Thursday, 17 December 2009

Nearly time to go

Hi all,

Well, my time here is nearly up - it's Friday today and I leave on Sunday. Part of me will be happy to get back to see my family and friends and a warm house and hot shower, and part of me wants to stay on and see the lodge through to opening. But at the moment it's not in a position where I can do anything really useful even were my Nepali anything like fluent, which it most certainly isn't. I have learned 24 letters of the alphabet, but as there are 36 (why do they have three different symbols for the letter S I ask myself?) and numerous half letters and contractions due to consecutive consonants etc etc, there is still a long way to go.

I returned to Kathmandu last Sunday on the tourist bus, having spent Saturday morning in a partners meeting. This consisted of writing the minutes of the last 5 meetings, and everyone signing them at least three times. I only got to sign 3 sets of minutes (including the ones on the day), having apparently been at two meetings I didn't know I was at! Anyway, they were all explained to me, and I can divulge nothing whatsoever about them. So now you know! Or don't.

Returning on the tourist bus was interesting because it was mainly full of Nepalis as it's pretty much the end of the tourist seasons here. It was also interesting as it also set me thinking about how they cover costs. My ticket, for a 120 mile, 5.5 hour journey, cost 350 Nepali rupees which is less than 3 pounds. Petrol here is about 90p a litre, so the fuel costs will be quite high, but it must be the labour costs that enable them to do it for this price. I don't know how much a bus driver gets per month (and he certainly deserves everything he gets driving on the roads here with the manic traffic all around) but I reckon it's probably about 6000 NRs a month (about 50 pounds), and there's also a bus boy who gets less. Then there's insurance (if they have it as vehicle insurance is quite a new thing here). But I reckon with labour this cheap they must still make a fair amount of profit.

The other thing to note is how careful everyone who drives is not to hit anything / one else. And it isn't as though there aren't loads of things to hit. It's amazing the number of times the bus stopped because a stray goat / duck / hen / cow had strayed on the road, and the bus boy got off to patiently usher it to the side of the road (that is, if the horn hadn't worked). That's not to say there aren't accidents - there are, particularly at night and with drivers who've had too much to drink or have a deadline to meet and are too tired. But there are relatively few accidents, probably because everyone is very mindful of what's going on around them and potential hazards they might meet.

Anyway, enough of driving. As I said, I'm now back in Kathmandu and it is very quiet here. There are very few tourists around, and the shopkeepers in Thamel seem to have given up trying to get those that there are to buy things, which makes it nice and quiet for a change.

Well, this is probably my last post for this blog. The next blog will more than likely be one from the lodge when it's up and running.

Take care of yourselves, and if I don't see / hear from any of you before then, have a lovely Christmas and New Year.

Vivienne xx

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

My Next Door Neighbour

Hi all,

Well, I'm back in Chitwan. Not doing very much with regard to the lodge, I have to admit, apart from tweaking the website and adding pictures to it etc. But Bhakta and Krishna know what they're doing and as I would only be in the way it's better that they get on with it and leave me to do the stuff I can do. At the moment I'm designing a banner for an elep
hant (as you do). There are going to be elephant races in Chitwan from 25th-27th December (or thereabouts) and Eco Wildlife Lodge is taking part even though we aren't open yet. So we need banners for the elephant to advertise ourselves. Unfortunately I won't be here to see them, but if any of you are in the area I'm sure it will be fun.

At the mome
nt I'm sitting on my verandah typing this before going into Sauraha to upload it. It's very peaceful staying here at the Parkland Hotel - lovely gardens and a nice neighbour. My neighbour comes and goes very quietly - she's often up and out way before I am and I never hear her come or go. This is quite surprising as my room is next to the elephant stable and it always amazes me that for such large animals they move so quietly. When Jill and I were walking back a couple of days ago we heard footsteps behind us as though someone was running, and when we turned round, there was an elephant looming up behind us. So we stood aside and let it get past. I don't think it would have run us over, but neither of us were prepared to take the chance.

