Yaknak Projects

Nepal Diary - 2004

26th April 2004

Written by Kathryn

A goodbye message...

I’m really looking forward to the next three months, both teaching at the Devi Bal School and also doing as much as I can to begin our Ketaketi project. Lots of you have expressed interest in coming to Nepal to help with the project in the future. On this trip Ajit and I will gather as much information as we can to get things started but I hope that in the future when more practical help is required you’ll still be interested! Many hands make light work as they say and hope that you’ll all still be keen to help out.

To those who asked me to keep in touch whilst away, I’ll do my best but previous experience of emailing from Kathmandu makes me dubious about my chances of getting in touch with so many of you. So instead I’ll be keeping a Nepalese blog which you’ll be able to read from our site at yaknak.org.

I’ll post as often as I’m able – which may not be very often as I’ll be living outwith the city and may not have access to a PC. Thanks a lot to everyone for supporting YakNak . Looking forward to seeing you again in August.

- Ma pharkinchhu! (I'll be back)

27th April 2004

Written by Kathryn

Staring through the plane window, the towering white clouds suddenly come into focus as being the snow covered peaks of the Himalayas. After 21 hours of travelling, I'm finally in Nepal!

Tightened security means no Ajit at the airport but he's sent a message and we meet outside. "Welcome to Nepal!" and I'm decorated with flowers, bangles, a Shiva necklace and tika. We head along the road through cars, buses and tuktuks driven by maniacs, chickens and cows feeding on the roadside rubbish to Pashupatinath with its stoned Holy men and crazy monkeys. We relax - back in the place where we first met and where YakNak began. Afterwards I enjoy my first meal of Daal Bhaat Takkari in a small cafe with Ajit (and the less welcome company of a large flying cockroach!)

29th April 2004

Written by Kathryn

They say if you learn to drive in Edinburgh, London or any other traffic-jam-packed driver's nightmare of a city, you can drive anywhere with ease. So I suppose taking your first motorcycle ride through Kathmandu means you've nothing to fear even supposing Evil Kinevil himself wants to take you for a ride.

After 45 "exhilarating" minutes weaving at speed through aforementioned cows, chickens, death-wish pedestrians and kamikaze drivers, I got my first glimpse of Suntakhan. The village lies in the hills outside of Kathmandu and it's at the end of the road so no through traffic makes it incredibly peaceful. It was mid-afternoon so most people were working in the fields and the children at school. The only people I saw were some women washing clothes in the river and further upstream some men and children bathing. I know this will be a wonderful place to spend the next two months.

As we walked towards the school, many small faces appeared at the windows followed by a chorus of "Namaskar!". I met the staff in the head teacher's room and we're joined briefly by a goat who wanders in, takes a brief glance around and wanders off again, leaving us to our introductions. Can't wait to start work here.

1st May 2004

Written by Kathryn

Discovered that foreign charities need to be affiliated to a Nepalese NGO in order to carry out their work legally. So YakNak needs a Nepalese partner. As fate would have it, I met Dorje yesterday for the first time. At only 21 years old, he's setting up a trekking company with a difference - it's actually a charity with all profits financing educational sponsorship for children who can't afford school fees and would otherwise spend their days on the streets. So YakNak needs help in Nepal and Dorje's, New Hopes, depends on tourists from the UK and elsewhere to succeed. As both charities share the same target of helping street children, it looks like we can really help each other achieve our goals.

But where do we start?

Dadhikot Ajit took me to this rural area outside of Kathmandu. From the city it's about thirty minutes by bus and then another thirty on foot. Predominantly a farming district, it's clean, green and very open with a view of the Himalayas. It also has two schools, several small shops and plenty of vacant land at a good price. A great location for Ketaketi House as it would give children a real chance of a new start in fresh surroundings away from Kathmandu and the poverty, crime and drugs problems which often accompany life on the streets.

The obvious problems are that Ketaketi House would be located far from the Kathmandu street children we want to help and also that from the streets of Kathmandu to Ketaketi House in Dadhikot may be too big a leap for some of these children to make. So additionally if we set up a YakNak shelter in Kathmandu where children could eat, get clean and sleep in safety then children could come and go as and when they wish and those children who are ready to leave the streets permanently will be able to try life at Ketaketi House and be offered a permanent home there.

