India and Nepal (Day 21).

Let’s Roll

We cycled away from the crowded Thamel tourist district weaving our way through countless pedestrians and onto the open road.

Less people, more cars! It took a few minutes to get used to traffic passing dangerously close to our bikes. With the adrenaline pumping we set a cracking pace up and down the hills before we found a more quiet road and started the climb that eventually led us back to Swayambhu (the monkey temple).

After a short break we decided to head in the direction of the HOPE school. We had 200 Chumli to pick up that we’d paid for days earlier. We later hear that the teachers had put the school kids to work in class tying bunches of tyre tube into hackey sacks for us. It may have been considered slave labour except that we hadn’t paid them anything!

Urban Mountain biking

As we neared the edge of the city the ride got interesting. Away from the busyness we took a few dirt roads and some impossibly narrow alleyways where we dodged potholes, piles of dirt and animals. Past rice fields and patches of land used for farming we rode until we stumbled upon a cricket match being played in a vacant block of land. We stopped to have a few bowls but after getting smashed for 54 off just one over I decided it was time to leave!

Tim cricket

We took some more gravel roads further up the hill and followed the contours in the direction of the school. Just before we made it there Tim popped a Tyre. We didn’t think to bring a puncture repair kit and so we rode into town in search of a new Tyre tube.

The old school principal lived nearby and after failing to find what we were looking for at the shops we headed to his house to see if he could help. While them team waited I headed to the school to collect the Chumli. They weren’t ready. Tika, the guy looking after the school, promised to drop them in town later than night. I felt bad that students were using their class time to do this for us. Before I had time to leave Sobha arrived with a plate of delicious Pakora’s I was expected to eat! I gobbled them down and somehow managed to escape without the compulsory Chai.

The Tyre was fixed and we were back on the bikes navigating our way past cars, pedestrians and piles of rubbish. We took turns at choosing our direction and soon found ourselves trying to stay upright on the clay packed borders of a rice field. From skill to thrill the ride took another turn as we found ourselves on major roads dodging, cars, buses, scooters and anything else you’ll find on Nepalese roads.

Downhill racing had nothing on the dangers of weaving in an out of traffic on these roads. We started overtaking slower vehicles. Pick a gap and commit to it, before you get squashed by a bus. The boys thrived on the adrenaline but started to get a little cocky. Ben starting riding on the footpath, maintaining speed as he crossed intersections he was now supposed to give way at.

A scooter pulled out on the road just in front of him. Ben had no time to stop and T-boned the rider, knocking him off his bike. The rider was stunned and felt bad even though it was completely Ben’s fault. The rider got back on the scooter and Ben rode away nursing scratches and bruises.

With this wake up call we decided to head back. Just one more tricky thing to navigate. A right turn at the round-about. Without designated lanes at the round-about this involved working your way over to the middle of the road so you were on the inside lane, ready to make a right turn. Alternately you could stay in the left lane and risk making the right turn from there, hoping nobody on the inside of you wanted to go straight ahead! We all picked maneuvers safe enough to get us back in one piece. Our hearts were pounding as we arrived back in Thamel. We returned our bikes and gave our favourite restaurant a heads up about an eating contest we were going to hold later that night.

Urban Mountain Biking Kathmandu

Momo Off.

Welcome to the first annual Momo Challenge. Tonight, competitors from all over the world will attempt to eat 50 Momos. For those of you who are wondering what a Momo is, it’s like a steamed Dim-Sim, only twice as delicious and half the size.

momos

We now cross live to our commentator Jenny Craig.

Thankyou Jim. The competitors wait with anticipation for the first waiter; and here he is, delivering the first of many plates containing 10 Momos. Competitors are required to stack finished plates one on top of another to keep count of what they’ve eaten.

Josh is off to a flying start, inhaling his first plate in under a minute. Mitch is close behind as they both wait for another plate to arrive. The others look sluggish as the waiter delivers a second plate to both Mitch and Josh.

Plates continue to pile up here as the group settle into a com-nom-nom-fortable pace. Can the crowd inspire hometown hero Tika to victory? They are certainly doing their best, cheering him on with every mouthful.

After taking an early lead Josh is starting to slow down. Mitch looks as if he is making a move. The mid 30’s are always tough but Mitch is powering through and has now taken a clear lead from Josh who is really starting to struggle. It’s like he’s eating in slow-momo.

Not out of it yet Kobby, Ben and Andrew are quietly chewing their way toward 40. Polishing off their fourth plate is all the MOtivation they need. There is no way this trio are going to let the elusive half century escape them now.

But wait, there is some drama out in the kitchen. A waiter is approaching the table. Oh no, he’s asked for some plates back. The kitchen has run out! Competitors watch their opponents closely as they hand back their hard earned plates. Ben has seen this as an opportunity to increase his count and is trying to claim an extra plate. His attempts are drowned out by the crowd shouting “Cheating not eating”.

There should be enough plates now but what about food? Could the boys have run this restaurant out of ingredients?

The crowd are getting impatient as they wait for the waiter to return.

