happiness is...

happiness is...
kenya 2010

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Earthquake ramblings, part 3- Reaching the village

The first thing I saw as I reached the road at the bottom of the hill leading up to my village made my heart sink. The earthquake hit just before noon on a Saturday, which in Nepal is the time that Christians in the country are in church. The small church, perched on the cliff nearly 1000 feet above the river below, was destroyed- the back side was missing and through the open door I could see nothing but the gorge below. I knew the likelihood that the 50 people I had met 2 weeks before in that welcoming space were dead was high. I started the 30 minute trek up the mountain trail with a heavy heart, but also with anticipation of seeing people I have come to know and to care about over the last 7 months. The trip seemed to take forever.

The church- perched 1000 feet above the river below. The back wall and much of the floor is goneThe church- perched 1000 feet above the river below. The back wall and much of the floor is gone

I crested the hill and began walking up the road that goes through the center of the village. In all my other trips up, the first house I came to was the house of Dorje Tamang, whose family took me in and hosted me for 5 days during my first "vision trip" there. This time, as I looked to my left toward that house, I saw open space above the trees. It was gone...but as I rushed around the small fence that separates their property from the road, I saw them- the entire family- sitting on the ground huddled together in the area that used to be the cow shed. Dorje's mother looked up and I yelled "aamaa!" (which means "mother!"). Her face broke into a smile and I broke into a run. They looked absolutely incredulous as I appeared out of nowhere. Our group was the first to reach the village since the quake, 5 days before. When I saw them, I was overcome with emotion and could barely speak. Someone asked me, awed, "What are you doing here? Why did you come?" and through my tears I could honestly say, "Because I care about you. I was worried about you. I was scared and had no way of knowing if you were all right. You are my village- my people. I have been praying for you and I couldn't rest until I was sure you were okay." As sorrowful as I had been for the previous 5 days, I was now filled with such relief and joy. Don't get me wrong- the village was completely devastated and there was nothing but rubble as far as the eye could see, but the people were what mattered and this family was alive. It turns out that nearly everyone in the village was alive. Out of 200-250 villagers (my estimate), only 2 had died. In the village, no one (except church members) is inside at 12pm. Everyone is out in the field, or tending the animals, or sorting grain on mats in the sun. On the day of the quake, even the church members had finished early and left the building before noon. Only 7 remained inside when it hit, and were miraculously able to get far enough over in the room to avoid plunging into the river below when the back of the building and the floor gave way.

My "host family" for my first trip to the village- alive and wellMy "host family" for my first trip to the village- alive and well

As I walked down the road, further into the village, I was met by cries of "Karunaa!!" (my Nepali name) and hugs by adults and children, alike. I was given flowers by some little girls who had first given me flowers the night I stayed in my new house a few weeks ago. Over and over again people asked me what compelled me to come, and over and over again I answered that this was now my home, my village, and they were now my "family". I told them that I had been praying for them and that God had answered my prayers by helping me to reach them. I have no words to describe the bridge that this day built between my heart and theirs. For the longest time, I stood in the field in the middle of the shelter camp they had erected and people came to hug me. It started with a young woman from church whose parents were the ones killed in their home. She clung to me and sobbed into my chest while I kissed the top of her head (God made me tall for a reason) and she poured out her heart to me- though much of it I couldn't hear nor understand. Then others came. They would latch on and hold tight and let me hug them. Then those would peel off and others would come. It was one of the most powerful moments of my life.

I had heard that there was only one house standing in the village (a few others were still upright but badly damaged). Somehow, I knew it was mine. And I was right. At the far edge of the village, perched on the side of the hill overlooking the valley below, I found my house standing intact and undamaged. Supplies such as rice and lentils and "group food" were being stored in it to keep it dry and safe from animals. I found my landlord, who was living above the church and whose belongings were now in the river, and begged her to take my house back. Amazingly, she wouldn't. She said that she believed it was God's plan that I live in the village and in her house. She had been praying for me and for my return, and this was my home. She said that she and her daughter would move into one of the rooms, and that the other room and kitchen would be mine. Then she hugged me fiercely and repeated, "Yo parameshwarko yojanaa chha." ("This is God's plan."). I don't know what God intends to do through me, or to me, in this village- but I firmly believe he called me there and has a plan.

