WPC: Baby Elephant Playmate

Down in Chitwan, Nepal in the late afternoon, the nearby river was the favourite place for the local kids to play. The rowdy young boys played football and swam in the water together. Our resort elephant took her daily bath and her three month old calf lolloped around the riverbank looking for a friend.  The kids would chase her and encourage her to push and wrestle them to the ground.  I thought it was so great to have a baby elephant as a playmate.  I miss that place!



WPC: Earth Education


When I think about Earth Day, my strongest memories come from our time in Nepal and the opportunity I had to connect with many Nepali schools on the subject of the environment. In Nepal something like 40% of its population is under the age of 25. In recent years, private schools have sprung up all over Kathmandu in response to this rise in the youth population and the exceedingly poor education offered in public schools. Some private schools are better than others, but some are outstanding, offering education in English and Nepali, and include environmental issues in their curriculum. After the economic growth of the last twenty years, so many developing countries are now knee deep in trash and pollution, and there is a whole generation of young people who think that trashed filled rivers and polluted air are normal.  Kathmandu is no exception.  Education in understanding how to preserve the environment and build a more ecologically-friendly city is an important start to raising environmentally aware adults of the future.

I visited many of schools while I was there, learning about their eco-clubs and recycling efforts, participating in environmental projects with them and teaching “upcycling” as a creative way of making use of waste.  Of course, through necessity, poor countries know more about upcycling than their first world counterparts, but plastic particularly is seen as just trash that needs to be burnt.

Above:  Learning how to make useful items out of plastic bottles.  I showed them a technique on how make storage containers and vases and then challenged them to come up with their own ideas.

Above:  An Eco Club exhibit at a school outside of Kathmandu.  The kids came up with allsorts of decorative and practical ideas.

Lastly, one organization collected clean wrappers from packaged food and trained women how to weave them into recyclable products such as colourful baskets and bags, which were sold to tourists to create a livelihood project in the local community.



WPC: Monkey’n Around (Atop)

For some unknown reason (as I can’t read Nepali) a Nepali bank had strung a banner to a tree at the famous Pashnupathi temple. The monkeys loved it!

They used it as a hammock, a swing, and as a launching pad to jump down on other unsuspecting monkeys who were hanging around for the fun.


I guess you say they were making a monkey out of banks!



In response to this week’s challenge:  https://dailypost.wordpress.com/photo-challenges/atop/

One Year On


Earlier this week, April 25 to be exact, marked the passing of one year since the Nepali earthquake.  The anniversary was covered a little in the media if you watched carefully, and referenced in the coverage of the more recent earthquakes in Japan and Ecuador. But, it has largely been forgotten by most. Facebook reports from friends in Nepal focus on how little has been achieved since the first wave of humanitarian help, and after donations from all over the world poured in to rebuild homes and infrastructure, the news I hear is not good.  Reconstruction projects are tied up in red tape.  Little has been achieved. Villagers who lost their homes and possessions still live precariously in tent villages waiting for help.  For many the aftermath of the disaster in frozen in time.

One year on for me, its a very different story.  I can hardly believe its been only a year…a particularly challenging one too..with so many changes. New country, new job, new home…in a completely different corner of the planet.  Yet a big part of my heart remains in Nepal.

Among the many reminders of our time there is a tapestry project that I worked on during the crisis.   I’ve made a tapestry cushion in several of the countries that we have lived, picking a subject that appealed to me, as well being symbolic of my time in that country.  After a long online search, I picked a beautiful peacock in shades of blue and purple.  Its a memory of my time in Chitwan where we watched wild peacocks running around on the jungle floor.  The plan was to slowly work on it, especially during all the travel required before we reached Jamaica.  I started work on the tail, a little every night.

We spent the first two nights after the earthquake sleeping on Robert’s office floor.  As we headed over to the safety of the Embassy, I grabbed a little overnight bag, a book, and the tapestry for something to do. In the days that followed immediately after the earthquake, I worked on the tapestry almost non-stop.  There was something extraordinarily calming about the repetition of the “needle in, needle out”needlework stroke, giving my hands something to do and occupying the motor skills function of my brain, which handled the task of deciding the direction of stitching and what section to tackle next, leaving the rest of my brain to work on processing what had happened.  I guess it was kind of a meditation.

Ironically, I was unable to finish it before we left.  The kit I purchased had been mispacked and I had reams of purple and blue leftover, but ran out of the background colour.  The manufacturer in England had gone out of business and I had to search online until I could track down the wool brand, identify the particular shade of white, and find a supplier that could mail it to me.  After several months of unsuccessful tries, I was able to source the wool and finish the tapestry here in Jamaica.   Yet the project is still not complete.  Its yet to become a cushion and now I have to figure out where to buy sewing supplies in Kingston..the hunt goes on!  Its tempting to somehow symbolically connect the project with my personal journey from Nepal to Jamaica, how all the little stitches over time form not just a picture, but their own tapestry of memories, challenges and unresolved issues that have been part of any big change in life, but especially this one….or something like that….


And then I ran out of yarn for that lower left-hand corner.


The finished tapestry.  Now where to find a fabric and notions store?

WPC: Inspiration


This week the Weekly Photo Challenge asked us our definition of Inspiration.

