Sunday, November 16, 2014

Back in Dharapani

We are now Oregonians. The move to Eugene in July went smoothly. We have a great apartment on the Willamette River and a garage nearby for when we want to visit our (still) excessive amount of crap. We were in Eugene only two months, but we got a good feel for the place. We rode bikes and hiked in the Cascades. We got involved in Michael Jackson / Thriller flash mobs and that was fun. Malinda reconnected with her many cousins, one of whom owns a horse farm. She started riding twice a week and has a new boyfriend named Mojo. Eugene is relaxed and progressive and we think we will like living there.

In early October we picked up Jonah and Cassy in Reno and flew to Pensacola to pin wings (crooked) on Eli, now a Combat Systems Officer in the Air Force. After several months of training on the C-130, he will be assigned to a base in Japan. He continues to amaze us.

From Florida we flew to Houston, Istanbul, and finally Kathmandu, a 40-hour trip that was not fun. After a week in Kathmandu, we arrived in Dharapani a month ago. We hauled our stuff out of the attic, set up the house, and it is like we never left. Sometimes we have this weird feeling that moving to Oregon was just a dream. 

The house was in good shape, although ants had built a large nest under the stairs. Mit solved the problem with a home-made kerosene flame-thrower. So now there are scorch marks on the walls and they, along with the spider splats, make the house look shabby. We are thinking that next year we should paint, maybe.

Mit, Brihaspati and Asmita are glad to have us back. We are relatively benign and make no demands beyond the mutual ones expected between households joined at the hip. We are occasionally entertaining and at our best it is like the circus is in town. Mit has had health problems and is fragile, but continues to spend all day farming, fixing, and fidgeting.

We missed the biggest festival of Dashain, but managed to make it here in time for Tihar, the five-day festival of lights, a time for worshipping Laxmi, goddess of wealth. Gambling is condoned and people spend days playing cards and games of chance. Crows, dogs, and cows each get their day of recognition, and the festival culminates with sisters anointing their brothers' face and hair with oil and giving them tika. Harvey joined mit and mit’s three brothers in the celebration. Sitaram, mit’s youngest son, was also in from Saudi Arabia.

Our project to preserve the ruins at Liglig Kot took a big step forward. Two weeks ago, at our invitation, Bhesh Narayan Dahal, the Director General of the national Department of Archaeology, came to tour the site and meet with members of the community.  He was impressed by what he saw and offered his support. He also pledged to work with us on creating a master plan for Liglig Kot. The problem, of course, is that no one has any money, but with a good plan and government backing we are hopeful that funding can come.

The DG also agreed to send an engineer up to look over the ruins, see what might be done, and attach some costs to potential work.  We heard this afternoon that three engineers are coming tomorrow and will stay with us. The family is used to this kind of fire drill (and usually enjoy it), but with the rice and millet harvest this is coming at a somewhat bad time.

People living on the mountain are following our progress closely. The customary greeting of “Have you eaten?” is often followed by “So what’s happening with Liglig Kot?” We have had enough requests for work to staff Disney World. Local people see restoration of the palace and fort as a means for attracting tourists and many of them envision paragliding and luxury hotels – not exactly what we have in mind. We spend a lot of time trying to manage expectations.
 Last December we reported on Sita’s wedding. In September she gave birth to a daughter. Her husband Padam is back in the Gulf and returns to Nepal in one year, seven months.

The father of Sangita Adhikari, the little girl with the club hands and feet, has gone to work in Malaysia and will not return for three years. He leaves behind his wife, three daughters, and infant son. Knowing how much he doted on his family, it is a difficult sacrifice for everyone involved.

The project to pump water directly to houses around Dharapani has been a huge success. Having water spigots in their yards has eased life considerably for (primarily) women.  We did not connect to it since we live close to the stream, so for us the benefit has been fewer people disconnecting the pipe that feeds our tank. A downside has been the loss of the pandharo as the community meeting place.

The mill chugs along. The women’s association charges less than other mills, which means more business but slimmer profit margins. The “driver” who runs the mill has been agitating for more money (he now earns Rs. 100, about one dollar, each morning). We have been encouraging the women to get trained and run the mill themselves, and we will see after their next monthly meeting whether they will accept our offer to pay for the training.

