A world in a grain of sand

My evening flight from Kathmandu to Delhi was canceled, so I had to take one five hours earlier. Although I wasn’t happy about the resulting extra layover time, flying earlier in the day meant that I had a glorious panorama of the Himalayas most of the way. Since Delhi is directly west of Kathmandu the 500-mile flight path was as if made to order for the view.

The Himalayas are a feature of our world that call for silent awe, and need no supporting adjectives, such as “stunning” or “snow-covered.” They’re the antithesis of another, also beautiful, feature of our world, Cape Cod. Its glacial drift formations are a gentle lullaby to the Himalayan symphony.

However, as we flew along the southern edge of the grand plateau, I took my eyes, or ears, away from that symphony from time to time because I couldn’t put down the book I was reading. In The Path: A One-Mile Walk through the Universe. In the book, Chet Raymo describes the path he took for 37 years from his house in North Easton, Massachusetts to the Stonehill College campus where he taught physics and astronomy.

Just as we were passing from Nepal into India, I read this:

Millions of years ago India, drifting northward on the mobile surface of the earth, nudged into Asia and began pushing upward a double-thickness slab of the Earth’s crust known as the Tibetan plateau, the front range of which are the towering Himalayas.

Raymo goes on to explain how sunlight beating down on the plateau produces warm air. As it rises, moist air from the Indian Ocean takes its place. This creates the Indian monsoon cycle. Heavy rainwater combines chemically with the Himalayan rock. The weathering takes carbon dioxide out of the air.

As the mountains rose and eroded, the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere decreased and Earth began to cool. On Northern continents ice sheets formed and moved across the land, grinding, abrading.

Thus, mountains in Asia caused glaciers in New England and those in turn built the Cape Cod beaches where we swim every summer. The symphony is magnificent, but it needs the lullaby to follow.

India continues its journey northward; the Himalayas continue to rise; the sun still beats down; the monsoons cycle onward, and the rains take carbon dioxide out of the air.

But don’t look for the glaciers to return anytime soon to build up more places to plant your beach umbrella. Our technologies are now overwhelming these natural processes. Combustion of fossil fuels is adding far more greenhouse gases to the air, warming the world and covering up those glacial sands with rising sea water.

Raithaane

I’ve just eaten for the second time at Raithaane in Saugal, Patan, and hope to do so again before long.

Raithaane, near Patan Durbar Square, note the low overhead

The restaurant is a little hard to find at first. It’s about 300 meters east of Patan Durbar Square. The best route there is a walk through small alleyways.

Raithaane menu

Raithaane serves tasty, inexpensive, local food from many regions of Nepal. It’s all fresh and organic. As our waiter explained they use tomatoes only where it’s appropriate to the particular dish, not tomato sauce on everything.

Chamre & Yangben-Faksa (pork and lichen curry over rice)
With Sujan, a friend we happened to see on the way back
Friendly, informative service
No wasted space

Tea for two?

A friend here in Nepal asked whether I had eaten. When I said “no,” she replied that there were still people in the café up on the 6th floor.

I realized that I had been wondering whether there was still food. A person in Nepal might wonder that as well, but would think first about whether their friends would be there.

Without friends it’s not lunch, even if there is food.

What kind am I?

Shortly after I arrived in Kathmandu, I developed a standard walk to work. It was relatively safe from traffic, utilizing UN Park and side streets. Making it more interesting were were two bridges, one over the Bagmati River and one over Dhoki Khola, a tributary.

Along the way there were shops, hiti with stone water spouts, Buddhist stupas and prayer flags, Hindu mandirs with temple bells, free range cows, goats, and poultry, wild dogs, schools, parks, snooker halls, motorbike repair shops, restaurants, tailor shops, soldiers, joggers, yoga and meditation practitioners, vegetable stands, young cricket players, roasted peanuts, and people of all ages, occupations, dress, and personalities.

This is just a small fraction of what I see, hear, taste, feel, and smell every day. There is a lot packed into one and a half miles. It’s impossible to summarize it all in a single blog post, much less with a label, such as “capital city,” “Himalayan country,” or “developing nation.”

During my walks, I came to know one family fairly well. We speak as I pass by in the morning and evening, but also when I go out for tea or a neighborhood walk.

