Friday, July 31, 2009

Kathmandu Guest House, Kathmandu, Nepal

Water Fountains (useful decoration)
Inner courtyard
Hotel Restaurant
Inner courtyard close-up
Inner courtyard
The very polite and friendly staff
I will be super busy the next 3 weeks. I will miss you all and look forward to catching up on your blogs when I return. I am leaving you with photos of the Kathmandu Guest House. This is where I usually stay when I am working in Nepal. All of these photos were taken in January which is winter in Nepal. Imagine more green and more rain and less clothing in the summer.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Ransoming My Brother

One sweltering summer day, mother opened the back door and told us to go out and play and that was that. We had the run of the neighborhood and we wouldn’t be expected back home unless we were hungry or in tears.

First stop, Mrs. McClannahan, who was always doing laundry because her husband didn’t believe in electric clothes driers.

Bang, bang, bang, “Hello, Mrs. McClannahan, do you have any pretzels?”

She came to the door smiling with four pretzels in her hand. “Turn this way,” she said, and we shuffled around and rotated our ears toward her pointing our chins up to heaven. Mrs. McClannahan would only give us pretzels if she could pull our ears through the holes of the pretzel. The salt scraped our tender little ears and sometimes left painful welts. It was very uncomfortable, but still worth a couple of pretzels. We turned so that she could admire our pretzel earrings. “Thanks!” We took off across the street.

Bang, Bang, Bang, “Hello, Mrs. Jones, Do you have any cookies?”

“Come on in kids. I’ve just finished a batch. They are still warm. That’s the best way, they are soft and bendy when they are warm.” She dumped a chocolate chip cookie into each of our hands with her spatula. We had to toss them from hand to hand because they were so hot. She gave us glasses of milk too.

“Thanks Mrs. Jones.” The screen door slammed behind us.

My brother, John, who had chocolate smeared around his face, followed me to the sand box in our backyard. “We are going to build a tunnel,” I directed. “I’ll go get some water.” My brother was only 5 but he usually took my instructions pretty well. If he didn’t, I would put the pressure on until he saw the wisdom of my plans. I was 2 years older than he was, after all, ergo the boss of him.

Bang, Bang, Bang, “Mom, I need to get some water.” My mother who was washing dishes while watching us out of the back window filled up a plastic tub of water and handed it to me.

“I’m mopping the floor so don’t come in for a while,” She said.

“Thanks Mom.” I carried the water back to the sand box.

The tunnel was a success. We built a couple of roads and poured water into moats, drove some little cars around the tracks...

“Let’s go get some mulberries!” I suggested. The berries felt slimy and got stuck between our toes as we tried to knock more of them out of the tree over our heads with branches.

“I want to go in,” my brother said. Our feet were purple with smashed mulberries, our toe nails black. There was no way mom was going to let us into the house like that. Anyway, I didn’t want to go in. I had to think quickly to keep my brother happy.

“I have some money,” I said. “Let’s go to Shoey’s.” His face lit up.

Shoey’s was a candy store about three quarters of a mile from our house. We hiked past the apartments, down one hill, and up another. The sidewalk burned our bare feet, but we could jump into the grass to cool them down. I was careful to point out the broken glass and bottle caps to my brother, but our feet were pretty tough from a summer of no shoes. We still had to run across the asphalt streets, though.

It probably took us 25 minutes to get to Shoey’s. I hadn’t bothered to mention to my mother where we were going. I thought that she might not agree with my plan, and I also thought that we would be back before she ever noticed that we had gone. She would have thought that we were at a neighbor’s house. I had 10 cents and that was at least enough to buy us some penny candy. We could even get a small chocolate bar and split it. While I was busy making the decision for us, my brother seated himself on the floor behind me where he found the Hostess display. There were Ho Hos and Ding Dongs and Cherry and Apple pies and so much more. Deep in thought about a tootsie roll versus a tootsie pop, I didn’t notice my brother opening a package behind me. He had a quarter of a pie consumed before I realized what had happened.

Mr. Shoey, looked sharply over his glasses at me. “I think that your little brother has made the decision for you,” he said.

I looked around and said, “NO!” but it was too late.

“Mr. Shoey,” I said very worried. “I only have 10 cents.”

“Well, I think you are going to have to get your mother then,” he said. “OK, John,” I said to my brother. “We have to go home and get Mom now.”

“No,” said Mr. Shoey. You need to go get your mother and your brother will stay here with me until you come back with her.”

Darn that John! He just ruined my great plan. I ran most of the way home but I made sure to work up some good tears before I pounded on our back door. Mom was always a bit softer if I looked really distressed about my sins.

