Sunday, 24 January 2010

Hi everyone,

Just to let you know I am back safely if you haven't seen or heard from me yet and to fill you in on my last days in Nepal. It all seems so long ago now, trying to believe that I was there only just over a week ago is the hardest thing!

As planned we finished off a lot of bits and pieces in the last week, including brightening up the drab lamp post outside the home with huge "Shangri-La" letters which can be seen right from the end of the track a few hundred metres away! definitely helps people find us and now everyone in the area seems to know where and what we are.

The poor old memory game I made a couple of weeks earlier was on its last legs so we made a new one and took a trip down to the local carpenters who kindly let us have some scraps of wood and used their tools to cut them into backings for the cards. Hopefully they will last a few years now.

It was good to spend some more time with the children at the weekend and we had another trip to the park for the usual frisbee and ball games and some enthusiastic wheelbarrow races!

I had been longing to speak with the children and give some counselling about their pasts and to find out how they were getting on in their new home. We managed to speak to Sita, who we knew had been orphaned after both her parents had committed suicide, and three year old Benjamin who had been living on the streets.

It was wonderful to see their smiles as they told us how they enjoyed their comfortable new beds, food and friends and family. Having to delve further into their pasts wasn't easy but I know there is a lot of hurt there which for many of the children is never expressed or spoken of. After Sita's parents chose to end their lives under the strain of trying to bring up a family in such poverty, Sita had tried to look after her two younger siblings. They found a little support from their grandparents, but because they were so elderly Sita ended up doing all the work. Her face clouded over as she began to recall how she spent her days walking a long way to collect water, to the forest to find leaves to feed the animals and tried her best to find enough food for her siblings. She began to cry as she told us there was never enough, she didn't have time or money to go to school and had no hope. Until now I don't think she had imagined a future, and her face lit up when she announced she would like to be a doctor (probably inspired by her trip to the eye hospital the other day!) It really struck me then how much I take for granted, and how much her education and food as well as her new supportive family must mean to her.

Benjamin told us he used to be beaten by his older brother and drunken father on the streets, how he didn't see his mother since she had re-married. He and his friend Abasek have already decided they are so happy here they never want to go anywhere else. It was very encouraging to hear.

Benjamin on the street

...and now

I was able to do all the final admin (collecting all the details of the other children from Krishna, seeing what needed updating on the website, etc) in Kathmandu, which left a day free in Pokhara, while the children were at school, to do what I had always wanted to do and hadn't had time: Krishna and I walked round the bottom of the lake and up a steep hill the other side, coming over the top to an incredible view over the lake, Pokhara and a snowy Himalayan panorama behind. Beautiful.

The last evening I was persuaded to make a goodbye meal, and managed to change the children's view of English food (after the less successful Christmas meal!) with spaghetti and veg in a tuna sauce... None of the children had tried spaghetti or tuna before and it was quite an experience!

I said goodbye to the children as they went off to school, just the same as usual. I'm not sure if the younger ones understood I wouldn't be coming back (at least for a while) but in a way that made it easier.

Thank you to all who have been reading, I have appreciated your comments and support and interest and also incredible generosity. I always say that work like this can be heartbreaking and emotionally draining, but is always balanced by the kindness of others. Without you it honestly wouldn't have been possible, your thoughts and interest has been an inspiration and every penny donated has been appreciated immensely!

Lots of love,
Shangri-la family

Friday, 8 January 2010

Hi everyone and happy new year!

It has been a busy couple of weeks for us since last writing to you, lots to say as usual but I will be limited to how long my fingers still have feeling in them! I am back outside under the stairs up to the rooftop. The children are happily playing cards next door and it’s already dark with smells of wood smoke and garlic and ginger frying from households all around. It’s been particularly cold today as the sun didn’t come out until mid afternoon and actually drizzled in the morning – the first during the day since I arrived which provoked a lot of grumbling amongst all the locals who buried themselves in even more layers than normal and barely surfaced from their homes until the sun shone. I’m enjoying what would be an extremely good British summer apart from the chilly nights.