As for the
progress of the lodge, well it's going well in parts. The rooms are now plastered and have roofs on, and the dining hall now has walls and is about to be plastered. But there's so much building going on that sometimes it's hard to get people to work. We had plasterers for a day, but then they decided they couldn't come again for five days (another job perhaps or a festival? Does this sound familiar?) so the plastering is on hold at the moment. But all the faffing around with them meant that Krishna and Bhakta couldn't go to Dumre for the slate for the bathrooms so that's still waiting to be done too. And, as a side event, there was a transport strike all day on Sunday, so no traffic could move anywhere, and there has been (still is?) a strike of the oil corporation so there have been petrol shortages. It's amazing how much ringing round goes on just to get a few litres of petrol. There is going to be a general strike starting on the day I leave (20th December) for three days, so, if the worst comes to the worst, I may have to set out before it starts (usually 9am) and spend the day at the airport as my flight doesn't leave until 9 at night (oh joy!).

So I have precisely 12 days left until I leave. It's difficult to say exactly what I've achieved during the last 3 months, but the time certainly does seem to have gone all too quickly as usual. I'm still trying to work out whether or not I can get back here for the opening of the lodge (whenever that may be), given the need to work for a living. I'd really like to as it will be an opportunity to see it all completed, and to thank all the friends who've helped us on the way (there's going to be a barbecue and drinks), and invite agencies to see it etc etc.

Well, I think that's all for now. Take care of yourselves.

Lots of love,


Tuesday, 24 November 2009


Hi all,

Well, I'm still in Kathmandu and busy (?) working on designing the lodge website - at least as busy as an old laptop with Windows 98 and practically no software at all will allow me to be. But at least I have found copies of Photoshop in internet cafes here and there, and can now show you Eco Wildlife Lodge's logo which I've been busy adapting from a photograph I took in India last year. So here it is. I think it's pretty good, but then I'm biased :-)

Other than that, I've been round the market and various shops with Bhakta and his wife, looking at curtain material (haven't seen any I like yet) and mattresses and pillows and carpets and blankets and stuff like that. Ason market is quite interesting because each area of it is devoted to different wares, so all the tv retailers are in one place, all the material sellers are in another etc etc with little street stalls selling vegetables or incense or other things in between. Which is fine if you only want to buy one thing, but if you've a lot of things to buy it can mean a lot of trailing about. It's good for comparing prices though - you just have to hop from one shop to the next!

I've also had the dreaded Asian stomach which had me snuggled down in bed for a day feeling generally under the weather, and it's still lingering a bit, though thankfully not enough to make me want to stop in bed again. As I said before, the beds where I'm staying aren't particularly comfortable and every morning I have to give my back a really good stretch to get the kinks out at the bottom.

And now from backs to banks. I know our banks want to save us from theft, but I don't think they've yet realised how incredibly difficult (and expensive) it is to 'phone them from Asia. And if you 'phone them before you go, they don't want to know. Both Jill and I have had long conversations with our respective banks trying to get them to unlock our accounts so that we could carry out transactions that we normally carry out over the internet, but which they've now put more security on so that to confirm the transaction they need to ring you up! And unsurprisingly they can't because we're not in the UK. I was reminded of this this morning because there was another unfortunate UK national who was trying to persuade his bank that he was who he said he was, and that no, they couldn't ring him up because he wasn't in the UK, and no, he didn't have his telephone banking details because he didn't use telephone banking. When I rang a bank which shall remain nameless they wanted to know how much money I had in my account (no idea), when and where I opened the account (I know where, but when is anyone's guess), and when I couldn't answer those questions they told me to go into my branch to get my internet account unlocked. So I explained for the umpteenth time that I was in Nepal and wouldn't be back until December and after many more questions they finally decided I was who I said I was and unlocked my account. I thought the whole point of an internet account was that you didn't have to go into a bank, but obviously not. Anyway, rant over for today. No doubt I will come across exactly the same problem if I want to use my debit card!

