Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Dirt Boogers..... (Dec. 29)

Many, many friends!
My friend Julie who is a neighbor of Tashi and Lakpa. I stop by to see her everyday!
I have been able to get my German Shepherd fix! I REALLY miss my kiddos!

Aaaaand another special friend Ema. She lives in the apartment below Tashi and Lakpa. We like to play chase together!

Yummy Dal Bhat for lunch made by the amazimg Maya!!! She is an amazing cook!

Historically Kathmandu was made from smaller towns that eventually grew together into the large city that it is today.  Leadership of the country resided in some of the smaller towns at different times in history depending on who had the power.  The royalty in the town occupied buildings located in the town's Durbar Square.  There are four Durbar Squares in the greater Kathmandu area and today we visited the Durbar Square in Patan (southern part of Kathmandu).  In legend and in fact, Patan is the oldest city in the Kathmandu Valley and was the capital of a powerful independent kingdom and still maintains a defiantly distinct identity.  Its nickname is "Lalitpur" which means "City of Beauty."  The vibe of Patan is less frantic than Kathmandu and is known for being a more artistic community producing much of Nepal's fine metalwork.  Also, Patan's Durbar Square is smaller and less touristy than Kathmandu's Durbar Square, and because Patan is a city of artisans the city's buildings have more architectural harmony and incredible detail!

Patan is quite a distance from Boudha (the area of Kathmandu where Tashi and Lakpa's house is located) so we knew we were going to have to take either a cab for between 1000 to 1200 Rupees (Rs) or get lucky and find a local public bus to get us somewhere near Patan for a cheaper price.  The bus system here is confusing because the destination on all the busses is written in Nepali Devanaagari script and there isn't a schedule with bus numbers to know what to look for.  
Devanaagari script (top part)
Here is another sample off a curry spice box. 

So we decided to find a main street that eventually leads to Patan and stand on the correct side of the road to find a taxi or bus, which ever came first.  Asking the destination of a bus is more difficult than one would think.  The bus operation requires two people: one bus driver and a person who stands in the doorway yelling their desination and taking people's money.  Of course they are yelling in Nepalese so we had no clue where any of the busses were going, however we happened to ask the exact bus that we needed to get to Patan's Durbar Square.  Lucky dogs!  So we quickly squeezed on the bus before it moved.  The busses are not very big, therefore some people can sit and the rest either have to stand or ride on the roof.  Sometimes the busses get so full that people also hold on to the outside in the doorway.  

The ride was actually very pleasant and not crazy because there were so many vehicles on the road and they couldn't drive fast.  At this point in our day we had walked along a busy street for about 30 minutes and riden on a bus for about 15 minutes when I couldn't stop itching my nose!  Oh my gosh....I just couldn't get it to stop until I blew my nose to see that I seriously blew dirt out of my nostrils!  In a matter of 45 minutes I managed to breathe in that much dust from the air!  Maybe I should buy one of those fancy masks so many Nepalis wear?
Traffic on the other side of the highway. 

A Lorry truck. 

The Lorrys are usually very ornately decorated. I love these trucks!

 The ride was about 30 minutes and the whole way John and I were trying to figure out how we would know when to get off the bus.  Eventually a landmark let us know that we were getting close and when we tried to get off the bus when the second bus guy told us to ride the bus until the last stop.  It was nice to know that he was looking out for us and willing to help.  The bus ride ended at the bus park and we were back on the streets in Patan.  
Look! Bags with legs!!!

Heading towards the square. 

The mushroom stand!

We slowly navigated our way to the Durbar Square and enjoyed the lack of motor traffic in the square.  The old buildings in the square were a sight to see with incredible detail in their architecture.  Many of the buildings had external wooden supports keeping the walls in place and that I assume is the result of the April 2015 earthquake.  I was especially facinated with the carved wooden supports under the roof eaves of many of the buildings.  They were incredibly detailed and there were many of them on each building.  People, street dogs, and pigeons sat and roamed the square creating a mellow vibe.  We even decided to take a tour with a guy named, Vinod.  Vinod gave a great tour explaining the meaning behind each building in the square and even took us to a Buddhist temple just off the main square.  The temple also had intricate detail in its metal architecture!
Entering Patan's Durbar Square

A palace. 
Door to the palace. 
One of the many supports under the eaves. 

