Leaving in a few minutes for the first airplane. In DC, I’ll be meeting Marisa Stam, Executive Director of the Selamta Family Project, the organization I’ll be working with for the next two weeks. This is a joint project of the Nourish Collective, GirlForce and Worldstouch.
We will be offering workshops in soap-making, Salesforce assessment and training, and learning as much as possible about the ancient and venerable culture of Ethiopia.
I’m looking forward to meeting the staff at Selamta and getting to know them. Making friends, establishing connections, forming relationship is the most important thing we will do!
Dateline: New York City, Grad Student Apartment. Outside, 22 degrees F, -6 degrees C, with a wind chill factor that considerably reduces the effective temperature. In Kathmandu today, it was 50 degrees F. The deepest winter cold is over there.
Today, I stood in my daughter’s shower, in a warm bathroom, with the shower on “as hot as I can stand it” for at least 20 minutes. I had all the hot water I wanted. I soaped my hair twice. I just stood there, thinking about the way my life has been punctuated over the past two months, and the way those punctuations will change, and what that means.
In Bhaktapur and throughout Nepal, lives are punctuated by scarcity of electricity– the hours it’s on, the hours it’s off dictating all manner of things including whether I can get a Cappucino or have to make do with a Cafe Latte at Shiva Guest House. Electricity also dictates how I maintain my electronics– will it come on in the afternoon while I’m out and charge my computer, or do I need to bring the computer with me to Shiva for lunch, where they have battery-powered electrical sockets for charging iPads and iPhones and MacBook Pros.
My devices punctuate all my days– keeping the Nook, the battery pack, the other toys and tools charged requires daily care and attention.
I never did get the full rhythm of the scarce hot water at the training center where I had my room. The water was never hot in the morning or evening– but IF the sun had shone all day, I got a couple of good hot buckets out of the spigot, enough to wash me, my hair and my clothes without freezing my fingers (or the rest of me.)
Every excursion into the world is punctuated by mealtimes– frequently different from the mealtimes at home, often quite different foods. For the first month or so, I was content (and so was my friend Susan, after she arrived in mid-December) with the Nepali twice-a-day meal of rice, lentil soup, and some spicy vegetable. But once we started getting sick– she with typhoid, me with a version of E. coli, we moved out of the training center and started eating from the Shiva Guest House menu– yogurt with fruit, grilled cheese sandwiches, stir-fried vegetables with rice. We added tofu, experimented with various chicken and meat ball dishes.
Some travelers spend their extended visits in a place trying out different restaurants. Not us. And not me in general. Once I’ve found a place that has a varied and tasty menu, I’m loyal, especially if that place also has the Crossroads quality that Shiva has.
And that brings me to the final idea of punctuation– the way our traveling life is punctuated by the comings and goings of other travelers. When I’m staying and taking all my meals in the CBR/RCRD training center, I don’t meet very many other travelers. In the past, I’ve stopped in at Shiva in the mornings for a latte. I met one or two people on the stoop outside the restaurant, but not many.
On this trip, because Susan stayed on at Shiva after she had mostly recovered, I continued to take my meals up there with her. Mornings, the long-term guests — like Masa, the retired landscape architect who was staying for over a month– would come down for breakfast and we’d discuss the excursion plans of the day. Evenings, we’d all gather again for dinner, adding new and interesting people to our numbers.
Travelers stayed for months or for just a few days. Some we regretted when they left, some it was more of a relief– we didn’t have to be explicit about our shifting attitudes the way you do in real life. On the road, people just leave and that is the end of that, thank goodness. (I’m thinking of one particular guy we met who spent the afternoon caressing his Nepali knife blade and talking about everything he’d bought or wanted to buy.)
The Crossroads places– a town or a border crossing or a friendly atmosphere in a hostel or a cafe, where people on the road meet easily, where conversation flows, advice is given and taken– about the map, the road ahead or behind, the afflictions and their cures, the locals and their charms and foibles. Crossroads places are rarely entirely local, either in cuisine or clientele. They give travelers a kind of respite from and also a window out into the culture of the place.