Anyway, although this all happened the week before last, I was reminded of it again today, not just by the bloke who wanted his money and was ringing his bank, but also because I went into the Himalayan Bank in Kathmandu to pick up a charger for the laptop from Bhakta's wife. It was so different from Western banking - different departments for different kinds of transactions and you take a ticket and go to the relevant counter for each. So if you have more than one transaction to carry out you might spend the whole morning there going from one department to another. Bhakta's wife, Shobhana, works in the cheque department which is where, if you want some cheques, a cheque book is put together for you while you wait (or so it appeared) and it's all written down in various ledgers. The woman who was at the counter for a cheque book while I was there signed for it with a thumb print, which made me wonder how she could issue cheques to other people if she couldn't write? Or maybe she could write and the thumb print was just some sort of security? Who knows? Something to ask Shobhana when I see her.

Well, my hour is nearly up on the internet, so I had better go. I may get the time and opportunity to post another blog before I'm back in the UK, but that depends on where I am going to be next - if I'm in Chitwan there won't be much of either!

Take care of yourselves.


Vivienne xx

Monday, 9 November 2009

Meetings, meetings, meetings

Hello all,

Jill and I have been in Nagarkot for a week. The intention was for her to spend some time in the school, and for me to spend some time in the Nagarkot Community Health Centre. In the event, due to meetings, I think we managed to spend about half a day there.

But I did enjoy my half day in the health centre and it was interesting, even though it wasn't very busy and most of the time I didn't really have a clue as to what was going on. The "in charge" (the person qualified to diagnose and dispense, even though he's not a doctor) was doing exams the day I went, so there was just me and Laxmi. Laxmi is a qualified midwife and so deals with all the pregnancy checks and contraception, though she also does diagnosis and dispensing when Begum isn't there. So I filled in the various registers whilst she did the work. Whilst I was there there were three wounds to be dressed, a case of flu, two contraceptive injections and one dispensing of the contraceptive pill. Each new case is charged 5 rupees (less than 5p) plus any medications dispensed, whilst repeat cases are charged 3 rupees. Whilst she wasn't busy, Laxmi tried to teach me some Nepali, but, like all my attempts to learn so far, very little of it has stuck.

Although the health centre wasn't very busy the day I went, a few of the meetings we had during the week were about the health centre. At the moment any pregnant women who are about to give birth have to travel 25km down a very narrow and windy road to Bhaktapur, or, if there are complications, to Kathmandu. Elissa, Jill's Dutch volunteer, has raised money from her friends and relations to buy the equipment (delivery bed, screens etc etc) to enable some of these births to take place at the Health Centre. Laxmi, after all, is a trained midwife and could cover the day shift whilst she's there, and it would just require another person to be trained to be on call at night. And before you say anything about it putting people off going to the health centre if people are in there screaming whilst the give birth, let me say that the last time we were here we stood outside the delivery room at Kathmandu Maternity Hospital, which contained 8 women giving birth, and there was hardly a sound. So we met with Begum to find out how much these things would cost, then we had another meeting with Begum and Shem Shrestha, the Chair of the Ambulance Committee, to discuss whether or not they would be able to finance the staffing of the delivery room. And, to cut two long meetings very short, Elissa has raised enough to equip the room, and they will find the money to staff it. Shem is also going to see whether or not he can get a dentist to visit Nagarkot regularily in addition to the doctors who are just re-starting their monthly visits. Although it's great that these things are happening, it does seem to be the case that we have to be there to spark everything off, even if it's a no-cost thing, and that when we go they often lapse as in the case of the monthly visits by the doctors. Still, we are channelling the delivery suite money through our friends at Natraj, and Shree Krishna, the manager at Nagarkot Cottage, will keep an eye on how everything is going for us.