Notice the offerings on the ground in front of the door. 

God of travel. Half human half bird. 

Buddhist Temple

Inside Buddhist temple. The man and boy are monks who are inside the shrine where people can make offerings. 

Example of the amazing metal architecture inside the Buddhist temple. 

John and our tour guide, Vinod. 

Healing bowl demonstration. Wow they are amazing!

We capped the day off with a tasty Indian dinner at a rooftop restaurant overlooking the square and watching the sun set behind the distant mountains.  As we were leaving the restaurant our waiter asked us some questions about our stay in Nepal, about our religious beliefs and then shared that he just recently became a Christian.  We had a wonderful conversation talking about his conversion and the importance of compassion towards others as an important part of Christianity and Buddhism. It was a magical evening!

Another new friend. It looks like she recently had surgery because part of her fur was shaved. She was sleeping in this spot and loved some petting!

Monday, December 28, 2015

Speed Rabbit!!!!! (Dec. 28)

Simon says, "give yourself antlers!"

Time for shopping!!!!!!!  John and I decided that since there wasn't much we could do at the Himalayan Hope Home (HHH) instead we would buy some toys/games for the girls. We bought games that were physically active and/or worked on developing their English speaking skills.  Luckily close to Tashi and Lakpa's home is a small shopping mall with a store similar to a Kmart in the U.S. (but much smaller).  As soon as we entered the store a little boy around the age of 12 honed in on us and decided to be our shopping guide.  After explaining that we were buying toys for 30 girls he got really excited and enthusiastic about showing us all the cool toys that they may like.  He was genuinely excited for what the girls were about to receive!  We asked him if he worked at the store and he said no but that he was "comfortable" at the store.  Hmmm.........we weren't sure what that meant but we were happy to have his assistance.  Shopping for the girls was super fun, imagining what they would like to play.  We ended up buying hula hoops, medium and small sized balls, badmitten rackets and birdies, jump ropes, an English Bingo game, Uno, watercolor paints, and paper.  As we walked down the streets of Kathmandu we chuckled at how we REALLY stood out now!  Let's face it.......we stand out like a sore thumb in Nepal!  White skin, blue eyes, different clothing.......and John's height!  We have "Gringos" written all over us!  Now we are walking down the street with bags and boxes in our hands......and the icing on the cake are the two big hula hoops around John's body!!! Haha!  It's like we have a beacon blinking! 

...and there's more in our backpacks on our backs!

We got the the HHH early before the girls got home from school just in case there was something we could do to help.  
HHH from outside their gate. 

Their small potted garden. 

The home was very quiet when we arrived but that soon changed the minute we heard a group of girls knocking on the door of the fence surrounding their home!  Immediately the home came alive with "hellos," smiles, hugs, and laughter!  The girls are the pulse and beat of their home!  Right away when they get home they immediately change out of their school uniforms and into their regular clothes.  The Nepalese government requires all students, no matter if they are attending the boarding school or the public school, to wear uniforms to ensure equal treatment of all children.  
The girls in their school uniforms. 

After a quick snack of something similar to oatmeal we all headed up to the roof to play some games that I taught the girls.  We played a number of games like Speed Rabbit, Zip and Zap and Simon Says.  Speed Rabbit is a cooperative game where you make shapes of different animals with two other people.  I also chose those games because it incorporated English into the game.  We laughed a lot and just got to be kids!  It's amazing how quickly you can connect with others through play.  It wasn't long before we were laughing out loud, giggling, holding hands and even hugging!  
An alligator!

A rainbow with a leprechaun inside!

Simon says!

Simon says, "be a buffalo!"

