A Travellerspoint blog

Down to Business

Day 7

sunny 42 °C

Because all the schools, stores, and roads are mostly closed due to the strike, Stephen and I have two choices to pass the day: go outside and potentially die of heatstroke, or attempt to watch season 1 of Game of Thrones in one sitting. We choose the latter.
Fortunately for us, there are a few people who can meet with us, and we have barely made a dent in our funds so it's time to get down to business.

We are off to go to meet Sister Jaya, a sister of the Holy Cross who runs both the Amar Jyoti Center for Differently Abled and the Amar Jyoti Secondary High School.
Sister Jaya, a homely woman in her late 60's, has fully dedicated the last 25 years to helping the communities disabled. Originally working in India as a University professor in mathematics, she decided to join the Sister of the Holy Cross and move to Nepal. There are certain people in this world who emit an aura of caring, understanding and selflessness. Of all the people we have met, she is among the most noble and inspiring.
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Sister Jaya contacts the children within walking distance of the disabled center to come meet us (again, with the strike...people can't get to the center). We are warmly greeted with flowers by about 15 children with various mental illnesses, all deeply cared for by the sisters. The kids do gymnastics, play games, and learn to embroider, make candles, and stitch. The center's main goal is to help the children be self-sustainable and integrate them into society to be successful and feel self-worthy. Please excuse the cliches for a bit as I pour my heart out about these children.

I am especially touched by a brother and sister, both with Down's Syndrome. The girl, around 5 years of age, is more affected by the genetic disorder and the brother completely takes care of her. While she covers her eyes during the games, he playfully hits her and soon they are both laughing and trying to tackle me in a game of "cat and rat" (A game which a highly reccommend... FUN).

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There's another girl who instantly becomes attached to me and holds my hand despite the fact that I don't know her. Regardless of what condition these children suffer from, all they have is love and appreciation for those who show them love back. Naturally, Stephen and I want to help them as much as possible. Sister Jaya gives us a list of what they need and the prices. Unfortunately, we can't go and buy the items like we planned to due to the strike, so our donations from now on must be strictly monetary. No matter. We shall tackle our goal one way or the other.
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In the evening one of the doctors, Dr. Selma, invites us to her place for dinner in her humble apartment. All of the doctors live beside the hospital in one building which vaguely reminds me of living in residence. It is here that we taste, by far, the best meal we've had since arriving in Nepal. Dinner is several dishes including potatoes, chicken, bitter melon (?), and spinach all cooked in various sauces of curry and Nepalese spices. And of course heaps of rice.
Our business for today is done and we will get ready to visit more schools tomorrow.

Peace and Blessings
Katie

Side note: The Amar Jyoti Center for Differently Abled is in desperate need for financial and voluntary support. If you're at all interested in helping out, I think it would be an amazing oppportunity for those interested in speech therapy, occupational therapy, or just volunteering. If you have any questions, you can email me at katieyhuang@gmail.com or Sister Jaya at jayaambrose@rediffmail.com

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Posted by stephenhuang1 21:52 Archived in Nepal Comments (2)

Tansen

Day 6

sunny 42 °C


Today marks the third day of strikes in Nepal. After much investigation of the political situation via broken and confusing interpretation from locals, I have finally come to a vague understanding of how Nepalese politics works, and its effect on its people.
Deciphering the situtation has proven to be extremelly challenging, despite the fact that many speak english (or at least enough to get by).

Here goes:
For the first time in Nepal's democratic history, its constitution is being rewritten. Unfortunately for us, the constitution must be written at the end of the month, immediately after we depart. Over the course of the month, as each party begins to become more desperate, tensions are surely to rise.
To make matters worse, there are over 32 political parties involved and the leading party, Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), has less than 30% of the voting party.
This has forced almost every party to join one coalition or another, in order to achieve their goals in parliament. Each party is using the strikes to gain power and enforce their opinion into the constitution.

So, who is forcing these strikes?
It seems to me that when one party (or coalition) calls a strike, the entire country strikes.
I'm unsure which party called the strike, but it seems that if one party calls a strike, the entire nation is willing to comply (I am just as confused as you are)., thus causing a full scale halt.
This is a very good indicator of the disorder and political strife that the people of Nepal must endure.
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On Wednesday, the first strike commenced. During this time, every shop, car, taxi, and most importantly, school was shut down nationwide. At one point, even the rickshaws were not allowed to operate.
When a strike is called, there is no set end time, and no specific time at which announcements occur. One must simply wait. It seems that we too are now forever just waiting for something to happen. How ironic.

