Humla state of mind

Documentary (15 minutes) in English and Nepali with English subtitles.

Humla is the second poorest district of Nepal. Development Fund (Utviklingsfondet) is funding Humla Development Initiative (HDI) which is a cooperation between the two organisations LI-BIRD and SHIP-Nepal.

It is difficult to do development work in Humla. During the civil war (1996-2006), people were forced to report each other to one or both sides of the conflict, and the mistrust still lingers in Humla. There are no roads in the district and the only way to get there is by foot or airplane. Many NGOs (Non-Governmental Organisations) has offered support to the people in Humla for a long time, which has made people dependent on help and support from the outside.
HDI has also made mistakes along the way, but they are trying to help the Humli people to become independent. HDI is getting results by supporting the construction of simple green houses. The poor farmers can only produce enough food for their families for 3-6 months a year, but with green houses it is possible for them to grow vegetables throughout the year. They collect wood and stone and either build the green house themselves or pay for the labour work. HDI only provides the material that is not locally available.

To get people to work together, HDI has invited the organisation MJS to help them start cooperatives in Humla. MJS is also one of Development Fund’s partner organisations and MJS has had great success with the autonomous cooperatives in the district of Ilam. The collaboration between the two organisations is creating new hope in Humla. Assaram Gurung (HDI/LI-BIRD) believes that the cooperative is a new tool that will make people join hands together for a better future.

Poor Kalo

Not every day in Nepal is joyful and fabulous. This day started off as one of those few depressing ones. On my way to work there was a black dog lying in the middle of the road, and at first I thought he was dead. Many dogs meet their destiny on the front of a microvan, like I later was told that this one had. As I approached to check, I realised that he was very much alive! I put him on the pavement and frantically called a friend who I knew would have the vet’s number. Many male, black dogs are named Kalo, so that’s what I called him. He tried to get up, but couldn’t, and obviously needed to be put out of his misery. I wasn’t surprised that no one had lifted a finger to get the dog off the road yet. I have lived here long enough to know how little many people care about animals, especially street dogs.

Also, walking our dogs lately has shown me how people lack knowledge about dog behaviour. If a street dog barks at our dogs, people think they are helping us by throwing rocks at the street dog. One guy even picked up a rock to throw at ours when they were on a leash. Another one lashed out and kicked little Putali when she was just walking along, minding her own business. He probably didn’t understand that she was ours until we yelled and verbally abused him. At least we manged to embarrass the %$#%#^&#! Even if he thought she was a street dog, why would he kick her? Big strong man with Nepal Taekwondo printed on his T-shirt, obviously gets a kick out of harassing small street dogs. And his friend, the policeman (!) was smiling. Until he saw and heard us, of course. That’s what some people do for fun here.

So today, when I found this helpless dog with blood coming out his mouth and nose, I knew that if I didn’t do anything, he would lie there and die a painful death caused by one of those reckless minivan drivers. When I gave the dog attention, crying as I called my friend and desperately trying to get hold of a vet, a lot of people gathered around. A well-meaning man said: “Don’t worry. This happens every day.”

I could have ended the blog post here. His comment says it all, doesn’t it?

I tried to explain that a dog killed in traffic every day, doesn’t make this dog’s suffering less. I told him that this dog needed to be put down. All I could do for Kalo while waiting for the vet, was to stroke him and try to keep him calm. I didn’t even know if he was used to being petted, maybe it only stressed him more, and in the beginning I think it did. Then he settled down and let me scratch behind his ear and stroke his body while talking to him. When people saw me care for poor Kalo, they tried to do something; a man gave directions to the vet on the phone, someone tried to give Kalo water (only making him puke more) and they got a chair for me. All because they saw me care for the dog.

The vet came and said he would try to help him. He started giving him intravenous fluids and said “then we will see in a couple of hours”. I thought: “No, we will not see in a couple of hours!” and explained how the dog had puked handfuls of blood. It took some convincing before the vet left and came back a while later with the right drugs. He was still talking about rescuing the dog, but then Kalo vomited blood in front of him, and he finally understood the severity of the situation. He was in a hurry now, and with shaky hands he tried to give the injection, but couldn’t find a vein. It was very clear that this is not something he usually does, but I continued what I had done the last hour, talking to Kalo, petting him, trying to keep him calm, and soon it was all over.

