Nepal's Banksy was here!

Nepal's Banksy was here!
Strong message, Simple words

Thursday, 31 July 2014

Rangichangi. My favourite word!!

What does it mean? We see it in the markets, on the streets, in the fields, at the temples and stupas, in the shops and stores, on people heads and their clothes. Does that help? What does it mean? Yes you’ve got it! Colourful or multi-coloured. I’d like to take it a stage further and use it for the colourful variety of sights that we are engulfed in. I know some of you are linguists but please don’t mark me down for my latent artist interpretation!

Amidst the dust and exhaust there are multi coloured lorries and tankers. They liven up the ring road, carrying loads of water to the many houses who are not on a mains or spring supply.

We are told by friends that 30 years ago there were green fields between the houses and temples of Kathmandu and Patan (which were separate Kingdoms in years gone-by), and the ring road, but now it is an urban sprawl. The Stupas and temples shine out of the surrounding buildings, usually taking us by surprise as we round a corner. The intricate colours, gold and beautifully ornate carvings are breath taking. We need to learn more.

Street sellers carrying flowers or baskets of fruit on their heads; bicycles adorned with produce, hanging from the sides, handle bars and backs; materials and clothes hanging along the outside and inside of shops and stalls; religious groups in their orange or yellow attire; and perhaps the most amazing to us is the everyday clothing of the women in the city and in the field.  Rounding a corner on a walk amongst the paddy's we kept coming across the wonderful sight of ladies’ colourful backs (and posteriors!) as they weeded the fields in groups. Chattering and merry, especially when they saw us coming with our ancient (and drab) umbrellas, which give us some protection from the midday sun. Soon follows a chorus of Namaste to go hand in hand with the “Rangichani”! Let the photos speak for themselves.


Wear a bit of extra colour today!!!

Thursday, 24 July 2014

Never far from Farming

Most Nepali’s are subsistence farmers, producing food on a small scale for their own use, and turning any surplus into cash. Living in Kathmandu creates a slightly false picture with the scores of stalls selling rice, pulses, meats, dairy products and a wide range of fresh vegetables. Away from the Katmandu Valley, as this area is known, things are very different. Although the situation may vary from one district to another and from one year to the next, Nepal is largely Food Insecure. The causes of this are not straight forward. I picked up a copy of ‘Food Crisis in Karnali’ by Jagaannath Adhikari, which is an examination of the reasons for the lack of food in that district, which contains Jumla. Since it is based on actual research it will provide an interesting source of information and an essential tool in understanding the context of farming in this high altitude area (2700m) in the Western Himalaya.

So what do most farmers want to do when they are away from home--- yes you’ve guessed it ---look at Farming. So a few days ago we took our first bus ride. Our destination, Bungamati, a small village just 6km outside of the city. Having taken the twenty minute walk to the bus stop, ‘Bungamati jaanchha’ we shouted at the young man hanging out of the bus door as it thundered up to us in a cloud of dust. ‘thik chha’ was the reply and we jumped aboard the already crowded vehicle. Even so we were offered two dusty cushions behind the driver, and we were off to this rural settlement with farmers, woodcarvers and weavers. Not really knowing what to expect.

After paying our 20nrs (13p), we stepped off the bus into somewhere that could have been the Mid- West of North America in the eighteen hundreds. Mud road, chickens and dogs running around, silt filled pond with a couple of ducks paddling in it, a few rural workers making their way to the fields, and no vehicles other than the bus we had arrived in. And this was just a few kilometres from the city!

We opted to walk out of the very old, tall brick built houses that crowded around narrow streets, towards the fields, since that was what we had come for. What we were to see was inspirational. The images I have posted describe it better than I can, so few words will suffice. We had never seen a paddy before, a landscape contoured by terraces, but there it all was for us to admire after only a few hundred metres.
Bungamati, a carved landscape with a hand made brick works on the hill top. Kathmandu lies in the distance  
Rice must be planted into wet soil since the cultivation, although there is a huge area, is all done by hand. The tools used are a short handled mattock, which is operated with both hands, to maintain the terrace and build the water retaining front edge. After that the turning over of the sodden soil is with a wide normal mattock and a turned down pick. All of these jobs are shared between the men and women, even the heaviest of the work. Rice that had been sown earlier in dense patches is replanted into flooded soil, again by hand, mainly by the women. The joy for us was seeing that everyone was involved, with more women arriving later carrying their tools and daal bhaat (rice and lentils) which forms both of the two daily meals. This food is taken in the field at about 10.00am, the second meal in the evening.

Nepali women work on the terrace faces

Water is fed in the terraces so work starts at the top.