Kathmandu To help get an idea of where YakNak needs to focus its attention, Dorje showed me around some areas which have particularly high numbers of children living on the streets to see what life is like there.

How un-British - I haven't mentioned the weather yet. Whilst walking in the beautiful sunshine in Dadhikot, Ajit suggested finding shelter as rain was on its way. "I'm Scottish" I thought "What's a wee summer shower?" Within a minute the blue sky is black and I hear the loudest thunder ever. Thankfully Ajit found a farmyard porch where we sheltered and watched the heaviest rain I have ever seen lashing down and all the people gathering their things from the fields and their yards and fleeing home. Within ten minutes it stops and ... like magic ... blue skies and sunshine are restored. Monsoon already? No, just the pre-monsoon. Apparently when the real monsoon starts that kind of ten minute shower will last all day. Great!

2nd May 2004

Written by Kathryn

It's 30 minutes on the bus and then about another 45 minutes on foot to Suntakhan. I'm not yet living or teaching there but went up for the day to help with a Water Aid project. Bus - no problem. The "on foot" bit? Well, obviously I got horrendously lost and followed a very steep path up the wrong hill. After an hour and a half, some kindly locals led me back down the path and took me to the school. I arrived not so much the only white face in the village but rather the only beetroot sunburnt one.

The village has a tank which collects water from a stream uphill. I was told there's one pipe which brings water from the tank to the village but was surprised to find this "pipe" is in fact merely a thin, blue plastic hose pipe sticking out of the bank of a small burn which carries away the unused water. The water-aid project is to lay a proper water pipe in the school yard to provide water for the toilets and also to put three taps in the yard for drinking water.

After ditch digging it seems there's a problem with the tank so work is postponed until tomorrow. Well, there's no point hanging about doing nothing, so I'm ushered into a classroom of children and left to get on with it. Preparation? Ke garne? A piece of chalk and that favourite standby "Head, shoulders, knees and toes" get me through the afternoon. And it's great fun!

3rd May 2004

Written by Kathryn

Pouja Each day Ajit's mother wanders through the house holding incense, tinkling a small bell and chanting. As I understand it, this is to purify the house. Our neighbours, however, went all out with Jagaran yesterday. A 24 hour purification ritual involving extrememly loud chanting. Lying awake and listening through the night, it sounded beautiful. But I'm pretty tired now.

Today we visited a charity run children's shelter near Pashupatinath. Here they house up to one hundred children and seem keen to offer help and information to YakNak. Ajit spoke with the children about their life there and I look forward to a time when my Nepali is significantly improved so that I can do the same.

Still shattered from the Jagaran, we hung around Pashupati for a while watching the monkeys leaping from high into the Bagmati river to keep cool. We drank delicious fresh sugar cane juice and I ignored received wisdom about avoiding meat here and try some of Ajit's goat momo (dumplings).

4th May 2004

Written by Kathryn

Survived the goat momo.

Visited Kathmandu's largest Orphanage which houses 288 children from infants to 16 years old. Although it was founded by the late King and Queen, it receives no government support and relies on income generating projects (they were selling woollen goods in the entrance hall) and donors who mainly sponsor individual children. It was crowded: bunkbeds sleep 20-30 children per room; 15 babies asleep on a double quilt; 3 toddlers in a cot. There are only 36 staff. It was dirty and as far as I could see there was no running water in the toilet block.

BUT I spoke for an hour with a member of staff who obviously has a hard time keeping the place running at all yet manages somehow, which is an inspiration in itself. It is also encouraging to hear that all the children here attend school.

I was shown round by Suhessan, a 13 year old who lives there. He seemed very happy and talked positively about life there. We saw the tv room, the small library (donated), children playing in the yard (as today was a school holiday) and the garden where they grow vegetables. I noticed a tethered goat and assumed it was a pet, but was informed it's tomorrow's lunch. How to stretch one goat for 288 children is anyone's guess but I'm sure they'll manage somehow.