I don’t think Kalo had any owners and no one claimed him, but he had a friend. On the other side of the street, a yellow dog was going out of his mind. It was heartbreaking how he was freaking out, barking to make us leave Kalo. Then when it was over and we had stepped away from Kalo, his friend came over to check on him. He returned several times, very  cautiously, sniffing Kalo, and it looked like he tried to wake Kalo up. When I left he was still there. Poor Kalo, poor Kaloko saathi.

I know how enormous the cultural gap is between me and most Nepalis regarding animal welfare, and their actions does not surprise me as much anymore, but it still makes me sad. If I can do what I see as my duty in a situation like this, not only will I have Kalo put out of his misery, but maybe, just maybe the next poor dog meeting the same destiny on that stretch of road, will get some help. Maybe the ones who got their hands dirty to help out, will teach their kids not to kick dogs or throw rocks. When I looked at some of these people’s faces, I got that impression. By the look of others, I know they will continue just like before.

Rangi Changi love!

Holi The festival of colour

Yes, Rangi Changi are my favourite nepali words! It means multi coloured and a better way to sum up that sunny day in late March, does not exist.

Like always in Hindu religion, the legends vary a lot, but the most common explanation for the festival of colour, is to celebrate the survival of Prahlada when his father, Hiranyakashipu, the great king of demons, tried to kill him. In stead of worshiping his father, Prahlada gave his praise to Vishnu, whose blessing had made Prahlada invincible. Hiranyakashipu convinced his sister, Holika, to carry Prahlada into fire because she was blessed to prevent fire from hurting her. Prahlada’s prayer to Vishnu spared his life. In addition to celebrate victory of good over evil, Holi also marks the beginning of spring. What better way to welcome the abundant colours of spring than throwing coloured powder and water on each other??

It’s incredible, loud, wet and hysterically colourful! Something almost magical happens when girls and boys play in the streets and adults run around like kids, dodging water balloons and smearing powder in strangers faces. Everyone is equal; about ten years old!

Happy Holi!
Happy Holi!

When water and colour is flying everywhere, my canon is not allowed to leave home, so my new favorite Nepali festival is not well documented. I even carried a waterproof disposable camera around all day, but I was so busy playing, I forgot all about it!

 

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We gave the rest of our rangi changi powder to these kids who used most of it on us!

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Festival time!

A website of festivals in Nepal list 35 of them, and I have already experienced the major ones. Just after I arrived in Nepal we had three days of celebrating Teej; the festival of women. Some say it exists because women are often treated badly the rest of the year. During these days women can freely speak up about their husbands and even mother in-laws without fearing reprimands in a culture where women have been suppressed since the beginning of history. The legends say Lord Shiva married goddess Prabati because he was so impressed with her strong will as she was praying and fasting to get his attention. This is why women on the third day of Teej are supposed to pray for good health for their husbands or if unmarried; that they will get a good husband.

The best part of Teej is the dancing and the food! Even though Teej is a three-day thing and the first evening is supposed to be the party, there was a party on every corner, every night for at least a week! Someone told me that all Nepalis can dance, and from what I have seen, I think they are right!

Teej party with LI-BIRD
Dancing with the rotaract club Rac Pokhara Fishtail
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This is what dancing for 5 hours on a carpet where a few people have been dancing before you, does to your feet…

Kumari Jatra

There’s a living goddess in Kathmandu. A girl is chosen at the age of 3-4, taken from her family and placed in a house in Durbar Square. The right girl is serene, fearless and has to fulfill the right physical requirements. The chosen one is placed in the Kumari house, and traditionally she has to stay there as long as she is appointed as the Kumari, until she has her period. Then a new girl will be chosen. The ultimate test of fearlessness in the selection is to spend a night in a room with the heads of ritually decapitated goats and buffaloes. The room only lit by candles, illuminating the heads while masked men dance around… If this does not traumatize the young girl for the rest of her life, a life in isolation from other children and her family will.

The practice of keeping a living goddess is questionable at best, but it seems it is less strict these days. The girls that no longer have the status of a goddess, tells the story of a life far less isolated than suspected, and a selection process more like a ceremony than a trial.

Once a year, at Kumari Jatra, she is carried around the city in a chariot and celebrated. The number of people gathering at Durbar Square is astonishing, but the circus this girl is put through at a young age is disturbing.

