Thursday, December 22, 2011

intern takes a trip: nepal part 4

namaste!! so, guess what that little mountain in the photo above is? the highest one with the balding top on the left? yep, that is mt. everest! yep, the mount everest! the day after completing my habitat build i decided to hop on a tiny little 19 seat plane to check this beauty out! it was recommended that i take the earliest morning flight out of the kathmandu airport for the best view. the earliest flight was scheduled to depart at 6:50 am yet it didn't actually depart until 10:30 due to fog.  during my almost 5 hours at the airport i spent some time chatting with some nice guys from ohio waiting for their flight to lulka so that they could begin their 18 day trek to mt. everest basecamp. somehow i didn't feel as cool about flying up to see it when chatting with them about my 1 hour roundtrip journey but i felt slightly redeemed in their eyes when i mentioned i was exhausted from having built houses in a remote village for the last 2 weeks. oh, and be warned, if you do book a flight like this be sure to not have reserved a seat in row 3, right smack over the wing. sadly the flyer chat website doesn't really cover the everest mountain flights because if they did it would most definitely be deemed undesirable! at least the flight attendant took pity on me and allowed me one extra visit to the cockpit for viewing and that was pretty cool!
view from the cockpit
oh, and you may have heard about a smidge of political unrest in nepal these last few days... well, shortly after returning from my mt. everest adventure my roommate and i decided to grab lunch and sightsee a bit in kathmandu (we both happened to be staying in nepal a few days following to build).  so, we're having lunch in a restaurant in town and all of a sudden they start closing the metal gates over the windows and doors in the restaurant. it is at this point that we notice all of the shops and restaurants on the street doing the same thing.  when we asked what the deal was we were told that there was a strike.  i didn't think much of that but my roomie is from south africa and used to dealing with unrest and decided then and there that we must pay the check and leave immediately to return to the safety of our hotel.  my initial response was "really? are you sure you're not overreacting? our food just arrived..."  well, needless to say i followed her lead and hightailed it out of there. it was nuts how empty the streets became so quickly (see photo above).  kathmandu is normally full of crazy chaos and crowds of people and motorbikes and this was pretty eerie.  while hanging out at the hotel we were receiving emails from other friends from our habitat team who got caught up in the strike madness, witnessed burning tires in the streets, etc. and their taxis couldn't make it through the mess to get them to the airports. we even heard that a canadian habitat team's bus was stoned by protesters on their way from their airport.  well, i was thankful for having my quick thinking south african roommate at that point! and my dad, who very kindly sent me the state department's warnings on traveling to nepal prior to my trip, is probably cringing as he reads this... for the next couple of days there was a lot of police presence and another strike was scheduled but we were totally fine. just hanging out at our hotel... during the strike time we met this sweet gal from australia who just graduated from highschool and was traveling in nepal on her own to see red pandas (i had no idea there was such a thing!) before starting college this february.  the three of us hired a car and driver one day to head out of kathmandu and see some very cool sites.

oh and you may be wondering if my bad hotel karma has improved... well, our latest hotel in kathmandu has heat! YAY! you don't understand, it is freezing here at night and i have been sleeping in many layers as none of the habitat for humanity chosen hotels had heat! so, anyhow, this hotel that i found online got lots of great trip advisor reviews and is the best we have stayed in here in nepal.  of course, there were a few room changes to get to the perfect room (the first room had an electrical wiring problem that smelled horrible, the second came with someone's used socks tucked between the bed covers and the 3rd had no shower) but the owners were awesome and very accomodating and we love the 4th room they moved us too! yay!
so i have had a lot of fun taking photos on this trip.  so many cool and interesting things to see... thought i would share some of them with you.  my roomie and i had a mini photo contest going since day one when she snapped the below pic that we dubbed "child in gold dancing with pidgeons" and we decided that was the one to beat.... every time either of us took a cool photo we had to ask if it was cooler than that one...

loving this pic that i took of a guy getting spruced up and shaved at a barber shop in the middle of the street....

and i am going to out myself now... i have a bit of an obsession with taking photos of monks. i don't know why but i just love their look. my favorite are the ones in orange.  so whenever i see one on the streets here the monk stalker in me comes out! and it seems kind of wrong to ask them to take a photo so i am trying to be covert about it..

monk in white
 orange monk alert!
 loving all these buddhist prayer wheels...
and candles and offerings at the temples
and brightly colored buddhist prayer flags...
and the ladies in the brightly colored outfits at the hindu temples...

statues at hindu temples with offerings...