5th May 2004

Written by Kathryn

Happy Birthday Buddha! Yesterday was the day of this auspicious occasion so in the evening Ajit and I went off to Boudhanath (try www.boudhanath.com for a photo) Over our heads, hundreds of streamers of prayer flags fluttered in the night sky with its full moon, and everywhere we looked thousands of little oil lamps were buring. It was full of people - young, old, beggars and monks, all walking clockwise around the building and turning the hundreds of prayer wheels that line the perimeter. It really was one of the most beautiful sights I've ever seen.

Speaking of the moon ... apparently there was also a lunar eclipse last night (though I can happily say I didn't witness it myself, as I'm sleeping more soundly in these Jagaran free nights). The eclipse meant the house and all inhabitants needed to be purified. Tricky when we wake up to find the water tank completely dry. How to purify 6 of us?! One by one we went to the bathroom with a bucket of water each (saved in anticipation of such a shortage?). Couldn't even take my soap with me as I'd left it inside my bag and nothing could be touched while we were still "impure". At this point I should mention that, due to a shortage of water in the house in recent days (and my own laziness), I haven't washed any clothes yet. So ... No soap, no shampoo, one bucket cold water, 3 day old knickers, the trousers I wore on the plane and for three days here (unwashed since Scotland) - the last thing I feel is pure!!

Back to YakNak - This evening I'll be visiting some of the other homes run by NCO (Nepal Children's Organisation who I visted yesterday). In addition to their main Kathmandu home, they have homes for mentally ill children, children who are orphaned through Maoist violence and for children whose parents are in prison (as alternatively children must accompany their parents).

And tomorrow I head for Suntakhan to begin teaching. Next week will be a short one though, as the Maoists have called a two day strike - no school, no shops, no buses, no nothing...

So, I'll probably come back to Kathmandu the night before and will hopefully be able to tell you all about life in Suntakhan then.

Better finish now - I lost this diary entry earlier as we had a power cut. Two already today so don't want to risk losing this post to a third!

Until I'm next near a PC - Namaste all!

..........................

Turns out I have a little more free time than expected tonight. Phoned the guy from NCO who - as luck would have it - was just around the corner. Unfortunately when I met him he was too busy to take me to see the other children's homes. So he took me to a brothel instead.

He and some friends were having a post work drink there. Not one to shy away from a new experience, I went inside, but try as I did, it just didn't seem an appropriate place to discuss the plight of street children. So I left. We're to meet Saturday instead at the NCO home. Just me being a prude, or is that an altogether more suitable venue?

9th May 2004

Written by Kathryn

Devi Bal - What a great school! There's nothing much there to speak of - a brick building with no windows and little resources. But I'm trying my best with a piece of chalk and the few flashcards and books I've brought with me. What makes it easy and so much fun is the children's enthusiasm. Sorry to all jaded UK teachers!

And Suntakhan - it's lovely - ramro chaa! I'm living with the headteacher, Shyam, his wife, mother, 3 daughters and son. From school to the house is a ten minute walk along a dusty, not-quite-a-path, track through fields of wheat, rice, potatoes and random goats (witnessed a fierce argument this morning between two women over whose goat had been eating whose crops). As well as the family, there are two cows and the ground floor of the house is filled with potatoes and wheat which are being harvested now. This is also where meals - Dhaal Bhaat - are cooked on a small wood fire and we all eat here too. It's the Nepalese custom to eat with your right hand and, although I'm quite happy to do so, the family insist I use a spoon. Mainly for their own amusement, I think! The women of the family also had a good laugh at my handwashing attempts (hey - it's difficult with no hot water!) and have since taught me a more thorough and effective method. All four children study, either at high school or college, and they really do study hard. I'm hoping their example rubs off, and my Nepali will come on leaps and bounds. Though this business of getting up at 6am for three hours study before breakfast is quite a challenge for me. Not exactly being what you'd call a "morning person".

After our evening Dhaal Bhaat, I love to sit outside and enjoy being far from the dirt, noise and pollution of Kathmandu. Here the air is clear. I can see the stars, including Satarishi - seven holy men - which is the Plough and appears upside down (or am I making that up? Can my astrophysicist friend confirm?!) and up on the hills the lights from the houses are scattered so sparsely that they too look like stars. There only sound comes from the crickets and the cows and all around I can see the flickering lights of junkiri - fireflies. Indeed ramro chaa.