The festival is interlinked with Indra Jatra although the legends behind the festivals supposedly happened several hundred years apart. One of the many legends the presence of the Kumari is based upon, is about the goddess Durga who visited the King every evening to discuss and play a game of dices. One night the King made a pass at the goddess and in anger she stopped visiting. After the kings regretting pleading and worshipping, she finally agreed to reappear in the form of a virgin girl. Some say Indra Jatra is to celebrate Indra, the god of heaven and/or rain and others say it is a celebration of the manifestation of Shiva. A pole, which is meant to be a flag given to Indra from the god Vishnu for protection when he walked on earth, is erected on the first day of the festival and masked men dance around in the streets prior to the Kumari procession. Images of Hanuman; who might or might not be an incarnation of Indra is also celebrated during this festival.

Confused?

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The Kumari in a chariot

 

 

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Popular guy. He attached bracelets on people’s wrists. I don’t know if he was a part of celebrating Kumari, Hanuman, Indra, something completely different, or all of the above…
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Kids looking for money in the piles of offerings

 

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Dashain

The two major holidays; Dashain and Tihar makes October and November in Nepal resemble December back home. For Dashain most people travel to their home village to celebrate with their family, and during Tihar they decorate homes and buildings with lights and give presents.

Dashain is the most important and auspicious festival for Hindus in Nepal and is celebrated for 15 days. It is a festival in honour of good over evil, and the goddess Durga is praised throughout. On this occasion most rituals happen at people’s homes, and unlike most other festivals you will not see much of it in the streets. Most shops are also closed during the holidays. To see how Christmas is celebrated in Norway, you would also have to be at someone’s home. I was invited by a friend, but had already made plans for the holidays.

We spent the festival trekking to a place very close to heaven. Tilicho Lake might be the most beautiful place on earth.

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Tilicho Lake at 5000 meters above sea level. Pure will (and chocolate) brought us there, and it was more than worth it!

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Festival of lights

Tihar, Diwhali, Devali or Deepavali is my favorite festival in Nepal so far. It is a confusing festival not only due to the many names. Every time I ask someone about which creatures are worshipped each day, I get different answers, and if more than two people are present when I ask, they never agree with one another and it always ends in a discussion in Nepali. What I figured out so far is that the crow, dog, cow, Laxmi, yourself and Bhai (little brother) is worshipped and given tikka (the red powder on the forehead). Some say that the cow is a symbol of Laxmi, and that is also the reason the cow is a holy animal for Hindus. Others obviously disagree, and I just find the idea of Laxmi being a cow amusing. Some say there are over 330 million different gods in Hindu religion, so I do not blame them for not agreeing when I ask what I used to regard simple questions…

I do not know if many succeed in catching crows to give them tikka, but dogs are treated well on dog tikka day. They also get malla, the garlands of marigold, and you can see the dogs prance around proud as ever with their paws and forehead coloured. I did not have any encounters with cows or crows, but when Laxmi was worshipped, which was at least two following days, since no one can agree on the time, was an incredible sight. Everyone light candles and make “paintings” (rangoli) with coloured powder on the floor at the entrance of their houses. Laxmi is the goddess of wealth and they make a line from the painting into the house to lead Laxmi straight to the vault. The most beautiful decorations will tempt Laxmi to visit the house or company building and she will bring good fortune for the following year.

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A Rangi made to tempt Laxmi to visit the safe

On the last day of Tihar, it’s time to celebrate your little brother. Since I don’t have a Bhai, I borrowed my friend Sandesh for the occasion. His family showed me the best of Nepali hospitality and opened their house and arms for me. The ceremony started with two of the women making a boundary (mandap) of oil around the gate and the front door of the house, to keep evil forces out of the house. The younger brothers sat on the floor and, we, the sisters, circled them seven times, dripping oil and water on the floor around them, creating a mandap which would protect our beloved Bhai from all evil, including Yama; the god of death.

One sister put eyeliner on them and we gave them malla. Then I put oil on my hands and ruined Sandeshes perfect hairdo, and I was even instructed to put oil in the boys’ ears. No demon will come near these boys! Finally we gave them the multicoloured tikka, handed over food and sweets and gifts were exchanged. After the ceremony we enjoyed a lovely meal of Dal Bhat. It was such a lovely experience, and I was impressed over the patients the youngest boys of the family showed during the ceremony, even when the unfamiliar sensation of the eyeliner made tears pop. I feel lucky to live in a country where people are so eager to show me their culture, and am looking forward to my next chance of first hand cultural insight.