After a long delay some more plates have arrived, bringing up the half century for Mitch. The crowd give him a standing MOvation. An eMOtional Mitch celebrates his 50 in style, kissing the empty plate and waving it to his fans. Meanwhile it looks as if Kobby, Andrew, Ben and Josh are all set to completed their half centuries.

Eating like this has never been seen before, the crowd is in stunned silence. Even the waiters are smiling despite the mammoth amount of extra work this competition has created.

Mitch doesn’t seem content with just 50. It looks like he’s ordered another plate. Yes! Here he goes, this could be a new world record. The crowd have all but forgotten about the others who have now reached 50 and local favourite Tika who finished the night on 40.

The fans are screaming as Mitch makes it into the 60’s. The rest of the boys seem to have conceded defeat and it looks as if they are more interested in picking on Josh, who is on the verge of throwing up. Kobby has grabbed a Momo and is waving it in Josh’s face shouting “Here comes the aeroplane”.  Josh is now curling up in the fetal position and is rocking back and forth in the corner MOaning. He looks trauMOtised!

Mitch has just piled the 65th Momo into his mouth. He looks done, but there are still 9 Momos left on the table. Kobby and Andrew reluctantly finish them off to take silver and bronze, ending with totals of 56 and 53 respectively. Not a single Momo has gone to waste. What an incredible performance.

IMG_0733

A combined total of 380 Momos, the MOst ever eaten by a team, as well as a new individual record of 65. Fans have just witnessed history in the making.

Well that’s all we have time for here. I’m Jenny Craig. Goodnight.

Posted in Blog Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

India and Nepal (Day 20)

It was worth it.

Nargarkot Himalaya mountains

No matter how early or cold!

Nargarkot Himalaya mountains

We scampered up to the hotel roof to watch the sun come up.

Nargarkot Himalaya mountains

Last night the sunset was great, but this was incredible!

The children went for a walk, the roof cleared and it was just me and my thoughts. Long shadows danced on a nearby fence as the kids wandered into the distance.

Nargarkot Himalaya mountains shadows

Some things are so easy to miss unless you take time to slow down and look at them from another angle. How often do we miss what’s truly in front of us because we haven’t taken the time to stop and reflect?

I was amazed at having two different perspectives at the same time.

Nargarkot Himalaya mountains shadows

This is exactly how I felt about the beauty all around me. Two perspectives. Mixed emotions. On the one hand I was extremely grateful to be able to see all this. On the other I kept thinking ‘This is the Nepal locals deserve’ not one that is covered in smog and rubbish.

I thought about the lookout yesterday which was spoiled by all the rubbish on the ground. I looked up and watched the sun climb over massive peaks to shed light on a valley swimming in clouds. I was happy and sad at the same time.

I wrote two contrasting poems to capture this. If you’re a Math Nerd like me you’ll appreciate that both poems follow the Fibonacci sequence. (1,1,2,3,5,3,2,1,1)

Nagarkot Beauty blog

Nagarkot polluted blog

I felt better after writing the last poem knowing that we were about to do something. With me were 7 rubbish pickers I had been carrying the entire trip. At last we were to make use of them.

We headed to the lookout, stopping a small opening in the forest where we set up a game of giants treasure. While the kids were distracted some of the team snuck away to hide some real treasure (lollies).

Nargarkot Giants treasure

The kids raced up and down the steep slope in search of both types of treasure. The hardest thing wasn’t finding the lollies, it was trying to get the kids to keep the wrappers in their pockets after they had eaten them!

Nargarkot forest

One poor child didn’t find any lollies! His mind was on other things.

Reflective thinking

…she loves me not!

A guaranteed way to pick up

After we gave Daniel a group hug the bus took us back to the lookout where I explained what we were about to do and why. Heads were nodding as my words were translated. I really felt I’d been able to communicate both the effect of rubbish as it floats down the river and into Kathmandu and the immense beauty of Nepal which is worth protecting. Even Daniel cheered up when I guaranteed that everyone was about to pick up!

I showed the children how to use the rubbish claws and pointed out the many concrete bins. With the vast majority of rubbish thrown around them not in them, I wondered if the bins needed a demonstration too!

Nargarkot rubbish pick up

Rubbish pickers were handed out and eager kids rushed off to try them out. Bins were filled (like never before!) and the scene at the lookout came a little closer to matching the beauty all around.

Nargarkot rubbish pick up girls

Bags and bags of rubbish were gathered until the bins were overflowing.

Tim rubbish team

Changing a culture

A man selling postcards and souvenirs at the lookout stopped to ask us what we were doing. Nick explained what we were up to and discovered that he was also frustrated that tourists would come here for 5 minutes, drop their rubbish and leave. He asked for a rubbish picker. He wanted to show that he cared about his country. He wanted others to do the same.