We also had a couple of meetings about Shree Gadgade School, and a send-off from the school even though I hadn't been there and Jill hadn't been there very much. It would appear that they need 4 lakh rupees (400,000 rupees = 3,500 pounds) to finish the school building, mainly because they had to match the funding for the library and did this using the money the education authority had given them towards building the school. So they want us to try and raise the money for that (unlikely seeing as we've already raised 1,500 pounds and have run out of credit with friends and family). We haven't promised anything (neither Jill nor I have jobs) but we've made sure Natraj are aware of the problem, particuarly as they have a huge group of Norwegians who've raised money for the school in the past. So we'll see what happens.

Another set of meetings were with students whose college education I fund. We went to visit Rupa at her house - she's just starting the second year of her BBS course - and met her mother and her computer teacher. And Sanu and Pitou, who have just completed the second year of their BBS course, came to Nagarkot Cottage to talk to us. Pitou got married last year, and as her husband is going to Dubai to work, and she has both her husband's household to run and her mother's, and a shop to run, she doesn't feel that she has any time to spare for her studies. So she won't be continuing to her third year. Sanu, however, will continue, and she told us she wants to open a beauty parlour in Bhaktapur when she graduates and run her own business. So that's good. Which brings me to Maya. Maya Tamang was a teacher in the nursery at Shree Gadgade School when we first arrived in Nagarkot, and we funded her salary because she had her grandmother and her family to look after. Her brothers, however, decided she could make more money by going to the Gulf to work (which she didn't as practically everything she earned went to the broker who got her the job there), and she had no choice but to go. A few weeks ago she arrived back from the Gulf and Jill saw her. We don't know what she did there, and she won't talk about it, but it does not sound to have been a pleasant experience. Now that she's back she wants to return to her studies and become a teacher, and Pitou, having decided to give up her course, requested we should fund Maya's studies instead, which of course we will do.

Our final meeting, you'll be glad to hear, was how to manage all this, and it's all going to go through Natraj with Shree keeping an eye on it for us, which is great. The nice thing about Shree (and his boss Shikher too) is the lack of "grandstanding" if that's the right word. They just get on and do things - no endless meetings, no fuss.

Our stay at Nagarkot Cottage was lovely though and we were as usual well looked after by the staff. As we'd never managed to go on an early morning trip to see the sunrise, Shree arranged for us to go with the driver who'd bought a German group to stay, so off we went at 5.45 up to the view tower - and here's the picture.

Jill has now gone off to India for a couple of weeks so I'm home alone in Kathmandu. I think this week will be mainly taken up with buying things for the lodge in Chitwan, but who knows? This is Nepal and plans can change at any time!

Sorry this has been so long, but as I don't know when the next one will be, it may have to last you a while!

Take care of yourselves.

Vivienne xxx

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

An elephant just wandered past

Hello all,

Hope you're all well and not finding the clocks going back too difficult to cope with.

I'm sorry I haven't blogged for a while, but the internet wasn't working in Nagarkot, and I didn't have time when I got to Kathmandu. But I do now!

I'm currently in Sauraha, which is where ths vast majority of the hotels and lodges are for people who want to do elephant safaris, canoe rides, birdwatching etc etc So naturally it's very touristy and busy, and it's quite weird to be sitting in an internet place watching elephants wander past up the street. There are also camels, but they look really out of place here.

So what am I doing here you might wonder. Well, it's all to do with the wildlife lodge that some friends and I are building, except it's not being built in Sauraha, it's being built near Jagatpur which isn't touristy at all and will be a nice retreat for people. So I've been visiting the site and seeing how the work is going, but as there isn't much I can do there at the moment, I'm in Sauraha whilst Bhakta and Prakash and Krishna (three of my business partners) are at the site discussing various things. One of these days I really will have to learn Nepali so that I can understand what everyone is talking about!