Using the tools described both men and women build up the terrace front edge finishing the job with their feet

We were left with an impression of a way of life that is incredibly attritional. Yet the Nepali families showed great dignity and beauty as the women, despite the fact they spent their days knee deep in mud, always wore the most striking traditional kurtaa and suruwaal's of red, green and orange. The multi-functional patuka wrapped around their middle helps strengthen their back when they carry heavy baskets.  This garment can act as a sun shade, baby carrier or extra pouch for carrying.
Planting of rice, another back breaking job, is done by women but everyone gives a hand.
We could see that these very manual methods of farming can only be done in deep, stone free, wet soil. And there lies the rub. Wet soil is the key, without that none of this can happen. Naturally we as farmers linked wet soil to rainfall. The terraces are created to hold the water back but if there is no rain or it arrives late then rice seedlings cannot be transplanted. All this was confirmed when we later spoke to a woodcarver who was also a farmer. This year monsoon rains had arrived late and in small amounts. Consequently, rice planting was incomplete and even we could see that there was still much to do.


Women produce the vast majority of Nepal's home grown food

The first clues of Food Insecurity were starting to appear even here in the fertile Kathmandu valley. Up in Jumla two aeroplane flights away, farmers would be trying to plant rice there too in these difficult conditions. We may be witnessing the effects of an average to poor harvest for ourselves as we move up there in a few weeks’ time.


Friday, 18 July 2014


Our first chance to meet fellow volunteers came when, after a couple of days, Daphne showed us around the Sanepa area, including a short visit to one of Kathmandu’s famous temples in Durbar Square.  60% of Nepali’s are Hindu, 16% Buddhist with Muslims, Sikhs and a host of other religions including Christians making up the rest. Shrines and temples abound and it is a wonderful sight to see school pupils ringing the Hindu bells on a small shrine, and applying the customary forehead adornment of red tika, as they make their way to school.  



All the temples that we have seen are places of real activity, with the devout going through their daily rituals alongside visitors, both Nepali and others, free to roam about, truly indulging in the mystique of the places. At the Buddhist Golden Temple we entered through a low door, that ensured that all coming within had assumed a suitably humble pose, to find that it was occupied by a small boy (monk).  Who supported by his family lives in the temple for a month, and is then replaced by another, and so on.  The adolescent boy was old enough to do his duties but young enough to want to introduce us to the resident 160 year old tortoise.



We have begun our in-country training and already have said goodbye to Masaaki , a Japanese volunteer. He arrived at around the same time as us, but after a brief induction, has left for his six week placement in Baglung. He is continuing to be supported by his employer, Randstad Japan , whilst in placement. He will become the Champion of volunteering once  back at work .


Our induction and training is well under way and we’ve met most of the VSO staff and several volunteers who are in Kathmandu.  The newly appointed Secure Livelihood’s Project manager, my new boss was good to meet.  Although he recently joined the team, he has worked with VSO in Tajikistan and Mein maw, and is young and enthusiastic. Great qualities.

As we have learnt, we are on a well-trod path, followed by other volunteers, as we experience a culture shock. Everywhere we venture in the market places, alleyways, temples, houses and even the VSO office our senses are soaked with new culture. From the little boy getting a haircut on the street corner, to the different family groups, and the vast array of vegetables and spices for sale in the streets.

It is now starting to feel less like a holiday. On discovering one doctor who gave up their job as an anaesthetist to volunteer, and that another is leaving their partner and family for two years to work in the VSO Nepal team, we realise what a privilege this is going to be. We're fortunate to be alongside such generous and selfless people.  Nepal’s answer to Banksy had been in action on the concrete wall of the Kathmandu Zoo. The childlike script summed up all of our feelings and spoke a powerful message.  Our chance to be that ‘someone’.


Monday, 14 July 2014

Our senses have woken up!!

We have certainly experienced a lot to enliven the senses over the last few days.

The sights are extraordinary, ranging from amazing to a little shocking. The amazing sights are numerous. Yesterday we walked to Swoyambhu (the monkey Temple). In the heat of the day, we went from many of the sights mentioned below to the magnificent splendour of a famous Buddhist site covered with many wonderful temples. We climbed hundreds of steps to the top, with monkeys and trinket sellers along the route. We resisted both!! Yesterday we were taken to Patan’s Durbar Square which we need to visit again. Splendour overload! Every door seems to open up into another spectacular view of Buddhist architecture and character.

Among the shocking are the sights of street children,  rubbish heaps, pot holed city roads and the filthy Bagmati River. The traffic congestion has to been seen to be believed!! We will learn more about these over the coming weeks and we hopefully understand the context.

The smells are mostly fantastic - in the tiny streets they are eclectic: spices, varied curries and local cooking at stalls and tiny eating houses; vegetables and flowers at the markets; joss sticks and more. The less pleasant, well, I will spare the sensitive to just say - It is very hot and humid so detritus is not top on our favourite scent list! The bikes, lorries and cars (not a catalytic convertor in sight), belch out fumes into the already heavily polluted atmosphere

The soundsa cacophony of drums, bells, prayer wheels and singing bowls; chattering of girls at a birthday party (we have been given a slice of cake!); boys playing ball games excitedly in the square opposite our guest house; chattering of the same boys trying to teach me Nepali. The hooters on bikes, cars and lorries and dogs barking at night are something that we are already getting used to.

Finally the emotions. I’m not sure that I will cover that yet. We are still in our Honeymoon period and there will be a lot more to come.

