Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Doing What We Can

It has been more than a week since the earthquake, and people in Dharapani are still sleeping outside. Aftershocks, some severe, continue and people are afraid to live in their houses. A limited number of tents have been distributed, but contention for them was apparently pretty fierce. Our family did not get one and will have to buy one. But they have food and water. The hospital at Ampipal is damaged but functioning. Roads are once again passable. People are weeding corn and preparing for the start of the monsoon next month. Life goes on as best it can. 

Overall, Dharapani fared pretty well. Areas to the north and east, especially around Barpak, the epicenter of the quake, are devastated. The villages are remote, landslides make for a dangerous journey, and helicopters are in short supply. 

Since 2011, we have been working closely with the Gorkha Foundation both here and in Nepal. GF, for example, provided the computers for our school and brought us the resources of the Himalayan Stove Project. It was under the aegis of the GF that we were doing the preservation project at Ligligkot. (Something tells us that project won’t fly right now.) 

Since the earthquake, GF has been in full disaster relief mode. GF has established a logistics center in Gorkha, provides expertise on the area to other NGOs (including Mercy Corps and Doctors without Borders) and, most important, offers direct relief. 

The most-needed relief items have been tarps, tents, and blankets. Through its extensive network in Nepal and India, GF found a supplier in India and, along with other supplies, sent a 21-foot truck on the two-day journey to Gorkha; a second truck will be shipped soon.

The remote Tsum Valley, four days from the nearest road head (see map) was flattened. GF secured a helicopter and is making relief flights to Tsum. The helicopter looks (and is) small, but anything larger would be unable to land in Tsum and bring out the wounded.

And here are the supplies after delivery at Tsum:
Bijaya (in the U.S.) and Salil (in Gorkha) Devkota have been remarkably tenacious and nimble in organizing these and other relief efforts.  We are proud to serve on the board of the Foundation.
Here in Eugene, the disaster brought local Nepalis and friends of Nepal together. We have gotten very active in the Eugene-Kathmandu Sister City Association. To date we have collectively raised $17,000 (and counting). The Nepalese government has been inept at best, and some of the larger NGOs don’t have needed local expertise. Because many of the EKSCA members have wide networks in Nepal, we know which local organizations are doing a good job, on the ground, now. Those are the groups we are funding.

EKSCA is sending $5,000 to the Gorkha Foundation. Another $5,000 is going to the American Nepal Medical Foundation, an association of mostly American-trained Nepalese doctors. They have sent teams out to hard-hit Kavre, Nuwakot, Dholakha, and Sindhupalchowk districts. Both GF and ANMF are volunteer organizations with all donations going directly to relief.

The third $5,000 allocation will go toward water purification and treatment, although we are not yet sure how or to whom. On Thursday, Dr. Binaya Rimal, a Nepalese physician in Eugene travels to Kathmandu to work in a trauma ICU and then go out to Sindhupalchok. While in Nepal, he will talk to people who are active in water treatment and will then recommend where the funds should go.

The city of Eugene will send $50,000 for Nepal relief (thank you!) and EKSCA expects to be involved in decisions of where the money goes. We are continuing to seek out effective groups doing good work and will support them as long as we have money. If you would like to help, EKSCA has a web site ( to collect donations. The site has been described as “very Eugene,” but don’t let that put you off. The need, now and in the future, is great. 
Last night Nepalese students at the University of Oregon held a vigil for Nepal on campus. Over 100 people came, lit candles, and heard from Nepalis and Americans about how the earthquake has affected them. 

Students Anjani Lama and Sugam Singh did an extraordinary job in pulling it together.Harvey spoke on behalf of the EKSCA, emphasizing the good news that Nepalis are coming together and finding their own solutions despite government inaction, corruption, and other obstacles. We really do believe that this disaster can bring about a better Nepal.
We have been mostly focused on Nepal for the past week, and expect to be for a while. But we need to pull back a bit. We bought a house, move next week, and have not yet begun to pack up. We will get it done, even if we have to suspend our evening binge-watching of "Trailer Park Boys." 