Shiva was that kind of place for us on this trip. Ellen moved there because the internet was better there than anywhere else. Susan moved there because she needed to rest and eat well. I made it my place for meals and ate mashed potatoes and cheese and yogurt and fruit and French toast. We all made friends there– people we’ll see again, people we’ll always remember and tell stories about, people who punctuated our traveling lives.
I’ve acquired an entirely different perspective on heat, heating, and getting through the winter.
I have never thought about what winter is like in Nepal. There are places where it’s just warm all winter and everybody goes around as usual. There are others where it’s cold in the winter and they heat maybe even just one room at a time, usually the kitchen.
In Turkey, in the mountains overlooking the Black Sea, they have a hole in the floor that has fire and then coals. They bake bread on the sides of the hole, then put on the tea and cook the food for the day. And then they cover it up with metal and blankets and everyone sits in a circle with their feet pointing to the warm place.
Some way to get warm.
When I stayed in Nepal in the late 70s, I made it through probably December with a thick quilt stuffed with wool and sleeping in the room with the fire pit. I woke up to Maya, my hostess, making me bed tea and Helbadhur, her husband, squatting on the water basin flicking water in all nine mother goddess directions.
Early on this trip– winter 2015– I went out and bought a gas heater, thinking, “Well, that settles it for staying warm.” But I was wrong about that. The heater malfunctioned, the gas shortage became acute and then critical, and everyone else just wore more layers.
I felt like a spoiled Westerner. And indeed was more or less gently reminded that nobody else had heat in their houses, not even the rich. The concept of central heating is a kind of strange fantasy– the people here know we have houses with central heat, but it seems like really such a waste of money to them.
The gas cylinder I paid for cost about 3/4 of a teacher’s salary for a month. Okay, not a full-time teacher, but somebody I know living in a rented apartment with his wife and child.
When Ramesh, my Nepali cohort here, told me that the government shortened the number of hours people work from 10-5 to 10-4, I had a momentary thought – “How the heck do people get anything done around here anyway? If it isn’t a festival or a family obligation, it’s a shortened workweek!” But then when the cold gets truly bone-chilling, who can think straight anyway?
I wonder if the old architecture and the old ways weren’t actually warmer? The animals lived inside the houses, on the ground floor, and the kitchen had an open fire, even if all the fuel they had to burn was shocks of hay.
I’m often surprised at the local festivals, and how they correspond to what people have to live through. During the monsoon, when the water coursed through the back alleys that people used as toilets before the arrival of bathrooms, and flowed into the rivers where they washed their clothes and took their drinking water, people said that the mother goddesses protecting the city had gone away. And then, when the rain stopped and the harvest was in, they celebrate the return of the mother goddesses.
Likewise, in Swasthani Purnima, a monthlong festival through the coldest month, people seem to be deliberately seeking cold, almost challenging it to get to them. They leave their houses, are required to go barefoot, are allowed only very bland rice and vegetables without spices once a day. They take cold baths in the river.
In a procession dedicated the god who oversees this festival, one man dressed only in a loin cloth rolled sideways through the streets, doing penance of some sort, showing his willingness to sacrifice for his need and desire.
So even if you feel you are not quite up to the sacrifice of these devotees, their example is inspirational. If they can brave the cold without shoes and sleeping outside on a concrete floor, surely I can put on another layer, drink a glass of hot water and stop my complaining.
And the days are not really cold. The average daytime temperature during the coldest months is 66. The nights are all above freezing. It’s the nightly lows and the average humidity – above 80% in November, December and January – that make the cold so chilling.
I’ll be happy to get back to my central heating– and hot running water at all hours of the day and night, and pizza, and fast internet that works just about all the time. I need, though, to carry this new awareness with me: that people live through, they accomodate weather, they deal with gas shortages and electricity that stays off 8-10 hours a day. They manage. I stand in awe, really.
I’ve been here for three weeks. It’s maybe a good time to reflect on what I’ve accomplished so far and what I am still on tap to do.