Nargarkot rubbish pick up

I was thrilled. Not only would I get rid of excess luggage but we had found someone who was on board, someone who is so passionate about a cause that they take it up themselves. Change will never come if it is imposed on people from the outside. Change comes from within. Our groups cleaning efforts may have lasted 2 weeks at best but now there is someone on the inside working for change. As we left I thought about future trips, hoping next time we come back to Nagarkot the lookout will be pristine.

A dose of reality

Reality struck as soon as we got back on the bus. The children were dropping rubbish out the window. We reminded them of what we had just spoken about and all the cleaning we had done. Embarassed they apologized, but we understood. It’s not as if they can change a life long habit overnight.

It made me sad that dropping rubbish on the ground was such a part of the culture, but like any culture there is always the ability to change. I thought about the man at the lookout again. Change from within. I smiled.

Posted in Blog Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

India and Nepal (Day 19)

The rain had cleared away the smog. Perfect.

Today we were heading to Nagarkot. One of the best places to view the Himalayas in all of Nepal.

IMG_1894

Our bus was filled beyond capacity with eager students from class four and five. The 25km trip took almost 3 hours as we wound our way uphill to our destination. We arrived at the hotel to spectacular views of the Himalayas. Massive peaks as far as the eye could see were completely hidden by the smog last time we came here in summer. Also on our last trip I remember children jumping in the showers fully clothed then running out of their rooms with massive smiles on their faces. Some had never seen a shower before.

This time it was the middle of winter. No one dared.

We settled in to the hotel and sat down for lunch. Once again, hungry children surprised us with how much they could eat. After lunch we headed to the lookout, where the kids somehow found a way to climb the lookout tower. An activity that no amount of risk assessment and paperwork would cover in Australia wasn’t given a second though in Nepal. The teachers followed the students and together they bounced around the scaffolding.

IMG_1762

*Note: Nepalese kids are that tough that the concrete below is probably more afraid of them.

Tim's converted Nagarkot

Nepal v Australia.

All this tower climbing was just a warm up. The fans were here to see a game of football. At an altitude of over 2000m the match was dubbed to be one of the high-lights of the trip.

With larger bodies, longer limbs and an extra 10 years experience, the Aussies were red hot favorites to take home the silverware. With odds of $1.05, Nick made a quick trip to the TAB to put on a million rupee bet. He couldn’t, the electricity was off!

Cocky and overconfident the boys from down-under had no idea of what was to come. Hard, competitive and highly skilled Grade 4 and 5 students took it to the Aussies, scoring multiple times on a relaxed defense. Some were content to blame it on the altitude, still others blamed muscle fatigue from the 365 stairs we had run up days earlier. If only they had as many goals as they did excuses!

Not wanting to suffer defeat at de-feet of primary school children, the teams competitive nature came out. Using their height, weight and long limbs to their advantage wherever possible the Aussies fought back. Some literally, as a few of them were lucky not to be sent off for lifting their opponents up and holding them in the air.

The Australians took the lead and now it was the youngsters turn to get competitive. Bodies slid desperately and dangerously close to the edge of the sideline (a sharp drop downhill) attempting to keep the ball in. During the post match interview the Nepalese coach accused the Aussies of time-wasting and pointed out that it was always his team who would scamper down the steep bank to retrieve the lost ball. The Australian coach declined to comment.

Light was fading at the venue along with the chances of the home team snatching victory. Things were getting desperate. The use of hands and ignoring the umpire became a fairly common feature as the match drew to a close. What primary school student doesn’t want to win?

A few more goals were scored before the final whistle blew and the match was drawn. A great result for both teams who could walk away with heads held high. This International blockbuster would do wonders for relations between the two countries.

Did I mention the Nepalese kids were all wearing sandals?!!

The power of play

The beauty of sport is that you don’t need a translator. The whole range of human emotion comes out. Fear, determination, joy, pain, frustration, desperation, disappointment, confidence, the list goes on. As human beings we also share an innate sense of justice. We can tell pretty quickly when someone thinks something wasn’t fair. If you want to get to know someone, play a competitive game against them!

Sport can be such a powerful tool to unite people around a shared set of rules and conduct. Most of the time it is.

The perfect end to a hard fought match

Both teams walked back to the lookout to catch the last of the sunset.

IMG_1817

Surrounded by beauty, it was impossible to know where to look. My eyes were glued to the mountains, slowly turning pink.

Lisa wondered why I was ignoring a beautiful sunset. Until she turned around.

IMG_1808

It’s not every day you get to watch 8000m peaks change colour right before your eyes.

IMG_1794

What a blessing to witness.

What made it more special was that a lot of these children would never have had the chance to see their own beautiful country. It was a privilege to be able to take them here to do so. The generosity of the team had made it happen.

IMG_1800

I did mention there was a sunset.

Posted in Blog Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

India and Nepal (Day 18)

This morning a few of us visited the church in Nepal, while others went in search of bargains on the streets of Thamel. We met back up for lunch and I introduced the team to the former school principal Dinesh and his son Diwas.

How to barter

The boys excitedly showed off their ‘bargains’ after lunch as Josh revealed his 6th pair of colourful pants. The rest of us were forced to go shopping for waterproof jackets as the heavens opened and it rained for the first time the whole trip. We navigated our way around endless stores offering ‘Genuine GoreTex’ products, some vastly different to others, but all genuine let me assure you!

