Friday, October 7, 2016

Home Again, Home Again, Jiggety Jig...

October 6-7, 2016

We are at the airport and will soon be going to our gate.  Friday was as planned, with us lounging around the room, watching TV, eating, writing reports, etc. Swimming was unappealing because it had been raining off and on and it was cloudy. We were picked up at 1:15 PM by the CHOICE driver so that we could meet with them while they fed us lunch.  It was a good deal, and as usual, the ladies fix a very nice slightly Americanized food.  They kept the hot stuff separate in little dishes.  Jim touched one of these bits to his finger and put it on his tongue and thought he would die…

We discussed the fact that CHOICE has 100% success rate (they said) and what their model is for water projects and how they develop a community, and then a project begins from there.  It really is a perfect model.  They make the people pay, the government pay, they monitor for a long time, they make sure lots of people have to sign a check for any monies to be used, etc. 

Afterwards we went back and relaxed some more.  It was so pleasant, although somewhat boring.  I didn’t mind boring as much as Jim did…he thinks we ought to always be doing something, and I do agree, but I also cannot feel sad that we didn’t get to go to Lamjung because of the slide.  We heard that it took many hours to clear the slide, and then it slid again!  We were so glad that we made the right decision—what if we’d made it through, only to be stuck on the other side and not be able to get back!

Friday we checked out of the hotel at noon and Oliphant’s favorite cabby drove us to their apartment.  It really is nice, even though they have to put up with partial electricity and other irritations.  Still, it is a lovely place and even has a yard where they can sit on chairs outside in the breeze.  It is beautiful there. 

The living room at Oliphant’s.  They have 3 bedrooms, one that they use as an office, 3 bathrooms, a walk-in closet and a large kitchen and dining room.  The complex owner also provides a girl that cleans all the apartments—so nice!  Sister Oliphant said that help would have really come in handy when she was raising 9 children.   Outside is a nice lawn.  This is also where the owner worships as he is a devout Hindu (inside the pagoda is a statue).

After we hung out a bit they took us up to the owner’s home that is in the same complex.  Weaver’s also live there.  The owner’s home is incredible, with chandeliers, wood floors, stairways leading up and up, two kitchens, many rooms, with views at every level.  They have spiral staircases with beautiful wood railings, and slate stairs and floors and marble countertops and too many rooms to count on each floor.  Living there is the owner, his wife and 3 children and his mother and their maid/nanny.  Also there was a White women from San Diego who is a partner with this man who helped him build his beautiful home and the apartment complex.  She is an older woman and apparently he lived in San Diego for years and she taught him English.  There is a view in every direction from their home.

Then we had a wonderful homemade spaghetti dinner with Oliphant’s, and Weaver’s also came and brought dessert—great company and great food…can’t beat that.  The only problem is that we left for the airport at 8 PM for our 11 PM flight, and I felt like we’d traveled already and I was tired and wanted to take another shower…

We asked them to play us a duet; he has played the cello for years, but she learned how to play the viola in middle age, just so that she could play with him.  They performed some Christmas songs since they will be playing in the schools soon.  At one school after a performance they asked them all about the beliefs of our church.  You cannot proselytize, but you are allowed to answer if asked. They purchased and had these instruments sent from India.  Because of the difficulty in getting them home, they will probably donate them to a school if they can find one where they will actually be used.  They do not typically use these instruments here in Nepal. 

Well, time to go to the gate.  We just read that Kathmandu has the distinction of being one of the worst 10 airports in the world.  They said it was like a crowded bus station.  Yes it was.  There were at least twice as many people standing as sitting, not because they wanted to get on the flight, but because there are not enough seats.  We also raced to the gate when we were notified that they were pre-boarding.  Well to them, that means going to the gate.  No one was boarding, so we stood there for 15 minutes waiting to actually board the plane.  You just have to know the lingo of the country that you are in… There we flew with one stop again in India, onto Hong Kong for a 5+ hour layover; we leave from Hong Kong at noon, and get home two hours earlier in LA.  Yep, we are on opposite sides of the world and opposite time zones.  It is nearly a perfect, night/day difference between here and home.  And we were just beginning to get over our jetlag…

Hong Kong: As we flew towards the runway we saw another bridge that they are building over the water.  About 75% of the concrete columns were in place, and in some spots they had the road completed in between.  I never can figure how they do things like that.  What amazes me the most is when they put tunnels under the water…I can’t comprehend it, but then I never was really that smart, like how do planes fly, really?  How do huge boats float?  I have no science in my brain…or civil engineering.

