Friday, May 1, 2009

We're back!

30+ hours of travel later .. and we're back at my parents' house in Portland. Lemme tell you: airplane travel beats the socks off of bumpy Nepali bus travel.. although it was pretty hard to convince the flight crew to let us ride on the roof.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Exit Maneuvers

Wow. I'm sitting here in Bangkok on our last night in Asia. In twelve hours we'll be boarding our planes to return home from this whirlwind six-month adventure. The time certainly feels like it has passed quickly since last November, and neither of us are quite ready to step foot back on home turf yet. While I feel like we've accomplished a quite a few pretty cool things over here, I can't seem to get rid of the questions: did we do enough? could we have done more? have our trajectories and efforts even been relevant to our own actual needs and the needs of the world-at-large? is there anywhere in the states that makes thirty-cent sticky rice with mango that's as yummy as in Thailand, or fifty-cent veg curry that's as mouth-watering as in Nepal or India?

We were fortunate to be granted with heaps of praise during our last week in Kathmandu as we were treated to a jam-packed schedule of dinners, events, and good-byes with the friends and colleagues we've worked and played with in Nepal:

- I had a very productive meeting with Sanu early in the week regarding a CAD model I whipped up for a new briquette-press idea we had earlier in April. . . which uses a car-jack to apply force. Once I get him drawings, he'll have a proto made at a fabrication shop we visited a few weeks ago. If the proto works as we hope it will, it could drastically boost productivity vs. the screw press. We also discussed a pending grant with a US-based foundation, which if played right could place a huge solar cooker at Papa's house.

- We rolled up to Papa's House(s) in Dhapasi two nights in a row to talk with Michael about Dumrikharka and the future of the project we began there and say 'bye' to all the kids, staff, and volunteers. Michael, Peter, and a few of their associates have been excited about the report I wrote up on Dumrikharka, and want to both take that project to the next level and replicate the project at other NOH-funded sites. I've agreed to continue volunteering with the organization stateside to help grow this project into something really cool...

- We spent one evening at Martyr's Memorial Hospital, where Ashley's been volunteering/observing, to watch a leg amputation (a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity I absolutely couldn't refuse!). I thought we'd be watching from a distance, but the surgeon handed us his camcorder and had us film the whole thing just a few feet from the bed. It was pretty cool to see the whole process as the surgeons cauterized everything as they cut through it, pinched and cut off the femoral artery and ciatic nerve with quick precision, broke a sweat and switched off as they worked through the femur with a hacksaw, and finally stretched and sewed the skin over the mess of tendons, muscle, and bone to tidy up the stump. Even cooler than the amputation was the anesthesia: the patient was semi-conscious and talking to a nurse for short periods late in the operation (thankfully NOT as the surgeons were violently shaking his leg with the hacksaw), and although was vaguely aware that something was going on behind the screen that blocked his face from the rest of his body, didn't express any pain or sensation. It was difficult to watch all this without wondering if the patient would have even needed an amputation under more developed Western medical care, but it was incredibly interesting nonetheless.

- Sanu invited us to attend the first ceremony (of four official ones) of this niece's wedding in Kathmandu, in which the bride receives an initial array of offerings from the groom (who doesn't attend this particular event) and his family. By accepting the first gift, the bride commences the celebration, and over the next week a host of rituals are played out between the new couple and their families. Although Ashley and I only saw a tiny part of the whole, we really enjoyed meeting Sanu's extended family. He even brought us to his brother's home to introduce us to his semi-bedbound father, a lanky and completely coherent 98-year-old professional singer/musician who spent his career singing traditional Newari songs at events around Nepal and was a star on Radio Nepal.

- Sanu also organized a well-attended dinner at a delicious restaurant in Lazimpat to send us off a few nights before our departure. Amongst the forty or so attendees were nearly half of FoST's board members, many of Sanu's family members we'd met at the wedding, a few of FoST part-time employees, and two of our friends who own adventure-travel companies and are interested in utilizing FoST's ideas in their business. Of course, Sanu couldn't throw a party of this magnitude without also getting everybody riled up about FoST's latest projects and successes, and showed the two BBC World Challenge clips plus GORP Productions' mini-documentary on FoST before presenting his latest award granted by the US EPA from the recent Partnership for Clean Indoor Air conference he attended in Uganda. It was absolutely fantastic and heart-warming to have all these FoST-people in one place recognizing the small contributions we've made to the organization and Nepal.