Anyway, at the moment there are 10 rooms being built, and the dining room and kitchen, with another 4 rooms to be built before we open. Plus a meeting hall (for slide shows), an elephant platform (for getting on the elephants), an elephant stable and miscellaneous other things. There will eventually be a swimming pool, but not just yet. As you may be able to see from the picture, everything is being hand built, which is partly why it takes so much time! Anyway, these are the rooms being built, but they won't look like this when finished - they'll be plastered and painted inside and outside and have verandahs so you can sit in the sun (or the shade) and look at the view.

The first picture is the view looking towards the jungle, whilst the one below is looking towards the Himalayas. The view of the community forest won't be quite like that however, as there's a lot of land clearing to do before opening. In fact there's a whole shedload of stuff to do (including buying two elephants which will cost around 2 million NRS each), but the current plan is to open on January 1st 2010. That may be optimistic, but we'll see.

So that's what I've been doing for the past few days - site visits, discussing various things, and coming up with ideas of where to put various things, how to decorate the rooms etc etc. There isn't anything much I can do to help there at the moment, but there is a website to design and leaflets to design and a logo to design etc etc, so I can at least make a start on them, and once the rooms are finished I can help with the painting and decorating and fitting out.

So Eco Wildlife Lodge is going to be good (remember the name for future reference) and I'm really looking forward to seeing it finished and up and running. There will be more rooms built in future (we're aiming for 24 altogether), and, as I said, there will also be a swimming pool at some point. It's a really lovely site - lots of birds (I saw a White Fronted Kingfisher yesterday), bullock carts wandering past, people herding goats or cows or buffalo, and it's only a 10 minute walk to the river (canoe safaris), and about half an hour's walk to the entrance to the National Park at Kasuri where there's a Gharial (strange looking crocodile) breeding programme, and from where you can go on elephant safaris, or go for a nature walk.
Well, I'll be returning to Kathmandu at the weekend, so I'll probably write more then.
Take care of yourselves,
Lots of love,
Vivienne xxx

Saturday, 17 October 2009

Happy Tihar!

Hi all,

As I think I told you in the last post, this weekend is Divali - otherwise known as Tihar in Nepal - so we've been out and about watching the celebrations. It was also the Newari New Year yesterday. The Newars are one of the many ethnic groups in Nepal, and are mainly found in the Kathmandu valley, and they have a New Year which is different from the Nepali New Year (which is generally some time in March or April), and also different from our New Year. So in Nepali New Year terms the year is 2066 (I think), in Newari terms the year is 1130 (I think) and of course, we in the West are in 2009.

So as well as being Laxmi Puja yesterday - the day when you welcome the goddess Laxmi (goddess of wealth) into your home - it was also Newari New Year and there was a procession in the street of various people in Newari dress accompanied by little bands of musicians. All the businesses had also cleaned their premises and decorated them with Marigolds and made decorations on the street outside to lead the goddess inside and give them wealth and good luck. So we had a good time watching everything that was going on.

Today we've been to Boudnath - the big stupa just outside Kathmandu where there's a big Tibetan community. The Nepalis are relatively OK about the Tibetans who've been here for a long time, but they tend to hand any new ones who escape from Tibet back to the Chinese. I think it's difficult for Nepal as they are sandwiched between China and India and have to try and keep in with both sides. Some political parties lean towards India, whereas others - the Maoists in particular - lean towards China. And of course, because China is so powerful these days everyone signs up to their One China policy even though this means that minority ethnic groups are repressed. I guess I would never have made a good diplomat, even had I wanted to be one, as I've never believed in bowing to the will of someone else just because they happen to be more powerful than me. But then again, I've never had to. Anyway, I'm biased - I do like Tibetans and I'm not particularly keen on the Chinese (with some exceptions of course).

Well, tomorrow we go for Bhai Tika at our brother's, and then it's off to Nagarkot for a few days. Pictures will appear on this post at some point, but at the moment I'm not having any success doing it, so I'm afraid you'll just have to wait.

