WPC: Muse (and the language of Signs)


This week’s Weekly Photo Challenge, Muse, didn’t really resonate with me at first. Perhaps it just the “pack out state of mind” I was in?  Then I remembered how signs are such inspirations for my posts, that I have a section on this blog devoted to them.  That qualifies as a muse, right?

Located on a busy, noisy intersection with trucks that constantly block it, capturing this one was a challenge….  (the irony isn’t lost on me) …and you don’t need to speak Nepali to understand its meaning.  Whenever I had the camera in the car, I would take another stab. Twenty attempts later, I succeeded.  The motivation to capture it was all about collecting great signs in a photo– I had already cover noised pollution on the blog — so I appreciate the opportunity to use it here in quite a different way.

Here is a motley collection of signs I collected that missed their moment or mark, or covered issues already discussed, but I think deserve attention anyway:


Oh God, Please Stop the Earthquake


Its meant to convey “unique”. Why did this not quite work?


Not really a sign…but curious about the artists message!


The other KFC!

30 Seconds: Packout

Well..’tis done.  Everything is back in the box and heading into the pale blue grey, dusty yonder…

The packers were very professional and fast.  I was pleasantly surprised to be truthful.  It was very encouraging.

Its hard to be leaving, and its not quite sunk in yet.  Here’s a little video glimpse:

Five Days/Five Photos: Day 5 Bhimsen Tower

S0343097Day 5

This is a photo of Bhimsen tower, also known as Dharahara, which I snapped a couple of weeks before the 7.8 Earthquake on April 25. In the immediate hours following that terrifying day, the tower was the first casualty of the quake that we were learned about.  The numbers of reported casualties from the tower’s collapse vary enormously from 50-200 dead, but one this is for sure… although the quake’s occurrence on a Saturday was a blessing in so many ways, this wasn’t true for the tower.  I imagine that lunch time on a Saturday was peek visiting hour on everyone’s day off.  I never went up it and never seriously considered planning to go.  I’m not claustrophobic, but I don’t like crowds in small places and the idea of climbing nine stories in a cramped space was very unappealing. I’m sure the views were terrific though.

Now when we travel through the center of town — which has been 2-4 times daily for me recently – my neck cranes to see the landmark that is no longer there.  It reminds me, of course, of the twin towers and how the New York skyline is changed forever with their absence.

In the middle of the heavy flow of traffic, on a traffic island that’s really just a scrap of land, an artist has recently erected a four foot replica of the tower, as an attraction and reminder to passersby.  I wonder how long it will take them to rebuild the real thing?

Five Days/Five Photos Day 4: Spot the Difference!

This is a photo of a photo, taken at the Climate Plus Change exhibition in Kathmandu last year. Among the collection of poignant, climate-related photography, this exhibit showed a number of before and after pictures taken inside the Kathmandu Valley, documenting the developmental changes over a relatively short period of time.

Can you actually believe that this is the same scene across just 13 years? The only real clues are the shape of the background hills and a small building at the right-hand foreground of the picture. Truly unbelievable. I have been here two years and I know that the sprawl continues to grow, probably at the same rate, its just harder to see when it occurs incrementally around you every day.  Its been four years since the lower picture was taken and the Swayambhu area now has literally no patches of green, other than the hill that overlooks it.  All this sprawl is in unchecked, unplanned, and unsupported by any growth in roads or services.  Its a sad reality.

Five Days/Five Photos: Day 3 Kathmandu Microbus


I lived in Kathmandu for several weeks before I spotted public transportation. The white taxis and micro buses were invisible to me. Maybe they just faded into the background behind the colour and confusion of everything else. Maybe my eyes were still trained to see the bright colours of Filipino jeepneys. I’m not sure. But slowly they came into focus; there they were: plain, white, rickety and very small. The idea of a Jeepney ride always seemed more fun than it actually was, as Jeepneys face inwards and there’s no view.  But their colour baits you, which is actually the whole idea behind their outrageous designs. By contrast, the idea of riding in a Kathmandu microbus seems no fun at all. I can’t imagine actually cramming myself into one. Where would I put my legs? My head would scrape the ceiling.

