Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Day 120 - Boudha

Today is our last day in Nepal. We fly out of Kathmandu at 11:30 pm and head to Hong Kong for a long layover. By the time we reach Colorado it will be after 8:00 am on Saturday in Kathmandu. Long trip.

It's been great (have a said that before?). We've had some adventures for sure, and met a lot of great people, and certainly have more stories to share than many of you will want to sit through (though some will do it patiently and I thank you in advance). There is plenty to be missed here. Delicious Momos and tasty Thenthuk, Masala chai, Tongba, the sweet, smiling old Tibetan woman that runs Double Dorjee, the incredibly friendly server at Stupa Dining that has become a friend (why do all of those revolve around food?). I'll also miss having children shout "Namaste!" at us as we walk down the road. I'll miss hearing pujas on an almost daily basis from one monastery or another around Boudha. I'll definitely miss walking through the random weddings and wedding parties. I'll even miss getting shoved out of the way by old ladies because I'm doing Kora too slowly. As always when I return from other countries, I'll miss bartering with merchants and that funny bond that develops when you're both laughing because their price is WAY too high and your price is WAY too low. We'll see how long it takes for me to try and buy something back home and offer the shopkeeper way too little followed by an emphatic "Good price! Good price!" I'll definitely miss the weather. Going back to Winter in the US is going to be quite the shock to the system, I think, after a 90-100 degree Fall in India and generally sunny and warm Winter days in Nepal.

At the beginning of the week, Laura and I went to Nagarkot and stayed at an incredibly nice farm hotel. Nagarkot is legendary for its scenic views of the Himalayas, including a peek at Everest (haha, get it?). The hotel was so peaceful and serene, removed from the main "town" of Nagarkot and all the other hotels. The room price included three meals, entirely organic and made primarily from stuff grown on site. The food was delicious, especially the crepe with homemade peach jam for dessert. There was also a large fireplace in the common room and board games! And, it was the best shower I have taken all trip. The only downside was the winding dirt road that offers the only access to Nagarkot. The bus on the way down was just a little nauseating and packed wall to wall with people. At one point I had a woman sitting on my shoulder, which I haven't had since public buses in India. It made me both happy and sad to be going home. Being in a crowded bus careening down mountains is an experience that forces you to recognize and appreciate that you're in an entirely different world, and at the same time truly appreciate where you came from.

Most likely this is the last post for Life as WWOOFer - India and Nepal. But I kind of dig this whole blog thing. I'll most likely do another for my next adventure, whenever and wherever that may be. I kind of dig this WWOOF program and would love to do it again in the future. Laura and I have been talking about doing it in the US for a bit too. It would be a great way to see more of our own country, or we could do it someplace near to wherever we may be living. I've certainly learned a lot and, although we spent about half the time on farms that we expected to, I'm excited to continue learning.

As Tigger says, TTFN, Ta Ta For Now (Who says I have to be grown up?)

Friday, January 15, 2010

Day 115 - Boudha

Not much new to report, though some random things to share.

There was a strike on Jan 10th, which, if I haven't mentioned already, strikes are incredibly common in Nepal these days. Since the ousting of the royal family, Nepal formed a Constituent Assembly that was given the task of drafting a new constitution. The deadline for the new constitution is May of this year and things have been getting hectic with everyone trying to get their ten cents in. Usually the strikes are planned by the UCPN-Maoist party, which held power a couple years ago but vacated due to disillusionment with the government (whatever that means). Now, of course, they want their opinions heard. However, the Jan 10th strike was planned by a different party, the RJN, which apparantly pissed off the Maoists (despite the fact that both the UCPN-Maoist and the RJN are Communist parties). There was some inter-party violence (the paper said something about some stabbings), some destruction of property (especially busses that operated in spite of the strike), but no deaths. All in all just another day in Nepal.

We had lunch with a Tibetan family that Laura's parents met while here last year. They stuffed us so full of momos, fried rice, french fries, vegetables, and juice that I thought I was going to be sick. It's ingrained in their culture to keep insisting guests eat more, and it is ingrained in Laura and I to not be impolite. Every time we took a sip of mango juice, Sangey would fill our glass from the 1 liter carton. I said a silent "Thank God" when the carton was finally empty, only to have Sangey leave the room and come back with a 1 liter carton of orange juice to refill my cup. Eventually we convinced him that we could not eat even one more momo (every time we refused more food he would say "just one more momo," and we'd put another momo on our plate). The lunch was delicious and pleasant, but I don't think Laura and I ate much the rest of the day.