Bartering Tip 1# Not interested

Bartering is a lot easier when you don’t care whether you get something or not. Not having your heart set on an item can shave hundreds if not thousands off the price. On the contrary that look in your eye that says “I must have this” will quickly put you out of pocket. Don’t think you can fool a trained salesperson. They will see it. That look of amazement, that happy dance when you’ve finally found ‘it’. Calling friends over to “look at this”. Excitedly shouting “This is awesome” or “So-and-so would love this”. If you have done any of that you might as well have cradled the item like a baby, given it a name, stroked it tenderly and rubbed it up against your face. Any of these rookie mistakes tell the salesperson to multiply whatever the price was going to be by 6.

It’s hard to pretend you don’t want a rain jacket, when it’s cold and raining outside. Time to employ another strategy.

Bartering Tip 2# Bargain in Bulk

Everyone knows you save when you buy in bulk. In Australia, if there is a bargain I will buy up big, knowing I have saved hundreds of dollars. Some doubters may point out that you don’t need 64 boxes of shapes or 160 Boost Bars and I’ve actually wasted money. I prefer to see these things an investment in my future. Anyway, knowing that the price goes down as the quantity goes up is really all you need to take advantage of Tip 2.

Here’s how it works. Bracelets that most suckers can get down to 50 rupees, 40 at best, you can take down to 8 simply by buying in bulk. “But I don’t need 100 bracelets” I hear you say. Good point! The thing about this strategy is that most of the time you don’t intend to buy in bulk, you are just using it as a cover to spy on the real price. Once the shopkeeper has gone down to 8 rupees per piece you know they must be making a profit at 10. So now you make an offer for one piece 10 rupees, explaining that if they can make a profit selling them for 8 then offering your offer of 10 is almost too generous!

Since starting a business I realise this is a cruel strategy and doesn’t always hold true, but I still use it to find out what things are really worth, and lets be honest, if you know me most of the time I buy in bulk anyway!

Tip 3# The walk-off home run

There is nothing better than gaining the upper hand in a bartering exchange and no quicker way to make it happen than to use the “Walk-off homer”. All you need to do is quickly lose interest because of the outrageous price and then walk away. Don’t leave too quickly or they won’t have time to chase you. The trick is to stroke the product or voice an “Oh well” on your way out, indicating that you are still interested but not for that price.

If done correctly the shopkeeper will be at the doorway in no time, lowering the price with each step you take away from their shop. There is no hard and fast rule for how many steps you should take before turning back and agreeing to a much lower price. Generally I advise turning back before you are out of earshot!

There are endless strategies when it comes to bartering like Tip 4# “The guy down the road is selling them for” Tip 5# “The price laugh” or Tip 6# “Major on a minor flaw in the product” although that one reminds me of a funny Bible verse.

“It’s no good, it’s no good!” says the buyer; then off he goes and boasts about his purchase. (Proverbs 20:14)

Anyway, after quite a bit of shopping around Lisa scored the elusive jackets at around 1/3 of their starting price. By this time it was too late to walk to Swayambhu, the Monkey Temple so we jumped in a taxi and after a short ride ended up at the bottom of 365 stairs. The race was on.

The Monkey Temple

The boys bolted off and I quickly followed. Our race to the top quickly turned into a slow walk and we realised just how unfit we’d become! After a number of steep stairs to finish we made it to the top, where two of us had to crack out the asthma puffer.

The rain had cleared the smog from the valley below and we shared sweeping views of Kathmandu with the monkeys.

IMG_1623

Aside from the Katman-view, the main attraction at the top is a Stupa with ‘Buddha’s Eyes’ painted in all four directions, representing the omniscient mind of a Buddha (enlightened one). I thought because of their position on the top of the hill overlooking everything the eyes were a reminder of Karma being an inescapable force in Buddhist belief. Nice try. But wrong!

IMG_1651

In the middle of the two large eyes is a ‘Third eye’, the eye of wisdom, something common to both Hindu’s and Buddhist’s. It is very common to see people with a small red dot on their forehead to represent this ‘Third Eye’ as well as being a sign of blessing from their gods.

Opportunistic locals often come up here to prey on unsuspecting wallets, but not in the usual way. This tactic is much more clever than picking pockets. Posing as sightseers, they waltz over to you and strike up a conversation. Some ask for your permission but others just start giving you a whole heap of information about Swayambhu. Oh that’s nice of them, you think to yourself, until at the very end they ask you for an outrageous fee for what you thought was a conversation! The boys narrowly avoided these would be ‘guides’.

The sky darkened. The crowds cleared. It was just us and the monkey’s.

IMG_1640

Soooooo many monkey’s

IMG_1642

We even spotted an unusually large one, who was looking for his friend Ray Bees!

IMG_1665

Fortunately Mitch never ran into his friend Ray.