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With mallas around their necks and oil in the hair and ears, the boys enjoy fruit, sweets and deep fried bread. 
Rangichangi (multicoloured) tikka!
Proud grandma
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I’m giving Sandesh his rangichangi tikka. 
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Mero Bhai!
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The temple Rani Pokhari is only open for the public once a year; on the day of Bhai Tikka

Thulo Ekadasi

Ekadasi occurs every fortnight in the hindu calendar, but as far as I know, there are a few Thulo (big/great) Ekadasi, and I was there for the one that happened right after Tihar, on the 24th of November. It is a bit unclear to me what this festival is about, but it marks the end of a fasting period and Vishnu is worshipped. Or Krishna. Or one of the other thousand names of this Hindu God. A teacher I met at this event told me Krishna is a young version of Vishnu and this form of the God was the one mainly worshipped during this day.

Like any Hindu ceremony, it is a colourful event, worth the watch. Prior to this day, long ropes are made in each community and decorated with offerings of flowers and money. During Thulo Ekadasi, the ropes are carried to the river and blessed before they are carried to the nearest bridge and attached to each side of the river.

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Pooja

 

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Offerings are sent down the river on leaf baskets

 

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A rope is carried back from the river to the nearest bridge

 

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A girl collecting money from the offerings after people have finished their pooja

 

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The rope is hung up over the bridge

 

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The numerous festivals and ceremonies of Nepal is one of the major reasons this country sucks you in. Not all of them are as well-known as the big ones like Dashain and Tihar, and everyone doesn’t attend all events. The way I discovered Thulo Ekadasi was asking my colleague about the ropes I saw people making. She explained what the ropes was for and I started inquiring others about the ceremony. I got the impression Thulo Ekadasi was not a big thing. “Some people will take a bath in the river in the morning and they bring ropes to put over the bridge”, was the sum of the responses. No one I know celebrates it, and considering how many occasions there are to worship Hindu Gods, it’s understandable that everyone doesn’t attend all events. In Hinduism there are three major Gods; the creator (Brahma), the destroyer (Shiva) and the nurturer (Vishnu). These also represent directions in the religion, so if Shiva is your guy, you might not celebrate Thulo Ekadasi, since that is Vishnu’s day.

I did not know exactly where the celebration took place, and since I was told it would happen early in the morning, I thought I wouldn’t see anything at the time I got there. I wasn’t completely sure where it would happen either, and as I saw the occasional rope hanging over bridges, I thought I was too late. Then I saw a group of people singing and dancing along the road and I followed them. I thought at first it was for a wedding and did not see any ropes hinting about Ekadasi. I asked some people if they knew why this group was dancing, but they just shrugged. Following the group for about 200 meters, led me to the river and an ocean of people.

It is not rare to see people dancing in the streets or parading, but this shows how difficult it is to keep track of all the happenings, when not even the ones living a couple of hundred meters away from the event, knows. I love the surprises of finding myself in the middle of a parade that I have no idea what is for, and the colours of Nepal’s many festivals. Sometimes (often!) I have to pinch myself because I cannot believe how lucky I am to experience all this. I will continue to keep my eyes, ears and heart open and my camera ready!

 

 

A wedding in 1-2-3!

As I passed my neighbours’ house today, they asked if I wanted to join them for a wedding party. They were all dressed up and ready to go, so I rushed back home, changed into my kurtha and was ready for a wedding in five minutes! Most women in Nepal wear kurtha daily, which is a long top with either baggy or slim fitted trousers of the same colour as the top. My kurtha is also suitable for “festive occasions”, so I let my saree rest this time. A saree is a short top in addition to one long piece of fabric they wrap around your body. It takes longer to put on than a kurtha, so I figured I’ll leave that for an occasion when I have more time to get wrapped.

Dal bhat buffet. The women are wearing sarees.

We came, we saw, we ate

The whole thing was over in about 20 minutes. We gave the presents, in my case money, which luckily for me is a suitable gift, since I don’t have a pile of emergency wedding presents at home… Then we ate the dal bhat, and I got to take a few pictures before we were out the door. We actually spent more time drinking tea at the office of a friend of my neighbours than we spent at the wedding! I think also they were doing some business with this friend, because there was a calculator involved…

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The dining area
The happy couple will sit on the stage in this room the whole day, receiving gifts from the guests.