15th May 2004

Written by Kathryn

In Kathmandu today to meet Dorje, Chimi, Tashi and Donnie (New Hopes members). We're off to visit areas outside the city to try and find a good spot for Ketaketi House. Although Dadhikot seemed ideal in many ways, I later found out it's known to have a large number of Maoists which might make things difficult.

It's been a short week as the five political parties called a two day strike on Tuesday and Wednesday. In Nepali it's called "Nepal Bandha" and literally means "Nepal shut". So, as you can imagine, everything shuts - no shops, no buses, no private vehicles and, for me and Devi Bal, no school. During strikes Kathmandu must be startlingly quiet, free from traffic, and the city may well have been full of protestors and demonstrators. I have no idea, as in Suntakhan the strike simply meant two peaceful days at home for me. Nepal Bandha is a common state of affairs here and there are rumours of a further three days strike this week. This time called by the Maoists.

But back to school tomorrow, though not quite. We've an excursion - classes 6 to 10 are off for a picnic to which I've been invited. Rendezvous at 6am! Fortunately, the family (all seven of them and me too) are up between 5/5.30am every day anyway, and the household din - milking the cows, fetching the water, preparing dhaal bhaat - ensures there's no oversleeping!

If there’s no such thing as a free lunch then what’s the hidden cost of two ropanis of free land? We visited the village of Mulpaani, which incidentally means water source, and after trekking around in today’s heat seems like a good omen! There we got talking to some locals and were introduced to Mr Dharka, a social worker from the area who is optimistic that the local community will be happy to support our project and allow us to use their community land for Ketaketi house. We looked at various other plots of land to discuss prices but obviously we’ll be investigating the possibilities in Mulpaani. Would be great to feel the local community are working with us.

The bus back to Kathmandu was full (and I mean three-to-a-seat, hanging-out-the-door full) so ... we sat on the roof! Won't have helped my appalling sunburn but it was certainly an enjoyable ride (made all the more exciting by the risk of decapitation from overhead power cables)

Must head back to Suntakhan before it gets too dark. Cheerio!

19th May 2004

Written by Kathryn

The rumours were true and we're now in the second day of a three day Maoist strike. I thought I'd venture into Kathmandu, visit friends and see what's happening in town.

My friends were feeling a bit grim as they'd been without water for four days but happily some finally arrived in the pipes whilst I was there. The neighbourhood sprang to life with people filling their tanks, buckets, bottles and anything else that might hold a drop or two.

In Suntakhan it's quite different. We have an almost constant water supply from a stream uphill and, as the pre-monsoon has begun, it's pretty full. The other day I read that the monsoon also brings the leeches out in force. Yesterday morning I discovered this to be true as I went to wash and found one attached to my shin :(

And Kathmandu during Nepal Bhanda - I had thought it might seem peaceful with no traffic and all the shops shut. It doesn't feel peaceful at all though, it feels sapped of life and energy and I look forward to Friday when things are back to normal.

Last Sunday's Picnic We set off: a forty-five seater bus transporting 75 children, 20 to 25 adults, 1 baby and a goat! I manage to get a seat sharing with four girls for the 2 hour squashed, hot, bumpy, song-singing ride to our picnic spot.

Volleyball, football, singing and dancing, and a visit to the temple.

And then the picnic. Amazingly, absolutely everything was cooked from scratch - you can't get much more "from scratch" than taking a live goat, right? We've huge cauldrons of milk tea, rice, vegetable curries, goat curry, spicy chick peas and pickled vegetables.

Once we've had our fill, another 2 hours on our jam packed bus back home. Minus the goat, of course.

30th May 2004

Written by Kathryn

Some extended family visited this weekend including a young cousin with an extremely wobbly tooth. I was explaining about the tooth fairy but our under-the-pillow, wake-up-to-10p custom seems dull in comparison to the Nepali tradition. If you lose a tooth you embed it in cow dung and then chuck it over the roof of your house. To ensure a new one will grow in its place, dung (and tooth) must clear the roof and make it to the other side.

