Wednesday, October 29, 2008

India and Nepal Edition: Dance Party

In my opinion, the best way to get to know a place is to have someone you know show you around.  Nikki knows Nepal, and she knows Nepalis who know Nepal.  Not only did we have some built in friendships waiting for us (as in waiting with marigold necklaces at the airport), we also we had the best tour/culture guides for our time in Kathmandu.

So, we got the guided tour of Monkey Temple, the personal invite to the Newari festival, taxis hailed, drivers sent. . . we felt very taken care of and pretty darn VIP.

From Dance party

But nothing solidifies friendship like a spontaneous dance party.  After a very hot day of VBS at Mendes Haven and Shyam's church, we (a little begrudgingly) accepted an invitation to have dinner with Shyam (different Shyam than above) and his wife Amrita at his family's home.  First thing to note, Shyam and Amrita live in a massive house with his mother, five brothers, five sister-in-laws, and lots of nieces and nephews.  This living arrangement is very common in Nepal.  Second thing to note, dinner with Shyam and Amrita meant dinner with Shyam's family and the rest of our Nepali crew.  And third, Shyam's older brother is not only a former Nepali boxing champion, he's also a Newari singer.  And just like that, we're all standing in a circle being entreated to dance and sing.

From Dance party

"Good evening ladies and gentlemen.  I would first like to say 'Namaste.'"

From Dance party
Sorry Nikki, no other photo displayed the absolute hilarity of the night.

From Dance party

From Dance party

Even the kids got in the circle.

Needless to say, it was a a very fun night.  Out of all my experiences and adventures in Nepal (some I still need to share), this night was special.  It was fun, funny, a little bit awkward, but above all it made me feel very much at home.

Friday, October 17, 2008

The India Nepal Edition: Nepal Leprosy Trust

I met Suryakala at Nepal Leprosy Trust.

From NLT

Through her contagious smile and constant laughter, she tells me about the blessings and hardships she's experienced during her life. As a young girl, she and two of her siblings were brought from their village to Kathmandu.  The city was the best place to receive treatment for their leprosy and escape the negative social stigma placed on lepers in the rural areas of Nepal.  So, at the age of nine, Suryakala left her home, her village, her two healthy siblings, her parents and moved to the leprosy hospital in Kathmandu.  After a misdiagnosis two years early, the disease had progressed enough to do permanent nerve damage and would effect her the rest of her life.

She went on to tell me about meeting her husband, having her two daughters and working at Nepal Leprosy Trust.  Suryakala smiles as she shares her life's hardships.  With a tearful giggle she speaks of complications and nerve damage caused by leprosy, losing her husband after a misdiagnosis of hepatitis A, and living as a single mother with a marginalizing disease.  She tells she smiles because me she doesn't worry about the future.  She misses her husband but knows that he wouldn't want her to be sad.  And she is happy.  She has two beautiful daughters, a great job and safe place to live.

NLT taught Suryakala sewing skills, gave her husband a job, gave her a job, and even gave her and her daughters a place to live.  She now works at NLT producing handbags at a fair trade wage.  Her leprosy has been cured through a multi-drug treatment.  She has had a few surgeries in the past few years to address some of the issues caused by nerve damage.  But for the most part, her biggest worry is caring for her teenage daughters as they approach adulthood.

Since 1972, NLT has provided various services for people who have been socially, emotionally and economically marginalized by leprosy.  Along with access to medical treatment, NLT helps defeat the stigmas associated with leprosy.  It provides job and skills training to people that would otherwise have little hope or oppurtunity for any income.  We were able to visit NLT and see their fair trade handbag production facility.  Our plan was to tour the facility, have a luncheon with the artisans, and get a few interviews.  After meeting and interviewing Suryakala, it became quite clear that one visit wouldn't be enough.  She insisted that we come for tea later in the week and meet her daughters.

From NLT

I am amazed at the joy that emanates from this woman.  While serving us tea and momos (so many momos), she pointed out pictures of her husband and family.  She had each of her girls tell us about their dreams and goals.  And since I have returned to Kabul I have received two emails from Suryakala and her daughters.

From NLT

One of the things I love about fair trade is that it provides avenues for a closer relationship between the consumer and the producer.  I hope that my first visit to NLT was the beginning of a long friendship.  I know that I can count on Suryakala's smiling face waiting for me when I return.

To view the handbags produced at NLT, please visit my friend Nikki at Jubilee Traders.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The India and Nepal Edition: Places: Nepal.

I live in a brown place.

From New Album 10/16/08 2:26 PM

So when I landed here:
I was a little overwhelmed.