The team gathered to watch the last of the sun disappear. Darkness filled the city below. Kathmandu was on another scheduled outage. Generators powered the few lights that were on. Unfortunately, there weren’t many of them around the 365 stairs we now had to walk down in the dark.

Posted in Blog Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Lisa’s Poem

  • HOPE School Nepal
  • Kids with bright eyes and big smiles
  • Quick of thought, smart, eager
  • Snotty noses but friendly faces
  • “Hello Miiiss, Hello Sar – come and play”
  • Poor homes, sick parents
  • No light, dirt floor
  • Small space, zero privacy
  • Mountain goats, generous hearts
  • Mountains surround, eagles fly
  • Strong kids run and wrestle
  • Fight – almost assault each other
  • But tears are sparing
  • I feel exhausted by their energy
  • Lame by their toughness
  • I hope they find a way amidst poor politics
  • To a path of meaning and healthy living
  • I don’t want them to be Westerners
  • Appreciate their culture
  • I hope they can help create change
  • In governing their country
  • I pray God, you raise an army of children with integrity
  • Guide their bare feet to places of influence
  • Let them be all they can be
  • Let Nepal be blessed as a result
  • -Lisa Lorimer-Derham-

IMG_1559

Posted in Blog Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

India and Nepal (Day 17)

Can you make a difference in less than a week?

When volunteering in schools you hope what you do can make a lasting impact. It’s pretty impossible to do that in a couple of weeks, let alone a few days. Regardless of whether our visit to the school would make any lasting benefit to the children of Kathmandu, I knew that it would for the 8 of us.

It’s pretty special seeing a 20 year old guys heart melt when a tiny child with a runny nose smiles at them!

HOPE school Kathmandu cutest child

Once again, Lisa and I were extremely proud of the way our team got their hands dirty. (as long as they sanitized them before eating) Each member of the team took the initiative to get involved wherever possible.

HOPE school Kathmandu

 Not task (or student) was too big or too small.

HOPE school Kathmandu duck duck goose

These kids run on Energizer batteries and the team played with them non-stop.

HOPE school Kathmandu dancing

We, danced, sung, learnt Nepalese, taught Maths, drew pictures, played cards, did magic tricks and spent time visiting the children’s homes.

HOPE school Kathmandu teaching maths

If the boys had nothing to do they found ways to make themselves useful without any instruction.

HOPE school Kathmandu

They were flexible with their plans and ideas, even when it meant teaching Year 11 Maths to a genius in Grade 5

Genius child HOPE school Kathmandu

Or conducting random head lice checks with your your tongue!?

DSCN1391

Most of all the team provided an atmosphere of fun and love for the children to enjoy…

HOPE school Kathmandu bully

Okay, most of the time!

There was talk of kidnapping a few students to take back to Australia. “This one would fit without any excess luggage charges”, Kobby said.

HOPE school Kathmandu cute child

We tried the kids on for size.

HOPE school Kathmandu piggy back races

Being sure to test for the speed at which we could escape if suddenly approached by the police!

Hahaha Kidnapping. But seriously!

While I certainly don’t believe ‘West knows best’, part of me seriously does wish these children could come back to Australia to experience all the opportunities and advantages we have. Imagine these kids could do in Australia.

What if?

When a Grade 2 girl can almost outrun you. When you watch her tackling boys twice her size without reserve you can’t help but think ‘what if?’. What if she had leisure time to play competitive sport? What if she had proper nutrition? What if she had someone to train her? What if she lived in Australia?

HOPE school Kathmandu children

When a Grade 5 can learn about indices from someone speaking a foreign language, then stay after school to be given more Math’s problems you can’t help but wonder. Is the cure to cancer is locked away in someone’s brain who will never be given the chance to do anything other than housework and manual labour? What if he were in Australia?

Opportunity. Who wants it?

Thomas Edison once said that “Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work”. Well, not in Nepal.

A child walks 8km each way for the chance to have an education. They do all the housework and later that night cook dinner for their parents who have been labouring all day. All of this in primary school no less.

We have so many opportunities here in Australia. What are you doing with yours?

HOPE school Kathmandu

Put your hands up if you can smell Lisa!

Posted in Blog Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

India and Nepal (Day 16)

Bistare, Bistare (Slowly, Slowly)

Progress is slow in Nepal. Since the first time I visited in 2010 until now, very little has changed. The capital city, Kathmandu still has no Rail services and the narrow roads are in terrible condition. Bins are still almost non-existent and the valley is still covered with a permanent smog, except for when it rains. The average life expectancy in Nepal is lower than India and despite being the number two producer of Hydro in the world, locals still go 12 or more hours each day without electricity.

Their bus service (cramming as many people as you can into a 12 seater) is still the same too. As we found out this morning. With 8 of us getting on at one stop I thought we would smash the previous record of 28. I forgot to factor in that 8 fully grown Aussies equals around 15 Nepalese. We fell well short with only 20 people inside the vehicle. While this is 8 below the record, it is still 8 more than this vehicle would carry in Australia!

