Kathmandu roads during monsoon

Take a look at the Nepali Times 2.30 mins clip of a bike’s journey from Jorpati to Chabahil in the city of Kathmandu, Nepal.  Grant it, it is monsoon season which makes things worse, but Jorpati is as bad as this clip shows … at least it was 6 weeks ago when I was there.

Many people with disabilities live in Jorpati due to its proximity to the Orthopedic Hospital, so you can imagine the challenges facing those on crutches or in a wheelchair, trying to make their way around!

I had not realized the schoolgirl who fell into the drain, actually died.

Besides the crowds, crazy traffic and pollution, this is one of the reasons why I spend as little time as possible in Kathmandu, especially during monsoon.

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Mankamana … finally

It all started in late 2014 when my sister Maeve and I bought a bunch of tickets to the Cork Film Festival.  Her hubbie does not like going to see films much and I had not seen a film for quite some time.  This was after all the time I returned to the western world after spending a year in Nepal, Bangladesh, India s well as visiting family and friends in Australia, New Zealand, Spain, UK and Ireland.  It was a mammoth travel year back then.  But I digress …..

Mankamana, before I ever knew it was a sacred temple, was a documentary film to me.  We chose to see this film from the huge selection offered by the Cork Film Fest, purely because it was Nepal-related.  If you like a slow, thought-provoking, visually stunning film featuring snippets of ordinary people’s lives, then you will enjoy this film.  You can check out the trailer here.

The filmmakers installed a camera in one of the cable cars that ferries people from the road, across the raging Trisuli River and up up up high to the Manakamana Temple in the clouds.  They did a lovely job of linking all the vignettes together.  I particularly adored the clip with the women eating the ice creams.  I so loved the film that I was determined to visit the real place.

There’s much evidence of massive landslides along the highway that connects it to Kathmandu some 140 km away.  It’s the threat of landslides particularly during monsoon season that has prevented me from making the journey there late in 2015, Summer and Fall 2016 and again in Spring 2017.  Luck was on my side in June 2017 when Prajwal and I made the 5-7 hour one-way journey by bus, there and back all in one day.  Man was it ever a long day!    But worth it, as I got to be reminded of the inherent beauty of rural Nepal in all it’s monsoon luscious glory.

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The Mankamana Temple is in the Gorkha district of Nepal at 1,302 meters in elevation and overlooks the raging Trisuli River. The Temple sits close to what was the epicentre of the 2015 earthquake and restoration work continues to rectify the structural damage from over 2 years ago.

Manakamana is the sacred place of the Hindu Goddess Bhagwati, an incarnation of Parvati.  Its name originates from two words: “mana” meaning heart and “kamana” meaning wish.  It is said any wish truly coming from your heart, is always granted by the Goddess Manakamana.  I don’t think this is a myth, the wish I put forward on my visit there has been granted not six weeks later! Not for me, for someone else.

The pilgrimage to Manakamana is known as Manakamana Darshan and many Hindus make it frequently, especially when a new wish is sought, or thanks needs to be given for a wish granted.  Popular times of year to go of course are during Dashain (September/October) and Nag Panchami (July/August).  Going in June meant less crowds, still crowded enough for me though!  Offerings are an important part of the pilgrimage and include a selection of rice, red cloth, nuts, flowers, coconuts, oil lamp, incense and betel nuts.  Everyone gets in line with their offering and waits while the long line snakes it’s way along,  On the day we were there it was at least a one-hour wait.


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Sacrifice of roosters and goats is common, as in all temples and there’s even a separate cable car to transport the goats to the temple, oblivious to what is about to happen to them.  That same cable car transports the bloody sacks of carcasses down where people bring the slain animal home to eat.

In the western world we are so far removed from where our meat comes from, it’s sometimes good to be reminded.  If you have the stomach for it, you can revisit a post I write in early 2014 where a goat was slain on the SIRC Staff Picnic to Dhakshinkali, another sacred temple.  But this goat was for lunch, and was never intended to be a sacrifice.