Speaking of dung ... I've learnt to wash my clothes (and myself!) in cold water and I've discovered that a small bundle of hay makes an extremely effective brillo pad for washing dishes and for scrubbing feet too. But was still intrigued by what apparatus Satywati was using to clean the floor with after dinner. Not without a great deal of laughter, she explained that no, my eyes were not deceiving me, our rice and curry spillages are indeed mopped up with a large dod of cow shit. Well, it is holy shit, after all.

A well-rounded teacher. I forgot to mention a small incident from the school picnic (a Freudian slip of - excuse the pun - epic proportions here) I'm sitting with the children and we're all tucking into the infamous goat curry:

Santosh "Teacher you are fat."

Me (smiling bravely) "Yes, Santosh. I am"

Sanotosh (with admiration) "Very fat!"

I'd been warned! And I know that in Nepal it's a compliment. Well-fed and "healthy" beats malnutrition, after all. It's also nice to be well-off and able to afford enough, or as it were, more than enough, to eat. However, from my non-Nepali point of view it wasn't the best compliment I've ever had! Almost as hard to swallow as the goat curry.

3rd June 2004

Written by Kathryn

Strikes ... It's the third day of another strike so no school. Actually, that's not strictly true. Yesterday was a full "Nepal Bhandha" but today is supposedly only a traffic strike. School was open this morning but as only 15 pupils turned up we closed early. The messages given out about what kind of strike is taking place can be fairly confusing. For example, this coming Sunday sees the beginning of an "unlimited" school bhandha, from Tuesday we have a 2, or possibly 3, day tourism bhandha and from Wednesday a 3 day full, Nepal bhandha. In the villages, where many have no access to tv or radio, this information simply doesn't get through. Bhandha is bhandha; strike means full strike, everything closed and no point in going to school. We'd planned group projects to present for World Environment Day on Sunday but few school days this week has made preparation difficult and it doesn't look like we'll be opening next week either.

Coming to Nepal? Wondering what to bring? My main advice would be water purification tablets. A headline from the most recent newspaper I read ran "52% of water samples taken from Kathmandu test positive for faecal matter."

You can buy mineral water, of course, but as there's no real system of refuse collection or disposal, you might not want to. After witnessing the mounds of rotting garbage throughout the city, on the streets where animals feed and children play, on river banks where it's unlikely fish swim any longer but people do still wash, you probably won't want to contribute any more plastic bottles to the mire.

That's all a bit depressing ... sorry, just a bhandha bad mood.

On a more cheerful note: A taste of home. We had a bit of a change from the usual rice last night as we cooked up the bag of fine porridge oats I'd brought from Scotland. Happy to report not a drop left in the pot and all agreed "Dheri mitochaa!" (very tasty)

My Nepali lessons have taken on a musical note recently as Shyam's daughters have been teaching me a few tunes. Looking forward to wowing you all with some Nepali Karaoke when I'm back! Bye for now ...

9th June 2004

Written by Kathryn

School Things are going well at school on the rare bandha free days when we can actually hold classes. This week the local schools association decided to begin the two week summer holidays, as all schools have been forced to close for an unlimited period anyway. But before this we held our "No Tobacco Day" and "World Environment Day" events. On the former we marched through neighbouring villages on an anti smoking rally, complete with banners and chanting, encouraging locals to stub out their fags. Perhaps "encourage" is the wrong word. One of the teachers took it upon himself to remove cigarettes from the mouths of smokers and stub them out on the ground with glee. This kind of thing would undoubtably cause a riot at home but was met with bemused smiles from the Nepalis. For World Environment Day the school received 29 tree saplings from the Kathmandu Rotary club. So Friday afternoon was spent happily digging, planting and watering in the school yard.

And YakNak ... It's about time I put something together for the next newsletter. An update on the Ketaketi Project plans was requested from home but it's proving difficult to write as the plans keep changing. This doesn’t worry me though. If our initial idea isn’t what’s required then it needs to be adapted, and finding this out is, after all, the purpose of the trip.

I've been reading some excellent research done with street children here by Save the Children. The researchers worked with children themselves to get their perspective on the good and bad points of existing shelters. It looks at why street children do, and yet don't, want to leave the streets. Why they may want some kind of training/education and support for the future, but find it difficult to engage with projects designed to help them.