I’ve got rooms booked for Ellen’s visit, as well as a plan in place for her to visit a clinic for abused and tortured women in a far-western district. Ganga is arranging the flight and accommodations in Dang.
I have spoken to Susan about her visit. Ganga’s husband is working in the field of good governance and the rule of law. I’ve proposed to introduce Susan to him to see if there is anything she can provide in the way of service. Ramesh also said they will be able to provide some introductions for Susan after her arrival.
I’ve met with the local company proposing to do the mobile-to-database project a couple of times.
I’ve written a preliminary discovery document.
Using the quote from Rooster Logic and the price sheet I have from TaroWork, I’ve created a comparison spreadsheet detailing the costs and feature comparison between the two options.
I was disappointed when I arrived to learn that the database project I’ve been dreaming about for years and have felt that it was finally feasible had already, as it were, departed the station without me. The surveys of disability service provision and the registration of disabled people have begun. Rooster Logic had already done a demo and was prepared to offer a quote for the first phase of the project. They did that in our first meeting.
I think there are two factors that are important to Surya: One, that the company is local, that the surveys and database will be already in both Nepali and English. And two, that Rooster Logic will essentially manage the database, including locking the data once it is entered, and producing reports/charts/dashboards on demand.
Surya is asking me to help him write the proposal to the government for the project. Figuring my time and involvement at the same level I have always contributed, TaroWorks’ cost is basically half what Rooster Logic is asking. Add to the Salesforce cost the price of getting the database translated, and I believe we still come in far below the cost quoted by Rooster Logic, even for the first phase.
We don’t have numbers of estimated records for Phase II, which would be an ongoing service provision tracking database.
I met for the first time with Ramesh yesterday on the topic of the CBR website. These are his concerns and requests:
He is intimidated in front of the prospect of updating the web site. He feels that each time he forgets the password and the updating instructions.
He feels inadequate to write updates in English.
He would like to have accomplishments and reports on the web site, but is not sure how to go about it.
Would they like me to be more involved in the web site updating? What do they need from me on this? A better training manual?
I’m already thinking that since the number of photos is not exorbitant, they can skip the Flickr option and simply upload photos directly to the website.
One of the challenges of Nepal is the unreliability of the electricity. If you have, as I do, multiple devices that all need to be charged enough to be of service, you need some kind of routine to make sure everything chugs along for you.
I have one outlet near my desk and another one over near the bathroom. Since I have a multi-slot charger, I only need to use the one outlet. Besides the one near the bathroom is also dangerously close to a water source, so I prefer not to use it.
If my MacBook Pro reaches 50% battery, I plug it in. This is a beauty of a machine. One charge will take me as many as 6 – 8 hours, so if it is ready to go, I can slide through just about any electrical blackout Nepal can throw at me.
I have a battery pack that can charge all my devices if I’m traveling or if I’ve forgotten to keep the phone or the iPad topped up. I make a point to charge the battery pack on second priority, then the iPhone, the iPad and the Nook march along behind. I also have a Nepali phone that my hosts here had lying around unused, so while it doesn’t have the smart-phone bells and whistles, it calls the people I need to call and rings when they call me. That’s kind of how phones used to work, didn’t they?
I keep a light on in the room during the day, as a signal in case the lights go out. That’s when I need to make sure I’m all charged.
What a difference between this and the first time I came to Nepal. All my reflections took written form in hardcover books bought from dusty office supplies vendors in the market. Phone calls took all day at the post offices where desperate Iranians pushed ahead and jumped the lines. All our mail lived and died in little bundles in what we called Post Restante, piles of mail that were sorted by what the postal workers in far-flung places guessed was your last name. I had a Nikon camera and 80 boxes of film, both slides and prints, though mostly slides. I never saw a photo I took for 18 months, until I came home and had them all developed.
[Background sound effects: The group across the that meets for loudspeaker yoga and chanting in the mornings is making tiger screaming noises.]