The cable car ride was a highlight for me.  Nepal’s first cable car system, it was manufactured in Austria and opened for business on Nov 24, 1998.  Before the cable car, pilgrims had to hike over 3 miles with an elevation gain of over 3,500 ft … thank goodness for the cable car!  It runs during daylight hours with a break for lunch and has had a consistent safety record, even after the earthquakes.  It can carry 600 people to the summit every hour, and with 3 cable cars for the goats, who knows how many goats at a time.  From what I could see, roosters travel up with their owners in burlap sacks.

The cable car is in part sponsored by NCell, one of Nepal’s mobile companies and boy do they take advantage of the opportunity to splash their corporate colours around!

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* Just under three years after the opening of the Mankamana Cable Car, the same HRH Crown Prince Dipendra Bir Bikram Shah massacred his parents, brother and sister over a disagreement on who he should marry.

My journey to Manakamana was a long time coming, and I was really thrilled to make it there.  Much thanks has to go to Prajwal for accompanying me and figuring out that there was a bus direct from Jorpati where he lives with Sanjita his wife.  So much easier to be picked up and dropped off close to ‘home’!

And do you think I have a photo of Prajwal and I on our pilgrimage that day – unfortunately not.  Mad at myself about that.

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Home again, naturally

It’s been a whirlwind of activity since returning home to Bowen Island two weeks ago.  So many friends to spend time with, catch up on 12 months worth of stories from their lives, and share my stories with them (not everyone has the patience to read this blog!).  Many more to meet both on Bowen and in Vancouver … it’s gonna be a social summer.

The weather has been gorgeous since I got back, sunshine with temperatures in the mid-20s, cooling to high teens in the evenings.  With so much recent rain followed by sunshine in the last two weeks, the gardens have just exploded with growth.  They don’t call it a temperate rainforest here in the west coast for nothing!

Bowen Island’s quirky, latest promotion for the tourists LOL

My friends Rob Squared continue to live in my home while they see their construction through, and I am staying with the ever generous Judi who has opened her home to me with open arms.  All going well, I’ll return to my own home by the end of August.  Can’t wait to sleep in my own bed!

Home on Bowen

It’s hard to believe I left Sri Lanka a mere three weeks ago, I feel like I have lived a lifetime since!  I was real sorry to leave all of the people I worked so closely with during the nine months I was there and, while looking through the photos, I have only begun to realize how many long-lasting friendships I made while there.

I love this photo of the BIZ+ team dressed in red for International Women’s Day 2017

And here’s a quick slideshow of the people who made me feel so welcome, allowing me to ease into life in what was my home for 9 months.

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Nanri / Obata Stutiyi /Thank you to each and every one of you. xo

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Farewell, Kutpai, Ayubowan Sri Lanka

Looking back on all that I experienced, there are two things that surface over and over – the people and of course the food.  I was lucky to be working with a bunch of ladies who love to cook, and eat and love to try different foods.  Lunchtimes every day when I was in  my Colombo base, ended up being a smorgasbord of foodie delights – everyone ended up giving a spoonful of their dish to everyone at the table, and in return you got taste 6-8 other dishes – Sri Lanka’s version of a cookie swap.

The BIZ+ Colombo office team, all in red celebrating International Women’s Day – March 8, 2017

And then there was the work with VEGA BIZ+, providing assistance and coaching to small family run business in the North and East of the country.  The business I worked with were varied:  rice flour mill, FIBC polybag manufacturer, heirloom rice and a garment factory.  All needing various levels of support, some more than others.

I worked particularly closely with Thayalini on one challenging business, but with such an awesome team of ladies, this business is now profitable and the outlook looks very positive.

Thayaini and I saying our farewells at Palaly Airforce Base, Jaffna

And now for a whole bunch of memories …

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I missed a few photos – Thushy from Batti office who was a gem to work with.  Also to Prasanna and Purusoth … I ended up only working with them once in the 9 months.

Thank you everyone, for making me feel so welcome, it was a truly memorable experience.  I will miss you all!

Tonight I fly to Kathmandu to visit friends in Banepa for a week or so and will drop into SIRC too.  Dying to see everyone in Nepal!

