I Have A Dream: Fresh Veggies For Every Child
Now that I've finally adopted a comfortable routine, the full moon tells me it's time to go...
The last weeks I've been getting up at 6. I have my tea and do a bit of reading or writing. I take my breakfast around 7:30 (muesli and curd or eggs and toast), followed by a quick perusal of the Himalayan Times. Finally, a nice long swim in my beloved lake...
When the Himalayan Times is delivered, it's brought directly to me. This is what I appreciate about spending some time in one place. The people around get to know you, your habits and preferences and idiosyncrasies. A few months in one place and the locals are sure to notice. Before you know it, you're part of the community gossip!
Headlines in the local papers are peppered with the Maoists' latest antics. They seem always to be "manhandling" someone. At the moment they're planning protests in September. The rest of the headlines usually deal with those killed in landslides and/or overturned busses. (This is one of the reasons I felt inclined to stay here in Pokhara, as each time I thought to go, another bus accident headline changed my mind!) One article I read noted that Nepali jails are known for having some of the worst conditions in Asia. I repeat, some of the worst conditions in Asia.
This prompted me to visit the local jail, both to have a look for myself and also to cheer up any forlorn western prisoners with a chat and perhaps an apple muffin. Seems there was only one westerner, an Aussie, who had served a two-year sentence for forgery and was recently released. I was told his only visitor was the occasional enbassy official. Of the 61 prisoners in the Pokhara jail, 16 of them are women. Most of the women were involved in smuggling young girls (a.k.a. slave trade), while most of the men went down on drug-related charges. Each inmate gets 30 rupees (about 50 cents US) and 700 grams of rice daily. Now, I'm no expert, but as far as jails go, I thought it looked pretty humane. Though I admit that no one was smiling.
I had a bit of a revelation the other day; vegetables are "expensive," but you can buy a small package of Parle G (TM) biscuit for THREE RUPEES. I do believe there is nothing cheaper than a 3-rupee package of nutritionally worthless biscuit. I suddenly understood with great clarity the problem of malnutrition in Nepali children. They live on biscuit, and biscuit is not food. This is a huge problem happening all around the world, including my very own country. A bigger problem than I can articulate now..needless to say I am deeply disturbed and will not be able to claim ignorance on this point in the future...
Alas, the time has come to head south, destination: Madras, Tamil Nadu. I will, of course, take my time getting there, with my first stop at the birthplace of Lord Buddha in Lumbini (about 6-7 hours south of here) near the border of India.
love and light to my loved ones,
PS: I finally swam across the lake! It was slightly less than an hour, during which I had the marvellous idea to make a pilgrimage to holy bodies of water!
Five Tips for Effective International Communication:
1) Avoid conjugating verbs whenever possible.
He go swimming.
She like to dance.
2) Avoid using prepositions whenever possible.
Can you explain me please?
I go Mahendrapool.
3) Use fewer words and speak them SLOWLY. In general, two words is good.
4) Give up using "do" and "doesn't," especially in question forms.
You like coffee?
He want to go Panchassee?
4) If you are American, just don't speak. Nobody can understand Americans except other Americans.
Lola Bites Back: And Other Inspirational Tidbits
- Name: Lola Bites Back
- Location: Bissingen an der Teck, Baden Wuerttemberg, Germany
Laughing all the way...
Sunday, August 26, 2007
I Have A Dream: Fresh Veggies For Every Child
Wednesday, August 22, 2007
Maoists Are At It Again
The first ever constituent elections are scheduled for November and Nepal seems to be coming apart at the seams. I went to mail some postcards the other day, but discovered it was not possible. Why? The Maoists have shut down the post. Ahhhh, great, okay, so where’s the newspaper? The Maoists have shut down distribution of the Himalayan Times. Yes, of course.
It’s amazing these guys can continue negotiating for representation as they regularly beat people up (especially journalists) and generally wreak havoc on society. Now those crazy Maoists have announced plans to protest the election unless the monarch is replaced with a republic, just one of their 22-point demands. And many other factions are following suit, staging protests and presenting their demands. The turmoil is palpable.