Walking down the road through the village.Walking down the road through the village.

I had to return from the village that day since the team (and bus) I had come with was leaving- but the plan is to return once the aftershocks and landslides have subsided a bit, and take personal items for the people in the village. Food, a medical team, and some supplies were sent in the day after we visited, and yesterday I was able to help arrange to have much-needed tarps sent (with the help of my roommate who works with another organization here in Nepal, helping with relief efforts) so they can have shelter against the coming monsoons. It doesn't seem like enough- but they are such strong, resilient, resourceful people that I know they will be okay. WE will be okay.

One last note... For all its faults, I am in love with Facebook right now. Immediately after the earthquake they devised an amazing app called "Safe Nepal". Anyone with Nepal listed as their location was flagged and people could mark them safe if they had made contact with them. I accidentally found another use. I took pictures of people in the village and posted them on Facebook when I returned home. Two of those people have Facebook accounts, and though I know they don't have any access to internet or electricity right now, I decided to tag them so that eventually they could see the pics. What I didn't consider was that since I was the first one to arrive in that village after the earthquake, no one from the outside had any idea if they were safe, or injured, or dead- and I began receiving messages from their friends and family thanking me for letting them see their family, giving them information, and also asking about others in the village, etc... Through FB I have been able to give information on when aid arrived, their status, their health, etc... and bring peace to very worried people. I love that!

Earthquake ramblings, part 2

One of the things I have learned while living in Nepal is to be patient. Well, okay- I am usually not patient, but I have learned that regardless of whether I am patient or impatient, things will work out in their own time and they will, in the end, work. That is what happened on Day 3 of trying to reach the village (Marming). The morning started out a little chaotic and with several group members vocalizing different plans and ideas for how the day should go. All I wanted was to head toward Marming, but I also had to realize that others had their own ties and their own agendas, which were no less valid than mine. That said, I was determined to do what I could to get there and knew I wouldn't stop until I had exhausted all hope. We were told by our host's family member that the road to Marming was completely covered in landslide and impassable, and that they had traveled to where we now were from that area the day before, and it had taken over 13 hours to cross that distance on foot, through the mountains. My heart sank because a 13 hour trek for a Nepali is usually double for a foreigner. Nepalis have the most amazing genetics that allow them to traverse the mountains like mountain goats. They are not only strong and have unlimited endurance, they also have incredible balance and the ability to walk on trails that none of the rest of us would consider trails. If the only route to Marming was a 13 hour footpath (for a Nepali), I wouldn't make it. That didn't stop me from insisting that we go as far as we could in that direction so that I could see, for myself, whether or not it was worth attempting. I didn't want to be reckless and I didn't want to be stupid, so if it looked impossible, I would accept that- but not until I was satisfied that I had done all I could to get there. I wouldn't be able to live with myself if I didn't do my best.

We set out with a plan to head in the direction of Bahrabise, which is the last reported village reachable by road, and then assess the  situation once we arrived. We stopped at several smaller villages en route, and set up makeshift treatment clinics. Most of the patients we saw had already been seen and treated for their larger injuries at a nearby health post or hospital, but many needed follow up care like wound cleaning, bandaging, and medication for pain or infection. We had a young Nepali physician with us, and he and I made do with the supplies we had brought with us. We laid down a tarp I had grabbed from my earthquake kit (thank you TEAM for requiring me to keep one ready) and sat the patients on that while we assessed and treated them. Though we treated several people, we were pleased with the lack of need for acute medical care. Again, things seemed to be largely under control. This was really encouraging. Of the patients I saw, one was a young girl who had an infected abrasion on her forearm. I had to scrub her wound to remove the infected tissue, which must have been very painful but she was really brave and stoic. When I was getting ready to leave, she (and about 10 of her young friends/family members) brought me a flower as a thank you. So sweet! That was the best payment, ever.
 Treating head wounds in a tent camp in Khadichaur.Treating head wounds in a tent camp in Khadichaur.

