In the Hood

Spring had arrived and it was a sunny day. Great time for a walk in the neighborhood. I put on my tourist look: shorts, The Exorcist ball-cap my daughter gave me, and my camera with a giant telephoto lens bouncing on my gut that in some cultures would appear as an obvious phlallic display.

One of the first things I noticed was a “weed” growing against our wall. I wondered how tall it would get?

Two years ago this month, this dirt park was filled with make-shift tents when people abandoned their houses after the big earthquake.

My sister and brother. Camp Anza was a WWII mobilization center. You can still see the barracks if you drive down Cypress Avenue in Riverside today.

Really a step-up from where I grew up in Camp Anza (now Riverside, CA). Our ballpark was a corner of the parking lot of a nearby factory. It was only dirt, with a fence backstop. It was also used by the factory workers for softball games that could send hard-hit balls into the toxic waste drain that bordered the field.

Finally after an earthquake, then followed by an economic blockade, construction is in full swing around the valley, including in our neighborhood.

Need a wrench? The window of a hardware store.

 

The next time you complain about your job, think about this poor guy with the load of cane on his back. He probably has the same worries you do. You know, like where is going to sleep tonight and what will he eat, then again, maybe you don’t have those worries.

Here is some trivia for you. What famous movie featured a Lifebuoy quote?

Answer: A Christmas Story – After his mother washes his mouth out with Lifebuoy for swearing, Ralphie dreams that he is blinded and his father cries out, “I told you not to use Lifebuoy!”

Below the min-bus conductor looks for more riders, though I have no idea where he could put one. During the embargo, you would see riders on the roof, no longer though.

Lots of traffic on the road and lots of ways of getting around.

Water tankers are very common as running water is still a pipe dream.

Sometimes it is easy to only see the dust, the pollution and the chaos of life in the valley, but it is also colorful and full of life. Cheers to looking for the later.

My favorite photo of the walk.

 

An Indecent Proposal While Exploring a Tourist Hot Spot

This has been a stay-at-home spring break for us which is easy to do when you live in the middle of a mix of fascinating cultures.

We went shopping in Thamel, the tourist heart of Kathmandu. While Linda bargained with vendors I wandered the streets with my camera. The tourists have returned and the shops were generally busy.

Signs of prosperity

We had lunch at the RoadHouse Pizza where the featured product is baked in a wood oven.

Hot work

On our way back, our driver suggested we stop at a nearby area where a large chariot was being prepared to celebrate the upcoming rains (amongst other things) called Rato Machendranath Jatra. The chariot will be moved to various sacred spots in the city during the next month.

The chariot is that very large “tree-like” structure.

The chariot will be pulled by human power.

Cable service may be disrupted

The yoke of the wagon.

Kids on the chariot. When we were there, no one was climbing up and down the structure. Two years ago, just before the giant earthquake, two people were crushed under the wheels as it was being moved.

While waiting at the intersection a man approached me from behind “Want a massage? Ultimate end, you decided. Great sex.” No, this is not one of those Paul Theroux stories where I will go on to describe in detail a sexual encounter with a prostitute. Nope, not my thing. There are many stories of Nepali girls sold into labor only to end up in prostitution, a sad result of poverty and a lack of respect for humanity. However, I shared the story with someone and they suggested that the guy may have been the masseur, not the pimp! Good point. What a sad life, nothing great about it at all.

Masseur or Pimp?

 

 

Rampaging Gang Invades Our Home in Kathmandu

A loud crash on the patio announced their arrival.

 

We ran to the windows and looked out. We were surrounded! There were at least 8 of them. But not to worry, this is a daily happening for us. The “gang” is a large family of Rhesus Macaque, the temple monkeys of Nepal (and India).

Can you spot the youngster eating the trumpet flowers?
A large adult is watching the young one
Snapdragons are yummy too

Before we moved to Kathmandu I had dreams of growing fruit trees much like Southern California. The climate is very similar. It seems that anything you thrown into the soil here will sprout. But the first time I saw the monkeys demolish our papaya tree I realized dreams of fruit trees at our Kathmandu home would be fool’s errand.