It looks at how life on the streets appears (and is) very hard from our perspective, but also at the way in which children have adapted to these hardships and are often very reluctant or unable to give up their street life freedoms: financial, physical and mental. It asks whether forcing, coercing or even encouraging children away from their known surroundings and their peers is effective. Can we instead help them on the streets now?

Interesting questions. I'm optimistic and excited about exploring the possibilities for YakNak.

11th June 2004

Written by Kathryn

Yesterday Dorje and I met with the director of CWIN (Child Workers in Nepal) to get information about the work they do with street children which was really interesting and informative.

CWIN's offices are right across town in Kalimati and we stayed chatting until pretty late. By the time I'd taken a tuk-tuk back to the bus park, waited for a bus that failed to show, taken a taxi instead to Chabahil and caught the Gokarna bus, it was getting dark. It's about 45 minutes walk from Gokarna to the village and there are few houses and no lights on the way. It got darker and darker. The path got muddier and muddier. And then a kindly villager popped his head out of his front door to enquire:

"Hey, sister. Why so late today? Not afraid?"

Me "No problem! Chito ja-ne."*

Bloke "Hey, sister. In dark, snakes bite! Snakes bite, sister, snakes bite!"

Cheers mate! I'm usually tired and sweating from the heat when I arrive home. Last night I was tired and sweating from pace and panic!

It's difficult getting to and from Kathmandu each day so from tomorrow I'm going to spend the week's school holiday in the city. Not the whole week though as my friend Kenichi, from Tokyo, should be arriving here soon. So am looking forward to a small trek or trip away from Kathmandu with him.

It's my birthday Thanks to everyone who sent greetings from home! Tonight we're celebrating with Kir - Nepali rice pudding. Will get the recipe if it's good :) Bye for now ...

*"Chito ja-ne" means "I'm going quickly" It's one of approximately five sentences that I've managed to learn and may well be a bit wrong! Nepali's difficult.

13th June 2004

Written by Kathryn

Rice pudding Birthday Kir was extremely tasty! I'd assumed that we'd eat our meal as usual with the rice pudding being served afterwards, as we would at home. Not so. We took the sweet rice, with coconut pieces, in place of our usual boiled rice and ate it along with our curry and a couple of roti breads. The piro (hot) curry and gulyo (sweet) rice made a suprisingly tasty contrast. My cooking skills aren't the best, but I'll attempt it for you folks at home when I'm back. I got a lovely present of two choora bracelets and a temple ornament from the family. All in all, a really nice evening.

Recycling Came to Kathmandu yesterday and met Dorje and some friends. We set out for a gig - my first chance to hear some Nepali music - but when we got to the venue there was nothing happening. Hey, it's Nepal! So instead we went to Patan, an old town very near to Kathmandu and got pissed. We sat on the rooftop of a tall, narrow building. So narrow that ours was the only table up there. The view across the city rooftops out to the hills and mountains which surround the Kathmandu valley was amazing, and we stayed drinking Khukuri Rum until dark. The casual observer may have thought we were drinking several brands of Whisky (they don't serve glasses, they bring quarter bottles to the table) but in fact Khukuri just take any old bottle and fill it up! I saw the same thing in India once: we ordered two Kingfisher beers and both arrived in completely different bottles. Recycling is good!

Fitba' Is there no escape? I see Euro 2004 has started. In the centre of Kathmandu there are huge billboards advertising the "Carlsberg" championship and I've noticed ads in the paper for hotels with big screen tvs who are showing the matches. It reminds me of a visit to Swaymbhu a while back. Swaymbhu is a buddhist temple atop a hill, swarming with monks and monkeys. Whilst there I spotted a poster of David Beckham. There's no MacDonalds or Starbucks here though. Not yet anyway.

Speaking of Carlsberg ... Tashi and Dorje invited me for dinner last weekend, and very tasty it was too. I was particulary overjoyed to see a curried egg. Who'd have thought I'd miss eggs so much? Wonder what else I'll be ridiculously enamoured to encounter again once home? Hot water and Guiness most likely :) Anyway, there were other things to eat besides the egg and we drank some Nepali Chang which is beer brewed from rice and is referred to, by locals, as "Riceberg". It bears no resemblance whatsoever to its namesake and it's very tasty.