But what I really want to talk about are my many creature companions. Lately my room is filled with snails, moths of all shapes and sizes, as well as plenty of mosquitoes, cockroaches, and the occasional praying mantis (preying?). The truth is I find most of my constant companions insufferable, but I have at least conditioned myself to avoid killing anyone. The only exception is when I accidentally step on a snail – often the size of a baseball – and immediately want to upchuck.
But there is one creature companion I am really appreciating…fireflies! The lakeside becomes a magical wonderland in the evening when they appear, their flashing green butts twinkling in the night…what a special little insect!
And did I mention the water buffalo? Many times while on the mountain I would spend a half hour, maybe more, staring intently at one, waiting to see who would look away first. I invariably lost. The buffalo are curious, sensitive, dignified creatures with a much more developed consciousness than their sweet but bumbling cow counterparts. I will really miss these remarkable creatures when I finally leave Nepal.
I now find myself basking in the glorious lake water several times a day. The weather is improving and tourists are beginning to arrive en masse. As a strictly “off-season girl,” this signals my impending departure. But, like everything else, I’ll take my time doing it…
This morning, employing a lazy breaststroke as I headed back to shore, I noticed we had a visitor. I was a few meters from shore, admiring her large-brimmed hat, when she suddenly crumpled to the ground and landed in the mud. I screamed for help as I kicked into a power crawl. She had only fainted, and she later recovered, but I realized how scared I was to actually see her fall…her body looked so fragile and lifeless. It was the first time I had witnessed someone faint!
So, my dear loved ones, I officially apologize for all the times I scared the crap out of you with my fainting antics. I assure you it will not happen again!
Monday, August 20, 2007
Baptized in the Church of Mother Nature
I am doing well, but I have to admit that I am also sometimes deeply struggling. I understand and fully accept that my personal “demons” (a.k.a. suffering, karmas, whatever you want to call it..) come with me wherever I roam. I am experiencing that now. But since I arrived in Asia I’ve learned many, many methodical and scientific methods that, if I put them into consistent and dedicated practice, will bring peace and love and acceptance into my being. About this there can be no doubt.
Consistent and dedicated practice. Yes.
And just as I go through periods of struggle, I also experience extended “highs,” as if a strong current of energy is being channeled through me that then radiates outward, drawing to me many beneficial “coincidences,” interesting people that teach me by their amazing examples, and generally an atmosphere of action and positivity...As I’ve said many times before, I always have what I need and I am always well-protected. I know this because I feel it. Alas, the journey of 1,000 miles begins with a single step, and those first steps are seriously intimidating.
Of course, as human beings we all experience fear. We can be courageous, but as Mr. Twain so aptly remarked, courage is not the absence of fear. So we must learn to endure it, to overcome it in some way, as we struggle forward on that long journey ahead.
The egg was already cracked, but my time in Asia has pried it apart. Now there’s a mess, but I have to start somewhere. It comes down to putting what I know into practice...reprogramming my mind (purify it) by eliminating harmful thoughts, words and actions and cultivate instead more compassion, tolerance and love.
Enough of my inner musings! Let me share my latest gift from God;
Pokhara’s incredibly pristine, 100% natural lake is about 2 km across, and for weeks I’ve slept in a room on the edge of it. I’ve showered with a view of the lake. I’ve taken my meals, read my books, and washed my clothes next to this lake. I’ve walked back and forth many times along the edge of the lake. But I have never entered the lake. After two months of nearly continuous Ganga baths, in what some might call filth (not me), why did I never consider swimming in the majestic body of water sitting right under my nose? It seems inexplicable.
Of course, in India, Nepal, and I suspect many Asian countries, people drown regularly in local bodies of water. Two a week seems average. And maybe two months ago an Australian man staying where I am now drowned. No one quite knows why. But this fear didn’t keep me out of the relatively more dangerous currents of the Ganga in Hrishikesh, so why should it stop me now?