doorways are another photo obsession..
and who knew cotton candy was so big in nepal?
cows, cows and more cows roaming the streets (yep, i see them everytime i visit family in iowa but for whatever reason they are not nearly as exciting as when they are parked on the street next to a motorbike)....

this sign really stood out to us when we saw it every day from our bus traveling to and from the village we were building in!

as you read this i am off to a tiny kingdom set in the himalayas between india and tibet called bhutan. i can't wait to arrive because i hear it is a place like no other! and it is known as the happiest place on earth which is pretty groovy in my book!

for those of you just tuning in and wanting to know more about me you can by going here... and if you didn't already know... i created a facebook page... check it out and "like" it! and follow me on twitter and you can even follow my boards on pinterest too!

until next time...

the (formerly almost) 40 year old intern

Monday, December 19, 2011

intern takes a trip: nepal part 3

namaste again from nepal! well, i am now officially finished with the habitat for humanity build part of my trip to nepal. this has been the toughest, most physically challenging 2 weeks of my life.  i thought i was fit before i came here but i had no idea what building a home the old fashioned way in a developing country entailed.  in l.a. there are all of these fancy bootcamp classes and gyms...  i think habitat should seriously consider creating their own workout regimen... a full body workout with a great physique and a few houses to show for it!  the tools we used were completely old school - shovels, picks, spades, a screen for sifting sand and good old fashioned arms for lifting. the fact that 4 families now have homes because of our hard work almost makes the nasty hotels worthwhile. my habitat team was really awesome and completely made up for the fact that our leaders were so very far from it.  it was very cool how we worked together in harmony so quickly after having only just met.
the outhouse from hell
 such a crazy experience building in this tiny little very poor village with children and animals constantly underfoot.  i was nervous about the kids always picking up the tools and running around with them and was completely convinced that someone was going to be seriously injured from that...  little did i know that a visit to the outhouse from hell was going to be a cause of a head injury on my part.  yep, you read that correctly. i walked straight into a very low door frame and have a massive bump on my forehead to show for it. leave it to me to injure myself during a visit to the bathroom.  we did not have adequate first aid supplies for this trip (only one cold pack brought by the leaders for 14 people during a two week period and that was used by the leader herself on day 2) so it was several hours before i had something cold to press onto it and even days later i have a pretty good knot...  now when people ask about the big bump on my head i think i am going to have to have a much better story prepared than i hit my head exiting the bathroom in a tiny village in nepal. we'll keep that little tidbit between us...
yep, my floppy hat may have had something to do with why i didn't see the door

kids "helping"
taking tools from kids

the families we were building for are from the very poorest caste in nepal. we learned that their last names determine what class/caste they and their children will be a part of for the rest of their lives.  wow.  i have to say that bit of knowledge really affected me, especially going through this massive career change at this point in my life.  i cannot imagine my place in life being determined before my birth.  i am so very lucky to live in a culture where you can be rewarded well for hard work and overcome odds no matter what social class you may have been born into.  it is unlikely that any of these children will be able to rise above their current level of poverty and that is really heartbreaking.  one of the guys in our group (part of the cute l.a. married couple) really bonded with this 14 year old boy who has dreams of becoming an architect someday. i hope they are able to stay in touch because i  know that this guy could be an amazing mentor to the boy with his positive attitude and strong work ethic.  before we left he wrote the boy an inspiring letter about the importance of staying in school (his parents work very hard in order to pay the expensive 70 rupees -less than $1- per month for his education) including his contact info.  without postal service to the village and access to a computer for email it may be tricky to stay in touch but fingers crossed...
the village band
rockin our nepali style dance moves
on our last day we celebrated with the villagers and had a dedication ceremony for the 3 houses/rooms that were built (the other projects were renovations to existing homes).  it was a super cold and foggy morning but the villagers welcomed us with joyful music from their makeshift band and we were each treated to flower garlands around our necks, red tikka dots added to our foreheads, and other small tokens of their appreciation. we danced with them nepali style (lots of jumping from foot to foot while sweeping our arms and flicking our wrists) and then we walked from house to house and we thanked them for the wonderful experience and they expressed their gratitude for our hard work  (for the last two weeks we had no idea how they felt about us being there and if they thought we were helpful or a hindrance and when we would ask questions like "is this ok?" we would often get a nepali style sideways head bob in return that either meant yes, no or maybe - they don't nod yes or no like we do so the sideways bob is often a mystery).  it was such an amazing moment and i cried a little when i saw just how much they really appreciated us, felt their emotions and saw the tears in mongole's eyes.  one thing about having such a huge gap in communication with differences in language is that a lot of moments are lost in translation (especially since we were working this entire time without translators) but when you look into another person's eyes and see the emotion you can't help but understand.
my building team with mongole and his family in front of their new house
during the building process the budding interior designer in me really wanted to make the houses "pretty" and at the very least put some photo collages together on each of the homeowner's walls.  every time we took someone's photo they were so excited to see them. these people don't have any photos of themselves and i am doubtful they even have a mirror to view themselves in. so, a lot of us wanted to print our photos to give them as gifts while we were there but the u.s. habitat leaders said we were not allowed to. then my roommate had the great idea of giving each of the homeowners a framed photo of our group as a parting gift and thankfully the habitat leaders allowed us to make this small gesture. and when presented to the villagers they really seemed to like them.
my habitat team with the villagers