Take care of yourselves,

Vivienne xx

Friday, 16 October 2009

Going Dutch

Hello all,

I have absolutely no idea what I wrote about last time, but I think it had something to do with the school at Nagarkot, and with the fact that Jill was expecting a Dutch volunteer to arrive.

So, to keep you all up to date, this is the news this week. We eventually determined that I wasn't going to Chitwan last week, for various reasons which I won't go into but were infurating at the time. Jill and I, therefore, both went to the airport on Monday to pick up Elise, who is a volunteer at Oxfam in Newcastle who wanted to do a bit of volunteering in Nepal before her boyfriend arrives and they go off on a trek. We took her up to Nagarkot Cottage, and met the new manager there, Shri Krishna, and also the staff, two of whom were at the cottage last time we were there. There have been some changes since we were last there; the "mouse" rooms have now been demolished (we used to stay there sometimes when the place was full with a tour group) and they are starting to build new rooms, and the garden is being extended and a vegetable patch being created. It's still a great place to stay, however, and most mornings this week we've had views of the tops of some of the himalayan peaks which have made a good start to the day.

Jill has been introducing Elise to the school and health post, whilst I've been catching up with some of my students - Rupa and Sakul. We also took Elise down to Bhaktapur one day to show her the local "town".

It hasn't all been restful and fun though, as this morning we had a meeting with the Headmaster and the Chairman of the School Committee and some of the teachers at Shree Gadgade School to look over the accounts for the building of the new school and to ask a few questions about whose money has gone where. It would appear that the government has provided some money, we have provided another tranche (from donations and from selling the calendars last year), and a Norwegian group have provided a third sum. Some of the government's money was spent on the new library as the charity provided matched funding for it. And once we'd done the sums, we worked out that the school has probably spent about 1000 pounds more than they have on the school building. So that's going to be interesting for them! No doubt we will be having yet more discussions.

Today we came back to Kathmandu so that we can show Elise around. Despite having never been to Asia before she hasn't experienced too much of a culture shock so far as we took her straight up to Nagarkot. The busy-ness of Kathmandu, however, may take a little longer to get used to, as will finding her way around.

It's holiday time again in Nepal - the Tihar festival, which is more commonly known as Diwali. Today is crow day, when people put food and other things out for crows as they are the messengers of the dead. Tomorrow is dog day when dogs get the special tika mark on their foreheads and are garlanded with mallas of marigolds (if they stay still long enough). It's probably the only day in the year when dogs are treated really well in Nepal. It is also Laxmi Puja tomorrow which is when people clean out their homes and shops and decorate them with lights and flowers in order to welcome the goddess of wealth, Laxmi, into their homes and businesses. Needless to say, there won't be the usual 2 hour power cut tomorrow! Sunday is cow day, when cows get the special tika mark on their foreheads etc etc, and on Monday is Bhai Tika when sisters worship their brothers.

Jill and I and Elise have been invited to worship our Nepali brother, BP (and yes, he did ask if we wanted to go and worship him), so we are going with him on Monday to his sister's house to join in the celebrations. There's quite a ritual involved, including placing seven different coloured tikas on his forehead, so I hope there will be someone there to show us the ropes as we haven't done it for three years. There is also an exchange of gifts involved, so Jill and I are frantically wracking our brains trying to decide what to buy (Elise has brought some crocus bulbs from Holland and is going to give those to him). At the moment the favourite is Walkers Scottish shortbread (which you can actually buy in Kathmandu) because he likes sweets and liked the shortbread we bought last time. And then it will back to Nagarkot for more meetings.

So that's me up to date for the moment. I'll add a few pictures to this when I get time, and also some Bhai Tika ones, but I have to say that I can see now why people do bring their own laptops to Nepal - every time I put my USB drive or camera card reader anywhere near a computer something or other reports a virus.

Take care all of you and Happy Tihar!