Finally, we were headed to Bahrabise. That is the village where I had planned to live while doing research in Marming, until a few weeks ago when I actually found a vacant house in Marming itself. I was shocked at the damage there. In Kathmandu, many of the older village-style homes and buildings made of brick or rock were destroyed in the earthquake, but many of the newer cement buildings (like my apartment) were fine. Bahrabise is a fairly large village and has quite a few cement structures, especially in the bazaar area, so I imagined that many of them would be standing. I was wrong. Being the epicenter of the 2nd aftershock, the intensity of the quake in this area must have been much stronger than it was in Kathmandu because the entire bazaar was destroyed. As we drove through the rubble, in the direction of Marming, I was beginning to lose hope that I would get much further down the road or that I would find many people alive in Marming if I did get there. We parked at the far edge of town, near a police outpost, and looked down the highway toward Marming. Several massive landslides could be seen and from the angle I was looking, it appeared that the highway was buried underneath. Intending to ask the police about the situation, we headed for the police outpost and one of the people on our team saw someone they knew from the area- and he was with a group standing by the "Last Resort" bus- which is an adventure camp located at the foot of the hill below Marming. He said that the road had been cleared until a few kilometers before the camp and that he was leading a group to Marming to assess the damage and the needs. Praise God!! I asked if I could join them, and 2 minutes later I was bouncing down the road toward my village.

That trip was the scariest of my life. Not just the part on foot, which we'll get to, but the ride. Five minutes down the road, we had to stop. 2 large front loaders were digging bodies out from beneath a huge landslide, and people were wrapping them in plastic and laying them by the side of the road near our bus. We had to wait for about an hour, all the while looking up at the steep hills above us and praying that the ground held firm. As we finally made our way past, and down the road, the reality of the enormity of this disaster began to sink in. Boulders the size of trucks littered the road. The usually green, lush hills were brown where the earth had given way and everything slid off the mountainside and either onto the road or into the river below. Trees were toppled and houses were nothing but piles of stone or brick. In most places, people crouched by these piles, not sure where to go or what to do- everything they owned (and perhaps people they loved) were trapped underneath. It was really sobering. For months I have said that if there is ever an earthquake, I hoped I'd be in the village and not in Kathmandu with the tall, crowded buildings. I was wrong.

We made it by bus until about 2Km before the village, where we had to stop and proceed on foot. In that 2 kilometers, there were 8 or 10 huge rock falls/boulder fields. The ground in this area is full of shale and it had sheared off in massive quantities and covered the road (and anyone on the road) when it fell. We had to climb over these which was daunting at best. I was particulary scared, for several reasons. One, I am scared of heights. The higher I climbed on these piles, the scarier they became. Second, there remains a possibility that the "slide" will again slide out from under you so I couldn't relax until I was safely up and over... but safely up and over isn't exactly true, either. New rock falls and landslides were happening all over the district and there was a very real possibility that another could come down while we were underneath. We passed a car that had been on the road during the quake and was literally smashed flat. Completely flat. The person/people inside had thankfully been removed before we passed by. Right before reaching Marming, the smell of death was strong and we were informed by the locals that 40 people had tried to flee via the road after the first earthquake, and were covered in landslide during the second one. Twenty people were killed and most were still trapped underneath. Please know that we were being safe, though. As desperately as I wanted to reach Marming, I wasn't going to walk knowingly into a death trap. Each step was measured, each route was assessed, and each phase was analyzed to determine if we should keep going. I wore a "Bob the Builder"-type hard had to protect against falling rocks. It wasn't without risk but it wasn't crazy. And someone had to reach them. After about 40 minutes on the road (and days of agonizing), we did it. We reached Marming.

(stay tuned for part 3)
Rock fall en route to Marming. That is a car in the center.Rock fall en route to Marming. That is a car in the center.
Aftermath of a landslide on the road leading from Marming.Aftermath of a landslide on the road leading from Marming.