Not every home in Kathmandu is like this, but we seem to be on daily migration route of this particular troop of monkeys. Some say they are part of this group: Gangs of Swayambhu

Years ago when they attacked the papaya tree, I went outside banging a pot and yelling at them. The largest one only paused a moment and barred his teeth at me. At that moment I did not think I was such a great ape and retreated inside.

You can see what effect my growl had on the monkeys who were ripping the branches off our pine tree yesterday.

Halloween Fun and a new Camera

While in Vietnam two weeks ago, I was introduced to a new camera, the Ricoh Theta S. It has a lens on each side and takes 360 degree photos and movies.

The camera is small and extremely light weight. Fits easily into a pocket, or with a small tripod into a purse or backpack.

The camera take selfies to a whole new level. For example, tonight’s Halloween visitors (try rotating the image with your mouse down):

Happy Halloween! From Kathmandu

 #theta360 – Spherical Image – RICOH THETA

 

 

Somewhere from the cold and dark…

Years ago we participated in the National Geographic’s Genographic Project. We sent away our cheek swaps and they either tested the Y-Chromosome for male or the mitochondrial DNA for your female ancestors. No surprise, the Willises were some of the first cave dwellers in what is now Britain. Likely surviving through the millennia by being first in front of the fire, and habitually late to wars and other property conflicts.

Recent events have put me in touch with my cave dwelling forbearers. Dry weather has reduced the amount of hydro-electricity available to Nepal. The lack of fuel due to the blockade has both reduced the amount of gas available for personal generators and the LPG available for heaters.

It is dark. This was today’s power schedule:

The times indicate when the power is OFF. So today we had power for 4 hours, from noon to 4 PM. During the power ON time we charged our batteries… literally:
  • The house has a large battery inverter that keeps the internet running but not enough power to keep appliances running.
  • We charged a couple of lanterns, they can keep a room bright for about 6 hours.
  • We have small LED lights stuck on the walls powered by rechargeable batteries.
  • Charge the laptops, thank goodness the MacBook Airs have a long battery life.
  • Charge the iPhones (also our backup internet if the inverter fails).

It is not terribly cold here, but cold enough that we don’t worry about the food spoiling in the refrigerator. The house doesn’t get warm. No heating. The cold morning fog seeps through window sills, and crawls beneath the gaps in the doors. It clings to everything and sucks out the warmth by your touch as sure as a vampires embrace.

We walk through the house in long underwear, fleeces, and down booties. The house is large. During the winter we don’t use the second floor at all. The third floor only for the laundry (when there is power). And on the ground floor we only use the kitchen and dining room during our waking hours. In bed, I don’t do my normal toss and turn. Beneath the 10 inches of blankets and down, I am pinned as well as any insect on a display board. Even so, it is my favorite place.

 In the evening the heavy curtains are drawn over our openings to the world. We sit before the glow of modern technology. We are in our cave.

Laxshmi puja – Let there be light

Today is Laxshmi puja, the day to welcome the goddess of good fortune to visit your house. We checked the batteries of our solar lights, and strung the bulbs across our second floor patio.

Houses in the neighborhood are decorated with lights and candles:

A mandala will help the goddess find the entrance to your house:

Notice the red blur in the picture, near the mandala. Is this Laxshmi?

A Festival of Light in the Dark – Part II

 This looks like a traffic jam….
But actually it is cars and buses parked along the road waiting for gas. The parked vehicles on one of Kathmandu’s busy thoroughfares can cause the same traffic jam as if they were moving.

This weekend there was a brief three day spell where you could get in a line for fuel, but many were frustrated. That will continue. Here is the evening headline in the Kathmandu Post about the Nepal Oil Company (NOC):

 

Not much help for the vehicles stuck in the line waiting for gas or diesel. Also friends of mine told me that cooking oil had double in price, along with other food stuffs.

Our employer continues to take good care of us and our needs are covered. But our hearts go out to the people who can least afford this hardship, because they are the ones who are suffering the most.