Several people warned me that Nepal can be one of those places that captures the heart.  The scenery is striking.  The people are exceedingly friendly.  The food is tasty.  There is a lot to like about Nepal.  After five days in Kathmandu, I feel like I didn't even scratch the surface.  It's such an interesting place filled with trekkers and sherpas, a mixture of Buddhism and Hinduism, traffic jams and power outages, old and new, east and west.  With a new Maoist government, Nepal is in a definite and defining time of transition.  And it seems to be thriving.  The tourism industry has taken off.  The country is safe and stable.  Despite the poverty and pollution, people are hopeful for the future.  It's amazing what peace can do.
One of the issues that I have struggled with throughout my blogging career is describing places that have to be experienced.  How can I convey sights, smells, sounds and tastes?  Places like Kathmandu are a complete sensory experience.  To fully understand Nepal, you'll have to see it for yourself.  But some pictures might be a good start.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Behind on blogging and background

The past few weeks have been busy with too much to process and write about and no time.  I've realized that I didn't even touch on Ramazan (Ramadan) or the Iftar meal I attended.  I haven't written about my new job.  I didn't even mention that I was leaving for two weeks on a Fair Trade idea trip with some ladies from Chapel Hill.  Needless to say, I am way behind!  With so much to share, I thought I'd start with the most recent and fresh topic and work my way back to Ramazan and the job.
The reason I didn't write about my trip to India and Nepal beforehand is that there is a certain amount of disbelief that comes with leaving the country.  There are a lot of variables from visas to cancelled flights that can make a trip disappear or delay.  Even buying my tickets was a two week adventure.  I didn't believe I was going until I had made it through Indian customs.
If I had written about the trip before I left, I would have told you all that I was very excited to be included in Chapel Hill's Fair Trade Vision Trip to India and Nepal.  On the trip we planned to visit several fair trade initiatives in both countries and get some ideas on how Chapel Hill can be involved in fair trade.  
For those of you wondering what fair trade is, here's the definition accepted by the four major fair trade associations:
Fair trade is a trading partnership, based on dialogue, transparency and respect, that seeks greater equity in international trade.  It contributes to sustainable development by offering better trading conditions to, and securing the rights of, marginalized producers and workers.  Fair Trade Organizations, backed by consumers, are engaged actively in supporting producers, awareness raising and in campaigning for changes in the rules and practice of conventional trade.  Fair trade products are produced and traded in accordance with these principles - wherever possible verified by credible, independent assurance systems. 
One of my dreams and goals in Afghanistan is to get involved with a fair trade initiative for women who often have little means of income generation.  This trip was the first step towards that goal.  
That's the basic background.  The trip was filled with many adventures including a Nepali dance party, the longest bicycle rickshaw ride ever, tons and tons of chai and momos, and some of the craziest driving I've ever experienced (and that's saying a lot!).  These stories and many pictures to follow.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Back and Tagged

Yes, I am back in Kabul after a wonderful trip to India and Nepal.  I have about 1000 stories that I want to share and even more pictures.  And there's always news from Kabul.  BUT that will have to wait because my bestest Anya tagged me on her blog to do a meme. . . I don't know what a meme is and I've never been tagged before, so I thought I'd go for it.

The "rules" of the game are as follows:
1. Post the rules on your blog
2. Write 6 random things about yourself
3. Tag 6 people at the end of your post
4. If you're tagged, DO IT and pass on the tag

Here are my randoms:

1.  I live on almost the exact opposite side of the world from where I grew up.  This means that any future moves will bring me closer to home.  

2.  My current dream vacation is a trip through all the "-stans:"  Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Pakistan (Inshallah).

3.  I started a new job yesterday with  a humanitarian aid organization here in Kabul.  I'm the executive assistant to the country director.  So far, so good.  It's a great place to work.  We provide aviation and communication technologies to the humanitarian aid community.

4.  When I was 9 years old, my mom began rewarding me for practicing piano and doing well at lessons by taking me for a vanilla latte and a chocolate chip cookie at a coffee shop on 6th in Tacoma.  I've been a coffee drinker since 3rd grade.

5.   I attended five colleges: Trinity Western University, Western Washington University, Seattle Central Community College, East Texas Baptist University, and LeTourneau University. 

6.  One of my goals in life has been to travel enough in 10 years that I find it necessary to add more pages to my passport.  I have officially accomplished that goal.

And I think that does it.  According to the rules I have to tag six people.  Emily B, Erin M, Kj G, Celia O, Kelly H and Dara T, go for it. 

Tomorrow the Nepal and India stories will begin.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Nepal and India...

....that's where I am right now.  I'll be back in Kabul next week with loads of fun adventures and stories to share.