The Snackmandu Vending Company

vending machine

The Daily Prompt: The Need Machine.  Soft drinks, electronics, nutrient-free snacks — you can get all of those from a vending machine. But what type of vending machine is sorely needed but doesn’t yet exist? 

I can’t really think of a vending machine that doesn’t already exist for something I need.  Vending machines haven’t been a part of my life for a very long time. Perhaps I should try to be creative and imagine a machine that could dispatch smiles or good fortune…but the creativity wheels just aren’t turning.

But I can remember a time back in the 1970s when they first installed one at my school, and we loved it!  It was so sophisticated and exciting to put your money in, excitedly choose, press the right series of keys, and watch it deliver some delicious morsel with a satisfying clunk into the bottom drawer.  Why was it so much more fun to feed the machine then to stop in the sweet shop on the way home for exactly the same thing?  But we loved it, anyway!  I can remember buying bags and bags of Disco crisps every week to collect the tokens from the packets.  Six tokens got you top pop hits like the Bay City Rollers on a 45.  All you had to do was post them in with an SAE. (That’s a stamped addressed envelope for the post-internet crowd.)  What you got back was a cheap, flimsy disc that was nothing like the singles we bought every Saturday from Woolworth’s….but it was so exciting to just get something in the post with your name on it.

Flash forward 35 years here in Nepal, and I can say with confidence that there can’t be one single vending machine in the whole country.  They would be a spectacular disaster in so many ways!  Where to even begin?!  Here are just some of the challenges the Snackmandu Vending Company PVT would have to tackle:

  • There are no coins, except tiny, tiny amounts that are fractions of a rupee and completely useless.  You would have to use notes, which are the only real currency here and they are very old, very dirty and extremely crumpled.  They would never be accepted by already overly finicky vending machine slots.
  • Imagine a vending machine in a place where there are constant power cuts.  Cold or hot thermostat settings without electricity would mean a world of warm coke and sweaty sandwiches.  You, the thirsty customer, would hear the heavy thud of disconnected power just as your money leaves your fingers.  The machine would swallow your cash and you–and your expectations– would be left in the dark.  Good luck getting that refund!
  • Vending machines require maintenance.  They need to be filled, cleaned, oiled and serviced.  Not here.  The distribution lines from India sometimes supply… sometimes not… This week we have diet coke.,,,next week…not so much.  The machines would be filled if and when… and maintained even less.  As a temporary measure, someone creative would fix the broken vending machine with a rubber band and a bit of hose, where it would stay permanently until it, too, broke.
  • And last, but by no means least, is the truth that nothing here is ready to be automated and vendors (real human ones) are the life blood of this city.  Vending machines in Kathmandu are the guys that sit on street corners every day.

So perhaps to go back to my earlier thought of a futuristic machine that could sell anything… perhaps that vending machine could dispatch the elusive silver bullets that never seem to exist to solve problems here.  A machine that dispatched problem-solving bullets that could cure poverty, corruption and social injustice…maybe it should be solar-powered, though?!

A Word A Week Photo Challenge: Inside


Near Didima, South of Athens, Greece are some strange holes in the mountainside.  They look like craters made by striking meteors, but are in fact sink holes in the side of the mountain. Tucked inside the sink holes are two tiny churches, built into the rock crevices.



To make it inside the crater, you need to lower yourself down a precariously steep set of stairs hewn into the rock.  It feels like an adventure! And a treat too as the stairs have been whitewashed for extra Greek charm…


…And once you’ve made it down and into the church, you’ll find it as charmingly rustic on the inside as the outside.          A beautiful place.



This post participated in the Weekly Photo Challenge: Inside

A Walk in the Chitwan Countryside

A another little photo journal tale of a walk away from traffic and congestion in the rural countryside:

Chitwan bicycles

In Chitwan, bikes move everything…from people to produce to cement bags..


They are THE mode of transport, and I loved that we could just stroll and be part of daily life without feeling out of place or being run over.

rice paddies and hills, Chitwan

After the rain from the night before, the sky was clear enough to see the nearby hills. I’ve seen photos of a sky so clear that you can see beyond the hills all the way to the Himalayas in the North. Unfortunately, I’ve yet to see it with my own eyes…but this was very pretty anyway.