Just one of the many beautiful rooms in the owner’s multi-level home.  There are two kitchens, slate and wood floors, views in all directions, spiral staircases with beautiful wood banisters, and chandeliers…

The business class on the Dragon Air flight is really nice—they have gotten smarter about how to lay back a little without going back into someone’s face behind you.  They simply slide forward a bit.  Not all planes are configured that way, but it sure is clever and so very nice.  I fell asleep easily, woke up to eat, and then passed out like a dead woman till they made me wake up when we landed.  And, I was sitting up, with a small recline.  We have a long layover in Hong Kong, so Jim usually takes advantage of the shower here.  There are comfortable couches if you can manage to snag one, so you can also fall asleep again.  And in this lounge they have food to eat, even Haagen-Dazs Ice Cream, my favorite.

I found this Orchid College building rather unique—a stand-out color—a view from the top of this owner’s home.  There is a view in all directions from their uppermost floor.

One long flight to go, this time no upgrade.  Jim got sick a bit on the last day and slept in a bed at the Oliphant’s, but by the time we had gotten to Hong Kong he was already feeling better.  This is good.  All I have to do now is not get it.   It is always good to be home.

When they moved us up to the executive room at the hotel, we thought it hilarious that these rooms had a window in the shower-tub facing the bed--luckily they had a shade you could close…

Love, Jim & Karen, Mom & Dad, E/S Greding

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

When Plans Change...

October 4-5, 2016

Today was a nice rest for us, and yet it was one of the most important reasons that we needed to come to Nepal.  The driver picked us up at 8 AM and we drove out of town in the other direction to meet with the Red Cross.  They are actually with the Danish Red Cross but are I think mentoring the people in Nepal.  We are not sure how that works.  This meeting took the morning and we were done and back at the hotel by noon. 

We have a project that is very important.  Most places in Nepal have water coming out of the mountain and they can access the streams, which are not polluted like they are in Africa, although they are not probably as clean as if they were accessed and filtered.  Nevertheless, they have a lot of water in Nepal.  However, this area is high up on the mountains where there is no water to be had.  They hike down and back up a steep hill to access a spring.  The project was to pump the spring water uphill to a tank, then another tank, and then another.  Then distribution lines would be taken to households or near households.  The elevation was high enough that the improper engineering caused the project to fail.  Transformers blew up, pumps didn’t work, the spring box was poorly designed, etc.  We finally stopped giving any money as everything broke down quickly and they wanted more money for pipes, which were useless without the water.

This is a shallow but large pond of water next to the offices of the Red Cross.  I don’t know how many years it has been collecting moss, but there are fish in this pool that are living; how they are alive is a wonder.  It was solid, green slime…

Finally they appealed to the Red Cross who decided to use their earthquake funds to get the project started again.  We had the meeting today with the district engineer, the representative from TRUST whose project it was as implementer, our site monitor, the local Red Cross, Oliphant’s and us.  A young gal from the Danish Red Cross presented what they wanted to do: to retrain the community, get community money saved, involve the government, re-engineer the project, and come up with a plan that might work.  Another tank or two will be added to keep the elevation down from tank to tank and perhaps redesign the spring box.  If they can do this right, we will then release or use the rest of the funds that we have left in the project.  We felt good about the plan as it follows our criteria.  Once they come up with the plan and costs, they will implement the project.  We also will be partnering with them and not TRUST to complete the project.  E/S Oliphant will return to the States next June, and so they hope that this project will be moving right along and nearly completed before they leave.