A Festival of Light in the Dark

This is the festival season in Nepal (See this previous post to learn more). Think of the time between Thanksgiving and New Years in the West. The next festival is Tihar, the festival of lights.

However, we are in the same fuel crisis that started in the third week of September.

Linda and I are fine. But it did get more personal today. Our housekeeper, Indira, has been showing up and doing her job each day at the house. Besides the cleaning, washing and ironing, Indira takes care of us. She pays our local bills, commandeers water trucks when needed, and makes sure all of the delivery people are paid, and happy. She usually takes a bus, but the bus service is not available. Her next method for getting here is on the back of her son’s motorcycle. He is out of gas. So she walks. She walks one hour each way to our house.

Indira’s story is repeated in a thousand households in this city.  Indira takes the hardship as Nepalis do, “I will get thin with exercise!”

Note to Readers: At this time it is OK to sing to yourself the Monty Python song “Always look on the bright side of life.” Maybe it will make you a little more Nepali.

September 27th was the last time private cars and motorcycles could get fuel. Today the pumps open up again for three days. There is a schedule of when you can go, based on our license plate.

NOC=Nepal Oil Corporation

There is a cascade of bad headlines that seem to be the new normal such as: Business closed and hotels running at less than 20% capacity. The irony is that it is a great time to visit Nepal. Because travel to Nepal is not just about temples and mountains, it is about the Nepali people.

Next week is the celebration of Tihar. It is a festival of lights in which small oil cups burn inside and outside of houses. We had an early celebration at work, honoring all of our staff during this difficult time. One of the local staff said to the assembled group a simple sentence that both humbled me, and brought a tear to my eye:

“We can not illuminate our houses but we can illuminate our hearts”
Are you still singing the song?

Traveling to Nepal? Uncle Sam says think again.

More depressing news….


Empty Street in Thamel
From the US Government:
Message for U.S. Citizens: Travel and Fuel
October 8, 2015
We recommend that travelers evaluate any upcoming travel plans in Nepal.  Due to the nationwide fuel shortage, due to blockages at the border with India, many of the safety measures that would normally be relied on in an emergency situation may become unavailable.  These measures include air medevacs and local hospitals.  As of today these services are still operational, but service providers are facing dwindling supplies.  If you are planning multi-day travel the situation could change drastically during your trip.  Please consider that if you are trekking in a remote area and become injured, there will be limited options for you to be rescued until the fuel situation returns to normal.  Tourist facilities continue to operate in the Kathmandu valley, but levels of service may be lower than normal.  It is estimated that the fuel situation will not return to normal until 2-3 weeks after the border supply lines are fully restored.

When the Grinch Stole Dashain

Dashain, a time of sacrifice and festival in Nepal is a huge holiday. It is a time families from throughout Nepal and abroad come together. In Kathmandu, more than half of the population goes “home” to the family village. It is even more important this year, after the double earthquakes of the spring. But this could be a sad Dashain.

The new generous gift of this year’s Dashain, 250ml of petrol

There is a continuing blockade on fuel and other goods into the country. But the Nepalis continue to be a generous people in a time of hardship.

Young Nepalis are tired of their energy dependency on India and want solutions. Social media sites for ride sharing have popped up. There is a shortage of bicycles in the shops, so maybe a new mindset will prevail after this crisis.

The fuel shortage has and will continue to restrict movement.

Few vehicles = crowded rides

I hope they are watching for low hanging wires!

An Electric Bus, over flowing with people.
One of many lines of empty vehicles waiting for diesel fuel.

The vehicles that should be taking people to their homes for Dashain, sit idle.

After the second world war, my father started a taxi company in Ontario, Canada. It failed. When I see these vehicles on the side of road, I think of men and woman, like my father, who took a chance and invested in either a truck, a van, a taxi, or bus. A down payment, and a loan to provide a better life for their families. But first mother nature and now a nation, is strangling that dream. For them it must seem like some twisted version of “It’s a Wonderful Life” and the “Grinch.” However, few in the world seem to care.

I don’t see a happy ending, but wish for one.