We wound our way across Kathmandu, hoping the person in the back corner of the van didn’t need to get out until the very last stop! Things looked familiar as we headed up the hill to the HOPE School in Boharatar. Out of all the schools we have visited I’ve had the most to do with this one, so it was special to be able to come back again.

Change and Progress

Sadly, since the last trip a lot of the staff have moved on. Most of the kids I had spent time with had graduated from the school, a lot of them getting scholarships. The few that remained barely remembered me, instead they remembered my sister who did all those cool art things with them!

It was great to see the kitchen had now been built and the midday meal program up and running.

Midday meal, HOPE School Nepal

Even better was that the former principal’s wife Sober was put in charge of the cooking. Not only is she one of the best cooks I know, she will not stop until your best attempts at running have turned into a waddle. What starts off as an innocent Chai (tea) can easily turn into a full buffet if you’re not careful! In short, she is the prefect cook for hungry school children.

HOPE school kitchen Nepal

Your idea is great, but…

We arrived at the school to find the boards I had left to teach Maths with had been gathering dust. At least they hadn’t been used for firewood!

Teaching Math in Nepal Geometry

Perhaps they didn’t find it useful, perhaps they didn’t know what to do with it, perhaps they don’t see any benefit to using them, perhaps they are not comfortable teaching in this way…Perhaps I should have asked these questions before I had them made and then lugged them from India to Nepal.

…do they think so?

I remember reading a story about an organization who published millions of hygiene related posters to put up in Africa. Nobody bothered to think about the 70% illiteracy rate and the project looked like a complete failure. Luckily the women who could read started spreading the message through song, making it accessible to the others. The project was saved but the posters were still an enormous waste of money.

Companies too, have developed their own ‘great ideas’ about charity. One is that for each item of clothing you buy here in Australia, we will donate one over in Africa. This sounds great at first but is actually a disaster for the community who receives all this free stuff. With thousands of shoes and shirts being produced cheaply elsewhere and given away free, the local tailor and shoemaker are put out of business. Who wants to pay when you can get something for free? Now his children are begging on the street…but at least they’ll have nice shoes!

It’s all well and good to have a great idea (like a Math board game) but if you are just imposing it on people or haven’t sold them on the value of it, then it won’t work. Two things I have learnt in relation to development since marrying Lisa are

  1. Listen to what the community wants.
  2. Give them ownership of spreading the message.

The response from the kids was positive as we built shapes, calculated their area and made pictures. Such a different approach to education would be hard to run with and require extensive training. What would take months to fully explain, I could give only 2 days and even then I didn’t get the chance to show the new maths teacher because I had accidentally walked in on her using the toilet (I did knock) on the first day!

Teaching Math in Nepal Geometry

Making it work

Despite the complete lack of development in the country the thing I love about Nepalese people is, they make it work. They have no toys, so they slice up used tyre tubes and make their own hackey sacks (called Chumli)

Nepali Chumli (Hackey-Sack) game

If they are too young for Chumli they make other toys

Toy Car, Nepal

And if they are still too young for that they’ll push around a brick that is almost half their body-weight while making car noises. “Brummm Brummm”.

Danger overtaking bus

They turn one lane streets into roads two buses can fit down and when road access is a problem they carry piles of bricks, fridges and entire shopping aisles on their heads.

Sherpa carrying a crazy weight trekking nepal

Up mountains. In sandals!

They make space to fit on a bus where you didn’t think possible and create even more by sitting on the roof. When the bus door finally gives way to all the people crammed inside, they don’t cancel the bus service, they grab the door and hold onto the roof racks so the bus can complete its route.

100_8264

They live a hard life and will continue to as there are systems that need changing, things that need to be built and vast improvements to be made. In the meantime they will make things work. They don’t complain, they make it work.

Posted in Blog Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

India and Nepal (Day 15)

Hotel 7 Star. The name is barely an exaggeration.

The service was incredible, the guides were fantastic, the accommodation was outstanding and the food was out of this world. Even after we insisted they’d forgot to charge us for extras, our bill failed to include the 50+ bottles of water we drank, the pots of tea and coffee that flowed freely throughout our stay or the cake they made for Nick’s birthday. We only realised the extent of their generosity halfway through our bus trip back to Kathmandu.

Play our guessing game.

The rest of our stay had already been paid for which included 3 nights accommodation, all our guided tours and all meals. How much would you expect to pay (per person) for something like this? Have a guess and I’ll reveal the answer in a few days time.

Bus back to reality

Chitwan was a nice break but it wasn’t going to last forever. The long, bumpy and frustrating bus ride bought us back into the real world. Beautiful scenery slowly disappeared and crystal clear streams gave way to filthy swamps of rubbish.

Filthy river

Our time away truly was a taste of coming back to Australia. We discussed this later that night.

Life isn’t about your comfort

How easy it is to forget the lessons learnt and the confronting things you have seen in the real world when you live in a gated community. Australia can be a lot like a gated community, while we have our own share of problems it’s pretty easy to live separate to them. We seek to build our own haven where problems can remain “Out of sight, out of mind” as Mitch would remind us.