Earthquake Ramblings, part 1

It was a Saturday like any other here in Kathmandu. It was around noon and we were in church,  1/2 way through the sermon, when the lights suddenly went out. That is nothing unusual in Nepal, where scheduled power outages are a daily occurrence- but somehow this was different. There was a sound and a vibration that came with it that felt...wrong. My pastor's eyes opened wide and he paused, and all of a sudden I stood up and yelled, "Earthquake!", and we rushed for the door. It was like trying to run in a boat on the crashing waves. The chairs and the people were crashing from side to side. Some of us made it out but I couldn't stay on my feet and was thrown to the floor against the wall closest to the door. The woman next to me grabbed onto me, crying, and said, "Please pray with me." So I did. I prayed for us, and for Nepal, and for safety, and salvation. I prayed for mercy, and protection, and the chance to see another day dawn. I have always known God has a sense of humor, but that day he outdid himself. I had spent the better part of the morning furious with a member of our church for something she was doing that I disagreed with from a cultural sensitivity perspective, and this is whose arms god thrust me into in what was possibly the last moments of my life. Funny how an earthquake can put things in perspective! After what seemed like eternity (but was closer to 2 minutes), the movement stopped and I rushed outside and up the stairs to join the others in the small grassy area in front of our church. Our buildings and those next to us were still standing but we lost a brick wall along our property and large cracks could be seen in other buildings and walls around us. A few minutes later, the first aftershock hit. I think that may have scared me more than the actual earthquake because I now knew what was coming. The aftershocks were frequent and scary, and eventually we moved to a bigger field behind our building and huddled together as a community to comfort each other and wait to see what was to come.

When the aftershocks calmed and we thought it was safe, we made our way toward a teammate's house. The damage was sporadic- some areas had a lot of collapsed walls, broken glass, etc... and others looked untouched. Nearly every brick wall/fence between church and our apartment had toppled onto the walkways and streets- but once we turned onto our lane, we didn't see any damage either to the houses or the surrounding walls. We went into our apartment with a 2 minute time limit, to grab what we'd need for a night away as well as items out of our earthquake kit, and food to share with our community. For the first time since moving to Nepal, I kept my shoes on while in the house. That isn't done here, but for 3 days none of us removed our shoes. For the first 2, we even slept in them. Our house looked like it had been ransacked by looters, with things strewn all over the house, bookshelves upended, and water covering the floor in the kitchen where the fridge had defrosted- but nothing was broken and there was no damage to the house. We grabbed our stuff, and as another strong aftershock rocked the house, we ran.

En route to my teammate's house, I was called by a fellow healthcare worker and told that my help was needed at one of the Kathmandu hospitals. Since all transportation was halted, I made my way by foot. The further I got from my neighborhood, the more damage I saw. The oldest buildings fared the worst. At the hospital, it looked like chaos, but was actually pretty well under control. Hundreds of injured patients were waiting, and hundreds more arriving, but there was a system in place that was treating those that needed it the most, and I was helping monitor and comfort those whose wait would be indefinite due to limited resources and equipment availability. I managed a couple of IVs, took vital signs, and helped upgrade a couple of fairly critical patients so that they were moved to the front of the waiting list and seen quickly, but my biggest contribution wasn't medical- I think it was in providing some comfort and compassion to people who had just lived through the most traumatic moment of their lives. Anyone could have done what I did that day- so I felt blessed to be the one given that opportunity. My teammate Steve had a hero moment, in my eyes. We were brought a young boy of about 3 or 4 years old who had been rescued from the rubble and brought to the hospital, but without his parents or anyone that knew him. He was mostly unhurt, but understandably terrified. Steve spoke with him and the boy told him the area that he lived and that he could find his house- so Steve scooped him up, put him on his motorcycle, and drove to his neighborhood in search of his house so that he could be reunited with his family.

After a long day, we all gathered at a friend's one story house to fellowship and sleep en masse. I am not sure if there is safety in numbers, but there is comfort in numbers. My roommate Carly and I slept outside on the ground, in sleeping bags. We didn't get much sleep, as every half hour, we could feel the rumble of tremors and with the stronger ones, we would jump up and run toward the opposite side of the yard to an agreed upon "safe place". When the rain started, we went in to sleep on the concrete floor of the kitchen. It was a long night.

The next day, we remained gathered and vigilant. The aftershocks continued to come, but with less frequency and less magnitude than before- until around noon, when the 2nd earthquake hit. This was a 6.7 with the epicenter near my village in Sindhupalchok. It was another long one- over a minute- but felt very different than the first. A group of us ran from the house and huddled on the lawn as the earth flowed, or slid, or undulated (we haven't been able to agree on a word) side to side. It was a surreal, almost nauseating feeling and after that, every little vibration sent us running for the door. One of my friends had to change the settings on her mobile because every time her phone vibrated she jumped, and panicked.