After the meeting we spent a leisurely afternoon.  Jim even took a swim just to say that he did.  It was windy on top of the hotel and the water is ‘refreshing’, so he did not last long.  It is the pool with no fence at the top.  There is a nice view.  We tried to find a pharmacy, and eventually we did, but they didn’t have what we wanted.  We were walking and it was warm, so we gave up on finding another one and went back to the hotel for a much-needed nap.

Taking a very short swim in the ‘refreshing’ pool 8 floors up with no fence at the side and back edges.  It is a beautiful view from up here on this side.  The business side is not so pretty with muddy strips between the road and the buildings, electrical wires strung everywhere and only a few pretty buildings.  The residential sections are much prettier, and the country this time of year, beautiful.

Wednesday: Our car showed up at 8 AM and we’ve been awake since just after 3 AM so we had plenty of time to get ready.  This time CHOICE was with us as we would be looking at a couple of their proposed projects and a couple of completed ones.  Kiran Neupane accompanied us on this jaunt.  CHOICE set up the vehicle so we had a different driver and car.  We were happy that it was not cramped like the last one—this one was a roomy jeep-type but still, Kiran had the rumble seat in the back, sharing his space with the luggage.  Unfortunately we had to go down the same road even though we turn off of it before the torn up highway.  We would have more logically stayed there and completed it all together except for the meeting, which we could not change, and because it was so important. 

Weaver’s were not accompanying us on this trip as they are involved in Helping Babies Breathe—lots of paperwork and set-up to do.  They also work on wheelchair distributions.  These two couples split the humanitarian responsibilities.  Obviously Oliphant’s are the ones in charge of water projects and they also work with the food initiative.  Both couples also participate in the Branch and have callings.  Elder Oliphant was just called to be the executive secretary to the Branch Presidency; I think the others work in Primary. 

As we drove along we were stopped so that the driver could pay a bribe.  During festival times the police get bribes or keep you stopped for two hours.  They select cars that they think can pay this bribe, which is about $5.  We have a certain routine on this road, knowing all the bathroom stops that are decent, and always eating at the same place where they have good food.  We had driven about 4 hours when we arrived for our lunch.  We were so happy when it only took us one hour to get out of town.  This was because a great many people are already out of town celebrating one of their big festivals.  This took an hour off of our trip.

 At the restaurant you can walk down and take a picture of the river that snakes through the canyon.  It is muddy because whenever it rains the dirt comes with it.  During the dry season it clears up a bit.  At one spot on the road we could see that the rains the night before had filled the road with a lot of mud.

After our lunch we were walking up the long stairs back up to the parking lot and as we did so we met some American’s with some NGO coming down.  One man stopped us and told us that they had just left a big traffic jam caused by a rock slide across the road.  He said that they estimated that it would take at least 3 more hours to clear it.  After sitting in it for two hours, they turned around and decided to stay at the hotel there (at the restaurant), or head back to Kathmandu.  I couldn’t believe such a gift as this, to be at the right place at the right time to get this information.  We discussed our options.  We had at least 4 more hours to get to Besishahar in the Lamjung area, which was exactly where these people were going and even staying at the same hotel we had planned on.  So we added the 4 hours plus at least 3-4 more hours to clear the jam and it just didn’t seem like such a good idea to go.  We turned around and went back to Kathmandu.  We had just taken a 9½ hour ‘Sunday’ drive…

Along the road we occasionally pass through a town in a wider spot.  Some towns were inundated with mud.

We arrived at our hotel at 5:30 PM and invited the Oliphant’s to dine with us, telling them about the pork chops that Jim had enjoyed the night before.  They went into the dining area while we went up to our room for a minute.  We came to find that the bed had been made into twin beds so we asked the hotel to fix that.  We were puzzled.  It turned out that because they have been doing a bit of renovating and had been painting that they wanted to move us up to an ‘executive’ room.  So, we packed up and they moved us to the exact spot, only 2 floors higher.  I was surprised that the room was not any larger, but noted that it was a king size bed instead of a queen, there was a fridge, an ironing board and iron, and a tub shower and magnifying makeup mirror.  So, it has been an eventful day!  We have regrouped.