Rice paddy, Chitwan

This rice field had a head start before the monsoon, so the crop is well underway due to community irrigation ditches. The next day we came back to find the ditch dry, so they have a system of diverting the water too.


This looked like hard wark! The farmer was working at preparing the soil. His patch somehow was still unplanted in a sea of growing rice. He was still ploughing when we returned an hour later.

Rice paddy, Chitwan

Here’s another field on catch up mode. I’m not sure what she was doing. Planting baby rice, perhaps?

Chitwan Home Stay Project

This is the community hall of a home stay project. The “Welcome” sign was everywhere. An organization had funded a community effort to offer home stay lodging to foreigners and visiting Nepalis. It seemed very clean and organized. I hope it does well for them…I’ve no idea how much they charge but its probably a very affordable way to stay and a good source of income for locals.

Cows in Chitwan

In England when cows sit down its supposed to mean its going to rain. Here I think they’re just chillin’


Down on the Farm (Chitwan Style)

So to get back to the upside of life around here, after being weighed down by too much Kathmandu dirt and disorder lately, here are a few photos from a lovely time we just had at an organic farm down in Chitwan a few weeks ago. The farm was part of a tourist resort, providing fresh produce, meat and dairy to the guests, and supporting the livelihoods of about 140 locals. They even set up a small school for the children of the employees.

We loved looking around at the animals and crops. Here are a few highlights:

Organic farm in Chitwan

Feeding the cows


Organic farms in Chitwan have to have elephants, of course


…and elephants like their snacks. This guy made some in front of us. He basically wrapped hay into nests, stuffed the nests with goodies like chickpeas and rice, and wrapped the bundles up with straw ties. Elephants love ’em…especially the chick peas apparently.



Snoozing piggies.  We smelt these guys before we spotted them!


Great way to store pumpkins.  Must have been last year’s.  The new crop had already started in the fields


And finally we spent some time just hanging out with the kids

The Inch War


I had 60 metres of waterproof material to make 12 flags for work, and no one to sew them. What I needed was simple, but not so obvious to find in Kathmandu, where there’s a sewing machine on every corner with only a cramped sidewalk sewing patch, with no place to sew 60 metres of fabric without dragging it in the street gutter.  I needed an inside location with a work table and a little space.  I needed an ally who could translate the project in to Nepali and, most of all, I needed a tailor who could reliably follow directions.  It was going to be challenging.

The good news was that there was a sewing place just around the corner from work and accompanied by two helpful Nepali women with great English, we headed two minutes up the road to check it out.  The flags were very simple to make, but it was important they were made to the correct dimensions and would all be the same size on completion. I was armed with a small sewn mock-up, marked with finished measurements and velcro points so that what I wanted would be as clear as possible.  Both ladies had asked me questions in advance and were really clear on what was needed.  I was feeling optimistic that we could pull this off.

Two seamstresses worked inside the small tailor shop on small pedal-powered sewing machines while we waited for the guy to show up. They very kindly let me have the only spare stool to wait, and my eyes strayed around the room.  The cutting table was very small and more of a storage table, so there was nowhere to really cut and handle so much fabric except the floor, which was covered in off cuts and sewing debris from probably months of work.  I was starting to doubt whether this was the right place. It’s not uncommon to see people working in messy environments and its hard for me to handle.  Why wouldn’t you simply sweep up your own mess when you’ve finished?  It so much easier to work fast and efficiently and cleanly when you’re not tripping over your own mess.

The confusing thing about buying fabric here is how imperial and metric systems are mixed together.  I bought 60 meters of 60 inch wide fabric, and then had to decide which system to use to calculate measurements.  I advised to do everything in metric, so I converted the 7ft drop to 2.2 meters and decided on a 1 meter width.

The guy showed up and I greeted him with “Namaste”.  He didn’t return the greeting or even acknowledge me, and my helpers started the conversation in Nepali.  (I’ve seen this attitude before.  I’m not sure what the mindset is behind it, but if you want to tick me off…that’s a good start.)