After another night on the floor in the "flop house", some of us decided that we couldn't sit around and do nothing, so we grabbed some medical supplies and work gloves, and headed to an area called Patan Durbar Square, which was badly hit, to see if we could help in any way. We were directed to a tent camp set up outside the square and were able to treat a few patients there, who had injuries caused by the quake. Our contact at that camp then took us to several other tent camps, as well, to see if we were needed. We treated a handful of abrasions, lacerations, and orthopedic injuries, but for the most part people were either healthy, or had already sought treatment at the hospital. Like at the hospital, things were pretty much under control and in a "hurry up and wait" mode. We felt glad to be able to help in a small way, but thrilled that we weren't needed in a big way.

Day/night #4 was spent at my house. I figured it needed to happen sooner or later, and the mess in my house wasn't going to clean itself. After a couple of hours of cleaning, I began to get a little overwhelmed- not just with the cleaning, but with processing what had happened and what was happening all over our country. I took a break and went outside with my guitar to play a little and unwind. As I started to play, they came. Old people, young people, children... they flocked in from around the neighborhood and stood outside my gate, peering over and listening. I don't have very many songs memorized on the guitar so I made things up. I sang about God's love for us and how, though the mountains shake and the earth trembles, we don't have to be afraid. I just sang and sang and sang. After I had exhausted myself and my fingers were sore, I stopped and smiled. One of the men who had been standing silently said to me, "You have brought solace to our hearts." Wow.

News started pouring in about the devastation in certain parts of Nepal. Though there were many pockets of devastation in Kathmandu, there were still more that were largely unaffected in terms of buildings collapsing and injuries/deaths- so in our area it was easy to feel like everything was okay. Almost like it didn't happen. The reports of other areas, though, were telling a different story. One of the areas hardest hit was Sindhupalchok, which is the district where the village that I am planning to do research in (Marming) is located. The epicenter of the second earthquake hit near Marming and reports were coming back that all the houses were destroyed, some of the people had died, they needed food, shelter, and medical assistance, and that no one had reached them since the quake. All phone towers were down and there was no electricity, so no one could call in or out. The reports came from staff at a nearby adventure resort who had trekked their tourists out on foot to a point where they could be rescued by helicopter. As soon as I heard the news that Marming was devastated, a fire was lit in me that I knew wouldn't be extinguished until I reached them. I have felt this before- the first time being after hurricane Katrina, when I felt desperate to go and help. This time was stronger- I have come to know and care about many members of this community during my previous visits and I was desperate to know if they were okay. I was also desperate to let them know that they hadn't been forgotten and someone cared enough about them to try to help them. That was easier said than done. For nearly 24 hours, I followed every lead I could to try to arrange transport to Marming. Reports of massive landslides blocking the road made vehicle travel unlikely, so I tried getting a spot on a helicopter bound for the village. The first day, storms grounded the helicopter. On the second day, it was canceled- reportedly due to bureaucracy. Day two brought plan B, which was to join another volunteer team headed to that district and try to convince them to help me reach Marming. After a frustrating day of Nepali-style processes and planning beginning at 8:45am, we finally hit the road at about 3pm. Sitting in the back of a rusty old pickup truck, in the rain, wearing a poncho and a hard hat to protect against falling rocks, i was finally content.

We were amazed at the devastation as we left the Kathmandu valley. The further we got, the worse the damage. In some towns and villages, the loss was nearly total and you could smell death in the air. Houses were now piles of brick and stone, and makeshift shelters and tent camps were erected in open spaces. We stopped at a few places to assess needs and damage, and to provide minor first aid. We arrived in Kharichaur after dark, and went to the "home" of one of our team member's families. Their house was destroyed, too, so we crammed 7 of us into their already crowded tarp shelter, and they fed us. That is Nepali hospitality. They lost everything, yet they were helping us help others. We slept in rows, in sleeping bags, on the dirt floor of the shelter- but it felt like home.

(stay tuned for part 2)
The Nepalis are very resourceful and this held true when making shelters

Friday, July 11, 2014

PhotoStory- the first 6 months.