We’re having eight hours power off a day now, though luckily it doesn’t affect us too much since spending one of our donations on a big battery which supplies enough for all our lighting, plus a few hours other electricity during the power cuts. It makes a huge difference, we’re certainty very thankful for it and I’m sure the envy of everyone else who at the moment are all in darkness. There’s so little rain the local hydro power stations can’t produce enough to supplement the main supply coming in from Kathmandu so all the neighbourhoods in the area are on a tight schedule to share the little there is.

The children all went back to school and nursery after the holidays a couple of days ago which has left the house very quiet until lunchtime when the little ones come back. Krishna and I have at last finished many projects, including the toilet (well, not quite – it still needs a door, flush and light) but is already being used (pouring water down while we wait for the flush) and appreciated by all.

A second water tank was eventually installed on the roof after days waiting for the welder to fix it to its frame and a plumber to connect it to the water supplies. The first one wasn’t providing enough and needed to be pumped several times a day so now we can relax and know we’re not going to run out of water!

The budget was a nice surprise when we went through it carefully a day last week. I was imagining we might have up to a couple of thousand pounds deficit by the end of the year, but it turned out we have actually saved money on the opening costs and are able to put this towards the rising monthly costs (higher than initially planned because of inflation and various extra expenses we hadn’t anticipated). According to our new estimate we will just be under 500 pounds short by the end of the year which I’ll be able to fundraise for during the year.

I’m looking forward to the last day of painting, which I have expected to come "tomorrow" all week but at last the day seems near and it will be good to spend more time doing the admin things I planned to do with Krishna while here and spend more time with the children. They have been playing the memory game I quickly put together last week in their every spare moment and still get very excited at the mentioning of it.

They have also been learning Ludo and snakes and ladders which Krishna bought them earlier in the week and have been enjoying the newly painted swing!

The older children have been happily helping with various gardening, in our well cultivated veg patch in the field next to the home and planting the flowers I decided the garden needed to make it the “mountain paradise” Shangri-La means.

We have had a few more trips to the park and the other day everyone came down to the river for the afternoon. We set out on the bus which was an experience for many who had never traveled that way before, holding on tightly with wide eyes.

It’s great how well they were able to entertain themselves, skimming stones and building homes from the river rocks, all being careful that no one strayed onto their territory!

The little ones joined in with great seriousness and creativity, adding gardens, stacks of firewood and even a bucket of water from a bottle top! They were excited to see monkeys on the opposite bank, a lizard and bright blue-tailed kingfisher. On the way back we dropped in at a hydro power station, and saw some planes landing at the airstrip just the other side of a fence!

The home’s teacher, Dipak, continued to come during the holiday and we took a few classes together, introducing “I spy”, hangman and sherads – anything a bit more interactive than reading from their workbooks and not understanding the meanings!

Three year old Abasek had been suspected of having leprosy by the doctor, and we took him to the local leprosy hospital to get it checked out. He had lived on the streets before coming to the home and had developed white marks on his face. His mother had suffered the disease so it seamed likely. Unfairly we were fast-tracked through the huge queue who had traveled across the country to get there and maybe even waited a day or two…only a third of everyone got to see a doctor each day but seeing my white skin they gave us priority and Abasek was inspected with a sensation test – by pulling his hat over is eyes and being pricked on the white spots to see if he could feel anything (which he could) and then skin tests taken from each spot – he was very brave as they made slits and took the samples.

After a while sitting in the sun waiting for the results he was given the all-clear and told that it’s a common skin disease from living on the streets and will go away now he’s washing properly, and won’t spread to the other children.

We also took Sita, one of the older girls who is suffering an eye infection, to the eye hospital. Luckily it turned out to be no more than dandruff in her eyelashes (I didn’t know that was possible!) which is irritating her eyes and they proscribed us baby shampoo to wash her eyelids with!

We celebrated New Year with a fish stew and fire in the garden. Unfortunately no fireworks and it was impossible to find anything like sparklers other than incense sticks but the fire was very welcome and we had a bright sky full of stars.

This morning Krishna took me up Sarangot to see the sun rise, a hill on the edge of Pokhara with fantastic views of the Himalayas. Incredible as always.

Time for dhal batt.

Hope you're all well,

Lots of love,

Esther xxx