It wasn’t until much later that I spotted the microbuses were all electric vehicles or EVs. It was a shocking revelation in a city that pays little attention to pollution or lead levels. It was later still that I learnt that EV microbuses were a USAID-supported innovation from a while back….of course. Despite the rust and hanging exhaust pipes they are still on the road. They may be the Jeepney’s poor cousin, but whatever would Kathmandu pollution levels be like if they belched carbon too?

Five Days/Five Photos: Day 2 Fruit Vendors

On the dusty sidewalks, inches away from the busy traffic, there exists a kind of alternative consumer reality here.  Street vendors are not starter businesses that aspire to work hard and some day afford the rent on a store.  They are Dalits (or untouchables) who do not have many rights (including the right to rent property) that higher castes hold.  There is a whole world of fruit vendors, cobblers, barbers –sales people of anything really–who set up for business on the side of the road and sell what they can to passersby.  I suspect mainly to other Dalits.

I’m ashamed to admit that I rarely buy from them. They simply never sell anything I need, or their produce is so covered in roadside dust and grime that it is very unappealing.  Yet I see the same vendors time and time again selling paltry little piles of something every single day, clearly enough to eek out some kind of income.

Its the fruit vendors that are the most eye catching with bursts of colour against the grey drabness of the pavement.  Seasonal bananas and mangos from Nepal…grapes from India…apples from China. I particularly enjoyed these colourful carts.

Five Days/Five Photos: Day 1 Tibetan Lady


All through the late rainy season and into the winter cold, every morning when we left our gate we saw this homeless lady. Huddled up in many layers of clothing – including the distinctive fabric and apron of Tibetan clothing — she became a fixture in our community.  She had fashioned a head protector from a rice sack, which she wore continually for cover from the sun and rain, and probably the cold too.  It gave her a distinctive, almost dignified appearance. I think she must have slept in the little park on the corner of our street, or perhaps on the pavement itself.

I’d often see her huddled against a wall or near a local restaurant’s window, warming herself on the heat from the ovens.   I got the feeling that the local shopkeepers took care of her with food and water, but most of the time she just hung around, waiting and watching.  She would turn up unexpectedly on the kerbside, or on the distance I’d see her distinctive profile curled up in a squat.  It can be hard to tell the age of weather-beaten faces but I think she was fairly young. What was her story? Why was she homeless?

As I was trying to take a picture from our car of another subject, I unintentionally took this picture of her instead.  She just unexpectedly showed up in my viewfinder.  Then, just as unexpectedly, one day she was no longer around.  I wonder what happened to her?

Wandering Cows challenged me to the Five Photos, Five Stories Challenge which requires you to post a photo each day for five consecutive days and attach a story to the photo, then nominate someone else.  This is my first entry.  I would like to nominate Alex from She Gathers No Moss, who write engaging vignettes from the Philippines and makes me homesick for my time there. 

30 days 10 days: Disconnected


Well, I blew my “30 days from departure” post.

Its been busy, and I have come home from work drained.  But not so busy that I couldn’t have made an effort on some days.  I think the real problem has been the real lack of focus on the usual things that make departure memorable.  Forced to leave behind goodbye visits to places, people and friends because of the earthquake, I’m feeling disconnected from the whole departure process, which is sad.  And I’m not the only one.  I feel like others have checked out, or are barely functioning, or have simply lost interest in being here.  Others are still buried in the recovery efforts.  Everyone is physically or emotionally exhausted, or both.  These are the things that go on far longer than the earthquake does in the news cycle.

I’m feeling disconnected from Nepal, from arrival at our new post in Jamaica, even from the prospect of some time in the UK and Greece before we head to the US for home leave.  That will change.  The realities of pack out will force me to focus.  However, that’s the reason my blog has been silent all of June and I’d like to change that.  Just before the earthquake Wandering Cows challenged me to the Five Photos, Five Stories Challenge which requires you to post a photo each day for five consecutive days and attach a story to the photo.  I had every intention of participating, but the earthquake got in the way.  Now perhaps it will help me reconnect with my own blog and serve as a more positive way to reflect on some of the smaller, poignant stories that I have from my time here.  So, Five Photos, Five Stories coming up….stay tuned!