so i thought it would be fun to show you guys the process of building a home in nepal with photos from our build... when we signed up for the trip we were told we were building with bamboo. turns out it was cement.  yeah, i can see how the leaders might mix those materials up since they are so similar.  the running joke among the group of us was "so when does the bamboo come in?"  so, please excuse what may seem like an overuse of the word "rocks" and "cement" but let me tell you, those darn rocks and cement mixing were a part of my day every day for the last 2 weeks.....

step 1 - dig a hole. a really big and deep hole around the perimeter... note that it is dirt mixed with heavy jagged rocks that you are digging through! (photo below of my south african roommate...)

step 2 - fill it with rocks and mix some cement by hand and help the mason pick and place the rocks for the perimeter base foundation.  and yep, we were moving many of the rocks we dug out back to the place they just were!
mixing cement and mortar over and over again...
step 3 - pass the cement blocks and sift rocks from the gravel to mix the mortar for the blocks
how to sift...

step 5 - check to be sure it is level

step 6 - when you have your door frame in place add some cow poo, ribbons, and a coin for luck with a little hindu blessing

step 7 -  fill the floor with rocks and then mix some cement to cover the rocks and then smooth with a long wooden stick

step 8 - add some poles to place the tin roof on and then rocks and cement blocks on top to weigh it down
bamboo scaffolding used at one of the houses

taking a break from lifting blocks onto the roof

step 9 - celebrate with the village and dance for joy when done (like my main man mongole!)

this is the biggest of the 3 houses we completed

i am so grateful to have had this experience but i'm not gonna lie, if i don't lift another big rock or cement block for quite a while i will be just fine with that...  and advice to anyone thinking of joining one of these habitat for humanity global village teams, be sure to really interview your team leaders before the trip.  my team and i agreed that we really lucked out that we had such an amazing team so the experience was awesome and once in a lifetime despite the very lacking leadership.  this is one unforgettable experience that i am truly glad to have been a part of! and i have met some very cool people from all over that i know i will stay in touch with including a groovy roommate that i was lucky to be matched with.  it is nuts to be living in close quarters 24/7 in a developing country with someone you have only just met.  bonus is that she lived through those crazy hotel experiences with me and knows i am in no way exaggerating just how bad they were! and she and i laughed and joked our way through it!
my shoes on the last day of the build
relaxing next to the toilet with a view
 for those of you just tuning in and wanting to know more about me you can by going here... and if you didn't already know... i created a facebook page... check it out and "like" it! and follow me on twitter and you can even follow my boards on pinterest too!

until next time...

the (formerly almost) 40 year old intern

Friday, December 16, 2011

intern takes a trip: nepal part 2

i can't believe i have been here in nepal for almost 2 weeks already!  well, i am happy to report that i am still alive after my stomach issues! and i had an amazing weekend with my team... we took charge and planned a trip to a place called sarangkot after we read that it was an amazing place to view the sunrise and sunset... we were all dying to see the snow capped himalayas and so far we hadn't seen them at all because it is so darn foggy/hazy here in pokhara... so we booked rooms at a place there called the super view motel.... we heard it was much colder there than in pokhara so for the one night i decided to bring every stitch of polar fleece i packed along with my long-johns in my suitcase rather than just a small overnight bag. what i hadn't anticipated was a long journey up some jagged stone stairs in order to get  the massive hill to our hotel from the stairs. thankfully i hired a porter for the job!

paragliding near our hotel in sarangkot
see those stairs in the distance and that tiny building at the top of the hill? thankful for my porter!