Again, there is nothing wrong with escaping. Nothing wrong with having a break. Nothing wrong with taking time to recharge. In fact, they are all great things. But how easy is it for life to become about your comfort and your enjoyment. Our whole lives in Australia revolve around the idea that being comfortable is our ultimate goal. Get a stable job and set yourself up, find a car, buy a house, furnish it and if you’re doing really well repeat the process, this time upgrading your car, your house and everything in it…

Boring!

Do you really think being comfortable is what we were created for? Comfort breeds lethargy and lethargy means you won’t push yourself to grow. On the other hand…

  • Discomfort = Pain
  • Pain = Growth
  • Growth = Change
  • Change = Transformation

My challenge to you is this. Put yourself somewhere uncomfortable. Take a risk, learn a new skill, travel somewhere you normally wouldn’t, talk to that stranger on the bus or read something you disagree with. Whatever you do, don’t settle for a life of comfort.

Posted in Blog Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

India and Nepal (Day 14)

A punbeelievable adventure

Today we ventured further into the jungle as our Safari bus drove us deeper into the bush…what happened next I have taken the liberty of explaining with creative license!

Safari Bus, Chitwan National Park

The area we headed to today was well known for it’s killer bee population.  Undeterred our team bravely continued on, forging a path through the thick jungle.

Jungle, Chitwan National Park

Josh was on the lookout for killer bees and after 6 attempts he finally got the binoculars around the right way!

Binoculars

While he was fumbling around with the binoculars the rest of the team came to a sudden stop. “Here it is”, our guides whispered. “The killer bee tree of death. Look at all those hives”.

Bee Hives, Chitwan National Park

Nick dared Ben to climb the tree and steal some honey. With a whole dollar (half Ben’s weekly budget at Uni) on the line, he couldn’t refuse.

Bee Hive, Chitwan National Park

As Ben approached the nest Mitch and Tim started shouting out puns about Bee’s hoping to stir them up.

“How do you know Bee’s can’t sing? Justin Beiber is their favourite artist!”

“How come bee hair always looks so bad? They use a Honeycomb!”

“What do you tell a lazy bee? Start pollen your weight!”

In didn’t take long before the killer bees swarmed around Ben who was shouting desperately, “Bee nice, Buzz off”. This made matters even worse and the bees launched an attack on his bee-hind.

Lisa, Chitwan National Park

Lisa thought this was all pretty funny…until the bees turned and chased after her.

Huge leaves, Chitwan National Park

This gave Ben a few moments to climb down the tree and make a run for it. Both he and Lisa hid bee-neath this giant plant. The Bees passed by without noticing them which was a HUGE reLEAF!

Wild Chooks, Chitwan National Park

While searching for the rest of the group they came across some wild roosters. Lisa explained the situation and asked for help. “Cock-a-doodle-don’t ask me for help” the roosters replied, having recently signed a peace treaty with the Queen Bee. Apparently this treaty allows them to extract as much honey as they can from the bee hives.

Peacock, Chitwan National Park

Upon hearing this Lisa and Ben quickly moved on and before long had come across an overly sensitive Peacock. After hearing about the many puns that had been made at the bees expense the Peacock fled into the bush, worried at what a name like Pea-cock could inspire.

20,000 lakes, Chitwan National Park

Ben and Lisa came to an opening in the jungle. The buzzing swarm now far behind them…or so they thought.

Crocodile yawning, Chitwan National Park

Two hit-men had been hired to finish the job and lay waiting to ambush the pair.

Baby Elephant, Chitwan National Park

But just then, a baby Elephant came charging to the rescue. She warned them about the danger that lie ahead.

Elephant Whisperer

Ben thanked the Elephant and promised his hand in marriage after this was all over.

A splash was heard up ahead! Ben and Lisa turned to find the rest of the crew on a nearby bridge playing a game of push-offs. Kobby had come off second best and was still shivering despite wearing a warm delicious Mirrogram hoodie.

Bridge Trolls, Chitwan National Park

Ben was bee-side himself and almost fainted at the sight of the group.

Yellow bird, Chitwan National Park

Little did they know, they were bee-ing watched.

Kingfisher, Chitwan National Park

The Queen be had sent orders to her spies to locate the “human scum”.

Eagle, Chitwan National Park

There was no escaping these Eagle eyes.

Group of Deer, Chitwan National Park

“Oh deer”, said Andrew

Deer turning backwards, Chitwan National Park

Oh deer indeed! The Crocs had quietly surrounded them and were about to launch an attack. Andrew noticed the leader by herself on the other side of the bank staring sadly at her reflection.

Crocodile reflection in water, Chitwan National Park

‘I know just the thing to cheer her up’ Andrew thought. He approached the leader with great care, climbing a tall tree before he dared utter a word. “Before you attack, let me show you something” Andrew requested, buying some time for the rest of the team to hide. “Very well” the leader replied. “But know this, if I am not impressed by what you show me I will eat you and your human friends”.