At lunch, Sangey told us some interesting stories about the political situation in Nepal. One was about how political leaders lie, which is not a surprising fact, yet the lie and the response was a bit surpising. Apparantly a politician was trying to play on some tensions between Nepal and India. He started a rumor that a popular Bollywood actor had said some bad words about Nepal. A group of Nepalis took this rumor to heart and proceeded to torch a local cinema hall that was playing one of the actor's latest films. Sangey also said that India and China have a lot of spies in Nepal trying to fuel contempt of the other country and sway power to their side. Definitely not a position I would want to be in.

Laura and I went to see Avatar at a local theater. The ticket cost about 2 dollars and the theater was a bit dingy, but not too bad. The sound or picture would go out every once in a while during the film, but never for more than a few seconds. The most awkward part of the experience came during the predictable romantic scene. Hindi and Nepali films are not without their romance, as most of you probably know, but they are extremely unlikely to feature couples kissing on screen. It's just not done. Western movies don't abide by that rule, and when the aliens on screen (surpisingly human-like) kissed and proceeded to more than kiss, the atmosphere in the theater changed dramatically. There was a lot of snickering, laughing and jeering from the people around us. Fortunately when the brief scene was over and done with, people returned to their normal movie watching state (which in Nepal includes having loud conversations and answering cell phones).

We start flying home on Thursday, which is only 5 days away. We have a long layover in Hong Kong, so we should have ample time to explore a bit before our longest flight. It's so hard to believe we'll be home so soon, yet there's much I'm looking forward to at home. Seeing my family and friends, of course. Eating a salad. Having 24/7 hot showers. Drinking water from the tap. Listening to my music. Eating sushi. Having my full wardrobe to choose from. I've enjoyed India and Nepal. People have been incredibly kind to us. But I'm looking foward to being away from so much garbage and some pretty noxious smells, not having people just stand and stare at us (mostly in India), no longer dodging motorcycles (sometimes driven by 10 year olds), and not having rickshaw drivers run us over shouting "rickshaw! rickshaw!" For the last time, no I don't want your high quality hash, and no I don't want my shoes polished. Thank you for complimenting my beard, but no I will not buy whatever it is that you're selling.

All in all, it's been a great trip. Wouldn't change a thing.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Day 106 - Boudha

After a few more days on the farm in Shukranagar, we returned to Boudha for the New Year. We harvested honey for a couple more days and did some more work out in the fields, but the work each day took only 1-2 hours and the rest of the time we had very little to do but sit and read or ponder our existence. The most we could do was walk about 10 minutes into the village and get tea and samosas while the people gathered round to stare at us. Some made conversation, which was nice. The days were long, though, and with so little to do we found ourselves watching movies with the son and daughter on their computer. After 15 days it felt a little like freeloading: not working very much but taking up space and eating food. The food consisted of Dal Bhat twice a day every day (rice with a thin lentil soup and some curried vegetables). It was always delicious, but 2 weeks of no variety wore on our morale a little bit a think. We would sit around and talk about nachos, sushi, and the salad bar at Whole Foods.

So now we are back in Boudha. A friend that we have made here from Utah has graciously given us a place to live for free. We insisted on paying a little rent, but he refused, so to show our appreciation we have offered him the jar of pure, unadulterated honey we brought with us from the farm. Being back in Kathmandu is nice. The other day we went on a hike into the hills looking for Kopan Monastery, and a few days later we went on another walk and actually found it. The grounds of the monastery were beautifully landscaped and there were monks playing soccer in the courtyard. There's another monastery and a hill nearby that we intend to walk to another day. The other day we went with a friend into Patan, which has a square of ancient temples and some small hidden temples down alleyways and side streets.

It is nice having variety in our diet. We've gone to my favorite restaurant, Double Dorjee, quite a lot since being back. They have really delicious Wantan soup, which is as close as I'll get to my mom's Peli Meni's while I'm away. We only have two weeks left, which is crazy to think about. We've been travelling for just over 15 weeks now and I think we're both ready to get back to some of the comforts of home.

I hope you are all safe, happy, healthy, and warm.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Day 96 - Shukranagar

We made it safely to our final farm, though we went a little too far on the bus and the subsequent cab driver we relied on got lost and took two hours and a phone call to find the farm. The Bhattarai family is incredibly nice, warm and welcoming. When we arrived there were four other volunteers (3 from France, 1 from Norway), so quarters were a little cramped. There are two rooms for volunteers in a small building detached from the main house. The girl from Norway graciously gave up the room she had been staying in to allow Laura and me to move in, and she squeezed in with the 3 French girls. It made sense considering that one room has only a single bed while the other has two.

