Wednesday, 1 July 2015

13 Months in Nepal


13 Months in Nepal
01.05.2014 – 31.05.2015


It has been a month since I returned from Nepal. The past few weeks back here, back ‘home’ have been just the way I like it… a lot of free time and spending time with my family. I have attended few events and reconnected with a small number of family and friends.

When someone asks me “How was Nepal? Do you miss it?” I have nothing to say apart from “Nepal was good, erm… I don’t know what I’ll miss… too many things happened”. There were few who said “aba ta Nepal bata aghayau hola ni?” Wrong. I am happy to be back in the UK because I now want to learn and experience more here in the UK before I go back to Nepal for an extended period of time again. I also see a lot of opportunities and hope in Nepal but it all boils down to how hard I want to work to “make it” in Nepal. Leave this blogger side out because this is not my profession and landing up on TV is not the aim… This is only a medium, a way to connect, share, build a relation... it’s something sometimes I feel ‘stuck’ in but something I know which has definitely given me a lot and I cannot let go; for there is too much left to be done.

LIVING IN NEPAL

A lot of people asked me how I adjusted to life in Kathmandu, the dust, loadshedding, water-shortage, public transportation and all sorts. Long before I arrived in Nepal, I had been mentally preparing myself for the change and that definitely helped. The biggest challenge for me was my commute from my chowk – outside ring-road to Kalanki during my first job and then came the second intern work where I had to get a tuk-tuk from my chowk to Ratna Park and then a micro to Jhamsikhel. Annoyingly sweaty and squashed. Sometimes I made an effort to dress up casual smart – only to have a little toddler stepping on my shoes or trousers – day ruined. Kahile kahi, I did wonder… what the hell was I doing but a quick reminder of my aims for the year would snap me back in form.

I try my best not to complain about the system or why there’s no water or electricity. I’ve just used that to think of ways to be better and getting straight to the point, to be rich one day so I have everything. Money is the answer to most problems.

WORKING IN NEPAL

In totality I’ve only lived in Nepal for four years and half of that was from the time I was born till the age of two. I’ve only worked in the UK and talking to colleagues on a first-name basis is normal here. Unfortunately, in many of the offices it’s not normal in Nepal. In the beginning I stuck to addressing somebody by saying ‘ji’ example, Keshav’Ji etc but it just got really weird especially when my fellow colleagues would be saying ‘Sir’ and I’d be there like ‘Keshav’Ji’. Done. Be “Roman when you’re in Rome” bhaneko jhai, I just adapted. I enjoyed saying ‘Sir’, ‘Ji’, ‘Maam’ later on.

To a lot of people who wonder, what is there to do in Nepal or have ideas of shifting to Nepal to start 9AM-5PM office job; I would advise you to go for it, try it out – sometimes you easily land a job, sometimes it takes a long time but Nepal is a place where, if you can, you should go and create your own job and create employment for people. I can only see myself working for a multinational corporation, INGO or alongside young Nepalese.  

SOCIALISING

As I like to say, Kathmandu is a place where you don’t have to work or earn to have a good social life. I don’t know where the money comes from but there doesn’t seem to be a shortage. During the last few months, I felt like I was a fresher in university once again. I used to go out with my friends atleast 2-3 times a week, mainly Thamel and we’d constantly be eating lunch and dinner outside in the city. I met a lot of people, established a lot of social acquaintances but unfortunately, I only made a few friends during my time there… the friends that I did make, we would meet a lot. They became my family.

TRAVELLING IN NEPAL

Having the opportunity to travel with work on multiple occasions was amazing for me! I got to visit far-western districts and even during my internship, they gave me the flexibility to take off when and as I wanted. The trip to Rara Lake, Everest Base Camp Trek, Red Panda Network EcoTrip in Ilam and Bandipur will stand out for me. Shit! I forgot Jomsom – yep that too! There are so many places to visit in Nepal and even if they’re not the tourist spots, they will have their own importance and that will be definitely worth your time. The trip to Upper Dolpa with Binod Shahi Newa and team was supposed to take place on April 27 (cancelled due to the earthquake). I hope to visit one day…

During my travels, I use a lot of different mode of transport including local bus, night bus, day bus, flights, private hire and all. I tend to get annoyed when someone shares their experience and says “oh hami ta night bus ma hidchum, tapailai thaha nai chaina hola kasto huncha bhanera”. We’re not so different.

FAMILY IN NEPAL

I lived with my grandma’, aunty, two cousins and our dog Jacky. They used to sleep really early, sometimes by 8.30PM. Since I have a habit of staying up late, I hated staying at home in the evening; there was nothing to do and our internet was crap (I tried getting the WorldLink fast internet but that doesn’t cover our area). Living in the upper floor by myself was not fun either. Nonetheless, I am happy to have spent time with my relatives and especially boju. I find it extremely sad that she doesn’t have a lot to do and for her, din bitaunu is a huge struggle. Unfortunately, her sons and daughters are all over the globe, working and resettled. That makes me think a lot about families living across different parts of the world.