21st June 2004

Written by Kathryn

India I'm blogging from Varanasi on the banks of the River Ganges (that's the city, not my present location) Kenichi and I have spent the week roaming around Kathmandu, its surrounding hills and then flew to India to spend some time by this incredible Holy River. We've seen the sun rise over the Himalayas, spent a night at a mountain top Buddhist monastery and eaten breakfast with the monks, hitched a ride on a tractor down rutted mountain roads, eaten many mangoes, been lied to and ripped off by a Varanashi rickshaw driver masquerading as a Nepali, taken a boat down the Ganga in the monsoon rain and much more besides.

Tonight he's off to Delhi and I'm taking a night train to Gorakpur. All going well - cross your fingers please! - I'll jump on a bus or jeep to the Nepal border and head for Kathmandu tomorrow morning.

From today I've only five more weeks in Nepal (on this trip, anyway) There's still a lot to do for Ketaketi and, strikes permitting, I should be busy at school. But this week has been wonderful and has renewed my energy and enthusiasm for it all. Very much looking forward to tomorrow's bus ride through the Terai region and going "home" to the folks in Suntakhan.

23rd June 2004

Written by Kathryn

The night train was surprisingly comfortable, rocking me to sleep like a baby. Or maybe it was just relief at escaping the grim "ladies waiting room" in the station. No ladies - just a large rat and me.

The train arrived in Gorakpur only two and half hours late where I was extremely glad to find a shower. Well, a tap but it did the job. I then managed to find a bus to the Nepal border which arrived only two hours late, and with amazing luck was presented with a free visa at Immigration!

It was too late to make it all the way to Kathmandu so I caught a bus (which arrived only one hour late) to Narayanghat and stayed overnight. And then took yet another bus to Kathmandu. Allegedly a four hour trip, we arrived only two hours late.

Overland by public bus is hard going on the bum but easy on the wallet and wonderful on the eye. The scenery was incredible. I saw water buffalo grazing, children shepherding herds of wild boar (are they still wild if they're being shepherded?!), groves of banana trees, long tailed monkeys, and amazing forest and jungle covered hills.

Through India, the road was straight with flat fields stretching far on either side. In contrast, this morning's road snaked along the path of a wide river, fast flowing from the recent heavy rains, at times low down near the bank and at others precariously high with a nerve-rackingly, stunning view over the precipice.

I've frequently mentioned the tardiness of the transport here. In fairness to the bus drivers, it wouldn't have been nearly as bad if we hadn't had to stop so often for everyone to pile out the bus at army checkpoints. It was unnerving for me but seems to be an accepted part of travelling for Nepalis.

See you soon! I completely lost track of time whilst away. I don't have five weeks left at all - only four.

7th July 2004

Written by Kathryn

"Guru Pournima" With not long left in Nepal before heading home, I decided to finish up at Devi Bal last Friday. The plan was to spend my remaining fortnight in Kathmandu getting YakNak info, sorting out bits and pieces and spending some time volunteering in a shelter for street children. The best laid plans ...

Unfortunately, I missed most of my last week at school as I was stuck in bed with a fever. Not pleasant anywhere but complete hell in this climate. However, I did drag myself out of bed and to school for my last day which, by fortuitous coincidence, was "Guru Pournima" (Teacher's day). This is a custom we should definitely adopt at home. I arrived at school delighted, in my semi-feverish state, to discover that I didn't actually have to take any classes. The entire morning (Fridays are half days) consisted of being decorated with floral garlands, tika paste and given bouquet after bouquet of flowers. The children put on a show to give thanks and praise to their wonderful gurus (hey!) and after more tika* and more flowers we headed home.

It wasn't my very last day. I'll be back sometime next week to say a proper cheerio and do some letter writing. So if anyone at home knows a large group children looking for Nepali pen-friends, please let me know.

Chinta Nagarnus is Nepali for "Don't worry". It's my phrase of the moment as I've been using it repeatedly this past week with my Nepali Mame to reassure her about my health. Anyway, I'm feeling alive again now and am in Kathmandu with only 12 days left. Chito bhityo - it's gone quickly!