The work has been fine and the schedule incredibly volunteer-friendly. There are two meals a day and Balram, the head of the household, does not want volunteers working without eating. The first meal, however, usually falls sometime between 10 and 11, so we could theoretically sleep until then no problem. Usually, though, we wake up between 7 and 8 and just hang out, wander into the village, or read until breakfast. Sometime after we’ve eaten (with no particular emphasis on time) we begin work. The first day we irrigated the mustard fields. The second day we broke down haystacks into a giant pile of hay in front of the house (which the village children spent hours playing in). The third day we dug four holes, making a square, and put logs in them. The fourth day we built a giant haystack in the area with the freshly placed poles. The fifth day we dug up some grasses and replanted them along the irrigation channel (the grass, which grows in bunches to be quite tall, is used to feed the buffalo). Then, it was Christmas Eve and Christmas Day and we were allowed to rest and celebrate.

All six of us volunteers decorated a small tree out front as our honorary Christmas tree. We prepared meals based on foods our respective countries eat (though the French girls stole Mashed Potatoes so Laura and I made hashbrowns with eggs and corn-on-the-cob). We exchanged small gifts. We sang Carols in three different languages. It was nice.

The other four left the day after Christmas, though two of the French girls say they will be coming back the first week of January. There were two things the French girls were excited for: harvesting honey and seeing the pregnant buffalo give birth. Both have happened since they left. The day after Christmas (just one day too late to rightfully name the baby buffalo Jesus), Laura and I ate freshly roasted corn kernels and watched a live buffalo birth. It was surprisingly less disgusting then I anticipated, and the mama buffalo handled the whole thing with incredible ease and strength. Neither Balram nor Dorga (the matriarch of the family) intervened until the baby had plopped onto the ground from three feet in the air. Laura and I continued to watch and shout encouraging words as the baby attempted its first steps. We christened her Janeane Garbuffalo. Laura calls her Buffy for short.

Today we helped harvest honey. It was slightly nerve-wracking having bees flying all around while Balram stole the honeycomb frames from the box-hives and brought them inside the net (which was riddled with holes that let bees in, not to mention all the bees that clung desperately to the frames of honeycomb). Dorga scraped the layers of wax off the frames with a knife so that Laura and I could load them in the cylindrical machine, which is operated by spinning a handle and uses centrifugal force to spin honey out of the comb against the walls of the cylinder. The honey (and any hopeless bees that remained in the comb) oozes down the sides, eventually finding the hole in the bottom and oozes out a pipe into the waiting strainer and bucket. It’s amazing we didn’t get stung. Balram, on the other hand, with no bee suit like you see in the movies, gets stung hundreds of times invading the hives. He says stings are good for your health. I don’t think Macauley Culkin’s character in My Girl agrees.

Tomorrow we harvest more honey. Stay tuned to hear how that goes. Hope you all had the happiest of holidays. And Happy New Year if I don’t get to post before then.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Day 84 - Boudha

We leave Kathmandu in two days for Chitwan and our next farm experience. There is no guarantee that we'll have much internet access, so I figured that I'd update now while I have the chance.
Boudha is still very calm and relaxing and I've taken the opportunity to do some reading. Now that I'm out of school, my reading list seems to all be political/historical non-fiction. I read a book by Noam Chomsky and another one by a Pakistani historian about the history of Islam in the Middle East. I also read a book Laura bought about a Tibetan Tulku that fled to India after Chinese occupation. It's been good. The Omnivore's Dilemma is next, but I'm not supposed to know about it because it's my Christmas present.
I've been getting spurts of homesickness as it gets closer to Christmas. It will be hard being away from my family for the first time. I've missed watching holiday movies while drinking hot chocolate, or listening to Trans-Siberian Orchestra. And, I will definitely miss Christmas Eve board game night.
The seminar ended last week, but there was a three-day retreat (kind of an extension of the seminar) at a place called Nagi Gompa, a nunnery just a little ways up in the mountains. I didn't go, but Laura did. She said it was beautiful and I get the sense that she's glad she went. I really enjoyed the seminar and learned more than I probably realize, but I'm glad I opted out of the retreat. It would have been a little much. We've made friends here with many of the students at the monastery so I had to people to hang out with. The monastery has a program on Buddhist Studies through Kathmandu University and the students are from all over. A few nights ago I went out for some Tongba with a few of them. Tongba is Tibetan beer. It's a rather sizable brown barrel (not quite as big as a Big Gulp at 7/11) filled with fermented millet that you poor boiling water over. You drink through a metal straw and it's actually quite good. It gives off the aroma of freshly baked bread and goes really well with Wantan soup. After, we played Texas Hold'em (poker) in an Indian restaurant...Norway, Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany and the US were all represented.
Other than that, not much to report until we get to the next destination. I've had a lot of downtime here and hence have bought way too many bootleg DVDs. They're just so cheap! Oh well, now I'll have something to do when I'm unemployed back in the states.
Happy Holidays everyone!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Day 70 - Bouddha (Kathmandu)