Cats Tika and Seti are still around. The brothers used to be best friends, but hormones kicked in and Tika chased Seti from the compound. Seti wants to come back but can’t because all hell breaks loose when he’s here. That is natural cat behavior, but what makes it Shakespearean is that Seti was Malinda’s favorite and now, even as she chases Seti away, she cuddles up to his tormentor.

 Those of you who have seen our 2015 calendar will recall this photo from January: two magnificent trees in the center of nearby Dumre village. Well, those trees are gone. This summer, a branch from one of them fell on a house and for reasons we have yet to understand, the local forestry user group decided to hack both trees mercilessly. An unconfirmed rumor that the wood was sold to a brick kiln in Thantipokhari, if true, would explain a lot.

Those trees stood alone in Dumre on the crest of a ridge and were visible for miles from every direction. The chautaras under those trees were the central meeting place for generations of villagers. They were especially valued by the Dalit community living nearby, whose shrine they shaded. A lot of people are unhappy about it, but that didn’t stop it from happening.


We like the freedom of not having to teach every day, although it means having to work hard at keeping busy. We are better at it some days than others. We are collecting oral histories of Liglig, but this is the rice harvesting season and people are busy. Last week we revisited the museum in Gorkha (hoping to find archives that in fact do not exist) and this week we’ll spend a few days in Pokhara. In early December we will take the 7th and 8th grades on a field trip to Gorkha. Even the “unproductive” days are filled with long walks, reading, visits to Dumre for supplies, and interesting encounters. And tomorrow the engineers arrive....

Monday, July 14, 2014

Heading west

We returned to Boston from Nepal at the end of March with one mission: sell the house, shed stuff, move to Oregon, and be back in Nepal by the fall. We are on trajectory to do exactly that.

The first order of business was to get our mothballed house and lives back in order. Our first stop was Verizon, which refused to sell us mobile phones because we couldn’t provide a 2013 W-2 and a social security card; a passport and driver’s license were insufficient to prove our identities. We’ve never understood what that was about, but it set the tone for the next two months. Our adjustment back was difficult: traffic, technology (“press 1 to rot in hell…”), the hype, high prices ("In Dharapani this was only 20 rupees!"), the feeling of always being sold to.  Our attitudes have improved, but we still can’t stand frenzy and prefer cocooning at home to facing the world.
Selling the house proved easy. After one day on the market, we received three bids, all over asking price. Done. The hard part has been getting a grip on 29 years in the same house. It took 10-to-12-hour days, every day for three months, but we finally got our possessions under control. Harvey was cold-blooded about disposing of things, Malinda a bit more sentimental, but over half our belongings are gone. We (meaning mostly Malinda) have done all the packing, and we know every box-yielding dumpster in the neighborhood. We never want to do this again.

It’s been a full-time job. In our conversations with the family back in Nepal, we kept saying week after week that we spend our days “arranging our things.” They had no clue why it was taking so long, and we would be appalled if they could see the excess our culture encourages.

A major milestone came on May 31, when two floors of the house were opened for our moving sale. We had great stuff, it was organized and labeled, every item was priced to move, and we had a good crowd. Lots and lots and lots went out the door and we were glad to see it go.

The most enjoyable part has been giving things away. The left-behinds from the sale went to a church store. Sometimes we loaded a “free stuff” table in the front yard and enjoy seeing it stripped bare by day’s end. Items too good for the trash were listed on a community bulletin board and everything went to good homes. On trash days our curb was full, and even seeing things get crushed and mangled in the truck was satisfying.
The books, of which we had a few, were a special challenge.  Sorting them took weeks and required difficult choices.  Some books were hard to give up because they were worthy of another read; many were yet to be read; and others evoked memories of another time and place. But over the years our collecting had gotten out of control, and we now regret having covered over so many windows with bookcases. And so we were ruthless in our cull.

Friends took some and we sold a few hundred at the moving sale. Most went to a non-profit bookstore that helps at-risk kids learn to run a business.  It seemed like a good cause, and softened the indignity of having to pay $75 to have our treasures carted away.