JF mentioned last night how strange it was for me to be heading off to bed on a day that, for him, was just beginning. And this morning, I’m struck by how Time feels as though it is lagging, lagging when I realize that I’m up and thinking about my new day, and he’s still slowly ending yesterday.
I have written before about it a little, but it is difficult to articulate. When did this strange sensation first occur? Telegraph? Telephone? It’s as though Time is tugging at me from both ends– yesterday lingers and lingers because, even though I was done with it, JF whose being in time I spend a lot of my mental energy with, was just beginning it. Having his coffee. Doing his morning exercise routine.
And today pulls away at me from the other side. It IS my morning, after all. It is MY Thanksgiving Day, all foggy and filled with, now, the sound of OM over the loudspeaker. I’m hearing the nurses-in-training in the hostel splashing water in their bathrooms and talking to one another. Doors opening and feet headed upstairs to the roof terrace and breakfast.
Ah, they’re back to the Tiger Screaming again. And then the all practicing Laughing. This is my morning. The ringing of the temple bells. The Invocation of Peace.
Meanwhile, my friends at home are going over their grocery shopping lists…everything all set? Possibly some pumpkin pies are already cooling on the stove or the back deck. Maybe a last glass of wine, someone asks someone else.
I wonder, thinking about it, whether this could be one of the reasons that people find it so difficult to keep in touch when I’m off on a long trip. This time, with Facebook, it seems easier (damn it for being the tool we need and love and also evil) but could it be that the dim awareness of this Time-disconnect has a kind of unsettling feel to it?
It does to me when I’m not actively LIVING in both places at once. It does when I’m not talking daily on Skype or going back and forth with emails in “your morning, my evening.”
But perhaps that isn’t it exactly. Perhaps we just instinctively and naturally live in the PLACE we’re in, and when somebody leaves that place, they functionally de-materialize. Even when Judy goes down to the beach for a week, I immediately lose track of when she’s supposed to come back. It’s as though she gets all fuzzy, even though she’s in the same time zone.
I think we’ve entered the Time and Space Are The Same Thing discussion. Not truly a philosopher, and hearing the voices upstairs having breakfast and feeling my stomach telling me loudly that I need to be there as well… I will put off THAT rumination. Consider this the beginning of a conversation.
[Email to Jean-Francois] It was a grueling ordeal from beginning to end, but I kept repeating that the difference between an ordeal and an adventure is attitude. The road is really bad and you know what the driving is like, passing passing, even when you can’t see around the corner. So my insides were sloshed all around in my body as the bus jolted along the potholes. I couldn’t decide whether that was making me sicker or not.
I finally went to the back of the bus and took up the whole big back seat. That seemed to help the most. I dozed a bit, and sort of meditated on my insides sloshing up and down. I woke up feeling better. I’m still coughing some and I have that diarrhea that feels like pissing out the butt. I am having black tea with sugar, but I was so hungry from having one piece of toast this morning that I poured myself a helping of those hot Indian snacks. It may make me sicker too, but what the hell.
I sat next to this young Israeli guy who totally agreed with me that it’s all about attitude. I said, “It’s harder to have a good attitude when you’re sick.” And he said,”I was on a 17 hour van ride in Mongolia and spent the whole time puking. I look back on that as an adventure.” He said he sat in a window seat, but when he was throwing up, they would stop the van for a few minutes for him. Don’t you just love travelers! You feel like shit, but they puked for 17 hours in Mongolia. Just perfect.
I spent right around $100 altogether for this four-day trip to Pokhara. The plane was going to cost $119, but the bus was about $9 instead. If I could have gotten out of Pokhara before next Thursday, I’d have stayed just to avoid the bus. But nothing to do but just put my head down and get through it. I have apparently survived.
Coming back from dinner last night, I thought maybe the internet would be faster down in the hotel lobby. All I wanted to do was to keep myself awake for a few hours before the jet lag cotton-brain descended. There were two women sitting in the lobby. I asked if the internet was faster down here and they said yes, so I grabbed the computer and came back down.