- Throughout our last week in KTM we spent quite a bit of time eating, drinking, and hanging out with Bishnu (owns Adventure Aves, a new rafting/kayaking/adventure tour company) and his business partner of sorts, Gopi (owns Cold Feet, a new trekking/climbing/adventure tour company). These guys are young, progressive, active, cosmopolitan, smart, and endlessly friendly -- and although they're entering a pretty crowded market of adventure-tour companies in Nepal, I'm sure they'll do very well. Gopi has already acquired land and set up the beginnings of a program that will combine community-volunteering with treks and other adventures for people visiting Nepal with tight schedules, and is very interested in utilizing FoST's briquettes and stoves within this operation.

We will definitely miss Kathmandu and all the friends we've made there, and the warm & caring spirit we were sent off with has ensured a return in the not-so-distant future.

Meanwhile, Bangkok has been a fun trip all on its own. We've been uber-tourists the past few days and have pampered ourselves silly with beautiful temple tours, delicious food (including a fun breakfast with Rob and Jai), haircuts, massages galore, and ample time in dental chairs. As Bangkok is far larger, more developed, and more cosmopolitan than Portland or Seattle can ever hope to be, we've kind of been through *extreme* culture shock here, so shouldn't wig out TOO much when we arrive in Portland tomorrow.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Back to BKK

We're a few hours away from the end of our time in Nepal, and have a ton of mixed emotions about leaving..

Which I'll write about soon from our hotel in Bangkok!

Thursday, April 23, 2009


Last week we enjoyed a six-day trip to Chitwan Nat'l Park and the Trisuli River (redux of the failed rafting trip that was supposed to happen on the 11th). Chitwan is southwest of Kathmandu and lies along Nepal's border with India. The weather was warm, the land flat, and the people kind. We met up with our friends Peter and Krish (who we strolled the Annapurna Circuit with) and had a great time being full-on tourists for a few days. We checked out the park via elephant, canoe, jeep, and foot; I felt a little like Mowgli amongst pythons, domestic and wild elephants, huge rhinos, a grizzly-sized sloth bear, bison, tigers, crocodiles, and more!

It also seemed like all of our friends converged in the park while we were there. In addition to getting to hang out Peter and Krish, we also ran into friends Bishnu (who owns Adventure Aves, a new rafting/kayaking tour company out of KTM) and Alex, a volunteer with NOH. Check out the new Chitwan gallery to see the pics...

On the roof of the bus between Chitwan and Trisuli (coming back towards Kathmandu) I managed to step on a backpack that had a few porcupine-ish quills in it. One of them pierced my foot right next to my big toe .. in one hole and out another! Although the thin fountain of blood that streamed out of the top hole was pretty exciting for a second or two, a bit of pressure stopped the bleeding in less than 45 seconds, and two tiny wounds are the only sign of the incident. So far I've had no swelling or signs of infection (although I'm taking a round of antibiotics just in case) .. and hardly any pain. Kinda weird to have such an invasive trauma result in such a minor wound...

After a night sleeping in a tent on a roof in the river-side town of Fishling, we joined Bishnu for a huge rafting trip he'd organized down the Trisuli. I safety kayaked while Ashley joined the 80+ Nepali clients paddling the rafts and having a great time in the splashy class II/III under a hot Nepali sun. We rode on the bus roof back into KTM, and due to increased highway patrols within the city limits had to lie down flat for a solid half hour to hide from the cops... NOT the most comfortable thing in the world, but kinda fun to evade johnny law.

We've been pretty busy volunteering with FoST and the hospital since we've been back, and are now in the midst of exit-maneuvers as we prepare to depart from what has become a friendly new home for us. The last few days have included of lots of goodbye's, yummy dinners, joining part of a Newari wedding, observing a leg amputation, and the beginning stages of packing.... More to come...

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Final Stretch . . .

We're down to our last two weeks in Nepal and have bittersweet feelings about being so close to the end. 99% of our time since we returned from Langtang has been spent in Kathmandu, and we're both a little tired of being stuck in the city. I even tried to escape yesterday to safety kayak for a commercial rafting trip, but an accident that shut down the highway about two hours outside Kathmandu forced the entire trip to turn around when we were only halfway to the river!

