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.