A ten year-old girl in the family asked me when we first met:

What kind are you?

Her English was limited (although far ahead of my Nepali). Maybe she meant “what is your name?” or “where are you from?” She might have been thinking “how tall are you?’ or “how old are you?” which are questions I frequently hear in schools.

But her question as posed stuck with me. If I don’t self-identify with a proper noun, and I can’t answer with a number, what would I say?

It’s remarkably easy to apply a label to another person–an “entertainer,” a “jerk,” a “scholar,” a “homemaker,” a “fun-lover,” “a ten year-old girl,” and so on. But doing the same to ourselves, leads to a protest.

Yes, I am an “American.” Perhaps, that’s the type of answer my young friend expected. I have US citizenship and live permanently in the US. But that label alone is very incomplete.

At the moment, I’m American, but working and residing in Nepal, a country for which I feel a great affection and even identification. I’ve also lived in other countries and have a generally internationalist perspective. Even with respect to the US, “American” captures only one aspect of who I am. I don’t want to be reduced to a single word. Why would I do that to another?

So, I might grant myself the freedom to answer her question with several words. I recall giving her a facile answer at the time, a guess at what she must have meant. But if I really listen to what she said, and I have to answer in terms of what kind of person I am, or want to be, what would I say?

What kind am I?

February rain

Dhoki Khola in flood

Dhoki Khola in flood

A torrential rainstorm with angry winds woke us this morning. It appeared to be a day to hide under the covers.

But the rain soon stopped and revealed a Kathmandu that is not always seen. Both the Bagmati River and the smaller Dhoki Khola were full and rushing. I longed for a boat to launch into the waves.

Chandragiri Hills

Chandragiri Hills

Arriving at King’s College, I joined others up to the roof to look at the surrounding snow-capped hills. A friend, Arjun, said that he had never in his life seen it so clear.

Of course, the phone camera fails to show what it really looked like, but with a little imagination you can see the Chandragiri Hills to the southwest and the snow on top.

Nagi Gomba

After a visit to the Jana Uddhar Secondary School, Susan and I decided to walk to nearby Nagi Gomba, a Buddhist monastery for nuns, with a residential primary school. It’s located within Shivapuri Nagarjun National Park.

Gaining access to the walking trail was more of an adventure than the walk itself. The road was rough, with occasional holes leading to underground piping. These were large enough to swallow any walker, a motorbike, or most of a taxi.

In the center of the first photo you may be able to see an Indian Crow. We decided to walk up the last mile or so, since that was faster than using a vehicle.

The road leads through the area north of Budhanilkantha, which is rapidly urbanizing. Farmers sell their land to developers who are building hotels, guest houses, and large private residences.

Before the walk itself, we stopped at the Budhanilkantha Trout Restaurant. They served absolutely fresh trout, netted as we watched from their tank. It was served either fried with very light batter, or cut up in “gravy,” a spicy, red sauce.

The path to the monastery was easy, but on much rougher ground than the photo suggests. However, the main challenge for those of us who live on flat land at sea level is that we started at 5000 feet and needed to walk up to over 7000 feet. That’s higher, by way of comparison, than any mountain in the Eastern US. The vertical climb for our day was well over 200 flights of stairs.

I must admit, however, that Nagi Gomba is considered just a start point for the climb to Shivapuri peak, and that peak is not even listed among real treks in Nepal.

Along the way, we saw an asami monkey, a pheasant, and as you can barely make out in the photo, scratch marks from a spotted leopard, establishing his new territory.

The first sign of the monastery, is a distressing one, the effect of the 2015 earthquake. So much was destroyed.

But much has also been rebuilt. Nagi Gomba is now home to 150 nuns, including many girls in the primary school.

A personal maker space

Maker spaces are a hot topic in Kathmandu. Karkhana is well known for its space, and for extending its activities from technology to science education. It has also supported maker space work in both private and government schools.

Nepal Communitere is a Nepali run non-profit founded after the 2015 earthquake, which provides a collaborative space for the community. It gives individuals and organizations the means to develop innovative solutions and become self-reliant. A key part of its work is maker spaces for clothing, ironwork, and other media.

There are also Maker Faires, maker keti’s (especially supportive for girls and women), and many other examples.