This is a typical site in the main city.  If there is dirt beside the main road, it is muddy during rains, and dusty when it’s dry.  Either way, it isn’t pretty.  In contrast the countryside is lovely.
Tomorrow we will write reports, maybe swim, and in the afternoon go to CHOICE and be fed a wonderful lunch.  All I can say is that life is interesting and one has to ‘roll with the punches.’

Back at the Shambala.

Love, Jim & Karen

Monday, October 3, 2016

Travel day out of Town

October 2-3, 2016

I went to bed 2 hours earlier than last night but woke up an hour earlier, netting one more hour of sleep.  Still not good.  Elder Oliphant and driver picked us up at 8:30 to look at an older project and check out a possible new one that Rakesh wants to do.  The older project is also his.  When we looked at the car we were rather disappointed.  It was quite a nice car, but it was not a van.  E/S Weaver had to go to the same area for another reason, so there were 3 couples plus the driver in the car.  Oliphant’s took the rear seat in the far back but they had more room than the rest of us.  Jim rode shotgun so he had the best seat but still complained how sore his bottom was on the long trip.  E/S Weaver and I were in the back seat and there was no knee room and it was not a wide car so we were squished. Despite the claustrophobic conditions, it didn’t seem too bad, perhaps because we talked a lot and my attention was diverted from our squashed quarters.

Some things have not changed since we were last here—it still takes about 2 hours to get out of Kathmandu no matter which direction you are headed.  Once we finally hit the highway we thought things would speed up considerably, which it did at times, but the further we went the worse the conditions got.  It was supposed to take us 6 hours but it took 9.  Not only had the roads been destroyed by the monsoons and rock sides, but the government has been trying to repave the roads.  One would think that they would take a section of road and finish it and then move on to another section.  No, they removed the pavement for miles and miles making it very slow going.  These conditions won’t improve for many years and it is the main road to and from India.  It used to be a decent paved road with very few bad spots, but now you have to creep along slowly so as not to kill your car and passengers.  This added a couple of hours to an already long trip. 

Oliphant’s left, Weaver’s right, at the lunch stop along the road on our long drive out of town.

We stopped for lunch and used the same restaurant as we had in past years.  It is below the road and the river is visible from the eating area.  The wide river is the one you see no matter which road you take out of town, and all the roads are the same--all 2-lane roads that wind around the mountains and go up and down and you always see that someone has gone over the side.  Yep, we saw that someone had gone over the edge.

As a sidelight, one successful and very popular politician here was in the way of the corrupt government so they decided to kill him by running him off the road.  The driver was paid to drive the car over the cliff and jump out just before it went over.  He also might have had others in the car with him that were part of this politician’s group.  Later the driver got a brand new house as payment.  However, he just happened to have a home invasion and they killed him to keep him quiet.  Now, this is unfortunately typical of 3rd world countries—the more corrupt, the more the people suffer and it keeps the main populous poor.  There will be a lot to account for in the hereafter…

It is very pretty this time of year when you leave town and see the countryside.  Since I took this on the fly, it is not all that clear, but you can see the beauty of the rice fields and terrain.

Our plan had been to meet Rakesh and check out the older project, and then check on the new proposal the following morning, but we didn’t have time that evening.  Not only did the roads slow us down, but so did our driver.  Once we got to town he had the wrong idea of where the hotel was and headed off in another direction.  This added almost another hour onto our trip.  We didn’t arrive till 5:30.  We checked into our room, which is very nice except for a hard bed, and decided to meet for dinner at 6:00.  I ordered Buffalo wings and asked them not to put the spice on it.  They did anyway.  My mouth was burning and the gal was upset and yelled at the cook and offered to give me some without—I decided it would just take time so I scraped off the hot but of course got a hot mouth anyway.  She brought me ice cream for free, one tiny scoop, which helped.  We all got more ice cream. 