I wished we could stay there longer.  Because Pema had to walk us to an area away from the home to catch a taxi, we had to leave before it got dark to make sure Pema got home in time for dinner and nighttime activities with the girls.  I was sad to leave but ready to continue a relationship with the girls and this organization.  Learning English is a very important part of their education for their future success.  I am hoping to find some students at my school in Granby that might want to be penpals with any of the girls at the HHH. Many of the girls at the home love speaking English and dream of coming to the United States some day.  Krisma is around the age of 12 and often pretends she is in the United States and has conversations with herself in English.  She really has a passion for the language!!!!  The girls at the home definitely have a special place in my heart forever!  Thank you HHH!!!!
The girl on the left is the youngest at the home (3 1/2 years old). She was absolutely precious and I loved watching how the older girls really looked after her. 

A Rainbow in the Rough! (Dec. 27th)

HHH: notice paint on wall behind the girls. "Keep smiling"

We started our day by navigating the streets of Kathmandu in search of the Kopan Monastery.  As I have alluded to in earlier posts the layout of the city is not structured, there is maybe one street sign for every 150 streets, and a map is not very helpful because it is impossible to find a map with any sort of detail.  You have to make guesses to where you are going and hope that people will understand what you are looking for to direct you.  Many tourist rely on taxis to get to the tourist spots but we like to walk and feel the beat of the streets when our destination is relatively close (within an hour or two).  As a westerner, walking the streets of Kathmandu is a challenge in itself and can be very overwhelming!  There are streets of all sizes ranging from big two lane roads (with no lines indicating lanes though) to narrow 10 feet wide walkways.  I say walkways because that best describes a foot traffic only area in the United States........however, in Nepal motor bikes and cars zoom through tight areas congested with people, motor bikes, street dogs, chickens, and cows.  You have to always be on your "A" game or you will get run over!  The terrain for walking is not like a manicured sidewalk you often find in the west.  The sidewalks are more like rubble most likely because they are extremely old but also from the many earthquakes that occur in Nepal.  I struggle keeping my balance walking the streets in my running shoes and I marvel at the Nepalese women walking in their dress shoes like it's a walk in the park.  The sounds in the city range from car horns, dogs barking, people yelling, car horns, drums beating from a nearby school, car horns, truck horns, bus horns, whistles blowing, car horns, rooster crows, car horns, brakes squeaking, construction noise, and did I mention car horns?  Don't forget.....the horn is how drivers signal their moves to pedestrians and other cars and are not always a communication of anger.  Breathing the air and smells of cities in Nepal is difficult as well.  Right now is Nepal's dry season so there is a ton of dirt and dust in the air, and when mixed with the pollution from the vehicles it can be very difficult to breathe.  Many travelers get respiratory infections while staying in Kathmandu from the pollution and many Nepalese people wear masks over their mouths when outside.  They make the masks quite fashionable with fun patterns!  Sometimes when we are walking I feel like I am suffocating because the air has so much dust and pollution.  I really felt it when we were walking to the Kopan Monastery because it is located at the top of a big hill and I was having to breathe hard.  To John and I, navigating the streets gets a little overwhelming because we are not used to all the intense stimuli overloading our senses.  You really have to be on guard at all times and when you find yourself distracted by something you are looking at a horn will abruptly startle you!  Each day we get a little more desensitized and more comfortable because we are forcing ourselves to experience everything.  I know what I explained sounds like mass chaos, but somehow all of it works together and functions.  It's just different compared to what we are used to and makes the Nepalese culture unique, which is a reason I like to visit Nepal.  I love learning about other people.....especially when they are different from me!  Differences are a beautiful thing!
Typical street but this is a rare moment of not being busy. 


Surrounded by what I consider chaos leading up to the monastery, we stepped through a gate and our world changed abruptly.  The Kopan Monastery is located on top of a big hill overlooking Kathmandu and is surrounded by a gate and space that sets it apart from the chaos.  The monastery is home to 360 monks, lamas, teachers, and volunteers.  This monastic community is devoted to the practice and study of Buddhism.  They also offer extended courses for people wanting to learn the Buddhist ways.  The grounds of the monastery was like a paradise and offered John and me a break from the chaos.  The landscaping, architecture, and vibe was very peaceful!
Inside monastery gompa. 