Much love and peace

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Aid for the displaced in Sri Lanka’s floods

Almost a week has passed since the first of the flooding occurred in the south-west of Sri Lanka and the flood waters are beginning to recede.  Despite this, the numbers of people displaced has significantly risen to a total of 677,241 as at 12 noon today (June 2) here in Sri Lanka, with over 200 people reported dead.

After a little but of investigation, I have discovered there are three tranches to the provision of immediate aid to those affected.

There’s many many small groups of people primarily on Colombo, who have family and friends in the affected areas.  They have taken it upon themselves to deliver pre-cooked food, drinking water, medicines, hygiene products and other immediate necessities to their loved ones.  They cook the rice and curry packets in Colombo, and with other donations, drive as near as they can to the village and then transfer to a family member’s boat to deliver everything.  Much of these efforts are not officially being recorded but from what I hear, many of these small groups were first responders, ever before the disaster management centre got round to coordinating any kind of aid.

Delivery of curry & rice packets to those in need by a volunteer group.  The food packs are the newspaper wrapped packs more than likely filled with rice, dal, a few veggie dishes and a sambol.  Photo credit WARN

Delivery of 5L drinking water jugs by another volunteer group. Photo credit WARN

Three days worth of dry foods packed and being delivered by a volunteer group. Photo credit WARN

Then there are the many schools, clubs, temples and churches, TV and radio stations, banks, corporations and other businesses who have rallied together to offer their locations as donation drop-off points for many Colombo residents.  All manner of donations are being accepted, from tarps & tents and camping gear towards shelter needs, to dry goods such as rice, dal, flour, spices, salt, sugar, canned food and other cooking supplies, as well as water purification systems, hygiene products and basic medicines etc.  These donations are then trucked to the Air Force’s airport in Ratmalana on the outskirts of Colombo, where it is flown and then trucked to those in need.  The Military are keeping track of these donations.

And finally there is the more formal group now being coordinated by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.  Both domestic and international NGOs are channeling all of their efforts through the OCHA-run centre, as is the assistance from foreign governments such as India, Pakistan, South Korea and China.  The offer of assistance from US, UK and Japan has not yet been taken up it seems.

3Ws:  Who is providing What Where.  Source: UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs

Sri Lanka’s Red Cross are hugely active through the south-west, purely because many of their volunteers live in the area.  Surprisingly their activities are not included in the OCHA’s map!  In addition to the provision of immediate necessities, they are also running medical camps in many of the affected areas.

Red Cross teams offloading shelter supplies. Photo credit: Sri Lanka Red Cross

Distributing tarps and plastic floor mats to a displaced lady. Photo credit: Sri Lanka Red Cross

Also included under the OCHA coordination are nationwide donor initiatives that are being implemented by company’s like Dialog – a telecom company with a 2 million subscriber list who can be SMS’d at any time.  Their triple matching donation program has thus far, generated almost lkr 38 million (CAD$338,000) in donations (matching included).  These funds will be distributed by the OCHA centre.

Another rather neat program is the AID option from PickMe.  PickMe is an Uber-like service in a few of the main cities around Sri Lanka where you can reserve on-line, any kind of vehicle from a three-wheeler to a van.  They also have an SOS option, when selected, sends an SMS to your Emergency Contact.  But the AID option is a little different.

Within 24 hours, PickMe had added the AID feature where anyone who was stranded in the floods and needed rescue, could select the AID option.  The GPS coordinates were then sent to the Military who then arranged your rescue.  Although PickMe is not available in rural communities, it did have a positive impact for those in the city of Galle who needed assistance.

Now that the water is receding and minimal rain is forecast over the weekend, the mammoth task of clean up has already started.

Receding water levels has left mud, sediment and other debris inside homes. Photo credit: Daily Mirror

Structural damage in many homes hit by landslides means no one is moving back into this home anytime soon. Photo credit: Daily Mirror

The biggest concern is the impact contaminated drinking water sources and damaged toilets and sanitation systems has on, not only those displaced from their homes, but the population as a whole.  The risk of water-borne diseases such as cholera is extremely high, as is dengue – with all this standing water, conditions are ripe for dengue-carrying mosquitoes to breed and spread the disease.