 

On our way to the party I realised the groom was also one of the neighbours, so at least I knew I had met him before coming to his wedding. I have no idea what his wife’s name is, and in some cultures I would be considered being a wedding crasher, but in Nepal it’s completely acceptable to attend a wedding party of total strangers.

I really never know what the day will bring as I walk out the door in the morning

– I love it!

My neighbour Bhola with his wife who’s name I don’t know

 

 

Toilets, rat-disco and trespassing

The field trip I described in my last post was interesting on so many levels. Every story has two sides (or more) and this post will give a different one…

The trip was a great experience, but I had some problems in the hotel. The first room they gave me had a western toilet that didn’t work. Toilets like that are common, and it means they place a bucket next to it. You can imagine what it is like to “flush” the toilet with a bucket, especially when the person(s) before you didn’t do it properly. I’ve always said I prefer the common “hole-in-the-floor-toilet” to a misused western one…

The next room they gave me was freezing. Since we would stay in the same place for almost a week, I changed again. The third room had a rat-disco in the ceiling every night, like clockwork, at 9PM. That was annoying enough, but my earplugs are always with me, and I gave the paper-walls a good bang every now and then. The first morning in this room, I wondered for a second why my bed was covered in dust and small pieces of wood. Then I remembered arguing with the rats the night before…

One day, coming back from field, I opened the padlock of the room, but it was still locked. From the inside? I figured, maybe I slammed the door when I left, making the inside pin slid a bit and block the door.

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There was a lock like this one on the inside of the door

So, when one of the kids working there (about 12 years old) climbed through the window, I was happy. He managed it pretty fast for a room on the second floor, though. I entered the room and felt like something was off. The room was a bit messy because he had entered through the window, but that was ok. I wondered how he could have placed the ladder outside my window so quickly, but fair enough. What wasn’t OK, was finding that someone had used the toilet (the hole in the ground, kind of toilet), and I know the kid who opened the door for me wouldn’t have had time (or the nerve) to do that while I was waiting outside! The curtains in the bathroom had also been moved, and when I saw that someone had tampered with my computer, I was about to go downstairs to set some people straight. At the same time there was a knock on the door. The kid looked really guilty, asking if something was missing from the room.

Eventually it became clear that the people who painted around the windows had opened them to do the edges. But the kid said he had been watching them some of the time, because he didn’t trust them (some of the time? And they let people they didn’t trust open my window?).

But why was my computer moved? He said he had moved it so it wouldn’t get stains from the paint. My computer was never placed anywhere near the window… Ok (not ok), but then WHY had someone used my toilet?? Finally he admitted that the workers had used my room as a hideout, because they weren’t supposed to smoke on the job…

Obviously, the thought of someone sitting on my bed smoking, doing their business in the toilet and trying to use my computer (hopefully not at the same time), didn’t make me laugh there and then… The poor kid had a few phrases in different languages coming his way, but I think I was entitled to have a reaction to it all.

Nothing was missing, and the kid really did his best to make up for the mess. So, two days before leaving Jumla, I got my fourth room in that hotel. And I don’t even have high standards…

Since stomach problems came around to top it all off by keeping me in the room for the rest of the time, I really got to know the inside of those four walls..!

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The fourth room. Finally; a toilet that worked and no one trespassing to use it, no storm trough the walls and only the occasional rat prancing around in the ceiling.

Jumla

Fly me to the moon?

A couple of weeks ago I was on a field trip to Jumla. It was an interesting journey, especially the flight from Nepalgunj to the village. In a Cessna Caravan with one engine and nine seats, we made our way zigzagging between clouds, crossing hilltops so close it felt like I was paragliding. It was good fun and we landed safely on a very short runway, which is far from the most dangerous one in Nepal.

Field work

The objective of our field trip was monitoring existing LI-BIRD supported activities of the area, and investigating opportunities for new ones. One of LI-BIRDS goals is to encourage farmers to maintain and increase the agricultural biodiversity. Basically; less of many species, rather than loads of a few. And for me; an introduction to a vast number of nutritional crops.