THE NOT SO FUN PART

I regret not purchasing a bike in the beginning. I would’ve saved so much money; all drained in taxi fares. I missed my family, friends and the food from the UK A LOT! You may be thinking, “you’re in the land of momos, chatpatey and chowmein” but trust me, I think the difference for me is that I grew up in the land of burger, chips, nuggets, greasy chicken, fish and chips, slush ice drinks and all that. I am not saying Kathmandu didn’t have restaurants that provided them – but I missed particular ones from McDonalds, Nando’s, KFC, TGIFridays, Chinese Takeaway’s and more.

I would have some amazing, exciting, inspiring days that would occupy my time very well but when it came to the night; it would be very slow, silent and still. I hated those long hours. It felt very lonely and a lot of the times I’d bother the few friends that I had made and just countdown till I could wake up again and escape into another day. Of course to avoid all that – I did go out a lot, eating out, drinking out, partying and I don’t regret it at all. Blocking the silence of the evening out by the noise of Club OMG – that’s why I’ve dubbed it ‘oh my ghar’. Bittersweet.

THE EARTHQUAKE

The earthquake changed everything; plans, people, lives and our thinking. I thought I was going to die in that mall or get badly injured. Having been part of relief efforts in and outside of Kathmandu, we – in a team – tried our best; I felt it would be better to leave it to actual trained professionals in the field as I saw that there were problems of relief materials being sent to some areas multiple times and a lack of coordination midst communities and different people involved.

Seeing people come together at such a time to support one another was encouraging and it gave me hope for a brighter tomorrow.

LOOKING BACK
I have no regrets. I want to thank myself for following my own decision to go and spend a year in Nepal, especially when there were voices around wondering what on earth I would do for a year in Nepal. I was the busiest and the most productive that I have ever been. I invested time to build myself and though I don’t know what I will gain exactly, I am hopeful for good things in the days to come.

The thirteen months I spent in Nepal is probably one of the best years of my life so far. I want to thank my family first and everyone that I met in Nepal; from people on the streets, through work and social events; you’ve played a part in making my time extraordinary.

LOOKING AHEAD
When I finished my bachelor’s degree, I never wanted to study again but experiencing life a bit more through travels, volunteering, internship and the year in Nepal, I realise that I missed learning and I may have taken ‘education’ for granted in the past. I believe I will enjoy the process of learning more now and hopefully it will all click when I start my Masters course at the end of September this year. 

I am enjoying the present and looking forward to the future.

A recent Q&A video that I did #AskLex

Saturday, 20 June 2015

Project 365 - Day 365 : One Year in Nepal

DAY 365 : One Year in Nepal

Date: 30/04/2015

I literally slept the whole day today.

Today also happens to be the final entry on my PROJECT 365. That means, it marks one year in Nepal. It's been a crazy year; a lot of highs and few lows and just a bundle of emotions. With the earthquake and all, I really cannot sum up this one year right now. I guess that will have to be done once I officially get back to the UK and settle in.

I have one more month in Nepal, will be flying out on May 31st. After talking to few folks here, we should be more active with relief work and distribution from tomorrow onwards - looking forward to that.

For now, I want to thank you for reading my blogposts and coming along on this journey with me. Hope you read the summary post - coming - when I actually bother to write lol.

Project 365 - Day 364 : The Longest Day


DAY 364 : The Longest Day

Date: 29/04/2015

I left the house early in the morning determined to be of use and help today. I met my friend Astik outside Bir Hospital - Trauma Center and there, we signed ourselves up to volunteer overnight. The volunteer coordination and efforts are being led by Sudan Gurung, yep, the DJ Sudan from Club OMG and OMG Events. It's inspiring to see him lead and do it so well. He has a growing team of volunteers and they now call themselves the I TO WE Team.

We went over to one of the rooms to donate blood and that was where I met Nuning who also happens to be a cousin. Since the wait to donate blood was painstakingly slow, we decided to go over to Red Cross in Bhrikutimandap. A decision well made - things were a lot more efficient and smooth in Red Cross. It was my first time donating blood, quite an experience aye! I thought it would literally take a minute or two and you'd be out the door.

After donating blood we made our way to the FNCCI Operation Relief camp in Bhrikutimandap exhibition grounds. There, we tried to see if we could assist or be of help somewhere. Unfortunately, we felt that the place was mismanaged so we left. 