Finally, two days ago, I was inspired by a Belgian man who’s been swimming in the lake twice daily over the last five months. It was time, and I felt confident enough to test it out. The water is remarkably clean and clear and has a sweet taste...I can even see down to my feet when I’m swimming. Today I swam out to the middle of the lake, where I learned that the opposite shore is much much further than it actually looks.
But the best part is that as soon as I was in the water I was instantly transported - in the water my body is free to float and glide effortlessly, calmly, peacefully. When the shore gets so small I can barely make out the people, I realize that nobody can reach me. Out there in the middle of a vast glassy surface, I am alone with myself, alone with Mother Nature, alone with God. I instantly felt my soul being healed, like being cuddled and held safe by Mother Nature's protecting force. I imagine it is a feeling close to the baptism of a deep believer, though I’ve never been baptized by any church.
Once again, I understand that I am seriously blessed to have this unbelievable opportunity.
All my love,
Sunday, August 12, 2007
I'm Finally Off Toilet Paper!!!
It's nearing the end of the off-season here in Nepal and desperation pollutes the air. For whatever reason, I am (and always have been) highly sensitive to my environment, and the energy here in Pokhara is distinctly stressful. This is why I decided to hole up in a guest house at the other end of the lake (there are approximately 700 guest houses in Lakeside). My room sits on the lake (Fewa Tal) and is very, very quiet, so I no longer feel an urgent need to leave Pokhara. Now I can simply relax and regroup at my leisure. Unfortunately, my visa expires on the 21st, so unless I manage to drag myself to the immigration office soon (for a one-month extension), I may need to flee the country.
That reminds me; several people have now expressed concern via email about the monsoon. Indeed, the papers all report that this years' monsoon is one of the worst, with a significant death toll and millions of people left without homes. Most of the damage in Nepal is in the Terai (maybe 100km south of here) and in Northeast India (Bihar). Personally I am not too much affected, except for the fact that bus travel -an already high-risk activity here in Nepal- is rendered even more dangerous. Overturned busses are a regular occurrence even without rain (we saw two on the way to Pokhara, each time thanking God that our bus was spared!). So for the moment I am content to remain where I am. If I absolutely need to flee the country, I could take the 6-hours bus ride back to Kathmandu where I can take a flight (less than $100 USD) to Delhi. The only problem with this plan? Delhi is a hell-hole.
For some (all?) of you, it may appear that I am not doing much. Since I descended from the mountain and located my shanti-shanti guest house on the lake (100 Nepali rupees/night, or less than $2 USD), I discovered that I am finally able to read books! It is unfortunate that during my time in Hrishikesh, where books are cheap and plentiful, I was unable to read (which, incidentally, did not stop me from actually acquiring a mountain of books – did you get them, dad?). Now that I am in Nepal, where books are expensive and selection is limited, I am finally in the right mindset to spend hours immersed in a good story.
My first days back were spent engrossed in Autobiography of a Yogi (Parmahansa Yogananda). For those of you with a slightly open mind, I HIGHLY recommend it. I especially appreciated the numerous references to (and clear explanations of) verses in the Bible. It is the first time I have seen biblical scriptures interpreted in a way that actually make sense to me, especially the story about Adam and Eve (page 168, I believe). This book has helped me to appreciate Christian tradition in a way I never did before. And aside from all that, it's a great read. I finished it in three days.
Next up? A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking. While indeed brief, it is filled with abstract concepts that, although thrilling, pass right over the top of my head. I will need to re-read this one five more times before I have assimilated some of it! But it does include some of my all-time favorite scientific ideas, like Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle, and the dual nature of light (it's both a particle AND a wave!!!), and this gives me hope that I may one day understand the rest..