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No space is wasted. In between root stock for apple grafting, you’ll find “Red Volcano”
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Rato Marshe is the local name of the variety of Amaranthus and the crimson plant often surronds fields of Finger Millet in the village of Talium.
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Ram Krishna Jaisi likes the snack made from Rato Marshe. He used to have a whole field of it, but due to social pressure, next year you’ll only find the red lining of his fields, like the standard is in the village of Talium. The neighbours laugh at him. Amaranth is also used like a taarkari (vegtable) in taarkari (vegetable curry)…

Leaf of Amaranthus is also used as a vegetable, prepared like spinach. There are three varieties to be found in the area, Rato Marshe being the most common. Because of the nutritional value of Amaranthus and the income potential for the village, LI-BIRD will support a project to investigate the possibilities of an increase in production.

Gender equality

We were mostly guided by male farmers. Men were there to explain how the harvesting was conducted, but on the fields I saw only a few of them. Women were doing most of the work. In the farmers organisation and on the board of the local seed bank, women were well represented. Still, it’s no surprise that there’s yet a long way to go regarding gender equality.

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Reduced workload

Seed from a wild shrub, Dhatelo, is harvested mainly by the poorest to make cooking oil. With funding from LI-BIRD, the farmers organisation has invested in an oil press. It used to take the women of Talium 2 hours to produce half a liter oil manually. Time is no longer an issue; the press has it done in a few minutes. Because the oil press didn’t pay off, and the generator was already there, they also invested in a rice mill. This makes the mill financially viable and eases the workload of the farmers. And of course nothing is wasted. The rice husk and Dhatelo residue is sold as fertilizer and horse feed.

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Gita demonstrates one of the procedures to make oil manually from the seed of Dhatelo
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Recidue from production of cooking oil

It’s inspiring to see how the livelihood of farmers in Talium has been improved after the mill arrived. On the other hand, the first seconds of this video demonstrates how there is always room for improvement. Environment, Health & Safety:

Images of Jumla

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This is Rita. She is 7 years old. The basket of pumpkins she carries, weighs at least 10 kg. Probably 15.

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The restaurants usually mark these water mugs. If you have it at home, your guests will know it came from this restaurant. People steal them anyway and bring them to their home villages in stead…
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Some of us even found the time for a hike, and no complaints about the view!

Banda, chakka jam and other oddities

Every now and then, Nepal shuts down for a couple of hours or days. A Banda (or bandh) is the public disobedience of not reporting to work, and is expected of the public, by the political party or the community which declared the banda. There was a banda a couple of weeks ago. Outside LI-BIRD I met Mahesh and Indra who informed me about an empty office, so we spent an hour cycling around, waiting for the strike to blow over.

Killing time with Mahesh and Indra

It was supposed to last until noon, but I’m told they tend to last shorter in Pokhara in consideration of all the tourists here. Whether that was the reason the banda was over at 10am, is unknown.

Banda might be an oddity for foreigners new to this country, but it isn’t a rare concept. It’s so abundant, you’d find websites informing about upcoming bandas.

It all started off with a chakka jam the day before. Chakka jam is one form of banda, where the traffic is stopped while the remaining daily activities aren’t affected. At least it doesn’t seem to affect the cattle of Mahendraphul streets much:


The contrast in activity level at Chipledhunga is striking. The kids didn’t seem to mind the banda either. Playing ball in the streets in stead of school? Who wouldn’t want that at the age of 10? Or at any age, for that matter…

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Just another day at New Road
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Banda; kids have taken over New Road

 

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The cause of this banda was the general hike of prices in Nepal. These days there’s a different banda going on. Locals of Pokhara have been demonstrating for weeks to pressure the government into building an international airport here. I have to say their method is somewhat peculiar.

Hunger strike is often used as a means of protesting, but in this case they do it as a relay. A group of people sit outside the airport for twelve hours, and for that period, they abstain from eating. In my opinion that is called fasting. Which many Nepalis do anyway. My colleague told me that these people are just in it the publicity. So I guess I’ll give them what they really want:

 

Relay hunger strike at Pokhara Airport

 

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I particularly like the last part of this video, where people are grouping at the entrance and the exit of the airport, shouting slogans from one group to the other:

 

 

Same, same, but different

I am home. That was my first thought as I came back to Pokhara for the third time. Everything felt so familiar, but I knew it wouldn’t be the same. I spent a week in a hotel “Lake Side”, the tourist area in Pokhara, while looking for housing. My lovely colleague Mira has helped me get settled. She had found an amazing house with a roof terrace. I didn’t like the idea of living next door to the airport, but since it’s (still) only a domestic airport, there are no jets taxing off in my backyard. The mountain view was of course an important factor in this process.