Mom dashed out the door with pocket book in hand and drove me back to Shoey’s to collect my brother. When we arrived we found him surrounded by a pile of at least a dozen opened packages of partially-eaten treats.

The pain of my mother’s tongue lashing was far worse than the couple of whiffs with the paddle ball paddle.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Froggy Synchronicity

My friend, Jan, wanted to have a good-bye drink with me but it took us weeks to find a day that I was home and not too busy with my work or my family. Last night she came to pick me up at about 9:00 pm to take me out for a drink. We had decided to go to a bar in a little village about 15 minutes from the farm. Halfway down our quarter mile driveway, I saw a frog leap in front of the car. Jan said, "Did you see that frog?"

"Did you hit it?" I replied.

"No, I saw it hop away," she said.

We continued on way, but the closer we got to the little town the more repulsive the air became. It was an overpowering stench. There is a chicken processing plant in the town, and when they render the chicken fat of a thousand chickens and open the vents on a humid summer night, the smell is something like urine and rot. We decided to head further down the road to the next little village.

There were two bars in this second village. The first had no cars, so we didn't stop there. At the second bar, we walked to the door and peeked in. A rush of cigarette smoke curled out of the door and settled thickly about our hair. A cardboard sign written in crayon and taped to the door warned, "This is a smoking bar." A dozen grizzly men shifted nothing but their eyes in our direction... "Nah," we said together, and returned to the car.

Back in the car, I had been telling my friend about this blog, 'Synchronicity,' and about the Edgar Allen Poe synchronicity, which I thought was a wonderful gruesome story. My friend, who is a psychic, was fascinated. She has dreams of murders and has helped police to find the criminals. She also has a blog, but isn't quite ready to devote much time to it. She says that she will soon. "I had another murder dream recently," she told me, "I called the police but they didn't pay much attention to me."

About that time we arrived at another little bar. This one had 3 tables of men and women happily playing poker and no smoke, so we went in. I know that Jan told me where we were, some hollow, but I wasn't paying attention. We drank and told stories for about an hour. Jan kept writing post-it notes for me and stuck them in my pockets so that I would remember to write down the stories on my blog.

Up on the kitchen door behind the bar there was a snack menu with 'Froggy Balls' as a featured item. I couldn't take my eyes off of it. I knew that Jan didn't want them so I resisted. About 5 minutes before the kitchen closed, I had to try some froggy balls. They were wonderful, deep fried cheese, chicken and jalapeno, no frogs. I ate them all. As I was munching away, I overheard someone talking about Frog's Hollow. That's it, that's where we were. Of course, they would have 'Froggy Balls' in Frog's Hollow.

I had a blast with Jan. That was the first time I've been out to a bar in more than two years. Jan returned me home safely and not too late.

Today, I took a walk down the driveway with my husband. He pointed out a dried smashed frog carcass and then the synchronicity struck me. I had forgotten all about the frog crossing our path when we went in search of a place to say goodbye.

*Note: Tibetans consider frogs repositories of sacred wisdom.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Doing the Right Thing

Last night I listened to President Obama give a speech and answer questions on health care reform. I don't think that I have heard any one say it better or more completely. We have to make a change. We have one of the most expensive and least comprehensive health care systems in the world.

When I was sick in Nepal I paid $3 for the same antibiotics that cost me $70 in the US. While I lived in Japan, where I had nationalized health insurance, these same antibiotics cost me $5 and the doctor's visit $15. When I was sick in Tibet/China the visit to the hospital plus the antibiotics cost me $3, I had no health insurance while traveling.

We are not so different from each other. Every person is born and gets sick and will eventually need health care. The differences between us have to do with the circumstances into which we are born. We all need to contribute to health care and we should all have equal access. Anything less is immoral.

Health Care Tragedies I have experienced in the United States:

One of my friends gave up everything including her home and her profession so that she could receive medicaid for Myasthenia Gravis.

My 52 year young neighbor died of Breast Cancer because she didn't seek help quickly enough. Leaving her teenage children without their mother. Uninsured, she waited too long to seek help.

I ended up with no health insurance during my first pregnancy because my husband's employer let the insurance lapse during a financial downturn for his company. We didn't know that we were uninsured.

Our baby sitter had a catheter left in her for over a half year because she couldn't afford to have it removed. She had to spend all of the money she had saved for her son to go to college to take care of her kidney stone. The hospital put in the catheter in an emergency situation, but would not remove it until there was another emergency. She was told she was poor but not poor enough.


I don't know anyone who doesn't have a similar or much worse story to tell about the American Health care system. It is not that people can't get good health care, but they may have to lose everything, fight in court, and suffer a great deal of unnecessary pain to get treated. In the end, the public already pays for the uninsured, but they pay too much for this care and too late.
Let's do the right thing and get everyone the help they need now without the stress, fear, and the total destruction of their wealth and family well being.