July 7th- at the Kathmandu Central Zoo, doing a community language assignment on plants and wild animals

With Dolma- my friend and language helper

Chapagaun, Nepal- site of the Ropain rice planting festival

Planting rice during Ropain. Can you find the big blonde wearing the Sunflower Outdoor and Bike shirt? ;)
My language teacher, Sama, and her two sons at their "Sacred Thread" ceremony- a Brahmin male's coming of age
It's official!
Me on campus at the Kathmandu University Department of Music- in Bhaktapur, Nepal
A fun weekend spent in Chitwan National Park with friends. You haven't lived 'til you've ridden an elephant into the jungle and spotted two rhinos lounging in the lake to cool off, and a deer carcass in the tree above you from a leopard snack!
Sweet girls at the safe house that I visit weekly- everyone loves a birthday party.
Grocery shopping is a little different here...
My first invitation to dinner at a Nepali family's home
In my living room. Small, but cozy!
View from our roof in January. Believe it or not, now (July) you can't even see the Himalayas!
Weekend homestay in the village of Lele
Footbridge near my home
Market near Kathmandu Durbar Square

At swayambunath (the monkey temple)- a combo hindu temple/buddhist stupa.
In nepal, it is 57 years ahead (using the lunar calendar)...so it is now the year 2071. HAPPY NEW YEAR!!

Saturday, March 29, 2014

don't tell me you love me

Today I had one of the most interesting experiences of my life, and it came in the somewhat mundane guise of an invitation to a friend's house for "a meal". What makes this invite different is the fact that it was an invitation to a Nepali family's home. I have never been to a "real" Nepali's house for more than a few minutes, and this family had never entertained a bideshi (foreigner) before. Add to that the fact that I speak very limited Nepali and only one of the 6 family members speaks even more limited English, and you have a recipe for interesting. I am forever grateful for the insight of a couple of American friends who came to Nepal about 8 months before I did, because they gave a few tips on what to expect and that kept me from looking like a complete idiot. Partial idiot? Well, duh.

Tip #1. "You will be the entertainment." They were spot on. My friend and her husband met me at a local intersection at 9am and we walked the rest of the way together. They live in a quiet little area about 2 miles from my flat. When we arrived, I was introduced to the entire family, and then led into my friend's bedroom where we sat on the bed. There were actually 2 beds, so I sat on the one closest to the door. Then they took out a camera and all the family members took turns sitting on the bed with me, posing for photos, while the rest sat on the other bed watching. They rotated through all sorts of combinations before we were through!

Tip #2. "They will feed you. A LOT. Plan to eat several meals while you are there, and chances are you will be the only one eating and they will gather around to watch you eat." Notice the chiyaa (tea) and plate of cookies in the picture. Those were mine. I offered to share but was told that they were mine and only mine...and every time I ate one or two, "mama" would replace them. I asked where their chiyaa was, and my friend's husband told me, "We are poor family. We have only 4 cups." And there were 6 family members, plus me. I was both humbled and very grateful for the amazing hospitality. All day long, they fed me first and fully- making sure I had enough before eating themselves. I had to be careful not to eat too quickly or clean my plate because as soon as I did, more food would appear- and in Nepal it is an insult to leave food. It is a delicate balance that I haven't quite figured out, yet.

After chiyaa and cookies, they pulled out photo albums from their wedding, as well as family photos, and we went through each of those. I got lots of practice asking questions and saying "family words". I'm happy that was lesson #2 in my language learning! After photo sharing time, we went out to the living room where we again sat on the beds (that double as sofas during the day) and they took turns having pictures taken with me.

At this point, it is about 10:30am and we are doing our best to make small talk (remember the "I don't speak much Nepali and only one of them speaks a little bit of English" thing). It is really good practice, though we are probably only getting the true meaning of about 25% of the conversation. Just when things threatened to get awkward, here came meal# 2.

The small individual plates of food in front of each person is their lunch. The table-full of food in the foreground is MY lunch. OMG!!!! Let me remind you that it is rude not to eat what is put in front of you. So, after chiyaa and about 10 cookies, I then ate a huge plate of rice, fried chicken meat, curried chicken meat, lentil soup, seasoned potatoes, greens, and a spicy "pickle" dish. They tried to give me more but I politely declined.