Like everyone else closely connected with Nepal, we are heart-broken about what is happening there. But we also feel fortunate that we are here and able to help in a modest way.

Monday, April 27, 2015

The Disaster in Nepal

We spoke with mit in Dharapani this morning. Buildings throughout the village were damaged, but no one in Dharapani or Dumre seems to have been killed. (There were casualties elsewhere in the area and villages nearer to the epicenter have been flattened.) Cell phones are working (amazing!) but power is out and the nearest solar cell phone charger is a few miles away. (We kick ourselves for not leaving one there.) The spring water is muddy but unlike Kathmandu at least they have water. The hospital up the hill at Ampipal is damaged but functioning, if overwhelmed. The roads going in and out are impassable. With rice planting season coming up, the condition of the terraces and irrigation network will be a concern. Aftershocks are continuing, so the situation could change at any time.

We have heard from some family and friends in Kathmandu and they seem to be OK, but the food, water and health situation can only deteriorate. We have not heard from others, and are hoping that is due to lack of electricity or more urgent things to take care of.

Some news reports on Saturday put the epicenter in Lamjung, others put it in Gorkha. Since Dharapani is right on the Lamjung-Gorkha border, we knew that it couldn’t be good either way. As it turned out, the epicenter was in Gorkha district, about 20 km east of us. Considering that, it could have been soooooo much worse in Dharapani. The village was fortunate but the long-term impact is yet to be felt.

Timing is everything. The quake occurred at mid-day (when people were outside) and on a Saturday (when kids were out of school).  Nepal was lucky in that regard, and so were we – a few months either way and we would have been there. One of our recurring conversations in Nepal was always: if an earthquake occurred right now, would we be safe or screwed? Nepal being Nepal – narrow alleys and shoddy construction in Kathmandu; thick stone construction in the village; steep, unstable hillsides; cliff-hugging roads – the answer was all too often ‘screwed’.  Everyone knew that an earthquake was overdue, and everyone knew it would be a big one, but life goes on and you trust to luck. Of course, Oregon is also in an active tectonic zone and a big one is due, so we are again trusting our luck – and taking out earthquake insurance.

Eugene and Kathmandu, as it turns out, are sister cities. Last night a group of Nepalis and friends of Nepal met to consider what we can do to help. In addition to raising funds, we gave a lot of thought to where to send those funds. We have a short of list of agencies and this week we will do due diligence to make sure they have capacity on the ground, a delivery infrastructure, the ability to reach rural areas, low administrative costs, and the like. Which is by way of saying…. many of you have asked us where to donate to the relief effort. We publish another post soon with our recommendation. Thank you!

We are amazed and gratified at the number of you who have reached out to us, including some we haven’t heard from in years. Thank you for thinking of us and our family and friends in Nepal.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

On the Road Again

We are now in Kathmandu, having packed up our house in Dharapani for the season. Leaving Dharapani wasn’t the wrenching experience it was last year: we plan to return in the fall, people expect us to come and go, and leaving all of our stuff there somehow gives us a psychic connection to the place. So much of our life for the past few years seems to have revolved around packing and unpacking.

Our three months here were interesting, pleasant, and serene. Since we weren't teaching we often struggled to fill our days in productive ways, but we got very good at living in the moment and then wondering where the day went. A lot of the time we were content to be in our jellyfish mode, floating wherever the currents of village life took us. Most important, we enjoyed the daily interactions with our generous and good-natured family and neighbors. Every day, there seemed to be some family event, such as the bhaat khuwai (feeding of first solid food) for Sita's baby (shown here with proud granddad).

