I’m here and it feels real good. Esha welcomed me home and tis true, Nepal is a 2nd home to me. It’s like as if I never left.
My flights through China to Kathmandu were on time and uneventful. There were a handful travelling from Vancouver to Kunming, each of us connecting to different locations from there. An interesting group if there was ever one, including a fellow from Myanmar living in Calgary returning home to his native country after the elections. How proud and excited he was! I learned much of the decades leading up to these historic elections, including his exile some 20 years ago. He proudly holds a Canadian passport but like myself, and probably any immigrant, holds his country of birth close to his heart.
My flight from Kunming to Kathmandu was just under three hours, but how awesome (in the true sense of the word) to be flying above the clouds yet still have a birds eye view of the majestic Himalayas towering above us as we came into land. First steps off the plane, the smell of wood-burning fires – a reminder of the ongoing blockade resulting in fuel restrictions. Getting my visa, baggage collection and customs was probably the fastest ever – maybe less than 45 mins. Very few tourists here, many returning Nepalese who were visiting family abroad, or migrants (mostly young men) returning home for a vacation from their manual labour jobs in Malaysia, Qatar and Saudi Arabia.
I stepped outside expecting the usual chaos, but found none. Still many people waiting but not the same hyperness as is usual. I scanned the group and found the beaming face of Suman, SIRC’s long-time driver. What a welcome! So good to see a familiar face with a smile like that. We hit the road within minutes, first off to SIRC’s city office to pick up young teenage volunteer Simona and drop her home safely – you wouldn’t put your worst enemy on what are now “bursting at the seams” local buses.
Simona has recently finished high school at Rato Bangela School and is one of many young and very capable volunteers from RBS. There was one young teen charged with making a 5 minute video of SIRC in preparation for the upcoming ASCoN conference that SIRC is hosting, and a few others including Suman’s son helping out wherever there is a need. What an impressive group of teens! I don’t think I could have contributed as much when I was their age.
Simona is currently applying to universities in the US (she’s a pretty smart young lady) but while she waits for that process, she is spending much of her time at SIRC. She had spent the day working with the printer doing the final layout for a storybook on SIRC patients, past and present. She’s done an amazing job, with wonderful write ups on each person, accompanied by beautiful photos taken by Vancouver-based Ian Cameron of IC Productions. The storybook will be ready for sale at this week’s ASCoN conference. Don’t worry, I’ll be bringing quite a few copies back for all to see.
Suman and I continued our journey to Banepa. It was great to catch up with Suman, a gentle sort with a ready smile, always primed to lend a helping hand to anyone who needs it. He talked more than I had ever heard him talk, describing the sheer terror of the earthquakes, how his house had a minimal damage and his family and immediate friends were ok. How he worked 14+ hour days in the weeks immediately after the earthquakes, transferring a total of 146 patients personally (he kept count), from various hospitals in and around the Kathmandu Valley, to SIRC in Bhainsepati. How proud he was of SIRC and the positive work the centre does for the people of Nepal. He just oozed pride in what the SIRC family had achieved and is grateful to be a part of it. Man, such self-effacing dedication made me respect him all the more. I am among great people at SIRC.
There were more vehicles on the road than I expected given the fuel restrictions, but there is still far less traffic than ever before. As you get closer to any petrol station, the line-up of 100+ trucks, buses and cars take up one lane of an already narrow road, making the cars on the road having to share one lane. Add to this the hordes of people walking the very same road …. it makes for some hearth thumping travel let me tell you!
Shipments of fuel are few and far between, hence the long queues at each petrol station. SIRC is lucky that they have steadily used the same petrol station for nigh on eight years now since their move from Jorpati to the new centre in Bhainsepati. Together with the fact they are a medical centre means they do not have to line up in advance and also receive a call when a new supply of fuel arrives. They also pay the regular rate per litre, and have not as yet had to resort to the black market where petrol is sold for 450 npr per litre – almost double the usual cost.
The fuel black market is thriving unfortunately. I was heading to a restaurant in downtown Banepa the other night just as a fuel delivery appeared out of nowhere. People with plastic jerry cans jostled for their turn at the one (what looked like a garden) hose coming from a truck to the individual cans. Cooking gas can also be bought on the black market for 6000 npr, that’s nearly 4 times what is usually paid. In previous posts, I have mentioned most people are burning wood to cook in makeshift outdoor cooking areas. Yesterday morning as I walked the 40 minutes from Banepa to SIRC, a man was carefully balancing one 15-foot trunk of a tree on his bicycle – a feat in of itself.
At about 6.30pm I arrived at Lok’s …… see the next post as this one is long enough!