Here is a link to Bonnie, a Canadian's first hand experience of universal health care. Also, you can visit Wikipedia's comparisons of different countries' health care systems.

(My brief moment on the soap box.)

Monday, July 13, 2009

A Hand On My Heart

I was gasping for breath and my heart was pounding at an uncomfortable pace so I stopped for a minute by the side of the path. Surrounded by a quiet green forest, on the side of a mountain, the Himalayan peaks were no longer visible from where I stood. There were no houses, or fields, only a still forest, an empty path, and the heavy sound of my own breath. For most of the day, I had walked up hill, with with a 30 pound pack on my back. Three days' walk behind me was the airport up at Jomsom where I had begun my trek, and 4 days' walk below me was the nearest paved road that led to Pokahara in the Annapurna region of the Himalayas. I was starting to panic. The hikers that I had been tagging along with that day were far ahead of me and it was getting late in the afternoon. When the sun drops behind the mountain peaks, there is a sudden drop in the temperature in the valleys. Packs of wild dogs and the occasional leopard, might also be roaming around up there at night. Not wanting to be cold and alone in a completely unfamiliar place, I picked up my pack and started up the dirt path again.
I had intentionally let my traveling companion go on ahead of me. Neither of us was feeling well. She had a headache and wanted to get to a place to rest as quickly as possible. I knew that she would be alright with the trekking group that had adopted us. We were not part of their group, but their friendly group leader was a bit surprised to see two completely unprepared young women hiking alone in Nepal for the first time... or maybe he just thought we were cute. He encouraged us to stay close to his group.
I had some digestive problems and wanted a little privacy. There are no public rest stops on Himalayan treks--you just squat behind a rock--so I dropped back from the group. By the time that I reached that quiet place in the forest where I stopped to catch my breath, I hadn't seen anyone on the path for about an hour and I really wasn't sure how many hours I would have to climb before I would reach our planned resting spot.
The path led me over the crest of a hill and to a wide flat area among a very small cluster of mud and stone homes. Two boys, about 13 and 8 years old, were standing on a hill above me on my right. I hardly noticed them because I was focused on putting one foot down after the other. The older boy called down to me, "Please help my brother."
I looked up at the boys and saw the older brother with his arm around his younger brother supporting him. The younger boy had sliced his leg from mid inner thigh to mid calf. The wound was not fresh, but it was an angry red with thick yellow puss oozing out of it. I inspected his leg more closely and asked the boy if there was someone in the village who spoke English. The boy shouted for a man who came quickly. With paper and pen in hand, I carefully explained that the boy's leg needed to be washed, very thoroughly, with water that had been boiled and soap. Then I pulled a full course of antibiotics from my pack. In Nepal, anyone can go to the pharmacy and buy antibiotics. You do not need a prescription. The pharmacist often knows the normal dosage for your weight. For about $4 US, I had bought one full course of sulfa antibiotics, for myself, just in case I got into trouble on the trek. I explained to the village man to cut the pills in half and give them to the boy morning and night until they were gone. If the boy became more sick, then he should stop taking the pills and they should take the boy to the hospital.
As I was explaining all of this, a small crowd from the village formed around us. There was an old lady who repeatedly put her wrinkled hands to her eyes and then stretched out her arms to touch me and pull at my dress. There was a man who was limping and another pointing to his elbow. Everyone had a malady. Everyone needed help. I was surrounded by at least a dozen outstretched arms and open palms. I opened my pack again and pulled out a very large bottle of Centrum vitamin pills. Putting a few vitamins in each open palm, I pressed my hands together and acknowledged the god within them. Then I lifted my pack and continued on my way.
An hour later, I was climbing another steep hill. The sun had already gone behind the mountain and I was feeling very ill. I stopped, almost in tears, with my heart pounding out of control. Behind me a porter appeared. He was a member of the trekking group that we had been tagging along with. He was the 'sweep,' the last person who collected the straggling tourists. Strapped to his head was a 200 pound load of tourist gear. The man, who was only about 5 feet tall, reached up and put his warm callused hand on my heart. He smiled. Then he stayed with me until we arrived at our resting spot about a half hour later. He didn't speak to me, but knowing that he was near was all that I needed to take my fear away and to keep me moving.
*On another trip, my husband and I slept one night in a remote village hospital on the very same trekking route, because we didn't make it to our destination before nightfall. The hospital was no more than a large barn with no equipment or electricity. The beds had straw mattresses and no one came or left while we slept there. I still think about the boy with the wound and wonder if he was all right. Could I have done any better? I regret that I didn't give them my bar of soap, or money to pay for a donkey to take him the 4 day trip to the hospital. These things simply didn't occur to me at the time.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Dream A World of Good, Part 3

This picture is from the path that leads to the boy's home village in Dhunche.