Yesterday I happened upon another, but this one, as far as I can tell, is an individual effort.

Jenish showed me his car. It’s 16 inches long.  There are wooden wheels, six of them, much like an extra-terrestrial rover might have. That’s useful for the rough street it has to navigate.

Steering is controlled through a normal sized wheel. It’s made of a hose, bent into a circle and held by tape. The main structural elements are from bamboo, a widely available resource. The steering is just reliable enough not to be frustrating, and just unpredictable enough to be fun.

View from our balcony this morning, showing part of Balthali, fog, and the LangTang Himalayas beyond.

IMG_3365

International Mother Language Day

Nepal Academy organised a poetry event to observe International Mother Language Day in Kathmandu on Thursday. The festival featured poets from various ethnic backgrounds who recited 36 poems in 32 different languages.

Clad in traditional attire, women from Limbu, Sherpa and Magar ethnicities pose for a photograph as they observe International Mother Language Day in Kathmandu.

All photos: Sanjog Manandhar 

The Nepali national languages featured in the poetry recitation programme included Awadh, Kham, Uraw, Kumal, Kulung, Kewarat, Koyu, Khas, Gurung, Ghale, Jirel, Dhut Magar, Tajpuriya, Tamang, Thami, Tharu, Danuwar, Dumi, Dura, Dhimal, Nachiring, Nepal Bhasa, Bajjika, Bantawa, Bhojpuri, Maithili, Yakkha, Bambule, Limbu, Sherpa, Sunuwar and Hayu—many of which are increasingly on decline.

From the perspectives of poetry, language, art, dress, culture, understanding, social justice, or democratic life, this is so much better  than the practice of denigrating the language, and even the accent, of others.

Source: Nepal celebrates International Mother Language Day with a poetry festival – National – The Kathmandu Post

Collaboration in teaching

Morning assembly

Morning assembly

There are many outstanding private schools in Kathmandu, informed by advanced educational theory and implemented by dedicated, knowledgable teachers. But even though these schools are a bargain by US standards, their cost is beyond the reach for most Nepalis.

On the other hand, public, or government schools, are underfunded and have few books or other materials, too few teachers, and generally limited resources, especially for the needs they try to meet. In one school, students said that their dream was for a school bus.

IMG_3156In this context, the Collaborative Schools Network (CSN; collaborativeschools.info) offers an intriguing alternative model. It is essentially a public/private partnership, not unlike some charter schools in the US. The CSN brings expertise in the form of two Teach for Nepal (TFN) alumni. These are young people, skilled in math, science, and English, who have devoted two years to living and working with village schools. In addition, CSN can hire additional teachers and provide funding for equipment such as books, computers, and even a smart board.

IMG_3164The Collaborative Schools Network adopts and manages existing public schools and transforms the education they provide to some of the country’s poorest children. It currently manages three schools. Since these schools are already funded by the government, CSN can leverage for greater impact.

IMG_3169The TFN alums teach, coach the government teachers, and lead a school improvement process. This includes parent relations and management to ensure that students arrive on time and stay until the end of the day and that substitute teachers are available. A temple nearby provides free midday meals for primary students.

As they say,

Our aim is not just to improve a few schools, but to transform the public education sector in Nepal, by proving that public schools can be successful with the right support. We are outraged by the chronic failure of public education in Nepal, and are driven by a simple motto: We put students first.

Among the impacts are that there has been a 220% increase in the number of students in three years, a 17% increase in student attendance, equating to an extra day a week, and 94% attendance at parents meetings, compared to 30% nationally.

Yesterday, Susan, Biswash Chepang, a teacher at King’s College, and I visited the first of the Collaborative Schools, Shree Jana Uddhar secondary school in Budhanilkantha. The school shows signs of the 2015 earthquake and might be considered spare in terms of its facilities.

However, there is a good spirit among the staff, teachers, and students. Everyone seemed committed to student learning. We met with TFN alum Rajan Maharjan, Principal Hare Ram Khatri, many teachers, and students. They were welcoming to visitors and demonstrated to us a school that is working well.

The Collaborative Schools Network is an excellent model for school improvement.

See the video below, featuring a student we met. Can you watch it without both a tear and a smile?