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.

ChromeWorld – Day 1

This is the second episode of a series:

This isn’t easy.

I’m not sure I can do this for a week, let alone a whole month. I want to learn how to do it, but stay productive at the same time… I have a job to do and slack time is not included.

Challenge 1: Make my Mac a ChromeBook.

I opened the Chrome browser on my Mac and maximized the screen. I did this for my three profiles I have in Chrome (one personal and two work related). The latest version of MacOS, El Capitan, has a nice swipe-up feature that allows me to easily switch personalities in full screen.

It is not exactly a ChromeBook, but if I stay in this environment, I can simulate Chrome Desktop.

Challenge 2: Quick – Take a screenshot and mark it up with directions.

I do this all the time to show staff how-to work on a computer, sometimes that includes ScreenCasting, but not today. All I had to do was take a screenshot, add 5 labels and arrows to the picture with directions.

On the Mac, I use the screen capture key combination of “command-shift-4” to draw a box around the the part of screen I want saved as a picture. Because I customized this using a trick from OS X Daily (see here), all of my screen captures are saved in a single folder.

ChromeBooks have a similar option. but I found it a real effort to draw on the picture.

I use Preview on the Mac to add text and arrows to the picture for directions, and then email picture to the staff. I thought I could just upload the photo to Google Drawing, but it wasn’t opening the .png file in Drawing. I could add the file to Google Drive, but the suggest apps for opening it, did not include Drawing. Fortunately I had just added the free app SketchPad 3.5 to my Chrome desktop yesterday. It is very easy to use and included some nice drawing tools. Sorry Preview, but I may have found a new way of doing things when this experiment is over.

Challenge 3: Organize Photos for a presentation

Google Photos. Hands down one of the easiest tools I have used. Unlimited storages space for your photos if they are under 16mb in size. For this experiment I had copied hundreds of earthquake related photos out of my usual repository.

Today I uploaded and organized the photos using this program.

The app also has a nice editor. The editor is not a replacement for Adobe Photoshop, but has the tools I use 90% of the time, and all I need for making my presentation.

Everything else I did today was directly related to using the same Chrome apps I used the day before. Many of the tools we all use are in the browser now, so maybe this will not be such a big challenge after all.

ChromeWorld… An Experiment

My Reflection in Chrome

Questions:

  • Is it possible to use only Google Chrome on my MacBook Air at school for a month? 
  • Will I be able to survive the month using only Chrome Apps and nothing else? 
  • Will I find the equivalent apps on Chrome that I use daily on my Mac?
  • Will I find happiness in my Chrome reflections?

I think it is possible for this MacCentric individual to adapt to a Chrome world, but I want to find the stumbling blocks along the way. I am responsible for our school’s BYOD program. It is important for me to discover if parents can save hundreds of dollars each year. For example, the cost difference between a MacBook Air and a good Chromebook can be about $600. I’ll set the life-span for a laptop to 3 years, so that would be a savings of $200/yr, or a total savings of $20k for our community with around 100 students in the secondary.

There will be challenges. I use MS Office a lot and I really like using Excel. I do a lot of web development and use Text Wrangler to clean up my scripts. In two weeks, I am part of a three person team giving a presentation in Abu Dhabi. I promised to create at least two video segments and a couple of slide shows. Will this work without iMovie? I use Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator at least once a day at work. How will I mark up screen captures without Preview?

More than ever, I would appreciate your comments, guidance, and feedback. I will try to keep a diary of my weekday exploits in a ChromeWorld.

Day 1 will be October 7.

No Diesel, No Petrol, No Relief – Dependencies Part III

No Diesel / No Petrol

We went downtown today. We passed a long line of taxis, abandoned in front of a petrol station.

Each day we check the papers for some sign of relief for the Nepalis, but headlines offer none.

No End in Sight – An Article in today’s Kathmandu Post

A few fuel trucks have crossed the border, but it is literally a drop in the bucket compared to the need. If it is bad in the Kathmandu Valley, it must be worse in the countryside. I can imagine that some of the hill towns are wondering about the supply of propane for cooking, or fuel for their tractors. I have also read stories about a shortage of fertilizer for crops.