One of Astik's employees who lives in Kavre has lost his house and a few other houses in his village. Since Astik's parents had already bought a lot of food, grains, snacks, we decided we'd buy some material for them to protect themselves overnight and venture out to Kavre today. By the time we bought flex (something that can be used to cover their temporary shelter) and gathered all the goods together, it was around 5PM. With Astik's parents, we left for a village up in Kavre!

Thankfully we made it in just more than two hours. Seeing the damaged and fallen buildings during our journey made me realise how much assistance will be required in the days to come for rebuilding. It's even more saddening for villagers who live far from roads, who will go and help them? The village that we reached had quite a few houses damaged and destroyed but it was nice to see the villagers who were positive about themselves and their community. After the distribution of goods, we made it back to Kathmandu around 10.30PM.

My arm, the side where I donated blood, was feeling funny... 

A quick dinner at Astik's house and then we left for Bir Hospital - Trauma Center to volunteer. A group of volunteers including us were paired with a patient (without a carer/family) and we had to look after our patient; water, medicine, toilet etc. You know, this night of volunteering at the hospital inspired me in a way I could never have imagined. There were so many young boys and girls, young Nepalese adults - helping out and being of great use - seeing them and being around them gave me hope for the days to come. Towards the morning, I was located near some boju ra didi haru - they looked okay from the outside but when I would help them or gently lift them up, some of them were screaming and crying in pain... I cannot imagine what's happening inside their body, what they have fractured or broken. A man who was rescued today was brought in... he had been surviving by drinking muddy water. Uhako nidharma kira pareko cha bhannu bhayo uhako bhai le. As the survivor slept, the brother on the side looked with tears in his eyes... seeing that was very emotional.

Around 5-6AM, I started to get really tired.....

We left at about 7.30AM in the morning (of 30 April). I am shattered.

Project 365 - Day 363 : Poor Day

DAY 363 : Poor Day

Date: 28/04/2015

I left in the morning with an intention to be productive but that really didn't happen.

I walked to Subodh's place in Chakrapath where I charged my phone and power pack. It was surreal to see Nepal on the news, my first time seeing the earthquake coverage on television. Since Nawal Krishma and friends were camping out nearby, I went to say Hello and see how they were doing. They were fine. It started raining heavily and I got stuck there in their tents just waiting for the weather to clear out. 

Eventually once the rain cleared out I made my way to Bhrikutimandap to sign up as a volunteer for FNCCI Operation Relief. Everything was too late today, to donate blood or to volunteer... shucks. I went over to meet Pooja in Tangalwood and returned home in the evening.

Having no transport medium of your own during this time literally takes so much time away. I' walked everywhere today - my day just went like, poof!

Project 365 - Day 362 : Uncertain Days

DAY 362 : Uncertain Days

Date: 27/04/2015

"Sir of the Himalayas" Binod Shahi Newa, volunteers from Snow Yak Foundation, videographer Sisan Baniya and I were supposed to embark on our journey to Upper Dolpa today. We would've flown to Surkhet today and then onwards to Masineychour in Dolpa tommorrow. The trek to Nisalgaun in Upper Dolpa would've seen us cross many villages, a high pass and walk for two weeks approximately. It probably would've been the most physically challenging trek for me, I guess, for us. The aim was to capture Dolpa, Binod Shahi's work and the people there - of course, the Shey Phoksundo lake is also a big pull! The trip won't be happening now... I guess some things are better left for the future.

Getting in touch with friends around Kathmandu, I came to know many of them are fine however they seemed very shaken. Unfortunately, some of them have lost homes in their neighbourhood, people and hope. The most important thing... hope. Without hope, even living is difficult.

I ventured out to Teaching Hospital to attend a meeting today about possibly forming an earthquake response alliance network. The meeting had many key figures and people of influence in attendance; politician, doctor, activist, aid worker etc. However, I have a strong inkling that this meeting or team won't be able to progress forward. I say this because some of the individuals are very well recognised and it would probably be best for them to do their own thing than be tied up or tied down. Depends on the way you look at it.

It was encouraging to see many volunteers around Teaching Hospital, selflessly driven by the force to do good, to help.

We're planning something for tomorrow.

Project 365 - Day 361 : Moving Out - Temporary Shelter

DAY 361 : Moving Out - Temporary Shelter

Date: 26/04/2015


We all slept on the ground-floor last night... I guess it would've been better to sleep out in the open but with no tents or tarp' we made the living room our base. The aftershocks continued scaring us throughout the night. A lot of frantic trips were made from the living room to the front open space outside the house. We did try sleeping outside under the open sky for a bit and then it started raining, very lightly but it was enough to have us going back into the house.

Apart from walking to the chowk nearby, I didn't venture out today. Mama (unlce) and I decided to make a small make-shift tent for us to sleep in. There's too many warning about another earthquake and since everybody is sleeping outdoors, I think it makes sense that we do as well. I am not looking forward to it but then again, to be stuck indoors when and if another one strikes is quite a frightening thought.