my bad hotel karma on this trip followed me to sarangkot.... apparently it wasn't enough for the universe to bless us with nasty towels, room and shower in kathmandu, or a moldy bathroom and the seemingly constant appearance of bedding with questionable stains and no working electrical outlets in the room causing me to dry my hair in the hotel lobby in pokhara... and we have yet to encounter a hotel that has heat. the super view motel only had a super view going for it. 3 of us gals shared a room that smelled like something died in it recently and was festering.... honestly i haven't smelled anything so horrible before in my life!if you stay there do not book room number 5.... i really wasn't expecting fancy hotels on this trip but i was expecting clean...
showdown with a local during our trek

we did go for a trek that afternoon and it was interesting because this was the first time during  the trip that we encountered people approaching us and asking for money.  my favorite moment was when a knife wielding villager did so during the trek and instead of just saying no, one of our trip leaders indignantly put her hands on her hips and announced to this woman that we were on a humanitarian mission building houses for poor people and therefore should not have to give her money.  of course the woman she was saying this to spoke no english other than "money" and could probably care less about the random other people that are getting houses in another village miles away due to our efforts.. hilarious! 
very cool full moon lunar eclipse!

so, the group of us sat around a fire pit that night watching a full moon lunar eclipse!! how cool is that??? a full moon lunar eclipse with our bare eyes and no need for any sort of telescope! amazing!! we were up until very late that night (no need to rush to our rooms) drinking wine, sharing stories and listening to music from our ipods using the cool guy from maryland's speakers (my 80s birthday party mix was a hit!)... such a fun evening! the photo above is thanks to the dad of the father/daughter team from ohio.  he was able to get some really amazing photos of the eclipse with his camera and was so cool about sharing them!

and then we got up at 5:30 the next morning to trek up to a viewpoint to watch the sunrise. and guess what??? we finally got to see the himalayas when the sun started rising! it was amazing and almost made us forget the nasty hotel. and i have been wanting to see these darn snow capped mountains since my arrival but haven't been able to due to the haze! and so thankful we got up to do it because by 9 am the view of the mountains disappeared into the hazy fog....
bright colored row boats and poinsettia tree
love the banana trees!

we spent the rest of the weekend exploring other temples and sites around pokhara... there is a lake here that i spent hours walking around... loving the poinsettia trees and the very brightly colored rowboats on the lake!

oh and i had the bright idea of tucking my money and credit cards between my insoles of my shoes.   i do this for a lot of international trips and i think it is a genius idea.... well, except for when you are traveling to countries that require that you remove your shoes and leave them outside of the site you are visiting! yeah, that has happened to me at restaurants and temples here in nepal and for whatever reason i always forget that requirement until it is time to leave them in the pile of other anonymous shoes... oops...

ok, and the habitat group leaders?  well they finally loosened up a little bit... enough to let us plan our own trip to sarangkot after we nixed the nepali leaders suggested plan of sightseeing involving a refugee camp and shopping (i mean.... really??).   and we also got them to let us take turns picking  restaurants for our group dinners rather them planning buffet style planned menus of american style food for us.... baby steps but so excited to have made some progress!  and the nepali habitat leader is sort of helping more now yet still just stares and blinks a few times in response to a hard hitting question like "can you please translate what that guy just said?"  at least he replies now after approximately 5 times of us asking a question. and he still pretends to work and is usually available to jump in and grab a shovel if there is a camera present.
a game of nepali chicken!

and the bus ride to and from the site has involved a few misses of other vehicles coming down the same narrow hill....  i like to cal it nepali chicken. always a game wondering which driver will back down and let the other pass first...  at least i am happy to report that we haven't been involved in anymore hit and runs with bicyclists since the last one! phew!

so, not only is that sleep sack saving me on this trip as well as my purrell and wet ones but so is my dramamine! no way could i handle all the bumpy rides without it! 
knit hats and sun hats are my staple here in nepal

we were back on site these last couple of days and made lots of progress on the houses... oh, and the team member i mentioned that never had to visit the room with the hole in the floor? yeah, she still hasn't had to visit it.  and yep, I'm still jealous... oh, and to top it off she is one of those lucky people that doesn't have bad travel hair like i do.  when i visit humid climates like nepal i have the joy of having a blond puffball of uber frizzy  hair during the entire journey (most of my photos from this trip involve me wearing a hat)... well, not only is this gal blessed with amazing bladder control but she also looks like she has stepped off a shampoo commercial every single day. i am lucky if my hair looks half as good after a professional blowdry.   perhaps in my next life i will be as lucky?

still in the midst of many power outages and that 1996 style slow internet here so stay tuned for the next update whenever that might be....

for those of you just tuning in and wanting to know more about me you can by going here... and if you didn't already know... i created a facebook page... check it out and "like" it! and follow me on twitter and you can even follow my boards on pinterest too!

until next time...

the (formerly almost) 40 year old intern