We filled a 12’ truck with what the store crew chief estimated was 6,000 books. It was wrenching seeing the truck pull down the street, but we take solace from the 250 cartons of books going with us.

In early June we drove a truck full of furniture, books and other instant-heirlooms out to Jonah and Cassy in Nevada. They got married on June 14 – a wonderful wedding. We enjoyed seeing their new house and meeting their two dogs and four cats. Lieutenant Elijah looked smashing in his Air Force uniform. It was the first time the family had been together in two years.

From Reno we drove to Eugene and found an apartment overlooking the Willamette River. It will be a squeeze going from a large ten-room house to a small three-bedroom apartment, so we rented a two-car garage to handle the overflow. (Yes, we still have way too much crap.) Eugene is a university town, a ten-mile bike path passes our door, and we think we will like the healthy, small-city granola-ness of the place. Malinda has lots of cousins in Eugene, and Cassy’s family is there, so we have an instant network. 
From Eugene we flew back to Boston to finish packing. Leaving our house and Boston will not be as bad as we had feared. We saw lots of old friends and said our farewells. As we have cleared shelves and closets, the house has become less and less ours, like it is reverting to some natural state. We feel like we are perching in what had once been our home.  Psychologically and logistically, we are ready to go. Tomorrow we sign papers, the movers arrive on Thursday, and early Friday morning we roll west.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Winding Down

2014 got off to a lousy start. In early January, returning from Pokhara, Harvey’s backpack with his Kindle, pocket camera, and six months of language notes was stolen. A few days later, he got a terrible toothache. The dentist at Ampipal said he needed a root canal so he rushed off to Kathmandu. A root canal was not needed after all, but it was still a major drag. Then Harvey got the runs. Then Malinda got the runs. (Too much information?) Then Harvey got a cold. Then Malinda got a cold. Then Malinda got the runs again. Considering how healthy we have been for our whole time here, these ills were long overdue and we are glad they came as a package. As soon as the calendar flipped to February, we resumed our usual good health and good luck.


We got some discouraging news in January as well. Sangita Adhikari, a first grader in our school, was born with club feet, misshapen hands, and knees that do not bend. She is a sunny, delightful child who is clearly beloved by her family.  We arranged for her to be seen by a pediatric orthopedic surgeon in Kathmandu. The exam showed that while intervention is possible, it would be prolonged, difficult, and very costly, with no assurance of success. The family decided that they just do not have the resources to pursue it. We are disappointed, but understand that it is really the only decision they could make.  Our deep thanks to Dr. Deepak Mahara and his colleagues at the Tribhuvan University Teaching Hospital for giving Sangita a thorough – and pro bono! – exam.

Sangita has two older sisters who will one day get married and leave home. She herself will likely never marry and when her parents die it is not clear who will care for her. Her father wants to put aside $4,000 for her future care and is considering working overseas to create a fund for her.  We have seen the impact on families of men leaving for years at a time to work in the Gulf, and it is not good. Life here can be fraught with painful choices.

Sangita (in gray) front and center
On a more positive note, one of our projects has finally gotten traction. Since we first came here in 2010, we have been intrigued by the ancient fortress and palace complex at the top of our mountain, Liglig. It is historically important and archaeologically rich, and the acres of ruins and mounds have never been mapped or fully surveyed. With views along 150 kilometers of the Himalayan range, it is a spectacular place. (For more on Liglig, go here.)

The southern end of Liglig Kot
For centuries, the ruins were used to provide stone for houses and fences. Over the past decade, the communities at the top of Liglig have transformed the site with reforestation and the construction of pavilions, picnic areas, and a bandstand. They have erected a small building to house a future museum and they hope to attract tourists. There are cultural festivals and public events. The site is getting richly-deserved attention, but the structural and historical integrity of the site is threatened.
The northern end of Liglig Kot
Over the past year, we have been trying to put together a group of people to develop a plan that balances historic preservation, community development, tourism, and scholarship.  We have finally rounded up all interested parties, including the national Department of Archaeology, the community association, a representative from the academic community, and the Gorkha Foundation. We have received some interest from the tourism industry and hope to attract the attention of NGOs. We have identified potential funding sources to develop the plan and begin implementation. (If anyone has ideas for funding, please let us know.)