The hotel is one we stayed at before. The pool water was so warm, but it was too late and we were too tired to use it! It also started raining hard and the lightening would discourage any brave soul from taking a dip.  Instead we showered and went to bed early.  I need some serious sleep.  So I got in the shower and was enjoying a huge spray and it felt so good…and then I saw my slippers floating across the bathroom floor—why wasn’t it draining?  They had a large cap over the drain and so I took it off.  It drained.  My slippers are very soggy.
Monday: We ate our included breakfast at 7:00 and met Rakesh at 7:30.  Weaver’s were elsewhere working on something they had to do.  This morning was the easiest part of our day.  We checked out the old project that had been completed a while ago and is working just fine.  We then drove to meet the committee that wants a water project: redevelop the spring, build a new tank to store more water, and then bring lines to their doors (the people will pay to have a meter placed on or next to their property).  The only hard part of this day was that they had us come into a room to talk about it with many men and a few women participating.  The problem was that we had to sit on pads on the floor.  I don’t do floor sitting without great discomfort.  I twisted and fidgeted constantly, and eventually it was over.  They had doused us with the red Tika and given us leis and scarves and gave us bottled water.  Rakesh translated back and forth between us.  What they want is typical for Nepal, but their proposal on paper did not seem to match—the prices were rather huge, so that will be worked on; if they get them down to something normal, we might do the project.  Rakesh has always done a good job with his projects—they are timely and well-constructed and sustainable.

Oliphant’s and Greding’s getting the Tika treatment plus leis and scarves as we walked into the meeting room—we also have to take off our shoes.

We arrived back at the hotel and checked out and were on the road by noon to take the arduous trip back to Kathmandu.  I figured this trip would take 8 hours, but I was hoping for less.  It took 7, but it was hard to sit that long.  We had one lunch break and one bathroom break.  It also gets a bit nerve-wracking with all the cars and trucks and buses passing each other on the curve.  It was stop and go but mostly stop just as we were climbing the last hill to town, and then the traffic was no better in town.  It was dark by the time we got there and it also had started to rain.  It was one of those times when we were so very grateful to be back ‘home.’  My feet were as swollen as if I’d been on a plane.  Speaking of planes, we found out that Rakesh doesn’t drive this road—he takes a plane…

We had to sit on the floor while they gabbed and gabbed about the proposed water project.  I was in pain.  I don’t do floor-sitting.

Interesting tidbit: not all Nepalese men dye their hair when they turn gray, but the majority do.  Almost all women dye their hair, so when they see an American couple with gray hair, they think it is a little strange.  The children pull at it to see if it is real or a wig.  The women often favor a slightly red/orange color so you get this reddish tinge where gray hair might be, or sometimes just for fun they put streaks of it in their hair. 

This is a banana tree.  I never noticed the blossoms.  You can see the green bananas above it.

You can see the river while eating in the outdoor restaurant.  We saw several groups of people white-water rafting.                                 

We’re so happy to be off of that road and back in our hotel room, but we have to do it again in a couple of days!  Tomorrow is an easy day—we go to a meeting at 8 AM and then have the afternoon off! 

Loving it at the Shambala!  My bed is calling me…

Mom & Dad, Jim & Karen, E/S Greding

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Saturday is Sunday in Nepal

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Yesterday afternoon I fought an overwhelming desire to go to sleep because it was too early and managed to stay awake till a normal bedtime hour.  It didn’t do me any good because I woke up at 3:15 AM and didn’t get tired enough to go back to sleep till it was time to get up.  Next time I’ll sleep whenever I can.  Because I was awake, I heard the thunder and the rain.  By the time we left for Church the sun had come out.  It was a perfect day.

We met President & Sister Hodges in the lobby and took a taxi to where the Church members now meet.  We brought with us the donation bag stuffed full of T-shirt dresses to give to the Relief Society President to hand out.  She emptied our bag right away and put the dresses in the Branch President’s office at the new church building.  There was a group of young adults in the meeting that are working with needy children so I told them about the dresses in case they could also use them and they said that they could.  The President brought their luggage with them also as they were departing after the services for another one of their stops to visit the missionaries that they are in charge of.  We’ve enjoyed getting to know them a little bit.  Sister Hodges was wearing black and she said it was because of where they were going.  She will add a scarf for her head when she gets there.  Pakistan is one of the countries that they have missionaries in.  After church was over they stayed to do some leadership training.  Eventually we decided to take a taxi home as we had been there a long time waiting.  We were supposed to go back with Oliphant’s to their house, but we came back and ate at our hotel instead. 

