Downtime

I’m taking advantage of a little downtime and start a 10-day silent meditation retreat tomorrow (Saturday).  It’s a Vipassana course I have wanted to take for some time, but never really had the time to spare for it.  I’ve made some time now.

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I’m booked into Dhammi Khitti which is located a few kilometers SW of Kathmandu and will get there from Banepa via bus and microbus – should be easy enough.

I’ve never done such a long silent meditation retreat, so hope I can hack it!  Will tell you all about it upon my return.

Until then

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Happy Janai Purnima / Rakshya Bandhan

Today I learned it was a festival day, which explains the more than usual women I met walking up to Chandeshori Temple this morning.

Rakshya Bandhan is a festival celebrated at full moon during the month of Shrawan (this is a busy month for festivals!).

Doro being tied around the left wrist of this lady. Photo credit: Trekking Mart

Doro being tied around the left wrist of this lady. Photo credit: Trekking Mart

According to the time-honoured tradition, people receive the ‘Rakshya Bandhan’ thread (doro), which is tied around the wrist as a bracelet.  Generally men wear the doro on the right wrist, whilst women wear theirs on their left wrist.  The yellow thread is purified through the chanting of mantras by priests and is a symbol of protection from fear and disease.  The doro is generally worn until the festival of Diwali in October.  That is unless it falls off the wrist on Day 1 like my friend today!

Men can take things a step further and don a sacred thread around their torso over ther left shoulder 0 this is called a janai and is worn year round  Celebrating Janai Purnima requires the men to head for the nearest sacred pond, bathe and have a haircut before change the janai for a fresh one for the year ahead.

A devotee receiving janai, a sacred thread, during Janai Purnima festival in Lalitpur. Photo credit: Skanda Gautam, Himalayan Times

A devotee receiving janai, a sacred thread, during Janai Purnima festival in Lalitpur. Photo credit: Skanda Gautam, Himalayan Times

Kwati soup is a 9-bean very thick soup which is traditionally eaten for breakfast today.  Given I am preparing my own breakfasts, I missed out on the pleasure.

Kwati soup. Photo credit Pinterest.

Kwati soup. Photo credit Pinterest.

Hope everyone had a Happy Janai Purnima / Rakshya Bandhan Day!  It’s quite the upbeat festival, so I thought I would treat you to some traditional Nepali music & instruments by the brilliant Kutumba.  The piece of music is called Pariwartan.

Incidentally, Buddhists observe today too, in commemoration of the day the Lord Gautama Buddha defeated the evil power of lust. This episode is well-described in the Buddhist scripture ‘Lalitbistar’ so I am told.

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Buses – another side to the story

I was barely two weeks into my first volunteer visit to SIRC back in 2013 and still getting used to travelling by local bus from Banepa to Bhainsepati … a bus ride complete with chickens flying for their freedom and majestic goats tied to the bus roof top.  That gave many of you a chuckle, knowing my fondness for any of God’s creatures in close proximity!

But there’s another side to riding the local buses here and it’s not quite so funny.  I’ve been heading in and out to Kathmandu for various reasons over the past 10 days or so and have recovered my knack for choosing which bus to catch in Banepa – the bus itself must look fairly decent and well maintained (although a lick of pain can cover up a multitude of woes), the driver must look more than 15 years old so that there is some chance he actually has a valid license, and the bus needs to feel relatively calm on board – if the driver and his helpers are hyper and not paying attention while the bus is standing still, these are not the guys you want in control of your bus while it is hurtling along the narrow twisty roads!  It’s at times like this I pine for Peter’s Bus on Bowen Island!!

Last Sunday as I was heading into Kathmandu, I left one bus go ahead and hopped on the next bus (it fit all my criteria).  As we neared Koteswor in Kathmandu, to my mind our bus was going through the large intersection a little too fast, and we got broadsided by an oncoming taxi.  Now the bus is far larger than the taxi so the little white taxi suffered more damage than the bus did.  The driver had a nasty gash on his forehead and what looked like a broken nose … not wearing a safety belt!  Not that that would have been an option, the safety belts rarely if ever work in taxis.  The taxi was pretty much a scrunchie.