I still have no idea what to do... like... I feel helpless and I am too scared right now to do anything but I know that there must be more out there, feeling a lot worse, lost a lot more and in need of assistance. Today just went by, well I let it go by and I feel guilty. I will try to make a better use of myself tomorrow. 

Project 365 - Day 360 : Nepal Earthquake 2015

DAY 360 : Nepal Earthquake 2015

Date: 25/04/2015


Like millions across the country, I will remember today for a long time to come.

I excitedly left the house to catch the 12.40 midday show of Resham Filili at CTC Mall. I went an hour early to get the booked ticket, after all - the film was set to do huge business and I wanted to avoid as much people as possible so I picked the cinema in CTC Mall and was happy to pay the somewhat steep price for the cinema tickets. I thought I would finally try this fancy "five star" cinema and bought two tickets. With the way things are, I don't think I will ever be trying this "five star" cinema out - not this year anyway.

After making the purchase at the box office outside the mall, I walked in and decided to order a coffee and wait for Ro' on the ground floor. Since I didn't have my friends Nepal number, I thought it'd be best to wait where I could be seen easily. I sat down, put my bag on the chair and started scrolling through Facebook. My umbrella was on the floor. Today there weren't many people on the ground floor - then again the mall hasn't been that great in attracting retailers and people in general.

I wondered why my latte was taking it's sweet time and before I could turn around and ask the barista if she was preparing the order, the ground shook. It felt like the floor was going to burst open. Since I was sat on the ground floor in the atrium bit, I worried thinking the roof was going to fall. I remember being quick but also having enough time to think "fuck this is it, this is an earthquake". Having experienced an earthquake in Debuche during the Everest Base Camp trek in December, I thought this would be a few seconds affair but I was very wrong. I thought of protecting myself beneath the stairway but before I knew it, the tiles started cracking and falling. It was a no go area. I couldn't run out even when the exit was so near because the ground was shaking uncontrollably. This earthquake showed no signs of stopping. I stayed in a corner near the lift - still worried about the wall tiles falling. The two baristas' ran over to where I was. They cried a lot. I couldn't cry. Somebody had to pretend like they're fine. I held them in my arms and just looked, I couldn't say anything. All I thought was about my parents and my sisters in the UK. 

I looked outside but before that, I could hear things falling and smashing upon reaching the ground. Some glass panels were falling. The two baristas' legged it - they ran out and made it. I was too scared. I thought I would get hit by the tiles or atleast the glass panels but I couldn't stay and wait inside. I ran towards the exit and straight to the other side of the road. I made it. I couldn't register what had just happened. I quickly ran towards the open space opposite the CTC Mall. I am not ashamed to say but I was scared, I had tears in my eyes, I was unsure, confused, alone.

I couldn't think about anyone else but my family in the UK. I wanted to call them and tell them about what had just happened but the line wasn't connecting at all. I had no way to get in touch and I felt disconnected. I quickly made a Facebook update via the public page - I wanted the world to know what had just happened. Surprisingly after a few "retry" the post was published. It was only after a few minutes I called up my Kathmandu house... no answer. I tried to get in touch with friends, no answer. There I stood looking at CTC Mall, a fairly new mall in Kathmandu and thinking what the fuck just happened. I heard people talking about Dharahara, "dharahara ta chaina". I quickly walked over by myself to see it. I stood from the road and saw there was nothing. I couldn't believe it. 

Apart from the big earthquake - there were plenty of aftershocks keeping the people on the edge. I had left my bag, my laptop, money and umbrella inside the mall. I desperately knew I had to go back in, I just didn't know when would be the right time to go back. I let the situation calm down and went over to New Road and Basantapur without knowing the extent of the devastation. I was numb. Speechless. I didn't know how to react, what to say; I was in a state of shock. I did not want to believe in what had just happened. Along the way and on the road, I met quite a few familiar faces.

I still had not made contact with KTM home, I wanted to go home as soon as possible but I wanted to get my bag! I walked back to CTC Mall and it was only then I noticed the amount of cracks across the wall and damage around the building. I asked the security if anyone had gone in, apparently some did but an aftershock had them run out of the mall for their lives. Since the mall wasn't sealed off or anything, I carefully ran inside and got my bag and made it out. It was only after a few minutes I realised I forgot to grab my umbrella. 

I made contact with home - they were all fine and out in the open. I was able to text two friends and receive a message from them saying there were fine. I had never felt so alone in my life, even when surrounded by thousands of people.

As the grounds continue to shake, I still cannot register what happened today. It feels like a bad dream and right now, I don't want to wake up to more bad news tomorrow. I was complaining about a lot of things yesterday but right now I would do anything to have yesterday back. 

Like millions across the country, I will remember today for a long time to come.