We saw a few people that we’d met before and enjoyed getting reacquainted.  There were quite a few Americans there, more than usual.  One was a professor at BYU on sabbatical and teaching at a nearby university.  One man brought his son there since he is leaving for a mission in a couple of weeks.  His dad had actually summited Everest in 2012.  Now that’s impressive!  He also had climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro.  This guy gets around! 

After Church we began talking with Bishnu—he is the man who used to be with CHOICE that we do lots of work with here in Nepal.  He is still on the board of CHOICE but is now with USAID.  When we told him about the project that we had visited yesterday that was just completed, he became very interested in solving the problem of sustainability.  We talked about making a plan to get this group on the right track. They are the ones that are not collecting money from everyone—this will soon fail when they run out of money just paying for electricity—when the pump breaks they won’t be able to buy a new one.  The water bill is cheap, even for here.  It is also not good that some are paying and others are not.  Bishnu, you might remember, was in the Meet the Mormons film produced a couple of years ago.

It was so interesting today to see where the Branch is now meeting.  After the earthquake they met at a hotel till they could find a permanent place.  Imagine our surprise to see this beautiful, large home.  It had spiral staircases, three stories, nice bathrooms, many, many rooms for various classes to meet in.  One man told us that it had been owned by a Sherpa.  He made some good money and then made more selling rugs.  They decided to get a larger home—really?  This place is beautiful and large!  They have a pool also, but it is now empty, for obvious reasons. 

The Branch now meets in this beautiful, 3 story home formerly owned by a Sherpa (turned carpet seller), who decided he needed a larger home!  It has marble floors and beautiful light fixtures on every decorated ceiling!  The yard is beautiful also, and has room for the few cars that need to park there.   

We had wanted to see the Oliphant’s apartment today, but maybe we’ll get to see it another time.  They said that it is a really nice place.  On Fast Sundays they invite the young adults over for a meal.  Tonight 16 joined them.  Today we also met E/S Weaver.  We brought them lots of goodies that they had delivered to our house the last few weeks.  For them it was like Christmas. 

The new church has spiral staircases and the main room, or where the Chapel is now, has a chandelier.  Notice the little alcoves above on the left—I could picture a play being held here with some of the actors going out to give their lines in these alcoves.  This is some fancy place!  They also have nice bathrooms and have fireplaces in several rooms.  They also have nice air conditioners in all the main rooms.  Today it was not as necessary for them to be turned on so they were not, but they had them, and this is not usually what they have in 3rd world countries.  Normally they just have fans.  This shot is from above on the next floor up, looking down on the living room or what is now the Chapel.

When people build a home in Nepal they are never spread out—they go up—it is common for a nice home here to have 3-4 floors so as not to take up a large footprint.  Speaking of going up, every day we walk up the stairs to our room, which is on the 4th floor—in the U.S. it would be considered the 5th floor--to get a little exercise.

Spiral staircases, beautiful ceilings and light fixtures, marble floors.  

Lovely grounds; empty pool on the right. 

Yesterday we were seated on some chairs and a bunch of the kids were standing behind us so Jim took their picture (selfie).  

The beautiful girl was probably going to perform for us as she is dressed in traditional clothes; since we had to leave early, we didn’t get to see the rest of the show. 

When we got to Church we realized that it was Fast Sunday here; at home everyone will be watching Conference on TV, and in our Stake Fast Sunday will be next week.  Here next Sunday (I mean Saturday!) they will be watching taped Conference messages for their Sunday (Saturday) services.  It is hard to remember that our Sunday is their Saturday!

Tomorrow, more traveling about and staying overnight.

Love, from Kathmandu, Shambala Hotel