As I came into the lobby, I saw a few others had joined them and I had a second or two of, “Aw Darn…I was planning on some nice quiet computering…” But soon I was caught up in listening to them talking about their experiences working in hospitals and doing nursing training here.
At one point, the short-haired one, (turns out her name is Kerry–same name as the woman who invited me to come to Pokhara) was telling a story about shocking a group of urologists somehow, and they caught me frankly eavesdropping. So they began to tell me what Kerry Reid Searl does, what she has pioneered as a teaching technique. She calls it Mask-ED.
She dons a polyurethane costume—they are anatomically correct and full body—and is, like Mrs. Doubtfire, transformed into a totally different person. In fact, the guy in LA who created Mrs. Doubtfire did Kerry’s costumes. Each of her characters has a full history, a whole life, and has found himself or herself in the hospital.
The nursing students or the doctors at conventions come into the room to meet Cyril or Bob or one of the other characters. These are everyday folks, with fears about what’s happening to them, but fiercely protective of their own dignity. Some of them are “retired” people from the field, so when the nurses start to practice, they remind their caregivers about washing their hands or admonish them about speaking to their patients with attention and respect.
The story about the urologists at a convention was hilarious. Cyril wandered in with his pj’s and his “bits,” as Kerry put it, hanging out of his pj bottoms trailing a catheter. “Which one of you wankers did this to me?” he demanded. “Was it you?”—pointing out to one of the surprised surgeons. From there, Cyril proceeded to tell them all the stuff they’d left out of his pre-op briefing, all the problems he was going to face, the impact on his sex life.
The doctors started off essentially dismissing him—How did THIS guy get in here, who is he to stand up there and yammer on??? But after Cyril had their full attention and they were squirming in their chairs, Kerry pulled off the mask and revealed herself as the keynote speaker they THOUGHT they were going to hear.
Everything that involves training students to be present and human in their interactions with their patients and clients can be demonstrated more effectively with MaskEd, says Kerry. She uses the full-body masks to allow students to practice procedures that, before, were practiced with disembodied plastic body parts. Because the buttocks they are tending aren’t attached to a real human, they don’t really learn what it is to nurse full human beings until much later in their training, maybe too late for the folks who need that most—the elderly, the deeply fearful….
…And, I realized, the people with disabilities. What if special education teachers had practice teaching sessions with folks who looked, spoke and moved like the students they would be dealing with for the rest of their careers?
And my mind leaped directly to the other Kerry, Kerry Bissenger, the woman who so generously and spontaneously invited me to hop on the bus with her and a group of 19 students going to teach in the schools in Pokhara, a city 200 miles away from Kathmandu. Kerry B. has been working with thought leaders in the field of disability policy, and educational inclusion for some years.
Kerry B. would have the resources to incorporate Kerry R-S’s amazingly innovative work into the toolbox of special ed teacher training. I went directly upstairs and emailed her Kerry R-S’s Ted Talk video.
Mask-ED is a kind of improvisational theatre. As a professor of prospective nurses, Kerry Reid Searl knows what students often slide past, what procedures they can give short shrift to, what topics they NEED to memorize but are perhaps weak on. With her real-people characters, she can show the young nurses the consequences of losing touch with the very real human side of nursing, of too hasty hand-washing, of poor communication. With the mask on, the professor disappears and the future patient appears—to admonish, to flirt, to show his fears and embarrassment.
Then, Kerry R-S unmasks and uses the experience her students have had with Cyril or one of the other characters to emphasize the lessons, to talk about what just happened and what could be better or different.
This is role-playing taken to the max. It’s like Candid Camera in the classroom, except that the students KNOW that Cyril is being played by their professor. It’s just that Cyril is so real, they can suspend their disbelief. That, finally, is what theater is about—convincing the audience to suspend their disbelief. Traditional actors find it difficult to play Kerry’s characters because they have been trained to project OUT, across the proscenium arch and into the back row of the balcony. Traditional role-play keeps all the baggage that comes with practicing on one’s friends or professors. Cyril replaces the history and emotional environment of one’s teachers or friends or fellow students with Cyril’s own history, his own context, his backstory.