On Saturday afternoon, we received a stroke of luck and the strike was called off. Not willing to let this opportunity slip, we planned an ambitious and lengthy trip out to a northern town nested in Nepals Hilly region called Tansen. In the blistering heat, we quickly packed our bags and hopped into Lumbini Eye Institutes personal van and set off. The van, a rickety old vehicle lacking of seatbelts and any other essential safety devices, began its journey, dodging and swerving through scattered traffic until we reached a nearby town of Bhutwal. Bhutwal is considered a large town that acts as a transition between the hilly and plain regionsn of nepal. We stop in Bhutwal to pick up supplies for the blind school we are visiting up north, near a small town called Tansen. There, we buy 5 canes, and order 20 more. We also purchase all the braille books they have to offer, as well as all of their notebooks. It is on very rare occasions that anyone comes and clears out their entire stock. The man running the store is so excited, he decides to join us for the rest of the journey!
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As soon as we leave Bhutwal, we see the hills emerge... and by emerge I mean explode out of thin air. Between the mist, there is no soft transition between hills and plains. Their "hills" (which look very much like mountains i'll have you know) simply just begin. And no sooner than a split second we are waist deep in treacherous mountain roads.

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The roads are both winding and narrow, with little room to work with, quickly transitioning between poorly paved, rocky and dirt terrain.
Buses are packed as local travellers eagerly seize the opportunity to get to their destinations before the next strike.
The mountain air is cooling, and the scenery paints itself beautifully across the horizon.
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We finally arrive at Shree Damkada Higher Secondary School for the blind, to be warmly greeted by their principle and founder.
The school is both a regular school for all local children, as well as a center for blind children. To encourage positive growth in the blind children, all those disabled are closely integrated with the regular school while learning. However, there is a seperate complex for which the blind children live.

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The blind school is host to 25 blind, or very poorly sighted children. The school receives no funding from the government and has no external financial support. There have been several times in the past year in which the school was close to being shut down.
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As we bring the supplies in, the principle verbally describes to the children what we look like. It is clear that opportunities like these are once in a lifetime, and will bring positive change to their school.
After a quick tour of the complex, we leave the school with enough money to build a 1000 L water tank.
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The travel is exhausting and it will take 2 hours to return to our hotel, so we leave with a short goodbye and set off down the mountain trails.

After a long day, we return to the hotel, hopeful that we will be granted another strike free day.

Stephen

Posted by stephenhuang1 03:52 Archived in Nepal Comments (2)

Lumbini

Days 4-5

semi-overcast 37 °C


Our 4th day has taken us deep into the heart of Nepal. The "real" Nepal. The region we have arrived at is known as Lumbini and the small town is called Bhairahawa. There is an omnipresent swelter of heat that smothers the lungs, despite the fact that there is no trace of sun; Only a bizarre desaturated grey-blue sky. The entire sky remains unchanged throughout the day, a sunless grey blanketing the entire horizen. The oddness makes me think its smog, however, Bharawai is nested in the Nepals plain-region where very few factories, cars, industry or much of anything is around. The sky should be clear and sunny, but it is not.
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The temperature is around 36 degrees during the day, resultng in an inescapable heat that is always at your throat. The smell of pollution and garbage fills the air. We settle into the best hotel in Bharawai has to offer, the Nirvana hotel. Unfortunately I have strong feelings that this is the only hotel Bharawai has to offer. Despite the lack of housing competition, the hotel is dead, save for the small number of employees floating through the empty halls of granite and dark, fraying wood. The lighting is both scarce and dim, and frequent power outtages don't help set the mood to anything but a hotel in a horror film (My mind imagines the Shining).
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Stepping out into the town only adds to the mood.

After speaking with one of the hotel employees, we discover that a majority of Nepal has decided to partake in a nation wide peaceful strike to persuade the government to rewrite the constitution. From what I've gathered, the government has failed to contribute back to its people as much as the citizens want, and by law, the constitution must be written by the end of the month, causing all business to come to a halt.
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As we walk down Bharawais main street, all I can think about is the mood of the entire town. Eerie. There is a stream of rusted bikes slowly sailing by, mixed with the odd person sauntering to their destination. Every window, gate, and door is closed, yet no one is inside. Not a single car passes us despite us walking for over an hour. Each and every person is simply sitting on the cusp of their door, shop or ledge, observing the crawling traffic. There is no laughter in the streets and little conversation. As we walk by, dark glares and thrown our direction, apart from the children who smile and wave. No one approaches us to barter and sel their goods. No one is interested in approaching us and all we receive are stares.
Clearly, tourists do not visit this part of Nepal. Everyone seems to be just ... waiting for something to happen. Perhaps anything to happen.

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As we wander past the endless street of 2 story building it is quickly becomes very apparent that Nepal is truly a famished country. The smell of garbage and manure fill the street, alongside the view of poorly built buildings, many of which remain unfinished. Cows carelessly roam the streets, browsing through the garbage for a light snack as the traffic meanders around them. Shoeless children dance in and out of the small alleyways and doors, stopping only to stare. If you google "Nepal" and look at the images, this is certainly not what appears.