In April I wrote about a dream that lead to a life time connection with a family in Nepal, 'Dream A World of Good, Part 1,' and 'Dream A World of Good, Part 2.' Many of you wanted to know what happened to the boys that I gave rings to. It has been a very rough six or seven years since I handed out those rings. The boys didn't always know if they were going to be able to get through high school because of the unstable government and the numerous strikes and violence. This morning I received a letter from one of the boys that we have been helping through school

Dear Aunt, Uncle, and our brothers.
How are you all? We all are doing well over here and we wish that you are doing well over there.
Finally! Monsoon is here... Farmers have already planted rice in their fields. Some years back, maybe about 6-7 yrs, we had a different Kathmandu... Big stretches of paddy fields gave life to this once beautiful shrine. But now there are only patches of those just giving those memories some fuel. We had a very dry spell this year and farmers are worried that they will not be able to yield anything at all.

My brother has left for Dhunche today to make his passport. He is currently taking classes on IELTS and working in one of our uncle’s travel and tours offices. He plays football in the morning with his friends and spends his whole day working and learning. I am also spending my days learning and working... I wake up at 4 in the morning go for a nice morning walk and come back to spend one hour on yoga. In the day, I go to the shop and help father in his work and sometimes I manage to go to our uncle’s office as well.
Last week, I visited a youth forum. It’s called Today’s Youth Asia and I was delighted to see all these young people from high school discussing many social issues. The youth forum is making efforts to bring changes to the society... they already have two TV programs and some more programs in the pipeline. I suggested to them to use 'inter phenomenon' like 'Twitter' and 'YouTube' and TV programs like 'iReport' in CNN. I saw a different side of the younger generation of Nepal totally different from the youths affiliated with some political organizations of the past. They were there not trying to revolt but to be a part of the change.

Yesterday, I managed to watch Barack Obama giving his speech and I was delighted to hear his message for the younger generation. We all are an active part of our society and each and everyone can be a part of the story of change. Every time we watch him giving his speech he makes us realize our dreams.

Aunt, after a long thinking and working I have decided to pursue my further education in Bangalore, India. I am choosing Biochemistry as my major and I hope I will be able to pursue my Masters in the United States. My brother is now working for his application to US, he is looking for colleges and I am here to help him with his application. I have already started working on my application in India and I hope I will be there after a month or two. My brother is really good in mathematics and I hope that he will be going for Business as his major subject. When I joined my high school I already knew that I would pursue further education in biochemistry so I am really excited.

We don’t have any words to describe how thankful we are to you. Our cricket team is not active at the moment... some members are in the US and some are busy with their own life but they still have those rings you made for us and I don’t know how many have passed the rings on to other young people. We all love you a lot and there are no words to describe how much we are thankful to you. We all love you all.
Love from Nepal
I am so proud of these boys. They are full of hope and promise. As many set backs as they have had, they have always forged ahead. Both of the boys have taken an active part in their communities. If they couldn't go to school or work, they volunteered for the Red Cross and they contributed to the development of a new school in their home village.
I am planning on making the 'One Good Deed' rings again, so let me know if you would like to pass one on.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

On Pride and the Wisdom of Sameness

A groundhog being himself. Sorry about the reflection, I shot it through the back window.

When I was 11, in an attempt to discover the meaning of life, I picked up a the Bible and read it cover to cover. In the beginning, I wondered if my destiny was to be the next Virgin Jeri (My real name). Could I be good enough and devout enough to give birth to Christ's second coming? But, by the time that I reached the end of the book, I had decided that there were a few bits that I would have written differently. I won't go into details, but simply refer you to Elaine Pagels.

Throughout my life this search for purpose and meaning has been a recurring theme and has led me to some interesting adventures and explorations into different religions, but I am a real Jesus fan, and so I have always returned to his teachings as my foundation.

Recently, I was walking on the farm and looking at the sky and wondering about what my purpose in life was when a sign appeard in the heavens above me. It was a goose, and I had to laugh at myself. What a silly goose I am. I am so wrapped up in my own ego. The geese come and go with the cycles of the seasons. They don't spend time trying to be more important than other geese, they simply try to survive and care for their families and their communities. No time is wasted on wondering about God's divine plan made especially for them.

There have been times in my life when I have been stuck. I thought that if I didn't know my purpose I would not be able to fulfill it. Instead, I have discovered that all I really need is to decide what I want to do and what I am capable of and then go for it. My purpose is my choice and if I choose poorly, I can always try again.

Just my thoughts. I know some of you may think quite differently. Peace.