Still, us folks on the bus were jolted around a bit.  There is one plus of being considered ‘tall’ at 5‘ 7”, I am basically wedged into my seat so I didn’t really budge.  My only damage was a wrench to my arm which I had put up to the ceiling to steady myself and avoid pushing the petite lady next to me, out the open window.  Everyone was pretty much ok from what I could see, one young lad who had been standing, had hit his head off the overhead shelf and looked like he needed a few stitches on his forehead.  For those of you who know the Koteswor intersection, you’ll know how crazy the traffic is there, it comes at you from all sides so it was hard to know whether we were safer to stay on the bus or get off it.

There’s a police station close by and a cop soon arrived, directing traffic to allow us off the bus and walk to the side of the road.  The cop started to take photos of the taxi & the bus and ignored the shouting  drivers, I am sure each one blaming the other.  Once us passengers were off the bus, we were of no one’s concern so we all helped each other find other buses going to the bus park, to complete our journey.  And life continued on.

We were lucky and others were not so lucky this week.  There was news on Monday that shook the Kavre district.  The story is the bus was not in great shape and was driven by a young driver, rumoured not to have a license.  The bus was jammed backed with about 90 people on board a 35-seater bus.  Many were on the roof, which is credited with saving their lives.  The bus had broken down earlier and passengers had to help push the bus to get it started again.  Further along the journey, about 55km east of Banepa, the engine stalled and the young driver lost control of his bus which ended up careening over the side of the road, down a steep embankment.  The young driver and his helper (who takes the money) are nowhere to be seen, some say they saw them jump out of the bus before it went over the edge of the road, but people know who they are.  God help them when they are found.

Many on the bus were young people, returning home to their villages to assist their parents in accepting the 1st installment of the reconstruction money that, some 15 months later, is only being handed out to those who lost their homes in last year’s earthquakes.  I shake my head.  A total of 31 passengers are now confirmed dead, with a further 25 seriously injured, two of whom are classed as critical.  A further 22 have minor injuries and the rest remain unscathed (primarily the folks on the roof of the bus who could jump off before the bus went over the edge).  I personally never travel on the roof, but I guess depending on the circumstance, it might indeed be safer.

It’s remarkable really, that there weren’t more deaths.  I have not yet heard if there were any spinal cord injuries.  Bus accidents are one of the key causes of SCIs in Nepal.  You can see why that is.

The newspapers had fairly graphic photos of the carnage post-accident, but I’ve decided not to post any of them here out of respect to the families.

I am off on a bus again today, that’s how it goes.  There is no other option.  And I’ll continue to try to fit my criteria to whichever bus I choose to ride in.  Don’t worry, I’ll be careful.

PS.  I was safe today.  In fact the Nepal Police were at Saanga checking every bus for overloads.  I counted 9 people taken from my bus before we were allowed to continue our journey.  Once I arrived in Banepa, there were lots of people there, waiting for onwards buses heading east.  Most had been taken from overloaded buses by Police in Banepa.  It will be interesting to see how long this vigilance lasts …. and if it is happening country-wide, or just in Kavre where Monday’s bus accident occurred.

PPS.  I came across this article in MyRepublica and was shocked (but maybe not) to find out the cabinet two years ago approved new Commercial Driving License provisions for those who drive  public transport vehicles.  The new law had a provision under which a driver could be eligible to drive public vehicles only after s/he turns 25 and at least three years after acquiring a license.  It was not implemented due to pressure from “transport entrepreneurs”.  Must be a very powerful bunch!

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Buon Appetito!

A little bit of Italy came to Banepa last night and it was delish!

Reena (Lok’s cook) has been keen for some time to learn how to cook a few western dishes, and I promised her I’d do just that.  Looking at the fresh vegetables easily available here in Banepa, I thought Italian food might be a good cuisine to start with.

Now, I could have gone into Kathmandu and picked up a ton of specialty ingredients in Patan, but I decided if Reena were to repeat the meal in Banepa, the ingredients would have to be sourced locally at a reasonable price.

Over the past couple of weeks, I have been keeping an eye out for Italian ingredients and lo and behold, I managed to source capers, green olives, red wine vinegar, olive oil, a can of passata as well as dried pasta in the stores across Banepa.  Che grande!

Btw, I found a small bottle of olive oil in amongst the hair products.  Olive oil is used here as hair oil, not for cooking.  Who knew?!

Last night was deemed to be a good night for cooking Italian food, so with a little excitement in the air, Reena, Lok’s adopted daughter Shanti and Lok himself turned up ready to roll for the Italian cooking lesson.  Krishna Maya stayed safely at the kitchen door, keeping an eye on things.

