Saturday, 26 December 2009

a first Chrismas

Good morning all, and welcome to news from week two in Nepal, spent trekking and celebrating Christmas with the children back at the home. Today I am writing from the comfort of the home’s “office”, a convenient little space under the stairs where a small table has been slotted in with enough space for my old laptop. The three-year-olds are peeping through the banisters, calling, “Miss, Miss! Hello!” and chattering away to me in Nepali which they still hope I will understand. Loud “toots” are coming from next door from the balloon hooters some of the children got in the pass-the-parcel last night and others are jumping round the door to show me the small toys and lollipops they got. The older children are studying away on the rooftop with the home’s teacher, Dipak. Krishna is busy with the toilet plasterers who have at last arrived after at least a week of promising to come “tomorrow” and the house mother, Sarita, is busy preparing the next dhal batt.
I hope you all had a really lovely Christmas, with lots of snow? I had to think of Christmas back in the UK several times to remind me that it was really Christmas, but really enjoyed our celebrations here as did all the children! To join in with all the British snow it kindly decided to rain heavily late on Christmas Eve which fell as snow higher up and cleared the skies so the next morning we woke up to incredible views of the white mountains.

Since the children’s socks were all dirty we asked them to give us their hats before going to bed. They had no idea what was going on and were a little annoyed to be parted from them. I awoke to the older girls getting up as usual and was excited to see their amazement at what had found its way into their hats! Coming through to the sitting room the older boys were just getting up with similar looks of bemusement and the little ones came through sleepily, each carrying their hat and holding it up to me to go through with them. Krishna told me how they had woken at five and had started going through their treasures “like rats”!

Having got back from trekking (which was incredible, I will tell you more later) on Christmas Eve, we spent the evening making paper chains with the children, and our secretary, Birut (a good friend of Krishna’s who lives just up the road and likes to drop in most evenings) bought lots of bright fairly lights. We decorated the tiny Christmas tree which the previous owners thoughtfully planted – perhaps one foot high – with as many lights and decorations as a usual tree! The children really enjoyed making paper decorations and by the end the whole thing was a huge blob of colour with no tree to be seen!

After the children had opened their hats we were joined by Birut, Dipak Sarita and her daughter and all took a couple of boats across the lake which is just ten minutes from the home. We had a huge feast of biscuits, chrisps and soft drinks – it was the first time many of them had eaten such things and certainly the first for straws!!

Christmas dinner was unfortunately less of a success but I have now learned not to make the children anything other than their beloved dhal batt! Having grown up with lots of salt and chillie in everything it seems that anything lacking these essential ingredients is tasteless and barely worth contemplating. I thought they might appreciate some meat so bought chicken and made a stew, pressure cooked with lots of ginger, vegetables and even masala and coriander in a thick gravy. I was excited to see what they thought of it but after dolling it out there was a long silence, no shouts of “micho” and the carrots and courgettes were held up and scrutinised before being put aside and the rice eaten cautiously with the chicken. Benjamin tried so hard to muster the courage to eat it all, sitting for an hour mincing it all together in his fingers and looking dolefully but in the end got a tummy ache from all the biscuits earlier and had to give up. By this time it was a little late for the camp fire and marsh mallows we had planned so we had this yesterday evening along with the pass-the-parcel.
Yesterday afternoon we went to the park and again had lots of fun on the climbing frame, with balloons, balls, skipping ropes and frisbee. We also tried out the slide for the first time – not the safest of constructions being extremely fast with no sides and required lots of catching as they shot off either side of flew off the bottom!
The children have a couple of weeks winter holiday so we will need to think of lots more things to keep them entertained now Christmas is over. It’s also great to have the housemother here and teacher in the mornings to help amuse the children while we get on with various other jobs. We hope to have the toilet block finished soon – the next thing will be to tile and paint it, and we also need to make some signposts for the home. The other main thing, which we are waiting to do at the end of the month, is to go through our financial accounts in more detail and calculate how well we are keeping to the budget. From a rough estimate it seems that we are keeping fairly well to the initial plan but inevitably various unexpected expenses have come up and we will need to work out how much further funding will be needed for this coming year. We have decided, for the moment, not to advertise our home in the local area to attract visitors and volunteers, as seeing how well the home currently works as a family, we want to keep its privacy as far as possible. Instead I will register the home in the UK which I hope will open us to further sources of funding from charities and trusts, and failing this we can resort to publicising ourselves here. Having said that we are keen to have a few longish-term volunteers through personal contacts in the UK who can be part of the family and contribute various skills so for those of you who are interested we would still love to have you!
Now to tell you about the trekking – certainly one of the most incredible weeks of my life, and something I couldn’t recommend more to anyone who loves the outdoors, beautiful scenery and cultural diversity. Words just can’t express the beauty and tranquility of the mountains; to listen and hear nothing but the occasional bird or gurgle of a river; the sunrises, the friendly smiles and hospitality of the people. Having left in a taxi to the nearest bus stop to the start of the trek last Friday evening, we found each bus was incredibly full with locals hanging off the sides and choking the roofs.
After about an hour of the regularly passing buses showing no sign of emptying we decided to get a taxi (Krishna would have been happy getting the bus but having had such an experience last time I was here I was happy to forgo this one!) passing through orange groves, along a river and up to a small village, where we started walking as the sun started going down. After an hour or two of steep climb through forest, it was still just light enough to see as we got into the first camp. We were welcomed into a homely room with a warm fire and our old host shuffled off to milk his buffalo, returning with steaming mugs of the incredibly creamy milk.
The next morning was an incredible sunrise over the mountains and mist-filled valleys, something we would see for the rest of the trek.
The next couple of days were particularly beautiful through forests and valleys and countless idyllic rural villages, with children playing marbles, helping their parents in the fields, gathering water, feeding animals and sorting maize, even some weaving with yak’s wool.