Despite the very eerie aura, it is comforting to be reminded why we are here. we did not come here to bask in luxuries, but to help those in need, and the nepalese are certainly in need.

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Our trip takes an interesting and positive turn as we arrive at the Lumbini Eye Instute; A small and seemingly isolated complex entirely dedicated to eye care thrown into the centre of Bharawai. We are warmly and very enthuastically greeting by many of the staff members of the hospital. They make a very strong point of making us feel very welcome and very grateful. It is also apparent that the members of SEVA have spent a great deal of effort to ensure our travels are safe and smooth. The facility is old and worn, but the staff are hard working and the flow of patients is cleverly designed and effencient. The streamlined design allows the institute to accommodate the massive volume of patients they must address. During the busy months, the Lumbini Eye Institute can see up to 1500 patients a day.

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After a quick tour of the facility, they put my father, Dr. Peter, to work. We all scrub in and my father begins cataract surgery as the attending residents and doctors eagerly watch.

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After much travel, we are now settling in and streamlining our efforts to help the people.

We are all excited and nervous for what is to come.

Stay tuned,
Stephen

Posted by stephenhuang1 06:54 Archived in Nepal Comments (3)

Welcome to Kathmandu

Day 3

overcast 25 °C

As day 3 unfolds, we come to realize how hectic Nepal is. Traffic is insanity, locals fills the streets and sidewalks, and
small stores are scattered everywhere. Architecture here is nothing of note; small square buildings and few windows. I can't help but love the city and the completely different culture here. They even have purple trees!
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After breakfast, we head off to an orphanage up a steep dirt road on a large hill. The orphanage was started and is run by a plump, joyous man in his mid 40's named Guru Tashi.
Even in the first moments of arriving, it is obvious that he does everything here. The kids adore him, and to him they are his children. The other monks treat the children very well and teach them Buddhism only if they wish. This orphanage is the first place that we donate our supplies and money we raised. Upon our arrival, we are greeted with an incredibly warm welcome of flowers, scarves, and ecstatic smiles. I feel very loved and can tell that our arrival has been anticipated for quite some time.
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First, we give out pencils, Canadian flags, and Canadian pins that the children happily accept. Then, we give Guru Tashi a laptop, which the kids are eager to use to learn Microsoft Word, Excel, and other computer programs. Finally, we give them $1500 which Guru Tashi will be using to build more classrooms in the school so that the students can go to school up to grade 12 (they currently only go until grade 10). The orphanage started with 10 children and now has 25 and Guru Tashi would like to further expand. Since he has no government funding, 100% of his money and the money we donated will be going towards the orphange and school.
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(Don't be fooled by their downtrodden faces..they don't smile in pictures here)
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After an amazing homecooked meal by some of the girls, we walk to the school and are greeted once more with flowers and scarves by giddy students. We meet with the principal and the teachers, who are eager to meet us and learn our names. We give the principal the rest of our pencils which will be enough to supply all 500 children froms grades 1-10 in the school. As we leave the school, the students swarm; some shy and some eager to be in our pictures and videos. The little ones are absolutely adorable. I resist the urge to smuggle one back to Canada.
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Now we're off the Lumbini! A tiny airplane takes us to the unbearably hot town, where we are shuflfed around by a tiny old man who clearly does not work here, but certainly runs this one-room airport like a boss.
We're all exhausted now and will visit the hospital tomorrow.
Until further adieu,
Katie

Posted by stephenhuang1 02:26 Archived in Nepal Comments (3)

Flying to Kathmandu

Days 1-2

Our journey begins with a flight out of Calgary direct to Frankfurt in the middle of the night. Even as I write this, the past 31 hours of bustling through terminals, sleeping on planes and waiting in lines has merged into a blur.
The 9 hour red eye flight to Germany passes almost instantaneously as we manage to sleep the majority of the flight and leaves us in the Frankfurt international airport lounge, which just so happens to have freshly tapped beer.
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After a quick nap, snack and stretch we're on our way to Doha, Qatar. The flight is classy and even has lie down seats! Stepping off the plane overwhelms us with 35 degree weather.... at 5 am. Just a little taste of the desert.

A short wait in the nicest waiting lounge (complimentary with showers, massage chairs and wifi) and we are off once again to finally conclude our journey.

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Flying over Kathmandu displays a endless sea of 5 story buildings as far as the eye can see (certainly no taller). It is quickly apparent that Nepal is a country like no other.
The air is ripe with smog and humidity seeps into our lungs after we step off the plane. There is a mixture of beautiful old architecture, nature, traffic and poverty. Welcome to Nepal.
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Posted by stephenhuang1 07:04 Comments (2)

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