I know—seems too soon to be hearing from me, now your expectations are low—just where I like them. It seems i have found my voice again, so be prepared, this is long.
I am currently in Nepal, after a seriously treacherous journey. Eek. I hurt my back while in grad school, and so when I take long flights (and a 15 hour flight from NY to Delhi, India is long in my book) I like to take something to make sure I don’t go into total spasm. This time, I took this muscle relaxer. I generally have the amazing ability to sleep anywhere for any amount of time. My main talent in life, it serves me well on long flights. So, I was out, as usual, drugged on this pill. While I was sleeping, I was not drinking the requisite water (for those of you who don’t know, flying is very dehydrating to your body. This is why they offer free liquids) and for the first time ever I was NOT snuggled under a blanket and huge sweater I usually bring on planes, I was actually warm/hot. Well I woke up in the weirdest state. I was dizzy, a bit nauseated, and total disoriented. I knew something was wrong. I grabbed an ‘air sick’ bag and got up to go stand in the back of plane. As soon as I stood I knew I was NOT well. I decided I needed to find a flight staff member. I started walking toward the back of the plane, which from my point of view looked to be miles away. The plane was swerving back and forth, back and forth (or maybe I was). At some point during the journey backward, I lost consciousness, if only for a moment, but long enough to land me on some guys lap. He was none too pleased; as I am sure he had been sleeping. I apologized, I think—and continued my journey down the aisle. I remember people staring at me—and trying to hold onto the seats as I walked. Looking back, they were probably all nervous I was going to vomit on them, as I was carrying the air sick bag, but by then I was no longer nauseated, just dizzy. I had total tunnel vision, and could just see the crack of light between the curtains of the galley in the back. I remember falling to the floor in the galley and hearing the flight staff, “ Oooh” “Catch her” “Watch out.” Next thing, I am sitting on the floor surrounded by Continental uniforms. They put a cold rag on my neck and forehead and gave me Coke to sip. Wooo Weee. In about 20 minutes I was fine. They told me that some muscles relaxers actually raise your body temperature, and further dehydrate you. Thus my issue—I sat back there for a while, drinking water and trying to get my land legs back. Finally I was okay enough to walk back. I was SOOOOOOOOO embarrassed to walk by the guy I totally landed on, but luckily he was fast asleep. J The rest of the flight the staff were very very nice and checked on me regularly and brought a lot of water.
Oh do I wish that is where the bad part of the journey ended, but alas—I am not that lucky. So, do to some mix ups with visas (long story) I was unable to leave the New Delhi airport, rather got the distinct pleasure of hanging out in the “transit lounge” for 15 hours (keep in mind “transit lounge” is the official title of the room, I feel it is used more comedically or to trick you into thinking they are taking you somewhere comfortable and nice). I was not alone in the ‘lounge’. Many other travelers were waiting it out, and some with small children—so I felt I had it okay. Normally, this wouldn’t’ have been a problem for me (remember the sleeping talent), save two issues. 1. The first plane ride had left me still very dehydrated and exhausted as I didn’t sleep as much after the incident. And 2. It was FREEZING in the ‘lounge.’ They had the AC cranked and we were all shivering. My plan had been to just sleep the hours away, especially with how tired I was, but my talent of sleeping is no match for shivering and the overwhelming desire of water. So—I dozed in and out, read, people watched, stared at the food and more importantly water for sale (I didn’t have any Indian money, so no go for me) and chatted with people. It was a LONG 15 hours. Finally, they came and got me. The very short flight (I think 2 1/2 hours) from New Delhi to Kathmandu was painful. I fell asleep within seconds of sitting down. I curled up with a blanket and was gone, but the short transit time and the fact that they woke me for both a snack and meal—really proved the flight to be less help and more pain. I was picked up at the airport by my new colleague, Macha. He is the country director for Micronutrient Initiative in Nepal. We had to fight off the viral taxi drivers vying for our business, and make our way to the car. All I wanted was a hot shower and a bed. Actually, I didn’t even need a bed, just a space that wasn’t freezing. But, no such luck; I was taken to a meeting right away at WFP (World Food Program). I tried my darndest to stay awake and be productive, but I wasn’t fooling anyone and with in 15 minutes of the meeting starting, they dismissed on account I was useless. Thank heaven!! I got to the hotel (Aloha Inn). Showered (I had prayed all the way up 3 flights of stairs they had hot water), hit my bed and slept for 12 hours without moving. Lovely. About the Inn, I asked one of the staff members why it was called the Aloha Inn. He said it was an old Hotel that was named with a word from some “European Language.” I giggled a bit, and told him that was wrong. Aloha is from a Pacific Island language, and that island is a state in the USA, Hawaii. He looked at me like I was crazy, told me I was mistaken and laughed. Okay. We’ll just let that one slide.