All of this scarcity is happening at a time that is the equivalent to Thanksgiving and Christmas in the west. The weeks leading up to Dashain are usually busy with shopping and preparations (see our post here: http://willises.org/2013/11/01/a-rainy-visit-to-bhaktapur/). It will be a different, and more difficult, holiday for Nepal this year.

Dependencies Part II

I keep checking the local news outlets looking for the “Everything is Resolved” message, but all I see is more of the spiral of pain for this landlocked country. Even with this going on, Nepalis continue to be generous as the tale below explains.

••••••••••
••••••••••
Imagine you were in one of those lines you see above, or facing one of those lines when the tank nears empty. Yet here is a tale from our most recent visitor, Ben. 
Ben walked down to Thamel. On the walk back in the dark, he lost his way and asked a shopkeeper for help. The shopkeeper said sure, I’ll take you. Soon Ben found himself on the back of a motorcycle and delivered safe and sound at our gate. Think about that, the next time someone needs help. What is your excuse, when a total stranger can help a lost American without a second thought using his very precious fuel in the process.
Meanwhile it is time to fix up the bikes….

Dependencies

A short time ago we were looking at our wealth. The value of our houses minus the debt, our stock portfolio after the slide, and our cash on hand. We looked at them as if they really mattered. However a new reality is settling into our lives in Nepal.

Today we looked at the cupboard to see how much food we have, we wondered how much cooking gas we have, we counted the drinking water bottles, and we checked the level of our water cistern.

Nepal is a land-locked country. The main supply arteries are through India, and at this point in time, India is choking these routes in a demonstration of its displeasure with the recently adopted constitution of Nepal.

Vehicles lined up for fuel

Whether the grievance is justified or not, the results are clear. Nepal, a country that just 5 months ago had two devastating earthquakes, does not have reserves of food and fuel, and India is withholding both.

What happens when there is no fuel? Think about it. How does the food get from farm to market without fuel? How do those bottles of clean water reach your house without fuel? How do you cook the food if you have a gas stove? How do the people who work for you or with you get to work? How do the jets re-fuel for their next journey? Are they carrying aid or more fuel for the journey home?

Thamel – Unusually Quiet

Even without this crisis, our footsteps ring hollow as we walk the usual tourist spots and markets, but we tell ourselves, “It’s early. In October business will pick up.” But how will the travelers come when the domestic airlines are unsure of their fuel supplies… or the reverse, would you like to be stuck in some far off region of Nepal because the airlines/buses have stopped running?

Nepal has been dealt some severe blows lately, but this one is man-made, and it comes at a time Nepalis should be rejoicing a step forward after a decade of no government. Instead, there is a little fear mixed with anger and Nepali grit. The people here are impressive, but hurting.

So whether you are in Abu Dhabi, Washington, or Los Angeles, think about Nepal. Appreciate all the things that go behind the scenes to make your glass of water, your morning shower, and the good food you eat possible. We do, and will when we return to our home in California.

This Expatriate Life

I’m going to diverge from earthquakes for awhile, not because they have stopped, because they haven’t. The earth moves every day, our hearts race, but it is the new status quo. I’m going to share a little more about the day to day life of living away from home; wherever that might be. The posts will be labeled “This Expatriate Life”.

Starting with the very mundane “Where is the pepper?”

Our little can of McCormick black pepper was empty, and somehow we missed that on our numerous trips to Costco this summer. Since our return we had checked for ground black pepper at the two major supermarkets, Bhat-Bhateni and Salesway, and at the US commissary. No luck. But we did find pepper seeds. We do have a pepper grinder, however it is sitting in our kitchen in California. It is one of those moments of “I know we have one, just not sure in which country”.

But one thing we do grind up a lot is coffee! We did buy a lot of that at Costco.