Outside gompa 

View of Kathmandu from Kopan Monastery 

1000 Buddhas Stupa (there are 1000 Buddha statues in this stupa)

A child monk who is playing with a toy. 

This a a garden with miniature scenes like a fairy garden. Each scene tells a part of the Buddhist story. 

Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication. 

Monk children playing badmitten outside their living quarters in the monastery. 

This is what you first see when you enter the monastery. "Welcome Home"

Our next destination was even better!!!!!  I have found my pot of gold (and maybe Kermit the Frog) near a GIGANTIC rainbow!  Pema met us at the entrance of the monestery to take walk us to the Himalayan Hope Home (HHH) nearby.  As I explained in the last blog entry, the HHH is a home for girls who are from the Solu Khumbu region and who have either lost their parents or their parents are missing.  The Small World (TSW) (http://thesmallworld.org/) is a nonprofit organization that does so much for the people of the Solu Khumbu region. (The Solu Khumbu region is the area near Mt. Everest and has a high percentage of Sherpa people.)  Children who lose their parents often become victims of human trafficking and the HHH gives these girls a place to live in Kathmandu while they earn an education.  After they finish school they are expected to return to the Solu Khumbu region and give back to their community.  It is common for children of the Khumbu to live at a boarding school in Kathmandu during their school age years.  However, because these girls do not have parents they would normally not go to school and therefore fall into the hands of human trafficking.  The HHH is a large home for 30 girls ranging from 3 1/2 to 17 years old.  All the girls consider themselves to be sisters and they have two women, whom they also call their sisters and take care of the girls.  Pema is one of the women who live with and take care of the girls.  We were immediately welcomed with bright smiles and enthusiasm as we entered the gate to the HHH!  We were led into a room where we all sat in a circle and all the girls introduced themselves to us.  Krisma and Pasang gave us a tour of their garden naming all the vegetables and how they care for it.  Because there are 30 girls with a wide age range, they are divided into groups of 6 or 7 girls with an older girl who is their leader.  They share a room in their group and all of them take care of each other.  There was an overwhelming and infectious sense of happiness and compassion among the girls and you could tell they were choosing to "walk on the sunnyside of the street."  I just can't imagine what it was like for them to lose their parents and all the other trials and tribulations life had already thrown at them.  The HHH is truly a rainbow with a huge pot of "gold" in the form of life and prosperity!  The home just pours with positivity from the girls, messages written on the walls, and the girls' artwork!  At one point I was overtaken by tears not because I felt sorry for the girls but because of the beauty I was surrounded by.  These girls were like a huge family making the most of their circumstances.  I was witnessing a delicate balance of independence and community.  There was an elevated sense of maturity among all ages because of necessity.  It appeared that each girl was loved and supported which is far more than many of today's children get.  This home is a beautiful thing...........probably the most meaningful part of my trip to Nepal.  I want to come back to these girls in the future.
The rainbow!

Krisma, Pasang, and John on the tour of the garden. 

Watering the garden is one of their chores. 

The girls hand wash their own clothes and the older girls help the younger girls. This girls is sweeping the clothes washing area after rinsing her clothes. 

Krisma and Pasang. It was amazing how knowledgable the girls were of the plants. Their produce ranges from spinach, broccoli, cauliflower, pomegranate, grapes, tomatoes, and much more!

Doing homework after school. A local transformer blew and they didn't have electricity for four days and didn't know when they would get it again. 

Mural inside HHH. 

Cooking dinner outside. 

Pema and Ronnie! House mom and dog. 

I also discovered another amazing nonprofit today!!! The overpopulation of street dogs is a major problem all over Nepal. Kathmandu has a wonderful nonprofit making a difference! 
This nonprofit gives me hope for the widespread suffering of dogs in Kathmandu.