Of course, Kathmandu has had its fair share of fun activity lately.. The first national games in ten years were held last week, and despite a ton of furor about which groups could compete (even the athletic teams are divided by political and militia lines, and the People's Liberation Army protested the last-minute inclusion of the Nepali Army by pulling out all of their own athletes), the games seemed to go off rather well.. and it was fun to see all the athletes walking around Kathmandu in their warmups between contests. There was also a festival (I can't remember many of the details) that involved this large chariot (at left) that was hauled down the main boulevard from Jhamel to Patan amidst a lot of fanfare. Coming up on the 14th is the Nepali New Year, and cultural festivities are starting to pop up here and there in preparation.

Last week Sanu returned from international conferences in Kampala and Cyprus, and is now loaded with fresh ideas he'd like to apply here in Nepal. In Kampala FoST was recognized (one of four prizes awarded to a pool of 200+ participants) for its efforts to go beyond efficient stove design (what most other participants presented) and focus on alternative fuels (briquettes). We're already drawing up a few ideas for prototype production, and I joined Sanu a few days ago on a field trip to some of Kathmandu's metal yards, scrap yards, and large-scale metal fabrication shops to learn more about available materials and communicate our new ideas.

In other news, Sushmita (NOH employee) spent a few days in Dumrikharka last week, and reported that multiple families are continuing to produce and burn briquettes. They're even producing extras and stockpiling them for the wet monsoon months this summer! I've been considering returning to Dumrikharka myself to make sure everything was going smoothly, but with this good news I may save myself the LONG bus ride it takes to get there and back. I'm hopeful that the report I wrote will help NOH and future volunteers keep this project running strong in the coming months and years.

Our friends Krish and Peter (who we did the Annapurna Circuit with back in December) just got back from their 2nd trip round the Circuit, and we're excited to spend a few days with them down in Chitwan National Park between the 14th and 17th. We're super-psyched to see the Nepali lowlands, ride elephants, maybe see some rhinos, and avoid the malaria-ridden mosquitoes.

For now, I'm working on a few CAD drawings for FoST, and Ashley is continuing her observations/volunteering at Martyr's Memorial Hospital..

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Back in the Big Dirty

Cloud lightning out the window of our new apartment in Thamel.

Update time!

Many things have happened in the past month since I last posted to this blog, so bear with me:

We had a fantastic time with Austin and Beth between March 5th and 25th. Thanks to a whole bunch of unexpected factors (see last post) we had a chance to show them a bunch of Kathmandu's sights and sounds before and after our trip to Langtang National Park. Once we finally got up north we had a fun, albeit dramatic, trek through fire, ice, sunshine and rain. Oh yeah, there were a few big mountains, too. Check out the Langtang photo journal in the gallery!

It was great to have a bit of home fly in to visit us, and made us extra-excited to be back in Portland. Our return date is coming up quickly (less than a month, now!) and we're scrambling to squeeze in everything we still want/need to do here.

As Beth and Austin were leaving, Ash and I were busy moving our stuff to a new apartment in Thamel, in a building owned and managed by Sanu's family. For our last month in Nepal, we'll residing in a downtown fifth-story penthouse of sorts... Amenities included consist of running water (brown), a leaky sink drain (a bucket underneath seems to take care of it), a briquette stove, a wooden bed frame, a chair, a coffee table, horribly sooty walls and ceilings, curtains (very important), one functioning incandescent bulb, and one power outlet (we still only get power for eight hours a day). A shared squat toilet, sans sink or shower, is down the hall. Despite this downgrade in accomodation, we're pretty stoked on this relatively impoverished and totally different urban experience. Not only are we in the gritty heart of urban Kathmandu, we're close to everything we need to do and have had an opportunity to get to know a few more of the subtleties of this place.

One of the biggest changes here over the past two weeks has been the onset of the spring rains! The weather patterns have been all sorts of unusual for the past fourteen months or so as Nepal experienced a dry monsoon season last summer/autumn and a very dry winter. As a result, electricity production has been pretty much impossible, and wells are drying up all over the country. A bunch of scientists are even concerned that large portions of Kathmandu valley could collapse as water tables are sucked dry. The recent afternoon rains (and snow in the mountains) have been bringing some relief and have provided some very entertaining thunderstorms in the valley. We can't get enough of it!