So I thought, “I’ll use the coffee grinder!” 
I may have been a little too ambitious as the pepper I produced was not “grounds” but dust. When I opened the grinder, some of the pepper just floated away. But we filled a small container with our pepper dust and had pepper with our evening stew. All was fine, until the next morning.
It was Monday morning and we didn’t have ground coffee for the espresso machine — no K-Cups here. When I went to grind the coffee, I realized the grinder was still fouled with pepper dust. In typical Monday morning fashion, just not enough time to clean. 
Not good to send Bill to school without his espresso coffee in the morning, but that’s another story.
I was on my own in the evening as Linda was part of the “Back to School” event for the elementary school. Our house keeper was unable to work today due to a general strike in the country, so I tackled the domestic chores of washing up in the kitchen. I could go on for volumes about the water, and maybe someday I will, but in summary the water we use for cleaning our dishes, our clothes, and our bodies, smells rather disgusting. You would never dream of swallowing it. It is a lot like the irrigation water we used in desert farming in El Centro… after it had gone through the fields. When we wash dishes with this water, we let them completely air-dry, in the wishful thinking belief that the nasty germs don’t like dry surfaces. 
I clean the coffee machine only with bottled water. I tackled the fouled grinder with paper towels, trying my best to loosen the fine dust that just wanted to float back to the bottom. My previous experience as a science teacher kicked in and I realized that all of that rubbing was just creating a static charge that attracted the fine pepper particles. What I needed was a new strategy to get rid of pepper dust.
I may be a “blow hard” so I thought I would put that to the test. I leaned in close over the grinder and blew into it with all of my strength. Which as a scientist brings me to this law of nature: crap has got to go somewhere, or in this case dust. As I blew into the grinder, the dust flew into my eyes. 
Now you know where the pepper went.

S’mores

Yesterday we went shopping for groceries, including a trip to the commissary. As we were checking out, I saw a package of marshmallows above the chocolate section. I fought my primal urges (surely there were S’mores cooking at the caves of our ancestors), and did not buy that the tasty combo. Then REI sends me an email containing the photo below. Is there some cosmic message I missing? Has Google Search engines become so strong that even my looking at something at a grocery store now steers product placement to my inbox.  Perhaps my marathon watching of Mr. Robot is effecting my observations of the universe. I will try to stay strong, and deny the S’more ….

and please take my paranoia in jest. That said, a chili-chocolate S’more sounds crazy good, but REI, my membership is part of a healthy-life choice, help me out.

Writing, Lizards, and the Quake Brain


At first I thought “Who wrote that?” Then I realized it was me. It was a combination of two of my posts written for a teacher audience. Such memory lapses are not uncommon since April 25th.



I would much rather be writing about exotic shopping or festivals.


I probably should and could write more about the earthquake experience, but as a group, and I mean those living here, we are not thinking as clearly as we should. We call it quake brain. 

What is “Quake Brain?” I think it is when the reptilian part of your brain, the ancient piece at the base of your skull, is sucking away valuable resources as it is always on call to take flight and bolt for the nearest exit. The reptile brain is responsible for compulsive behavior. In quake brain, the higher cognitive functions of the primate neocortex just get in the way of survival, so those functions are on the short end of the blood supply. That is why, by the end of the day, we are mentally exhausted.


Yesterday I saw an example of this. I went for an end of the school year party on the rooftop of a teacher’s apartment. People were either sitting in chairs or leaning against the railing on the edge. The weather was great and the sun was setting behind one of the Himalayan foothills. It was beautiful. Then the air of the neighborhood filled with crows. Without a pause in the conversation, the people leaning against the rails, moved away from the edge. They were embarrassed when they realized what they had done. We didn’t feel anything, but that lizard, reptile brain we possess at the base of our skull, the one now full of energy was saying “Danger! Move away!” It was right….There was another trembler. 



Of course there is zero scientific evidence for any of the observations above. It is just all the wild speculations of a blood starved neocortex.

Heading back to California tomorrow for summer vacation! Not sure how long it will take, but eventually the various parts of my brain will adjust to a new status quo, California chill.