On the mountain I had an inordinate amount of time to sit and think. There were few people and they only spoke Nepalese, so many times I was forced to retreat into the vast recesses of my brain. It is there that I discovered that, while it may seem as though I am doing very little, I am actually doing the most important thing of all: I'm slowly unraveling and invalidating all the deep-seated, negative habit patterns and thought patterns that have accompanied me throughout my life. It is these thought patterns that have crippled my development. But 30 years of wrong learning and wrong thinking cannot be undone in three months! On the mountain I came to understand that only by developing consciousness (awareness) and taking everything one day at a time will I be able to compile a new framework of thoughts and habits that I may evolve in the future. I simply cannot incorporate everything I learned in Hrishikesh at one time! An example? My fainting "problem" is not physical...it is the result of believing that I am not strong. If we believe it, it becomes true. The power of the mind is an amazing thing.
Helping me to understand this is my newest soul sister Maria, a gem of a woman who is passing through the same experiences I am and who functions like a mirror for me. Like me, she is drawn by some unseen force to the Himalaya, and like me, she cannot also explain why. Together we are discovering many, many things. I thank my super souls for sending her to me, as she helps me to realize that I am much stronger than I perceive myself to be, and that I need not conquer the world in one day.
Note about pictures; it turns out that I am much more inclined to use the video mode on my digital camera. Unfortunately, videos cannot be uploaded (at least, not here in Nepal) while regular pix are dodgy and slow to upload (at best). Below are the fruit of the last hour and a half...enjoy!
All my love to my dear family and friends. You may be scattered over the globe, but I could swear you were all living in the center of my heart!
Me with my grass-cutting teachers: Sarita (8 years) and Ganga (15 years) in Bhangjang
Monday, August 06, 2007
Better Late Than Never
A few pics... (If the responsibility were solely my own, you would likely not see any pictures!)
A somewhat comical photo taken near Banaras (Uttar Pradesh, India) by my friend Rumi, my roommate in Kathmandu who is now back home in Osaka, Japan.
Mountain Mantra; “Bistare bistare”
Bhangjang – four houses, maybe 10 permanent residents, no electricity, no English
As I sit back and let the holes in my body heal, I’m (slowly) assimilating all my new experiences.For me, “bistare bistare”…Nepalese for “slowly slowly,” was without a doubt the most important recurring theme on the mountain. Everything from grass-cutting on slippery mountainsides to cooking dinner or just walking to the toilet MUST be done very slowly.
There was the night they chopped up a buffalo head on the floor next to where I ate (in the darkness I could never be sure of specifics..was that my blood on the floor? Buffalo blood? Was there a leech that was getting away with murder?) Long strips of tripe hung for days uncomfortably close to my head until they were completely dried. I was obliged on several occasions to consume buffalo masu (meat). The crunchy bits (cartilage, perhaps?) and chewy consistency reminded me of the nightmares I used to have years ago where I would chew a piece of meat endlessly but the gristly bits would never break down…
On several occasions I was given a special treat: fresh buffalo milk. I was not generally asked whether I wanted to drink buffalo milk. It was just handed to me in a simple (relatively extravagant) gesture of respect to guests (Guest is God), whereupon I would need to figure out how to “consume” my portion. It has a strange flavor that at first I regarded as repulsive but later came to appreciate in some way (but not quite enjoy). One thing keeping me from embracing the baby buffalo within are the substantial chunks of mucous that inevitably find their way into my mouth. (I know I've toughened up, but I am Sorry. This is just too revolting for words. Add to that the fact that they kill the baby buffaloes so we can drink their milk...need I say more?
Nepali Mountain Women are STRONG - These women were so strong that I never stopped being amazed the entire time I was on the mountain. They regularly heave 20-30 kilos up the steep (and slippery!) mountainside using huge baskets strapped to their foreheads. I once lifted 25 kilos this way and confirmed my suspicion that you need a really strong neck muscle to pull it off.
As a matter of fact, all the daily "chores" on the mountainside are very dangerous, another reason to do everything slowly. In my early days I was open (but not enthusiastic, given the leech infestation) to the benign-sounding task of grass-cutting. Unused to wielding a machete ("asi" in Nepali), it took less than 10 minutes for me to hack into my left hand. Around this time I became aware of several things: 1) The machete is very, very sharp and heavy; 2) my 15-year old companion (Ganga) has many severe-looking scars covering her hands; 3) I should cut grass more slowly.
