Gordon and KC.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Sandeep's Birthday

The Colonel celebrated his second birthday a few weeks ago. He still salutes, but Gordon and KC have taught him to respond to "I love you" by responding with kisses on your cheek. Now that Rina's in school, Sandeep has the run of the house.

With all the birthdays in the house, we may have to create a separate line item on next year's budget.

Some photos from the day...

Ready to blow out the candles with help from Bishal and Pratima.

His first taste.

A present from Dinesh.

Brother Amrit helps Sandeep with his first piece.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Off the List?

Nepal has been on the United States' travel warning list for the past four years, which has been personally frustrating for Jennifer and me because we've been wanting to bring students here for summer programs. Nepal's designation as a state with "terrorists" has convinced our university (and many others) to abide the state department's guidelines. We have brought students here but they cannot earn credits from their school; they must go as private citizens.

You probably know that Jennifer and I do not share this opinion about travel in Nepal. In fact, we feel safer there than many places in the US.

With the recent election in Nepal, Maoists won a decisive number of the seats and will be the controlling party in the new constituent assembly, which also will feature 34% women, up from 5% in the 1990 assembly.

The US embassy in Nepal has refused to talk with Maoists leaders since they made the travel warning list designation. Jimmy Carter has made a few visits to encourage our government to lay down this boycott but to no avail.

However, it seems that things might be changing.