The next couple of days were harder as the trail got steeper, climbing up countless steps to eventually arrive at Poon Hill for sunrise. At something over 3,000m we had incredible panoramic views of various mountain ranges and into the Mustang Valley, a mountain desert bordering the Tibetan plateau.

Then down thousands of steps (apparently over 3,000 – I thought I did well to climb up and down my 4 flights of stairs in Oxford!) to a small riverside village on the edge of the National Park just a half hour walk from the bus back to Pokhara which we got the next morning.
The sun has at last come out and the air under the stairs is chilly enough to make my toes feel numb so up to the roof now to join the children having their lunch. I think more painting is in store for the afternoon…
Thanks again for reading,
lots of love,
Shangri-La Family

Thursday, 17 December 2009

first news from Nepal

Namaste all and welcome to blog number one! I have been here in Pokhara, Nepal for a little under a week now, having arrived on Sunday after the usual six hour bone-shaking bus trip from Kathmandu where I flew in on Saturday. Life back in Oxford seems a million miles away now (which I guess it is) and the longer I am here the more it feels as though I have never been away. The streets of Pokhara seem so familiar; the cool Himalayan air, hot sun and incredible views of snow capped peaks sawing up to unbelievable heights, the bustle of daily life with tourists haggling over exquisite and brightly coloured pashminas and trekking goods, fruit stalls piled with mounds of juicy suntalas (tangerines), smells of incense and the sounds of flutes and Tibetan chanting, "omne-padne-hum" while the ever placid cows wander between a myriad of dodging and hooting motorbikes.

Having planned to come here to help get the home set up, furnished and equipped and hopefully having some time to help collect the children Krishna has been finding over the past few months, I was astonished to discover how much has already been done. Krishna was able to get the home officially registered to his existing NGO, Helping Society Nepal in just a few days (which I imagined could take months) and since this required renting the home and having it available for the registering authorities to carry out checks on before registering, we have had the house since November.

In just a couple of weeks it was fully furnished and equipped enough to take on the first nine children. Two from the Southern plains of the Tarai (Eight year old Rupak orphaned and put to child labour, three year old Manju the result of rape to a very young mother and sent to her grandmother who was unable and unwilling to look after her when her mother married), three from the far West of Nepal which is still very undeveloped and receives little social support where Krishna travelled with a community worker who was able to help him select three girls who were living with guardians who were also putting them to hard work each day and had barely had the chance to go to school. Also a brother and sister from the streets of Pokhara where their alcoholic grandmother had sent them to sell newspapers and would force them to sleep there if they did not earn enough in the day. She would drink most of it and obviously fed them very little. Then two tiny three year olds who were living alongside the main road that connects Nepal's two main cities, Kathmandu and Pokhara. It is incredible that they have had such pasts when you see their loving and caring characters, certainly the Benjamin and Abasek who had lived along the road are a little wild but are such little characters and never tire or running at me for hugs and to be thrown in the air and dangled upside down! The older girls are especially good at looking after the little ones.

Although we had initially planned to take on twelve and expand when we are able to find further funding, we have decided to keep it a small family style environment seeing how well the children have already adapted. It is sweet how Benjamin already calls Krishna Papa as do some of the others. We will keep two more spaces free for "Emergencies", children that are bought to Krishna through the authorities who have no other chance or whom Krishna comes across.
Despite so much already being done there has been plenty to do this week. The first day I was made to rest and spent the morning playing with the little ones while the older children were at school doing exams. They were finished by lunch and after their dahl batt (with much enthusiastic slurping and grinning and shouts of "mitco!" (delicious!) we went down to the park with balls, skipping ropes and balloons and had great fun on the climbing frame. The little ones quickly developed a ritual of climbing to the highest point in the park and jumping off as quick as I was able to catch them!
The next day the three little ones went to nursery school while the others went off to do their exams. Unfortunately they haven't been able to go every day as there has been so much government striking for various political reasons. It's heartbreaking seeing them returning home all forlorn after the excitement of getting ready to go to school like today but its lovely to have them around.
When not looking after the little ones Krishna has been busy helping the builder to construct a new toilet block round the back of the home. At the moment all nine are all trooping into the one and only longdrop beside the kitchen which isn't the most hygienic!

I've been doing a lot of painting - rust cover for the water tanks on the roof, brightening up the swings and front gate while the children periodically survey and tell me it is "very, very beautiful!" They've enjoyed doing some watercolor painting too and love the little modelling clay I was able to bring with me.
I have been very privileged to be allowed to cook with the house mother and she taught me how to make momo's which was surprisingly easy and great fun!
After all Krishna's hard work he is definitely ready for a holiday and this week the house mother and secretary will be in charge of the home while Krishna takes some much needed days off. He has offered to take me on the Goropani-Gandruk trail, a beautiful sounding trek around the foothills of the Annapurna Himalayan range. We will be back in time to celebrate Christmas with the children, which will be their will be their first as it is not much celebrated here. I'm so excited!
Hope you all have a lovely Christmas. I'm so sorry I won't be with many of you as usual but will be thinking of you. Thanks for reading, hopefully it will be a little shorter next week!
Lots of love,
Shangri-La family