If I was in America, I would have expected that the visit was over- but fortunately, I had been clued in to Tip#3... "This will be an all day affair." After lunch, I was told that at 2pm, my friend's sister-in-law was coming and I was expected to be there when she arrived. They also threw me for a small loop when they asked me if I was spending the night! I managed to (I think) politely decline, but I was told that next visit would be an overnight. WOW- all day affair means all day affair. Note to self! Since we had lots of time between lunch and 2pm, I had a chance to experience Nepali "day to day" living:

Doing the lunch dishes outside
Bath on the roof, in the sun!

I wasn't allowed to help with any of these things, though I did offer. Instead, they pulled up a small stool and I just watched as they went about their daily chores. It was actually pretty intimate and I was honored to have the
chance to be a part of it.

Watering the garden with the wash water

After chores, I took my friend, her husband, and his brother to my house to get my photo albums and pictures of my family (this seemed like a good way to fill an hour or so and to extend a little hospitality of my own).
Picture time AGAIN! This time, in front of my garden.

                                                                                                                                                                                      Then we walked back to their house, where they insisted I lay down on one of the beds in the living room- and they took a picture of it. LOL. About 20 minutes later, I was fed more chiyaa, sliced apples, and coconut...and we played a board game. I have no idea the rules or what the object was, but I kept rolling the dice when it was my turn, and they kept moving my pieces around the board until they told me I won. Wooohoooo! 

At around 4pm, I told them that I needed to be going, so guess what? Another snack. This time chiyaa, a stack of white toast, and puffed rice. I nearly waddled out the door. In the spirit of true Nepali-style hospitality, they didn't allow me to go alone. I was walked to the intersection by my friend, her husband, and his younger brother. I had to promise to come back for an overnight, as well as to accompany my friend to her mother's village on one of her next trips to visit.

I learned a lot more than I bargained for. Probably the best lesson was that words are the least powerful way to express love. Today, we proved that.

Monday, November 18, 2013

today i learned how easy it would be to drown

in all fairness, i knew better. funny, but i say that like it is a defense. does it make something more or less idiotic if i recognize the dangers and do it anyway? i guess more idiotic, but at least you know i was being observant. 

yesterday was going to be the last paddle of the season. blair and i originally had plans to kayak at perry lake, but the weather wasn't cooperating. it was warm in the sun (upper 60s), but super windy. i don't mean a little windy. i mean windy in a kansas way. 20mph wind with gusts up to 40+mph. so windy that we had a change of plans. blair suggested, and i agreed, that we paddle the kansas river instead, in hopes that the river banks would provide some protection. we dropped off the van in eudora (about 10 miles downriver as the crow flies), picked up a couple friends, and headed back to the boat ramp in north lawrence. 

the riverbanks didn't seem to be playing along with our plan. if anything, i think they created a wind tunnel. the water was rough in a way that i'd never seen the river. i had seen the water levels high, swelling against the banks, and i had seen the water speed fast, rushing at breakneck speed toward the east...but i had never seen breakers and foot high whitecaps cover the surface, all the way across the river. we were all set to get in when the alarm bells went off in my head. we didn't have life vests. the two friends we were paddling with had brought theirs, but ours were in the van all the way upriver in eudora. i jokingly mentioned that if we tipped, they'd have to save us since they were the only ones with vests. they headed out on the water and it was an immediate struggle but they managed to start making their way down current. i got in my boat next and blair launched me. i didn't realize right away that i was in trouble, but i did recognize that this was no ordinary paddle. the current was pulling my boat straight across the river and i couldn't get my nose pointed downstream. i literally couldn't do it. i ruddered on the left and did wide c strokes on the right and nothing. i was sideways to the waves and they were breaking over the side and top of my boat. i was pitching side to side as they hit. i tried putting more arm into it, and tried to force my nose around, but it kept pulling back to the right. at one point, i felt like my boat was beginning to turn around backward so i gave a really hard thrust to the right...

and i went over, capsizing my kayak and plunging into the frigid kaw.