Since we’re still in the monsoon, the mountains only appear as guests in my everyday life. When you don’t expect to see them, they have an even greater effect. This far, these mountains are the only source of an actual gasping experience for me. Not as an expression, the real gasp, just like in a cartoon. Since I arrived I’ve had that feeling twice already, and I wonder how long it will take for me to be too acquainted with the view.

The view from my hotelroom as I opened the curtains one morning

Before departure, FK Norway arranged an excellent two weeks course. The aim of the course was to prepare 40 young, excited FK participants, for some of the challenges we might experience throughout our stay in a land completely different from where we broke in our first pair of shoes. I am ready to be blown away by culture shock, but because it feels like coming home, I doubt that it will happen. Like I was contemplating at the course, maybe the familiarity will make me less prepared if it comes. Maybe I will be caught off guard.

I was most certainly caught off guard the other day. I was minding my own business, in bright daylight, waiting for this guy to make a copy of my keys.

Out of the blue, I felt something in the shape of what I thought was a baseball bat, striking the side of my head and neck. I instantly thought: “I’m being robbed and I will faint from the hit”. A violent robbery in the middle of the day, was not something I had prepared for, because it’s as rare here as in Oslo. When I realised I was still standing, still awake, I turned around and yelled at a face with an empty gaze. He was not drunk or high, I was looking straight into a psychosis. You could say that the light was on, but there was no one home. He probably had no idea what he had just done. There was no weapon of any sort, and he probably just took a good swing at me with his arm, while passing by me. A witness just swirled one finger by his head; the international sign of someone being cuckoo.

There was of course no action made from this, I never even considered it. In Norway, I would never have hesitated to make the call. In Norway, I would have been confident that the call would not have sent an ill person to hell, or worse. I am not in Norway now.

As the man left the scene of crime, I got my keys and the taxi driver took me back to the office. My neck and ear didn’t exactly enjoy the incident, and just to be on the safe side, Mira took me to the hospital. Coming out of the building, she laughed and pointed at a man; “there’s another one of those, take care!” And would you believe it; it was the same man! There was nothing left to do, but laugh!

This episode has not scared me off the streets, and nor will it. Safety and the importance of risk assesment was of course covered in the course, and yes, maybe I could have avoided this episode if I had kept looking over my shoulder. Some of my friends from the course live in cities where moving around in daytime is considered a great hazard. I have done my risk assesment, and Pokhara is not such a city. You’ll find mentally disturbed people anywhere. Obviously we’re more exposed to them here, since unfortunately for them and the society, they are not given the proper care.

I am safe, sound and healthy. I have everything I need, and more. People like him doesn’t even have their basic needs covered. That’s more disturbing than my minor incident. The culture shock has yet to come, and Pokhara still feels like home to me.

Anyhow, I promise to do my best at avoiding the crazy.

A love story

A year ago, I stayed in Nepal for about a month. I did all the tourist stuff in and around Kathmandu, I went to the National Park in Chitwan and I did a one week trek in the magnificent Himalayas. I fell in love in so many ways.

With Nepal’s problems and possibilities, it’s impossible not to be intrigued. The people and the culture suck you in, and the scenery is without comparison. And I’m not talking solely about the mountains. A Nepali woman wearing her red sari, the colour indicating her marital status. The marshmallow white clouds on the deep blue sky. Green, glacial melting water whirling trough lush forests and gorges of red clay and yellow sand. Prayer flags moving like waves in the wind. The colours are so bright it hurts your heart and sticks so easy to the memory card of my canon.

Enough words, I’ll give you some of the colours of Nepal.

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I had to come back, it was inevitable, really. So, no more old pictures, it’s time for new memories.

The next year I am lucky enough to live in this incredible country. Funded by FK Norway, The Development Fund has employed me to work in LI-BIRD. I am looking forward to contribute to LI-BIRD’s sustainable management of renewable natural resources, and to improve the livelihoods of resource poor and marginalized people.

No more waiting, I am finally here and the challenge is on!