Just a quick post. I didn't end up finding anything going on for World AIDS Day here but I did read an interesting article in the paper today (The Himalayan). It was a brief article about how poor Nepalis, especially in the Western region, are going to Voluntary Counseling and Blood Testing (VCBT) centers and trying to pass as HIV positive when in fact they are not. I don't know if they bribe the testers or try to skew the results somehow, the article didn't say. Ultimately, people are trying to fake positive tests so that they can get the money the government gives to HIV positive people for health costs. It's surprisingly common and on the rise. The article interviewed a widow who has been successfully passing as positive and using the money to feed her family. It's hard to imagine that people live in such a desperate state as to pretend to have a fatal disease that kills millions worldwide and is still rising in some areas due to lack of proper information and access to healthcare. The article said that nearly 1,000 people in the region are thought to actually be HIV positive. What effect will the people faking positive results have on these people who need medication? When pretending doesn't work anymore, how far will they go to get that positive test result?
Perhaps not the most uplifting blog post, I'm sorry. The article just struck me today and I felt like sharing.
We just ate some delicious Momos with Sangey, a Tibetan monk that Laura's parents met while they were here last year. He and his family have been so kind to us, showing us around some places and making sure we are alright. I had a bit of a stomach illness a few days ago and I think Sangey has asked me how I'm feeling every day since. It's nice to spend time with him and talk about the state of Tibet, the situation with the Maoists here in Nepal, or even just the weather or how much we like Momos.
There's not much else to report. Bouddha is very relaxing and we've had a lot of time to explore some interesting places, but mostly we just read in the garden of the guest house while drinking warm drinks. Hope all is well for all of you.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Day 66 - Boudha

We have made it safely to Kathmandu and are staying in a really nice guest house in an area called Boudha. It's connected to a monastery called Shechen, the grounds of which we often walk through on our way out for the day. Sometimes we hear the monks debating as we walk by, which includes a great deal of foot stomping and hand clapping (not in anger of course, but rather part of a very organized system of debate). Shechen is just one of many monasteries in the area. There is also the large, visually amazing Boudha Stupa that rises over the buildings. People do Kora around the stupa, circumambulating the structure while repeating mantras and spinning prayer wheels. In Buddhism, it's a great way to gain merit.
A couple days ago we went with some friends to Pharping, about an hour and a half outside of Kathmandu. There, Thinley Norbu Rinpoche was performing a puja at a monastery called Yellow Gompa. I won't pretend to know much about this particular teacher or pujas, however from talking to others I gathered that Thinley Norbu Rinpoche is an old, highly respected Buddhist teacher that lives in the US and has not been to Nepal in 13 years. Ultimately, the puja lasted about 5 hours and consisted of uninterrupted chanting, throat-singing, drumming and woodwinds. It was amazing to listen to and just feel the vibrations around and inside you. Also, the shrine room of Yellow Gompa was incredibly beautiful, with sculptures, carvings, paintings and tapestries of vibrant reds, golds, blues and greens. I may not have fully comprehended the religious significance of the event, but I definitely appreciated the visual and auditory power of it all.
Yesterday we went to Pashnupatinath, which is the holiest place for Hindus in Nepal. Pashnupati is one of the 1,008 names for Lord Shiva and there are many temples and sculptures there dedicated to Shiva. It sits alongside the Bagmati River (which I believe eventually meets the Ganges). There, they perform cremations twenty-four hours a day. Laura and I sat for an hour or so watching the cremations (which is far less disturbing or unnerving than it sounds). It was quite an amazing experience watching the families bring the bodies of loved ones, wrapped in bright cloth and decorated with garlands, to the riverside to perform all the religious rites. In Hinduism, there are five important elements: water, fire, air, land and sky. The cremations by the river unite all five elements in the single ceremony. The river is also significant in that Hindus bath themselves in it for religious purposes. They fully submerge themselves three times while reciting the ancient Vedas in hopes of breaking from the cycle of reincarnation.
Spending Thanksgiving in Boudha with Laura was so nice, and the first Thanksgiving we've spent together. We went to a little restaurant we found the other day called Double Dorjee. It is officially my favorite restaurant on the whole trip so far. The woman who runs it is very warm and friendly and the food is delicious. We had beer, mashed potatoes, fried veggies and apple pie, as close as we could get to a Thanksgiving dinner. The power went out at one point so we even got to finish our meal by candlelight. I know that, for me, it was the one of the best Thanksgivings I could ask for (no offense family).
Tuesday is the annual World AIDS Day (December 1) and I'm curious to see what will be done in Kathmandu. Laura and I e-mailed 3 organizations in hopes of finding a volunteer opportunity, but have heard from none. I'm thinking that we'll just head out in the morning and see if there's anything being done and somehow latch on, either as participants or volunteers. I don't know at all what to expect. In Kenya it's a huge deal and in some places it's a week-long thing rather than a single day. It'll be interesting to get a comparison.
Thus marks the first post from Nepal. I hope everyone had a lovely Thanksgiving!