We continue to get traction on our Liglig project. We met with the Director General of the Department of Archaeology this week. The Department agreed to put money in next year’s budget for the development of a master plan. Once that is done, we can start seeking money in earnest. So the bottom line is that the Department is supportive and the project looks like it will happen, but it will take a long, long time. If nothing else, it gives us an excuse (not that we need one) to return to Nepal every year. By that measure alone, our trip here was successful.
The Dharapani Women’s Association invited us to join them on a day-long excursion to the Chitwan National Park in southern Nepal. For many of the 35 women who went, this was the one day of the year to get away and bust loose. There was a lot of singing and drumming during the long bus trip. We took jeeps into the forest, saw a few deer, and took a short walk to a pond. We had a good lunch and stopped three times on the way back for shopping. We were delighted to spend the day with them.
The other memorable part of the day was the bus trip itself. The driver does the daily route from Dumre and is notoriously dangerous: speeding on narrow, cliffy roads and passing on blind corners, all the while talking and fidgeting with the sound system. It was an exhilarating ride, like Coney Island but without the safety inspections.

We continue to be impressed with the women’s association’s management of the mill and their entrepreneurial spirit. The association makes about $50 a month profit from the mill and the money is being invested in other ventures. Mostly recently they have gone into the business of renting out plates, chairs, and cooking equipment for weddings and large events.
In early December we took the 7th and 8th graders on a field trip to Gorkha. We had them all as students last year, and it was fun to spend the day together.

Most of the kids had been to Gorkha Bazaar and had climbed to the famous Kalikaa temple.

But none of them had ever been to the museum. It is housed in a 19th-century palace and contains wonderful and well-presented artifacts and artwork. Karuna Rai, the director of the museum, and her staff have been very helpful to us in our investigations of Liglig’s history.
Drabya Shah Conquering Liglig

As part of a district-wide campaign to make Gorkha an ”open defecation-free zone,” the Palungtar Village Development Committee instituted a series of workshops on building charpis (outhouses), sanitation, and effective hand-washing.  The meetings culminated in an inspection of charpis throughout Dharapani. We are pleased to report that our charpi got excellent reviews for cleanliness (thanks to Malinda’s daily scrubbings) and for having running water and a soap dish. We are hoping to be the feature story in a later issue of Better Homes and Charpi.

The next stage of the campaign is getting people to build cement dish-washing stations outside the house. Malinda is all over that one, as it will mean that she doesn’t have to squat in the mud to do the dishes twice a day. We were the first to sign up, but we couldn’t get the materials together in time to finish it before we left – a pleasure that for Malinda will have to be deferred until next year.
We have seen lots of progress in the area’s infrastructure. This year electricity has been remarkably reliable. The drinking water project has brought piped water to yards throughout Dharapani. Daily bus service connects Dumre with a major market town (also named Dumre) on the Kathmandu road, enabling easier transport of vegetables, manufactured goods, and (most important) beer.  Smartphones were introduced a few years ago, and now everyone is glued to Facebook.

Roads in the area are being pitched. We heard that the jeep track behind our house (now very rough and rarely used) is next in line for improvement, allowing a direct connection between Thantipokhari in the valley and the hospital at Ampipal up the mountain. This would be a huge step forward in linking Dharapani with the rest of the region. Unfortunately, it would also mean the “ruin” of one of our favorite walking paths.

We leave on Saturday for a three-week tour of Rajasthan, the land of kings. We will be going to Jaisalmer, Jaipur, and Udaipur, among other places, visiting national wildlife parks, and staying at palaces-turned-hotels, allowing Malinda to channel her inner princess and Harvey his inner Ronald Merrick.

While there, we will collect ideas and fabrics for what we hope is Malinda’s new venture. It turns out that Arabian horse shows feature horses and riders decked out in faux-Arabesque-inspired costumes (google Arabian horse costumes; who knew?).  Malinda can do better than that. She is a first-class seamstress and the textiles and trimmings in Nepal and India put Jo-Ann Fabric satins and upholstery tassels to shame.  We will see where this idea goes.

We return to Eugene in early February, stopping en route in Reno to see Jonah and Cassy and pick up our car. Eli had hoped to join us but he has just moved to Little Rock for advanced training and can’t get away. We hope for a family reunion this spring before Eli gets shipped off to Japan. Once in Eugene, we will resume our new life, whatever that turns out to be.

The intent behind this blog is to convey a sense of Nepal, our lives here being the vehicle for doing so. So we will sign off until next fall or unless we have some Nepal news. Thanks for reading and we’ll see some of you soon.