We are surprised that we have gotten as far as we have with this, and we will continue pursuing it until we hit a wall. It helps that all the players see the need for a plan, although it may become clear as we get into it that there are different ideas on what that plan should be. We expect to be back in Nepal this fall working on the proposal, and we’ll see what roles we may play on any project that emerges. 

The king's palace
The main fort
Dharapani from Liglig Kot
Looking north from Liglig Kot

UPDATES….  Our post on Sita’s wedding brought us many (for us) emails.  Sita has been shuttling between Dharapani and Lamjung, and it’s not yet clear where she will settle. Her husband returns to Abu Dhabi this month. Her friends say that she is happy, but when we asked her she really didn’t want to talk about it. 
The mill is still going gangbusters. The women’s association put up a signboard that proudly lists the members. Malinda's name comes first on the sign and in the photo she's the one in the middle. 
The project to pump water throughout Dharapani is just about done. Mit is dragging his feet on getting our house hooked up, in part because we already have an easy, reliable and free flow of water from the stream. He may be more inclined to get connected when Harvey leaves and he takes over the job of filling the tanks. Meanwhile, the contractors built an enclosure at the stream to keep animals from getting into the water supply. It is hideous – the price, we suppose, of development.
Dharapani and Himalchuli
We have three weeks left in Dharapani. Living here has been an extraordinary experience on a number of levels, and it will take time, distance, and a review of 10,000+ photos/videos and 1,000 pages of Harvey’s daily journals to fully appreciate what it has meant.

Our house (the white one)
We had considered staying another year – not teaching, but in some other role – but ultimately decided it was time to move on. Thoreau explained his decision to leave Walden by saying that he had gotten all he could from the experience. “Perhaps it seemed to me that I had several more lives to live, and could not spare any more time for that one.”  We feel much the same.  We are in our early 60s, life seems short, and we can't keep our health and marbles forever.

Other clues it is time to leave….  Our successive piles of beer bottles next to the outhouse have become an embarrassment to the family …. Harvey has played 3,095 (and counting) games of Solitaire, most of them played while waiting for web pages and emails to open…. Malinda has gotten far too attached to cats Seti and Tika…. Teaching has become a six-day-a-week job.… Although Malinda's computer died last summer, she is still grieving for Photoshop.... When we ask each other what we will want to eat in the States, all we come up with is dalbhat…. We are without health insurance and pushing our luck… We have not seen the last two seasons of Breaking Bad and want to know how it ends. (No spoilers, please!)…. We are down to our last stick of deodorant.
As for the future…. we arrive in Boston at the end of March and will spend the next two months shoveling three decades of occupation out of our house and getting it ready for sale. We have elder son Jonah’s wedding in Reno in June, and then we will relocate to Eugene, Oregon. Living in Nepal has clarified a lot for us, especially our aversion to consumerism and frenzy, as well as our need for simplicity and nature. Most of Malinda’s relatives are in Eugene, and we hope to find a place in the country that can replicate our views here (not likely).

If we manage things well, we will spend part of each year here in Nepal, perhaps up at Liglig, or perhaps consulting, or perhaps writing. Or perhaps we’ll get drawn into something completely different. We will see what turns up.
Our ability to stay here for nearly two years was possible only with the help of wonderful people.  Jonah handled our finances and paid our bills. We assume we are still solvent….  Mikel Sidberry took care of the outside of our house. Based on photos, the house looks better now than at any time during the 28 years we lived there….. Ted Roland tended to the inside of the house and kept the pipes from bursting (except once). While we were gone, Ted became a master glass craftsman. That’s his joker bike man on the left; to see other creations, go here …. Pete Jackson, Donna Dickerson, and Sarah Bachrach took care of our plants…..  Thanks to all.

We will keep this blog dormant in case we have anything interesting to report in the future. Many thanks for reading and we’ll see some of you soon.