So, Nepal. I have absolutely no idea where to start. It is an amazing place that my writing will never do justice. I’ll get some demographic facts out of the way before I delve into my experience. Nepal is in South Asia sandwiched between India and China. Though Nepal make look small on maps next two the two 1 billion plus countries, it is slightly larger then Arkansas. It is 100 miles (160 Km) wide and 553 miles (885 Km) long! 29.5 million people call it home. The highest point, and the reason I am guessing most of you know of Nepal, is Mt Everest at 29, 035 feet (8,850 meters) and, what will surprise many of you, is a lowest point of 230 feet ( 70 meters)!! Yes—a VERY diverse topography which leads to VERY VERY difficult transportation issues. Kathmandu, the capital, sits at 4,445.5 feet (1355 meters), which is lower then where I grew up in Utah Valley. You will be VERY surprised to know it is quite warm here. Today I walked around in a skirt, sandals, and a t-shirt and got hot. Because the Himalayas, which are on the border with China in the north and home to Mt Everest, are so high—they block the cold cold winds from the north, making Nepal very pleasant. Now, Tibet on the other hand, is very cold and windy. Tibet is the region just on the other side of the Himalayas, another spiritual hotspot. I could talk a lot about Tibet, as I am passionate about their plight for freedom. But, once I start I won’t stop—so I will simply say that I support the Free Tibet movement and if you want more info go to: www.freetibet.org.
Nepal is among the poorest and least developed countries in the world with almost one-third of its population living below the poverty line. Here are some quick facts at a glance
1. One way to look at a country is with the GNI, Gross National Income. It’s like the average income for citizens. In the US in 2006, the GNI was $44,970; in Nepal in 2006 it was $290.00.
2. Average walk to a market, 11.5 hours ONE WAY!!!
3. In some areas, 79% of the children are stunted; meaning they have been malnourished consistently month after month for so long they stopped gaining height and are short for their age.
4. Religiously they are: Hindu 80.6%, Buddhist 10.7%, Muslim 4.2%, Kirant 3.6%, and the only official Hindu state in the world.
5. They have one of the most unique flags in the world (see attached).
6. They have five seasons Fall, Winter, Spring, Summer, Monsoon. You may have heard they are having flooding problems as well as the state of Bihar which borders Nepal and is where a large chunk of the water from Himalayas ends up. Bihar is the state in India where I lived in 2005.
7. Nepal has only been open to tourists/foreigners since 1949.
8. Is home to many refugees from Tibet and Bhutan.
9. The Himalayas are visible from certain points in Kathmandu, when the sky is clear. Pollution is horrible here, and the sky is often grey. Those of you living along the Wasatch front can imagine--they have the same problem Utah does with trapping bad air in the valleys.
Hopefully, I’ve peaked your interst. There is a lot more I could tell you, but it’s all available on line or in your local library. I arrived here just in time for one of the biggest Hindu festivals. Tihar, the festival of lights is one of the most dazzling of all Hindu festivals. The festival is for worshiping the Goddess Laxmi, the Goddess of wealth. During the festival all the houses in the city and villages are cleaned spotlessly, decorated with flowers, and finally adorned with lit oil lamps. Thus during the night the entire village or city looks like a sparkling diamond. You do this to attract the Goddess, and thus wealth and prosperity for your family. I was able to walk around and see many gorgeous homes. The people create a flower or pattern in front of their homes from different colored powders and flowers. Then foot steps and a path are created to lead the Goddess to the home. It’s beautiful.