Friday, 11 July 2014

Curry for breakfast........we have arrived.

Our flights, first to Delhi and onwards to Kathmandu flashed by as our thoughts were filled  with goodbye’s and expectations of events to come. Jet Airways were fantastic, not batting an eyelid at our blue barrels and slightly excess weight that they waved through with a smile.  Jude feels perhaps she should have chanced packing the guitar after all.
We were met at Kathmandu airport by Sushila and Krishna from VSO, who drove us to the Pacific Guest House where we will be staying for the next few weeks, whilst we do orientation training.
The very rough, narrow roads and alleys are full of motorbikes, over loaded mini buses, and cycle rickshaws. The many pedestrians pick their way over piles of brick rubble and broken concrete that hem these thoroughfares.  However, this is a place of bustling activity, despite the limited infrastructure with the sound of car horns filling the dusty air.  Small stalls selling everything from vegetables to repaired umbrellas abound.
We’ve arrived at the start of the monsoon with most of the rain falling in the evening, accompanied by harsh lightning and thunder that nobody seems to notice. The other noise that we find unusual is the sound of dogs barking, mainly at night. But despite this and the temperature of 25degrees with humidity of 75%, surprisingly, sleeping that first night was not a problem----let’s hope it continues. Woke the next morning and had curry, fried flat bread and kaalo chiyaa (black tea), all eaten with the right hand.  Trying to reduce to two meals per day which will be standard once we are in Jumla. 
The few people we have met are really friendly and happy to lets us try our language skills on them. Thank God for sign language!  Ventured out with my camera under wraps, was again warmly accepted when I asked if it was ok to us it.  Surprisingly, even greater happiness when I showed people the results.
Jude busy looking at our map for an eating place we can visit this evening with our fellow volunteer, Aleth, who also arrived yesterday, from the Philippians.  She will be involved with a forestry/marketing project. All this once we have watched the Nepali World Cup being played out in the street opposite our rooms.

Sunday, 6 July 2014

A little bit of doubt starts to creep in ........ are we up to it?

7.00 am and I'm walking with Meg, our pet collie, (photo in earlier blog) on a favourite stroll around our lovely Somerset village. Normally I would have a few other collies with me and controlling the canine pack would occupy my thoughts. But not today, the spare dogs are away with my daughter, as an indispensable part of the shearing team. Meg requires no such control and as we plod along together, my thoughts settle on the challenges that lie ahead.

Just a couple more days now in our beautiful family home, that we only moved into 10 months ago. Why on earth would we want to give up what has been a life goal of living in our own house, having spent 40 years in agricultural tied houses, only to travel half way round the world and may be end up in a wooden shack with no flush toilet let alone running water or heating. What drove us to this?

I guess it goes right back to my time spent in Ulster in the late 60's. I was at Uni. and a West African famine was raging, mainly caused by civil war. India was not the dynamic sub-continent that it is now but instead a newly independent country, politically divided and riven by malnutrition. Looking back, all this may have been sensationalised and the humanitarian aid possibly done more harm than good by prolonging conflict and dependence, but still it made a lasting impression.  Now Jude and I will finally get a chance to be a part of developmental change ----- but there is the catch. Have we, having arrived at this point, got anything to offer or the skills to help make change and give people greater choice in their lives..

Over recent weeks, through our friendships, our farming and community contacts, VSO and even the blog, we have gathered a throng of people who for whatever reason, cannot go themselves but want to be a part of our team by offering support. In so doing they will all travel with us to Nepal, and share in what lies ahead. That old walnut of a question--'what are you going to teach them?' keeps being asked and each time as I frame the response, 'we hope to facilitate, long lasting change', a nag of doubt goes through my mind. Have I the listening, communication, technical skills that will be needed to even respond to a need should it arise. Having spoken to several returned volunteers the same bit of advice was common from all, 'spend time listening, looking and understanding the context'. I have also decided to reduce my expectations of what can be achieved and be prepared to rise to any challenge that is presented, coupled with taking a very large can of 'determination' from which we will drink from time to time. Too late now for those doubts, onwards and upwards, and expect the unexpected.



Householders in Jumla, Nepal
Drying crops

Some years ago I read a report on the current findings from a huge research project looking at 824 people from teens to old age. One of the findings from the study, carried out at Harvard University by Prof. George Vaillant and others, was that aging well and happiness in later years comes from helping people and having an outward looking approach to life. We will be testing this finding and I guess we will find it to be true.


Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Lets rise to another challenge............BBC Radio appearance

Thanks to Jess, Judith's niece, who made the contact, we were invited to meet Ben McGrail at the BBC Somerset recording studio and tell him our story. Click on the link and let us know what you think, here’s the link the radio show  Our slot is between 1.19 and 1.40, after the Fly Tipping feature!

Jude, Ben and Simon relax post interview!!!!
Thanks also to Ross Pollard who produces the show and to Ben who is a brilliant interviewer making us feel so relaxed -- and managing to maintain his interest throughout.