The near-complete lack of access to health care is an interesting experience for me, and I continue to cogitate on it. Many times during my stay I witnessed "close calls" as well as actual injuries sustained in the course of normal daily activities. Each time someone had a significant fall (soooo easy to trip or slip at any moment!), those around would collectively inhale until the damage could be assessed. Serious injury is a scary thing in a remote place. Worst case scenario? (I assume) a helicopter can be summoned and several people can heave you up to the peak where there is a UN-funded helicopter pad. But only if you're a tourist..
I met one Nepali girl with a fresh snake bite. She and her family all wore grave expressions. Seems the only thing to do is wait and see if it gets worse. There simply is no doctor. One day, the right side of Ama's (the 50 year-old woman whose home I shared for several weeks) face exploded like a balloon. Something was clearly very wrong with her tooth and I was able to confirm that there was a lot of pain. Over the course of the next 5 or 6 days, the swelling slowly went down, but no doctor was ever sought. This is Nepali medical care. Every night that I went to bed without any serious injury was another great reason to thank God.
The mountain village environment was so different from anything I have previously experienced, that I have great difficulty approximating all the "new information" I was able to absorb there. When the rains came, there was little to do but sit on the floor, preferably close to the fire, and watch.
Watch the women cook meals (daal bhat – a mountain of white rice with lentil soup), work (smearing red clay along the clay fireplaces to repair cracks and missing parts), make the local alcoholic beverage "roxie," with the strength of a nice wine but the flavor of something more whisky-like. Cooking roxie is a labor-intensive process that was often repeated throughout the day; boil a huge pot of fermented "codo" (millet) water and collect the steam in another pot. The procedure takes maybe 4 hours and produces about 2 litres of alcohol, which the worker men (who aren't working because of the rain) suck down as fast as the women can make it. I'll admit, after an entire day spent cold, wet, and crouching next to a small fire on the floor in the kitchen while it pours rain, a cup of fresh hot roxie is Really Appreciated…
I’m tapped for now..more soon,
All my love,
Friday, August 03, 2007
Leeches 101: It Just Seems Like Science Fiction
Okay ladies, this one's for you: I've got some great video of the 30 plus leech bites on my legs, feet and ankles. It's really remarkable. The first time I saw a leech on the way up the mountainside, I was very, very scared. They are hideous worm-like creatures that stand on end and sniff around for blood. About 2/3 the way up the mountain, I discovered my first big leech happily sucking away on my shin. Once they've been sucking awhile, they grow bigger and you really have to scrape hard to break the suction...but they never die. Only fire or salt will kill them. And they inject some anti-coagulant into your bloodstream so for hours afterward you are bleeding like a stuck pig. It's truly grotesque.
Thursday, August 02, 2007
It's Roxy Time!
Apologies are in order, my dear readers, for disappearing without a trace!
By way of brief explanation, I made a quick decision back in early July to visit a mountain village for a few days. I was told it would be an hour by magic Nepali bus and then 5 hours walking up after that. It sounded like a good "starter trek" and, after all, my philosophy about new opportunities is generally "why not?" But after about a week on the mountain peak, something completely shocking happened: the monsoon arrived!
Imagine clinging to a muddy mountainside in the pouring rain! I was like a house cat who impulsively climbs the tree and then can't figure a way down...
After a few days, then weeks, of major rain, I began to question the wisdom of my desire to experience the monsoon..did I really say that I wanted to experience the monsoon? And if so, just what the hell was I thinking at the time??? But I digress...
My dear friends, family, and public skeptics; I have spent the last weeks learning more than I could ever detail here, mostly about the wide variety of seriously dangerous things there are to do on a slippery, muddy mountain peak with no electricity, scarce food, and many, many leeches (just like the ones in DC, but without the suits!). In short, it is nothing short of miraculous that I sit here now, calmly typing away at a computer as if nothing were amiss.
I am too filthy and exhausted to detail this latest adventure just now, but I wanted to post something so that it is known that I am alive and well. I will post again tomorrow with more details of my latest adventures..
with GREATEST love and affection,