They picked the 10 meter length of purple fabric to talk about the construction requirements.  They showed him the sample, but he didn’t really look at it.  He wanted to be shown. Each finished flag needed to be 2.2 meters long.  For the next 15 minutes or so, there was much discussion and measuring.  He was making me nervous as he kept measuring the fabric with a inch tape measure, and, as I needed the sizes to be accurate (and not just estimated), this was not boding well.  Then I noticed that the tape measure had been cut off at the 39″ mark.  He had converted a imperial tape measure into a  “meter stick.”  It was useful for measuring meters, but nothing else.  What’s more it already had metric marks on the other side of the tape, but these were useless as the first part of the metric side had been cut off to “convert” it to a meter length.  Jeez…ok.

The fabric was lain on the floor, over all the mess, and he started measuring the length.  Measuring 2 meters was easy.  More difficult was how to do the .2 measurement.  I could see that he wasn’t clear that is meant 20 centimeters, and I tried to explain that if he flipped it over and measured a 20cm span from, say, the 60 cm mark to the 80cm mark, he would have the measurement.  But that wasn’t going over, so it suddenly seemed so much to easier to switch to inches. “Let’s make it 86 inches long”, I declared, knowing that complete accuracy of the length was less important than having all the flags be completely consistent in length. Things got easier from there.

Next he went from testing the fabric on his machine (will that kind of fabric sew properly?), to cutting, and then actually completing all stages needed to finish the first flag.  I did not expect this.  It took three hours.  At no point was the construction unsupervised.  The mock-up had served its purpose by showing my friends what was needed.  But he needed them to translate the mock-up.  Each time he folded and repositioned the fabric he had three people holding material in place to stop it slipping.  I asked if perhaps he had any pins?  No, no pins.  I sent my driver out to buy them.  When they arrived he refused to use them.  I don’t know how he’s going to sew the next 11 flags without people standing there to hold the fabric.  Perhaps he will use them after I leave?!

The next 7 flags are due for pick up tomorrow.  Fingers crossed.  Watch this space!

Kathmandu Tailor



Weekly Photo Challenge: Extra, Extra


A farmers wife heads home at the end of the day. Her cow’s red tika matching her dress. Unbelievably a seagull swooped down and arrived in my shot with perfect timing.  (Seagull? In Nepal? Well, maybe not, but do you know what it is?)

A beautiful pastoral Nepalese scene. For the full story see ‘Til the Cow’s Come Home.

This post participated in the Daily Post’s Weekly Photo Challenge: Extra, Extra

The Sound of Screeching Brakes

car wallWe’re midway through June and this is just my second post this month.  Suddenly, after months of regular blogging, I am struggling to put finger to key and tell stories ….and there’s a reason.

It’s not like there’s nothing going on. Our son is here, we’ve been on trips, picnics and all kinds of work-related travel. I have stories from the farm and mountains.  Life is good.  But somehow I can’t bring myself to put any of them out. I’ve discovered that with blogging I get caught in some kind of road block of my own invention and its not “writers block” but something quite different. Its more like hitting a wall, where the wall is the reality that my blog no longer gives a balanced representation of what’s going on in my life, and only showing pictures of adventures with elephants no longer cuts it.  The larger  social issues I see daily feel too enormous to cover in my little blog, so I leave them untouched like the 2 ton elephant in the room (pun reference intended.)

I have reached a point in our time here in Nepal where things are no longer new. I’ve discovered the basics and I know enough about life here to know how much I don’t know on a deeper level. I’ve been here 10 months straight and I’m ready for a break. I’m tired of the overwhelming, endless social problems, worsening pollution, incessant noise, honking of car horns, and just the lack of basic sanitation.

I have mediocrity fatigue.  I want something to work without coercion.  I’m tired of apologizing for my own elevated living conditions and concentrating on being grateful for what I have compared to most everyone else here, where this is all  normal.   This isn’t normal for me.  Toilets here stink, there’s dog shit everywhere, and I’m sick of the garbage.  I can’t walk the streets without fear of twisting my ankle, being run over, or treading in something nasty.   I just need to feel my own exhaustion at the mayhem, take advantage of the fact that I can recharge, and admit that sometimes all of this just drives me nuts.  There….. I said it.  And now it feels more honest to move on to the things that are beautiful and special here – and there are many.  Roadblock removed….at least for now.