In most parts of Sri Lanka, there is no municipal water service.  Instead each household, farm and building will have it’s own well as their supply of water.   Wells in Sri Lanka are predominantly tube wells with a water pump and usually some sort of water treatment system.  With the rise in the water table, many wells have overflowed as the water table has risen to greater heights.  Add to this, over-land flooding that more than likely includes a lot of debris as well as sewage, the water is no longer potable.  So for many, the first step is to clean out the well – not an easy task.

Cleaning the water well, first pumping out the sludge and debris. Photo credit: Daily Mirror

The positive news being reported in the on-line newspaper ColomboPage is the Government are stepping in to reconstruct 640 completely destroyed houses, and will renovate just over 5,000 partially destroyed houses.  The plan is to use spare resources from the Military, as well as take advantage of participants from programs run by the Ministry of Vocational Training.  Smart idea!

In addition, each house destroyed or damaged due to the flooding will be compensated to a maximum of lkr 2.5 million (CAD$22,000) by the government.  Apparently each and every household in Sri Lanka is insured with by the Renaissance Group and Lloyds of London – wow!  I wonder how much the premium is??

I’ve had a few readers ask where can a person donate, and to be honest I struggled to come up with one purely because I do not have the same network here as I do in Nepal and so have less insights into who is best on the ground.

After much consultation and discussion, I feel pretty good in recommending Sri Lanka Red Cross.  You can donate directly online by using this link.

If you donate through any other country’s Red Cross  – for example Canadian Red Cross – I cannot guarantee your donation will be sent to Sri Lanka or, will be spent efficiently.  You may not get a Canadian Revenue Agency approved tax receipt by donating to Sri Lanka Red Cross, but at least you will know your money will be well spent.  They are well respected here.

My thoughts and prayers are with all those heading into a long period of recovery and clean up.  Let’s hope the monsoon rains hold off for a little while to give them a running chance at making their homes at least livable.

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Flooding in south-west Sri Lanka

I am sitting in Colombo where the monsoon rains have already begun. Picture momentary deluges accompanied by a few claps of thunder and lightening.  Then it stops as suddenly as it starts, there’s a little localized flooding for a short period of time as the poor drainage system struggles to clear the run-off.  Within an hour, the streets are dry and everything is back to normal.

It’s a bit surreal at the moment, given it’s monsoon as normal here yet just over 100km south east of Colombo, there has been serious flooding and landslides that has claimed over 199 lives with 112 injured, 63 people still missing and close to 604,700 people have been displaced from their homes*.

* Source: Disaster Management Centre, Special Situation Report as at May 30, 2017 at 6pm Sri Lanka time

This is the home of a young man I have worked with, just outside of Galle, taken on Saturday.  The water level rose further on Sunday to roof level.  Photo Credit:  Anuradha Ranasinghe

Flooding has brought water up to roof-level and has saturated the surrounding areas.  The following satellite shot of the Matara area taken 3 days ago and gives you an idea how widespread the flooding has been.  The green shading denotes the flooded areas.

Source: International Water Management Institute

There’s been a huge issue with landslides too, primarily due to a combination of heavier than usual monsoon rains, replacing trees with tea plantations in hill country and building in floodplains when they shouldn’t.

Rescue efforts in Bellana village in the Kalutara district,. Photo credit: Eranga Jayawardena

Yesterday, a Flood Evacuation order was issued for much of the south western part of Sri Lanka as outlined below.  Just four weeks ago, we traveled through much of these areas, including Nuwara Eliya and Mirissa and Galle.  It was dry as a bone.  A different story now.

Flood evacuation areas are shaded in red with Colombo denoted with a pink X.  Source: UN of Sri Lanka

Heavy rain and strong winds was forecast today throughout the whole region but except for Nuwara Eliya, it never really materialized thank goodness.  Actually, there is not much rain forecast over the next 5 days.

The Government were slow to assess the disaster as it unfolded and had some difficulty getting accurate numbers out to everyone but they have managed to get themselves on track since.  The Sri Lankan military have taken a lead role in evacuating everyone that needs to be moved.