I set everyone to work: washing, peeling, cubing, shredding, smashing garlic into paste … the kitchen was all abuzz and careful note was being taken of every step I took.

Our menu (thanks to Jamie Oliver’s easy recipes!) was as follows:

  • Pasta with green olives
  • Italian greens
  • Aubergine stew caponata
  • Mushrooms in garlic butter
  • Garlic bread
Lok enjoying his first Italian meal at home in Banepa

Lok enjoying his first Italian meal at home in Banepa

Aubergine caponata

Aubergine caponata

Oyster mushrooms in garlic butter (ghee)

Oyster mushrooms in garlic butter (ghee)

"Italian" Greens

“Italian” Greens

Pasta with green olives

Pasta with green olives

Garlic bread.  I scoured the town for these uns, eventually finding them in a small bakery store that sells the baked goods of Himalayan Bakery, Dhulikhel!

Garlic bread using olive oil instead of ghee for the garlic butter. I scoured the town for these buns, eventually finding them in a small bakery store that sells the baked goods of Himalayan Bakery, Dhulikhel!

Everyone went for a second helping – a sure sign the meal was a big hit. And no pining after a plate of white rice either!  The garlic bread was something very new for everyone and was snaffled in a jiffy with no leftovers.  Leftover pasta with the aubergine caponata was packed up and taken home to Reena’s daughters to try.

All in all, I think we can call the whole cooking experience a success.

A few things I learned:

  1. Nepali greens are no replacement for what is needed for Italian Greens (swiss chard, cos lettuce, baby spinach, arugula, and herbs like basil, parsley, sorrel and fennel).  These ingredients are just not available in Banepa.  The dish ended up being good enough, but not the best.
  2. Ghee is not a good replacement for butter when it comes to oyster mushrooms done in garlic butter.  Parsley was a key missing ingredient too.
  3. The fresh aubergine / eggplant with super-fresh tomatoes from Krishna Maya’s own garden made all the difference with the caponata, which turned out absolutely delicious.
  4. I suspect garlic bread may become a regular feature in the Lok household.
  5. As for pasta al dente …. white rice might now have a rival!

So what’s next?  While I was scouring the local stores for the Italian ingredients, I noticed the makings of a possible Thai curry, maybe a satay dip too ….. stay tuned for the next cooking installment.

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Ram’s story

I have known Ram Bahadur Tamang since I first worked at SIRC in 2013, his strength and determination continue to inspire me.

Ram’s young life has been a pretty rough one.  At the tender age of 14, he worked in a carpet factory where he was beaten regularly and lost the use of his right eye in an accident on the factory floor.  He returned home and married at the age of 17 and then worked for 3 years as a coolie, carrying vegetables and laying bricks – back breaking work.  On a short break with friends to Khasa, the bus they were travelling in crashed and ended up in the river.  Ram suffered an injury to his spine which left him a paraplegic.  Soon after surgery at Dhulikhel Hospital, Ram arrived at SIRC for a few months of rehabilitation.  Later, SIRC hired Ram as a Vocational Trainer, a role he continues to thrive at today.

Ram soon realised his life was not over just because of his spinal cord injury, it was just going to be different.  He disliked the disgust with which the Nepalis viewed any form of disability, and wanted to show the general public, as well as other wheelchair users, that life can be good and joyful and that he could do anything he wanted to do.  That included a 350km wheelchair yaatra (journey) from Namobudda to Lumbini.

The yaatra was made possible with funding from Rosalind Russell and her US friends, as well as the SIRC Board and a fundraiser we ran in Kathmandu just before he, along with his support team Prajwal and Binod left on what ended up being a 26 day journey through the challenging roads and mountains of Nepal, ending in the lowlands of Lumbini – the birthplace of Buddha.

The Media Team for the Yaatra with the infamous Ram. we were honoured to work with such an inspiring guy.

The team that worked behind the scenes for Ram’s Wheelchair Yaatra:  Binay (l), me (c) Nikita (r) with the inspiring Ram.  Missing from the picture but no less part of the team – Rozina & Aarjit.  Photo Credit Kate Coffey, April 2014

Now, I know many of you followed Ram’s Wheelchair Yaatra, day by day back in April 2014 (see here for an account of his arrival in Lumbini) and will also know Ram wrote a  song telling his life story before and after his accident, cautioning his listeners to the causes of SCIs and how his life is changed but for the better..  This song has been used as the background to document the life and times of Ram’s remarkable life and the marvelous work he does at SIRC, not only as a Vocational Trainer,  but also how supportive and encouraging he is of all patients as they go through their therapy.