Of course, these masks are not cheap. And getting the proper training in their use would also require an investment. But the implications for disability work are far-reaching. This is one of those—“The World Needs To Know About This” moments.
I am taking some audio clips as I travel. What I learned last time is that, though I name each clip in my iPhone, these labels do not carry over when I download them to the computer. Boo-hiss!
So I’m transcribing them daily and will share them here:
On the bus: “The pollution is beginning to clear. The sun is out. Maybe we will actually be able to see the world without the gray of the smog that covers Kathmandu these days.”
I sat in the front seat of the bus and so could experience once again the feeling of utter chaos on the roads. The idea, as far as I can tell, is that one has to overtake and pass everybody going slower than you are, and it doesn’t really matter whether there is a turn coming up, or, many times, someone actually coming at you from the opposite direction. The impression is one of urgent hurrying, but when Kerry suggested that, I said I wasn’t sure. “Maybe it’s just ‘driving.’”
What amazed me about it was how closely cut are the distances between vehicles coming and going. We routinely missed the other cars by inches. Motorcycles often passed between two cars going in opposite directions with just two or three inches on each side. It felt like a different concept of Space. As if the margins we consider “safety margins” of distances, because we believe and it does seem true, that we can’t accurately judge how far away the other vehicle is—is just another refutable belief. The oncoming motorcyclists didn’t even flinch when we came roaring at them seemingly head-on, only to miss them by swerving at the last millisecond.
There are no white lines that have to be respected. They are more suggestions than rules.
Now I’m sleepy and so I need to move—do some laundry and hang it out to dry. Then see if my buddy from the airplane has arrived and wants to meet for what I’ve heard is the best lemon meringue pie in Nepal.
When you are on the road, it’s often the people you encounter and the kinds of conversations that make the trip.
Yesterday, we were getting ready to board the bus for the 7-hour trip to Pokhara. The trip’s local organizer had provided four bicycle rickshaws to transport the students’ considerable luggage from the hotel to the bus.
Teddy, one of the two boys in the Aussie group, struck me right away because he looked up in his phrase book, “May I?” and then went to the rickshaw driver who would be pulling the luggage to the bus and asked him, in Nepali, if he could drive the rickshaw. And then proceeded to pedal the rickshaw.
[I have a video of this, but the internet is so slow, I will probably have to wait to get back to Bhaktapur before I can upload it.]
Not sure how we got into the subject of the 60s and 70s. Maybe because he was saying that he doesn’t like just to be a tourist, that’s why he drove the rickshaw. And I said, “In my day, we called it the difference between being a tourist and a traveler.” And then he asked me to explain why his father—of my generation, I presume—would quit college and just go traveling.
The first thing I said was that we believed that you could learn more about life by living it than you could learn from books. And that travel was seen as one of the best ways to learn about life.
From there the discussion went to American politics, greed, how the Republicans were changing the voting system, and then how he felt a bit apprehensive about how this experience, teaching for 5 weeks in a Nepalese school, living with a family in the Tibetan Refugee Center, would change him. So I talked about how he would understand something much deeper about relationships after his Nepal experience. The way people do relationships here and in many other parts of the world is just different. Our more individualistic outlook on life shapes our connections to people. Here, their less individualistic view shapes their relationships. When we spend time in a place like this, we gradually begin to understand this difference, this subtle and yet quite profound alternate universe of networks and connections.
I also told Teddy that he would not be able to actually articulate what he’d learned in any meaningful way. In fact, nobody would be particularly interested in what he’d learned about himself and life. This is one of the most difficult lessons, I think. Travel, really good, close-to-the-ground travel, profoundly changes us. But we are almost completely inarticulate about what and how and why. When we get together with other travelers, we don’t need to talk about it, because we all know what happened and what it means. When we get together with our very good friends back home, we just can’t seem to get what has happened to us across.
Afterward he said, “Thank you for giving me some food for thought.”