Sri Lankan soldiers evacuate flood victims in Wehangalla village, Kalutara district. Photo credit Hindustan Times

But it is the grassroots community groups who have stepped up over the weekend to prepare thousands of rice & curry packs, as well as provide drinking water, feminine products, medicines, clothing and shelter to the over half-a-million people who have been displaced from their homes.  Over 40 per cent of those affected do not have access to potable water and there is an urgent need for clean contaminated wells in flood-affected areas.  Containment of the spread of cholera is of the utmost importance.

I’ve let a local Rotary Club know of my availability to help out, they are having a planning meeting tonight so I’ll probably hear tomorrow what I will be asked to do.  Bring it on, I am feeling a little helpless in Colombo when a disaster is so close, yet knowing it does not help to head down there and be another person to house and feed.

In addition and of particular concern is the potential for a rise in the numbers of dengue infections in the flood affected areas. It’s because standing water is one of the primary causes of the spread of the disease which is currently averaging about 10,000 new cases every month thus far this year. [Now you know why I am obsessive about using repellent!].

The Indian Army were the first of the international assistance teams to arrive.  They brought with them much needed relief materials such as food, water and medicines as well as a team of doctors and assistants for medical aid.  The ship also brought diving teams along with rubber inflatable craft to evacuate persons in flood affected areas.  Thank you India!

Indian Navy troops offload emergency supplies from the Indian ship in Colombo. Photo Credit: Hindustan Times

The US, UK and Japan have also offered their assistance but perhaps their assistance has not yet arrived, there has been no media reporting on the topic.

And finally,  I came across this short clip of the Victoria Dam, in Sri Lanka’s hill country.  It’s the country’s tallest dam and it’s primary purpose is the provision of irrigation as well as hydro-generated electricity.  This clip was taken 3 days ago and shows the sheer volume of water running through it.

My thoughts and prayers are all the people who have lost family members and friends, the injured and the half a million people displaced from their homes.  Let’s hope Mother Nature gives them a break and allows the flood waters to subside before the monsoon really hits Sri Lanka in the next few weeks.

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Nepali citizenship …. finally

On International Women’s Day, you may remember me telling you the story of a mother and her two daughters and their fight for Nepali citizenship.  Let me remind you.

Nepali born Deepti Gurung raised her two Nepali-born daughters – Nikita and Neha – on her own for many years, without their foreign-born father’s support.  When she went to get her daughter’s citizenship papers in order, she was shocked to find out that her daughters were not considered Nepali citizens.  You see, Nepal is a patriarchal society that in the past, only allowed Nepali citizenship to be afforded to children through their father, never through their mother.

In 2011, the Forum for Women, Law and Development won a landmark verdict from Nepal’s Supreme Court where the court granted Nepali citizenship to a young Nepali-born girl whose father could not be identified yet whose mother was Nepali.

Despite this decision, precedence was not set for similar cases such as those of Nikita and Neha’s, primarily because bureaucrats in the Chief District Offices (CDOs) still believe and practice a patriarchal society.  In their minds, males are the dominant ones in society, no matter what the law says.  This is blatant discrimination against women.

Deepti Gurung with her daugther Neha, speaking on March 8, 2017 – International Women’s Day in Kathmandu. Photo credit My Republica

This left Deepti Gurung’s two daughters Nikita and Neha stateless.  Unable to secure Nepali citizenship, thus preventing them from doing what should be simple things in life.

Things like opening their own bank account, attending college, and to bigger things like being allowed to vote, not qualifying for a passport.

Things you and I take for granted.

Deepti Gurung and her supporters staged a sleep-in protest at Baneshwor, Kathamndu in August 2015. The Nepal Police response seems a tad excessive. Photo credit Kathmandu Post

For years now, Deepti Gurung and her supporters have been fighting the good fight, seeking a decision from the Supreme Court that allows Nepali citizenship to be passed on through the Nepali mother, without reference to the father.

This very decision came down from the Supreme Court on Tuesday, making it an historic judgement that paves the way for Nikita and Neha, along with what is estimated to be 4 million others, to secure Nepali citizenship through their mothers.  Deepti’s young daughters can now get on with their lives.

And more importantly, this verdict ensures bureaucrats in the Chief District Offices (CDOs) comply with this judgement.

A huge win for the women in Nepal as this ingrained prejudice against women is slowly eroded.

Congratulations to all involved.

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