I give you this video, produced by a talented team:  Arsin Shrestha, Chandra Man Dongol, Pramila Shrestha, Ram Kumar KC and Tekendra Shah.

As Ram sings his song, we are shown a slice of life at SIRC, his work as a Vocational Trainer and many ways he supports and motivates others  with SCIs through kind words and empathy, as well as his love of sport.  What is not shown here is his deep love of music and his newly formed band SIRCUS.  But that story is for another day!

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A reason to celebrate

I have written before about the impressive young people of Nepal who, despite the challenging circumstances with which they must live their lives, their hearts are brimming with kindness and love for their communities.  You can read that earlier post here.

No exception are Shree and his brother Dhital in Phoolbari village in the Kavrepalanchok District who tirelessly work to improve the lives of their neighbours, using their engineering skills to devise rainwater harvesting ponds suitable to the mountainous region of their village, encourage organic farming to ensure a sustainable food source and are currently in the process of rebuilding the Farm Homestay that will open within a month, ready to receive students from Washington State, US.  More about that later.

Family photo of Shree, his wife Angella and recently turned 1-year old daughter the beautiful Sanskriti. Photo Credit: Shree Krishna Dhital

Family photo of Shree, his wife Angella and recently turned 1-year old daughter the beautiful Sanskriti. Photo Credit: Shree Krishna Dhital

Shree and Dhital have a long-time partnership with Patricia Butchart and her colleagues at the Rotary Club of Gananoque, ON Canada who have generously funded the brothers’ education.  Shree is currently doing his Masters in Mechanical Engineering and Dhital is in his final year of Environmental Engineering.  Smart young men!

An idea was sparked in 2014 to develop a skills training course for women in the Patlekhet VDC (village development committee) in tailoring and after last year’s earthquakes, the need for the village to generate a sustainable income was even greater now that a rebuild of many of the villages homes needed to happen.  The Rotary Club of Gananoque provided six sewing machines plus the funds to develop and deliver the training course.  A total of 16 women successfully completed the “Basic Skills” training course in 2015 and their businesses were certified as a cottage industry.  Happily, the Government of Nepal provided each of the 16 women with a sewing machine of their own to make their business that much more viable and allow the women to generate an income, contributing to their household and making them that little bit more independent.

After last year’s success, an advanced skills training course was delivered in 2016 in partnership with the Shree Kalidevi Woman Development Multipurpose Cooperative Ltd., and the Rotary Club of Gananoque who donated a further 12 sewing machines.  The focus for this advanced skills training was ‘Train the Trainer’ where each of the women would return to their respective villages, and train other women in the art of tailoring.

The graduates of the Advanced Skills course. Photo Credit: Shree Krishna Dhital

The graduates of the Advanced Skills course. Photo Credit: Shree Krishna Dhital

Miss Anita Tamang trained 7 more ladies from her village who graduated last Saturday in a small ceremony organized by the Shree Kalidevi Woman Development Multipurpose Cooperative Ltd.

A proud andn happy group celebrating the presentation of completion certificates. Photo Credit: Shree Krishna Dhital

A proud and happy group celebrating the presentation of completion certificates. Photo Credit: Shree Krishna Dhital

Now that is what I call a worthwhile project.  Congratulations to all concerned!

For more information:

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A new Prime Minister for Nepal

Maoist leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal is the new Prime Minister of Nepal.  At least he is for the next 9 months until the Nepali Congress, with whom the Maoists are in coalition with, will install their own leader as Prime Minister.

Nine months seems to be the accepted period for Prime Ministers to be in power, if the recent past is anything to go by.

Pushpa Kamal Dahal, Leader of the Maoist Centre Party, at his appointment as Prime Minister last week. Photo Credit My Republica

Pushpa Kamal Dahal, Leader of the Maoist Centre Party, at his appointment as Prime Minister last week. Photo Credit My Republica

Being a foreigner, I will leave commentary to the Nepalis themselves.  As Prachant Jha of the New York Times has put it “there is little excitement and loads of skepticism” at his appointment.

You can make up your own mind with this selection of articles

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