*Tika - a coloured paste (usually red) daubed on your forehead as a blessing.

13th July 2004

Written by Kathryn

I thought things had ceased to surprise me here but just got quite a shock as I bumped into a bloke outside with a huge snake round his neck.

The worst thing about being stuck in bed with a fever the other week (apart from having nothing to read) was not being able to wash. The family were adamant that washing would bring my fever back with a vengeance. After a feverish week in bed in this climate you can image how badly I stank. So once I was able to stand, I hot-footed it to town, booked into a hotel in Thamel, showered repeatedly and slept for three days. What a contrast to leave the peace and quiet of the village and wake up in Thamel, Kathmandu's main tourist district, crammed with hotels, cafes and tourist shops overflowing with pashmina, incense and Khukuris. And foreigers of course. That evening, I ventured out to eat and was joined by a French hippy fresh from a world peace rally in India. Apparently the modern world is out of synch with the moon and if we adopted the Mayan lunar calendar of 13 months consisting 28 days each, things might be better. By spooky coincidence (hey man, there's no such thing!) that very day just happened to my Mayan lunar birthday! The next day I did a bit of shopping and got the hell out of dodge.

I've spent the past few days in traveller-free Chabahil at Dorje's place. We took a trip out to Suntakhan on Sunday and met with some of the teachers at Devi Bal to get an idea of local land availability and prices. It'd be great to start the Ketaketi project there as I know the area, the locals, the school etc. The monsoon is in full force now so in parts the road is completely reduced to mud and unfortunately my 10 year old sandals may finally be giving up the ghost as the strap snapped along the way. Nepalis are resourceful folk though and it's rubbing off. After ten minutes walking barefoot we came across a small shop. Hang on, that sounds wrong. "Shop" conjures up images of supermarkets with bulging shelves or even a local newsagent with a small but varied stock. What we came across was a tiny house with a tiny room selling biscuits, packet noodles and batteries. And one more fortuitous item: rusty nails. So we purchased a nail, tacked the strap back onto my sandal and got on our way. Happy to report that three days later the nail is holding good. And I'm getting used to washing the layer of mud and dung from my feet every time I reach someone's house.

Dorje and I have also been busy getting some building quotes for the house. So we can now set a fundraising goal for YakNak and know that once we hit our target we can come back to Nepal to buy our land and start building. As well as gathering last minute YakNak information, I'm enjoying my last week here. We had a more successful gig outing on Saturday. Successful in that there was actually a gig taking place this time. We got completely soaked and then bought an umbrella just as the rain stopped. It was an outdoor gig and the muddy field, grey sky, chill and threat of rain was somewhat reminiscent of T in the Park. I used to complain about the heat here but I'm definitely missing the pre-monsoon blue skies. Anyway, we spent the afternoon soaked through watching semi-decent rock bands and waiting for the final act. Hard to tell just how good the final band were though as they only played one song. We speculated as to whether this might be because the organisers could only afford them for one song or if earlier bands had overrun and the police (who'd been providing their own afternoon entertainment breaking up fights by chasing and beating people with large sticks) had called time up. An interesting, if chilly, day. We warmed up afterwards with some Khukuri rum and extremely spicy Newari food. The past few days have been spent at the homes of several of Dorje's friends and family enjoying Daal Bhaat and plenty of riceberg. I've been given a riceberg recipe to try some homebrew but it might be easier to bring a few bottles home. Though it's only sold by the jugful so I'll need to provide my own bottles for filling.

Today I've been to visit Manoj, a teacher from Devi Bal, and his new baby. It's his first child and as today is the 11th day after the birth it's the naming day. After pouja the main focus of the celebration seems to be eating. I'm falling asleep as I type from having consumed the biggest plate of rice I've ever seen.

Less than a week to go here and no doubt much more rice and riceberg to be enjoyed ... See you all soon!

19th July 2004

Written by Kathryn

Have had a very good time in my last busy few days. Will do some retrospective blogging when I reach home as I’m out of time here. Leaving in 8 hours and lots still to do (including packing, of course). Nepali phrase for the day "chito bhityo" - it’s passed quickly. As in, where did my 3 months go?! See you soon.