the water was so cold that it immediately took my breath away, like i had been kicked in the chest. i turned my head toward the boat ramp and saw that blair was preparing to get into his boat, and hadn't seen me flip. i tried to call his name, but barely any sound came out- mostly because i couldn't get a decent breath in. my clothes were quickly soaking up water and getting heavier, trying to drag me under. my boat was floating away, my paddle in the opposite direction, and i couldn't touch the bottom. with the weight of my clothes and the stiffening of my muscles from the cold, i didn't think i could swim to shore. i waved an arm and caught blair's attention, and then i put all my energy into catching up with my boat and clamoring up the side, until my chest was draped over the top like a shipwreck survivor...and i guess, in fact, i was. blair caught up with me as fast as he could and we tried to figure out the best move that wouldn't include him getting in the water, as well. i tried to kick paddle toward shore but the current was moving me more downstream than across. the longer i was in the water, the colder and weaker i got. finally, i drifted/kicked/maneuvered to an area just shallow enough that i could touch bottom. i slowly walked through the chest deep water, pushing the capsized kayak in front of me, until i reached the bank, and blair hauled us both out. though my actual time in the water was under 10 minutes, it felt like eternity (as little as one hour in 50 degree water can cause death due to hypothermia).

this is the part of the story where i end up shirtless at the kansas river for the second time in my life. some of you remember the story of the first. we had shirts in our dry bag so i was at least able to get dry on top- but not on the bottom. i have never been that cold in my life. i decided not to attempt to finish the paddle- the river had shown her superior strength and i thought it unwise to test her. blair, however, had to continue on since our friends had drifted a half mile or so downstream and were unable to make it back to us. we secured the boat on the shore, and i watched while he struggled against the waves and wind, making sure he didn't dunk like i had. when he had made it most of the way there, i started my hike along the bank back toward the trail head and parking lot. god was smiling on me, and just as i came up out of the river, 4 mountain bikers rode off the trail- one of them, a friend. in less than 5 minutes i was loaded into a warm car and driven to shaun's... wet, cold, humbled, and grateful for the chance to learn from this lesson...

...and to heed those pesky alarm bells in my head.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

i can finally do anything a guy can do. well, almost.

i love being a woman. i am not one of those people that daydreams about how great life would be if only i was born into different circumstances. i don't think my life is unfair, and i don't wish that i had been born someone else- especially a male someone else. i really love being a woman. i think we get away with things guys don't get away with (like going 90 mph in a 40 on a country road when we're 21), get bonuses they don't get (like a free $2000 roof upgrade, or an insulated garage door for the cruddy non-insulated door price), and can often charm/wriggle/manipulate our way into or out of a ridiculous plethora of situations that men can't. sorry guys- that's just life, and i love every girly minute of it. the only real advantage that i see in being a guy is the ability to pee standing up. 

today, i thought i had that one all figured out. thanks to amazon.com, i had the promise of being the ultimate man-girl. (enter stage left) the "extreme shewee. the portable urinating device for women." oh yeah....

so let's get this straight. i did not purchase the shewee to be more like a guy, or even to add one more advantage to this already blessed life i live. that was just going to be a bonus. i ordered it because i have had 3 knee surgeries and am moving to a country where all of the "toilets" are basically squat holes in the ground...which, of course, are surrounded by all the stuff that missed the squat holes when the other people were using them. i actually cannot get up from a full squat without pushing up off the ground, and i do not want to touch what i have seen on the ground in nepal. the shewee seemed like a no-brainer. if i can pee standing up, i will eliminate about 90% of the elimination squatting each and every day. woohoooooo! oh, what an interesting life i lead. 

the shewee kind of came with instructions. unfortunately, i didn't read them until after attempt #1. to be fair, they mostly said things like "adjust the amount of pressure you apply and the angle based on your body." well duh. what i didn't realize is that the time to experiment with the amount of pressure and the angle is not DURING attempt #1. it is kind of like learning to drive a car as a teenager- when your reflexes are fast, but you don't know what to do with them so you compensate, and then overcompensate, until you've crashed and burned. or dripped and drizzled. oh yike. i won't give any more details (you are very welcome) except to say that after i threw my jeans and the bathroom rug into the washer, i read those brief little instructions and noted the ones that say, "practice in the shower to find the position that is best for you." that reads like a proverb to me, now. note to self for attempt #2!

so now i can finally do anything a guy can do. well, almost.