Life in Banepa these days

Suman and I arrived to a waiting Lok and Krishna Maya in Banepa at about 6.30pm, lots and lots of hugs!  I had just missed their daughter Nicol who had to return to Kathmandu before darkness set in, a great pity.  Rina was busy in the kitchen putting the final touches to a special dinner that included chicken curry – I was very honoured!  It was lovely to feel so welcomed.  They were all happy with the little gifts I brought, including coffee for Rina from Bowen Island Roasters.  I left her a little French press last year and she still had it so can now make coffee at home.  Needless to say for those who know me at all, I brought my own stash of coffee so Rina joins Inka and I for coffee at breakfast.

I am in “my room” that now has carpet and shelving.  Very fancy!  Another SIRC volunteer is staying at Lok’s – physiotherapist Inka from Spinolis, Sweden who has been heavily involved for a number of years in the set-up of SCI rehabilitation in Botswana.  She comes with deep experience, SIRC are lucky to be able to tap into her experience.

It was great to discover someone else who was staying at Lok’s.  Inka had already been there a week but had not seen much of Banepa.  I convinced her to join me at morning yoga and I think I have her hooked!  Many of the same women were at morning yoga from last year and of course Robin (Lok’s brother who leads the session) was happy to see me.  He told me he thought he had seen me walking the road into Banepa the previous day but shook his head, thinking he was dreaming.  He wasn’t, here I am.

Friday morning both Inka and I were up for 6am yoga only to discover there was none.  A wedding was starting at 9am and the place was beautifully set up, leaving no space for yoga mats in the hall.  By the way – there are now windows in the Party Palace where morning yoga (and weddings) take place – how blissful is that!  As we were up and at it, we decided to go on the morning walk route.  Inka got to see a whole other side to Banepa (we went back to get her camera before starting out).  And we even had milk tea at the usual tea shack at the half way point.  We’ll make a Nepali of her yet.

It is neat to be remembered, walking through the town the couple who run the fabric shop popped out to say Hi, as did one of the guys I recognized from yoga.  Before dinner Wednesday night, Sudeep’s bar “My Small Kitchen” was open so we popped in for a beer.  He has had to close his food service due to the fuel restrictions but is open otherwise.  We were treated to aila which is a Newari equivalent of Irish poteen – lethal stuff!  We were troopers and downed it though :-).

Inka and I have done a lot of walking around town, including the Old Town and although some of the very old red-bricked buildings are damaged badly or collapsed, it seems the newer concrete buildings survived the 7.8 and 7.3 earthquakes in April and May respectively.  Up behind SIRC, there are a number of homes damaged or collapsed, but the damage is not as widespread as it was in Sindupalchowk and Gorkha, the epicentres of the earthquakes.

Little tremors can be felt daily if you are looking out for them, I mostly don’t feel them.  Last week before I arrived there was a 5.3 tremor and yesterday another at 4.1.   The tremors are a little different to what I have experienced in the past.  They come with loud booms and grumbling with a little shake lasting 5 seconds or so.  I am no expert but someone said it is because the tremors are vertical rather than horizontal. Someone reading this can confirm that I am sure.  The tremors understandably freak out the patients.  It’s more unnerving for me to hear their terror than experience the tremor itself.  These quakes have really scarred the nation and kids duck and cover at the slightest noise that is mostly unrelated to a tremor at all.  Poor mites.

Last year I used to take the bus given how dangerous it was to walk the road to SIRC.  But this year with the fuel shortages, buses are fewer and therefore overloaded.  I draw the line at climbing onto the roof of the bus to get a ride to work, when I can easily walk.  And in any event, working at a spinal injury rehab centre teaches me the repercussions of such folly.

Walking to and from Banepa to SIRC is an interesting trek every day.  As mentioned before, mostly trucks and buses line up along the road close to petrol stations, taking up one lane on a narrow two-lane road.  On our 40 minute walk, we pass three petrol stations which is surprising given how rural our route is.  It’s a twisty-turny road too which can make it a little challenging to keep safe.  There is still traffic on the road and nothing much has changed with drivers not observing the rules of the road.  As a result, we have figured out a few shortcuts along makeshift tracks away from the main road, particularly to avoid the sections with truck & bus lineups.  It makes for some interesting encounters with snarling dogs (my favourite), curious goats, chickens, ducks and goats, as well as very excited kids clambering to practice their English on seldom seen foreigners.  All in a day’s work.

About Kate Coffey

After 30 or so years in the investment management industry, 2013 saw me turn my life up-side-down, making my way first to Nepal, then Bangladesh during that first ‘year away’. The year took me on a journey I did not expect, had me fall in love with Nepal and its people, and become inspired at the work of Spinal Injury Rehabilitation Centre (SIRC) located in Bhainsepati - 2 hours east of Kathmandu in the Saanga foothills. Since 2014, I have returned to SIRC numerous times, working closely with the folks there in the aftermath of the 2015 earthquakes. In Bangladesh I marvelled at the strength and resilience of marginalized women who have the courage and audacity to break the rules and make a better life for themselves and their children through microfinance programs with BRAC. 2016-2017 saw me embark on a totally new experience in Sri Lanka, a place I never would have chosen to end up in. It’s the 40C+ heat, big humidity and tropical snakes & animals that scared me! But I ended up love love loving! my time there, working with predominantly Tamil small business owners in remote villages in north and east of the country, trying their best to recover their businesses and the lives of their employees, after decades of a civil war. My time in Sri Lanka made me realize my hard-earned business skills and experience can really be put to good use! The work the BIZ+ team and I did there ended up earning me International Volunteer of the Year Award in December 2017, presented on Capitol Hill, Washington DC no less. I am currently home on Bowen Island, in the west coast of Canada, shoring up my finances before I head off to who knows where, for my next expert volunteer assignment. This blog initially started out as a travelogue of sorts to keep friends and family worldwide updated while I was off on my travels in 2013-2014. Since then it has morphed into a life story of the many places I have lived and worked and of the wonderful people I have met along the way. I hope you enjoy.
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