Lucky for me, I was here when a good friend was also passing through, Louise Cochran (Jim’s wife for those who know him). We were able to spend all day Saturday together and I learned so much from her. She has been to Nepal many times, the first time 30 years ago. She was on her way to the city of Pokhara for a meditation retreat, slightly jealous. She took me to the largest “Stupa” in Nepal, Bodhnath. Stupa’s are built to house Buddhist relics and are holy sights people visit to worship and meditate. It is a large dome, with the “all seeing eyes of Buddha” on top (see picture). Around the dome are 108 images of Buddha (108 is a holy number in Buddhism), and 147 insets containing 4 prayer wheels each. You walk around the dome turning the prayer wheels. It’s one of the most powerful places I have ever been. The energy takes your breath away when you walk through the gate, it’s overwhelming. I hope to return before I take off.
Upon arrival to Nepal, I was given a security briefing (no worries mom, they are standard. I am sure when foreign staff move to NYC they get one too). I met other UN staff there and we each shared what brought us to Nepal. I was the only ‘short term’ employee in the room, as the rest of the crowd had all moved to Nepal for work. They asked if I had made time to sight see in my short time, and I told them I had no time for trekking just a few Saturdays to see close by sites. Almost in unison they groaned apologies for my ‘horrible situation’ of not being able to sight see. I was quite shocked at their reaction, and wondered, why wasn’t I as upset as they obviously would be in my shoes. Then I realized, I will be sight seeing—not their version of sight seeing, rather, my version. When I visit a country, I don’t want to just tour the sites and trek where others have, I want to really see the culture and people. For me, this is what my field trips are. Lucky me, seriously, LUCKY ME I get to go to Western Nepal for 7 days. I will be traveling to the three ecological zones, low lands, hills, and mountains, to see the area. I will speak with local leaders in villages about crops they grow, problems they face, and undoubtedly get to play with some kids. I get to see real homes with real people. That is sight seeing to me. I will of course tell you all about it later and post pictures on my blog.
Lastly I want to comment on my love of Tea. My first tea experience came from my Gram (my mom’s mom). Gram was an extraordinary person, one of the top 3 people to ever live, and an amateur herbologist. I have had stomach issues my whole life, and when I was young Gram recommended raspberry leaf tea, I was hooked. Yum. When I served in the Peace Corps my host mom would make home made mint tea (from mint leaves grown in our garden) and home made hibiscus tea (the berries grow wild in Moldova). NOTHING was better then coming home to a hot pot of tea and fresh home made bread. Then, I got the amazing opportunity to live in India and the world of Chai was opened to me. In the UNICEF office in Patna, Bihar, India we had a Chai Walla. The man whose job it is to make tea. He was a sweet old man, so cute—and would come around several times a day with a tray full of cups. He made the tea fresh each batch, with fresh herbs/spices and milk. Yummy. Back in the states I cultivated my love of green tea and the various herbal concoctions you find in the US. While living in Ethiopia, all my housemates were from England, Ireland, or Northern Ireland. Serious Tea drinkers. I learned how important the process of making the tea can be. One housemate was particularly picky and wouldn’t drink any tea I made until he had shown me how to make it properly. I myself have become VERY picky in my tea drinking, and certain brands are a NO GO. I feel their flavor is insulting. However, I have discovered the oddest phenomenon. I had meditated on this fact before this trip, but my voyage to Nepal confirms it. Tea is about the experience. I rarely if ever have good tea in the US. I thought we just had poor brands, poor style of producing it, I was doing something wrong, or something—but I have come to the conclusion tea tastes better in Nepal, India, Ethiopia, and Moldova because you are there. It’s part of the experience. I am excited for new countries, so I can try their style of tea. Nepal was no let down, with their version of Chai. Though, it is depressing to realize I will never have good tea back in the US, it makes my trips abroad so much more exciting b/c I can look forward to good tea.
One last comment, really. After writing the above on tea I had a wonderful conversation with Louise. She pointed out America has never been a Tea drinking society, so perhaps we really don’t know how to make tea! Who knows? Tea is becoming more popular in the states, and I can’t say that EVERY cup I have had has been awful, but the percentage is very high. I am assuming with time my tea experiences will be consistently good in the US, as they are abroad.
Okay—I am exhausted and need to pack for my big adventure. Hope you are all well!!