Over the past week I've been busy finishing up the written agenda and reports for the project we've been doing in the Ramechhap district (click here to download the latest pdf), getting photos gathered, researching product concepts for FoST and getting acquainted to our new digs, amongst other things. In April, I'll be focused on following up as necessary with Ramechhap (and maybe going back for another short visit) and developing concepts at FoST. Meanwhile, today is Ashley's first day shadowing at Martyr's Memorial Hospital, where she'll spend the next month watching and helping out on various rotations. Our friend Krish, also pre-med, did the same thing in February and had a great experience, so our hopes our high.

Aside from that, we're looking at a bit of river time (I'll be safety-boating for a large class II/III rafting trip on April 11) and three or four days down in Chitwan National Park riding elephants and (hopefully) spotting some rhinos and big bright birds.

The Royal Palace (just down the street from our new penthouse) opened as a museum about a month ago, and we joined throngs of Nepalis last Saturday to check it out. The sprawling palace and grounds have been pretty much vacant since the massacre in 2001, and sits today much as I imagine it was eight years ago. The buildings have this super-cheesy and sparse 60s/70s architecture and interior decoration, and it was pretty bizarre to consider that the place represents/ed the 'lap of luxury' for this nation..

Politics have continued to provide a never-ending comedy in the daily papers here.. Every day brings news of more back-stabbing closed-door meetings within the countless parties and subsets of parties, which usually result in pointless riots, bandhs, strikes, or killings. Nobody can figure out how to integrate all the small party-loyal militias into one army, the Maoists in charge seem to be driving for a one-party system empowered by social disorder and poverty, and China's (anti-Tibetian) whims are frequently carried out without a second thought. Stability in all sectors is still quite a ways off here...

We made the mistake of buying the first four seasons of House MD last week (ripped of course, at a cost of around $12), and have been sucked into 3-5 episodes per night lately.

We've been toying with the idea of spending a few extra days in Bangkok on our return trip to see some more temples, enjoy more massages, take care of some dental work, and maybe even participate in their never-ending political demonstrations (or not)!

And finally: what's up with this website/blog's new name? In short: 'hajur' is one of those Nepali words that can mean just about anything.. it works for 'sir,' 'pardon,' 'hello,' 'whaddup,' etc... So way back during the final days of the Annapurna trek we had a great night in Tatopani getting wasted on Marpha apple brandy. Krish (now infamous for taking gigantic gulps of the stuff rather than sipping it like the rest of us) had also been enjoying slices of a chocolate cake that was sitting under the bar. Upon finishing his second slice, Krish started talking about how much he needed a THIRD. The bartender (and cake enabler) was nowhere to be seen, and out of the blue Krish blurted, "WHERE'S MY HAJUR? I NEED SOME MORE CAKE!!" The phrase has stuck with us like .. um .. frosting on cake .. ever since and is somewhat emblematic of our whole experience here :)

Monday, March 9, 2009


After my post the other night, Ashley came down with the same digestive issues I had a few days prior.. and we decided to hang out for an additional day in Kathmandu to give her a chance to improve. We moved our base of operations to a cheap, but nice, hotel in Thamel, and were planning on getting on a bus this morning. However, since today is Holi Day (more below), we soon learned that we'd have to stay in Kathmandu another additional day, since busses aren't running.

The children of Kathmandu have been preparing for Holi Day all week long.. What began as a celebration of color and culture in rural villages has turned into a water balloon throwing free-for-all event in the big city. All week balloons have been hurled from rooftops, side streets, car windows, behind-our-backs, etc.. targeting unsuspecting victims (usually women). These balloons are usually not balloons at all, but small clear plastic bags (like we get goldfish in) that hurt like hell! It's pretty much impossible to walk down the street (especially as white folks) without being targeted dozens of times.

TODAY, the actual holiday, most of the balloons contain bright pigments, and EVERYBODY is participating in this city-wide pelting contest. I'm gearing up to go find some balloons to buy down the street so we can join in the fun from our hotel's roof .. but I know that I'll be drenched and colorful by the time I return from the store (which is just across the street). Should be fun.

Last night after Ash was feeling a little better we checked out Swayambhu (the monkey temple) with Austin and Beth and then celebrated British Alex's birthday at a super-yummy steakhouse. We'll head out on a bus tomorrow morning towards Dunche, where we'll start our trek the following day. We're now planning on being back in Kathmandu the 22nd or 23rd.