Andrew unzipped his jacket to reveal a Mirrogram shirt. The leader was amazed. “I’ve spent my whole life looking in this lake and I’ve never seen anything like this”. Andrew quickly called for the rest of the group to come out of hiding and show their designs.

We handed over our Mirrogram gear and an agreement was soon reached. The Croc’s would spare our lives and tell the Queen we had bee-n eaten. With our clothing as proof the Queen was bound to bee-lieve them.

“One more thing”, the leader requested “Crocs get such a bad wrap in the press” she complained “We want one of you to wear these bright Yellow Crocs and…” Before the leader had even finished her sentence Andrew ran to receive the gift. All his Crocsmasses had come at once. He slipped them onto his feet and the team skipped merrily into the jungle. Their problems now over.

…or were they!

Snake skin, Chitwan National Park

This was the least of Ben’s worries. An Elephant never forgets!

Posted in Blog Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

India and Nepal (Day 13)

Highlights/Lowlights

  • Dugout Canoe Ride
  • Elephant Safari
  • Wild Rhino’s

The early morning was offset by a good night’s sleep, a buffet breakfast and the dugout canoe ride we were about to go on.

River, Chitwan National Park

We set off down a crystal clear river in search of wildlife. The canoe wobbled from side to side as our enthusiastic guide Harka pointed out a variety of birds. Each time we spotted something he would thank the animals for coming with a massive smile on his face.

Bird, Chitwan National Park

Even though we made numerous attempts to fall into the water due to our sheer lack of co-ordination we still wanted to see a crocodile.

Ducks, Chitwan National Park

After being shown Rhino and Elephant tracks as well as more birds, we finally spotted one. “I’m a vegetarian” she snapped, as we drifted her way, confirming what the guide had already pointed out, that she was lying on the bank!

Garial, Chitwan National Park

The Gharial is a special type of Crocodile which only eats fish. “Thankyou Gharial” our guide called out as we floated by and then landed our Canoe on a bank downstream. We got out ready for a walk through the Jungle, but before that we needed to hear the safety briefing.

Dugout Canoe, Chitwan National Park

While it certainly did fit the definition of brief, two minutes is hardly enough time to prepare someone to deal with wild Elephants, Rhino’s and Tigers. All I remember from our safety briefing was “If a Rhino is charging after you run in a zig-zag” and “If you’re really in trouble pick up a stick to fight off the [insert animal here].

Our guide reminded me of Bear Grylls but I still didn’t like our chances of beating up a Rhino with a stick.

Guide, Chitwan National Park

Harka on the lookout for some wildlife

It was so peaceful being in the bush, away from all the hustle and bustle of the city.

Termite Mound, Chitwan National Park

Termites! What’s the point of scaffolding for a tree you are going to chew down

Just like in the city we still had to watch we didn’t step in poo.

Elephant Poo, Chitwan National Park

Not too much of an exaggeration with the amount of food we were eating!

There were so many things to see in the jungle but most of the animals were scared of us. Perhaps inventing a prestigious award for the “Awesomest Animal” would help!

An Elephant Ride

In the afternoon we jumped on some Elephants and went for another stroll through the jungle. This walk would be unforgettable, and not just because we were on the back of an Elephant. The power and magnificence of these creatures was something to behold. Up and down steep banks, through rivers they went, barely noticing the five people they were carrying.

Elephant Safari, Chitwan National Park

Everything about these Elephants was huge.

Elephant pee, Chitwan National Park

A little dehydrated don’t you think?

Everything.

Elephant Poo, Chitwan National Park

Bombs Away!

Despite the fact you could see them coming from a mile away the other animals seemed unconcerned that there was a 3 tonne beast only meters away. The 5 people on its back were completely ignored as each animal looked across and only saw the Elephant.

The highlight for everyone was coming across a few wild Rhino’s. On the back of an Elephant they looked tiny but in reality they were solid muscle covered in 4cm thick armour that looked as if it were welded together in massive sheets. What a blessing to be able to witness Rhino’s in the wild.

Wild Rhino, Chitwan National Park

Nobody dared to jump off the Elephant and ask this little guy for a pat.

Wild Rhino, Chitwan National Park

“He’s so cute though”

With that the Rhino’s were making a late charge for the “Awesomest Animal” award.

The Elephants were desperate to cement their place as No 1 so when the Safari ended each elephant took the tip from our hand and passed it up to the driver. Judging the competition became an easy tusk after that. The elephants were declared the winners. They could save their “My trunk” parody of Fergie for next year.

Elephant, Chitwan National Park

Not the most gracious of winners the Elephants headed back into the jungle to give the Rhino’s a spray. “Haha, kiss my butt Rhino’s! Better luck next year.”

Elephants, Chitwan National Park

Funnily enough, this is my favourite pic from the whole trip!

Later that night we went to a Tharu cultural performance. The 30 second stick fighting dance below was the highlight.

Then to cap it all off, the hotel had made a cake for Nick’s 19th. Best birthday ever!

Hotel Seven Star

Posted in Blog Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,