This is one of my favourite photos from my time in Nepal. I took a blind Nepali exchange student (who had recently returned from study in the US) to a Kathmandu school to talk about her experience in America. She was an inspiring speaker who talked about the challenging of tackling a culture very different to her own, not only as someone who had never been out of Nepal, but also as a blind person. The audience loved her, especially the girl in the photo, who stayed at the end to ask so many questions. For me, it was the very definition of inspiration.

The Library

The last story I have out of Nepal (at least for now) is my biggest tale, at least in terms of my focus and efforts over the last year.  The U.S. State Department has opened American libraries all over the world and Nepal we already had about six, plus the Book Bus and a seventh library inside the U.S. Embassy in Kathmandu.  But that space is small and security is tight, and the potential was there for a second Kathmandu site that could handle more outreach programs and deliver books to underserved communities on the other side of the city.  As it turned out the timing of the opening was better than planned, as it came at a time when the few libraries that exist in the city were devastated by the earthquake.

Public libraries in Nepal are rare.  Most schools don’t have them either, or only have a small selection of text books that are kept under lock and key.  Lending libraries are even rarer.  The plan to lend books out from the new space was often met with incredulity as people simply couldn’t believe that anyone would ever return them.  Nepal libraries are usually reference centers and still only about books.  American Spaces are more multi-media center with computers and electronic resources and, although Nepal mainstream is not really ready for new technology, the need is growing, and the new Innovation Hub will be at the forefront.  Its very exciting, I’m just sad that I won’t be in Nepal to see it grow.  It was a fantastic project opportunity, which was challenging to handle as it was educational for me, as I’m not a librarian.  With the help of a small army–and despite a major earthquake– I managed to open it before I left.  I’ll be keeping an enthusiastic online eye on its growth!


The earthquake-wrecked library at Tribuhavan University.  Very Sad.  None of the bookshelves were bolted down.


The original space before we started: Books covered with quilts of dust; broken shelving units; old paper card index systems; spider-web covered windows. This corner also had termites.


The librarians worked to clear the space and it slowly started to clear out.


As the space opened up, the windows started to become more of a focus. They gave great light and the promise of a bright, open space.


After the electricans had finished, we started to focus on a colour scheme. Custom built furniture was erroneously delivered two months early and had to be removed – that was fun!


Eventually we picked orange for its energy and freshness. Along with the excellent light, it made the space very cheery and welcoming.


This was the condition of the custom built vinyl seat as delivered to me. Not the blue I selected, not the Formica I selected, and covered in dust from sitting around in the factory. It was a very frustrating experience.


Ditto with the circulation desk. I took this photo to show just how awful it looked when it was delivered. The formica was chipped and scratched and the whole thing was filthy. There is no recourse. So often there is just no understanding of quality standards – a very challenging part of the project.


I kept this picture just for the irony. Termites kept invading the library in new spots. I took this photo the day before the earthquake and the next morning a pest control guy arrived with the poison. Two hours later we had a lot more than termites to worry about.


Adding inspirational quotes to the library walls…


…which I was actually doing when the earthquake struck. Carpenters were in the middle of assembling metal shelves when they had to run out of the building. The bookcases were not yet bolted down and swayed dangerously next to my ladder.


Shelving crashed down everywhere except where I stood on the ladder. I was very lucky. For two weeks, the bookshelves lay where they fell alongside the unassembled units on the floor. Finally I got help from the USAID Disaster And Rescue Team (DART) who were still in Nepal but with no longer anyone left to rescue from the quake, they came to my aid instead.


It was so exciting to finally see the shelves going in….


….and the DART teams guys moved like lighting. And, yes, they bolted the shelves down!


A group photo at the end of a job well done. I was so grateful for their help! With the shelves completed the library team could move in with books and start to turn it into a real library


Books on shelves…looking good!


Showing teachers and students around, explaining what the library does and how patrons would be able to borrow books – a pretty new concept for Nepal.


The children’s corner made cosy with children’s picture books, a carpet and cushions.


The first group of school kids visited the library. It was pretty special for me to watch them take it all in.


Cutting the opening ribbon about a week before I left Nepal – one month late because of two earthquakes.  No bad really! So amazing that we were able to finish it in time.

After the Quake – Part 3

I spent most of my last year in Nepal opening a library. (Post to come on that one.) I would arrive at the building in Teku every week for months and would always notice three Hindu temple towers in the near distance. I had no idea what to expect, but wanted to find some time to go over and explore. It was just a few minutes walk away, but work schedules never allowed the time until one weekend –prior to the earthquake– I supervised a cleaning crew before our soft opening. At lunch time the crew headed out to get something to eat, and Kalpana and I went out to explore. Partnered with a Nepali, I got a little braver at snooping around. We struggled at first to find a way in through the locked gate, but we learnt that entrance was long forgotten and another path took us into the heart of the temple. It was a fascinating combination of cared for and unkempt, and clearly was in need of funds for renovation. The main temple was boxed in by traditional out houses, laid in a square. I’ve seen them used as meeting halls, schools and storage spaces. Covered verandas were piled high with old carved beams, stone cornerstones and salvaged religious artifacts. Dog sat caged and barking in one corner and we watched chickens run around in another.

Outside the main temple, lanes ran off to the right and left. Overgrown paths led to dirt tracks. Exploring further, we pushed open gates blocked by weeds or broken hinges and what we found was an amazing labyrinth of temples – small and large, ramshackle homes with laundry hanging outside, and inhabited homes and forgotten buildings…all jumbled together. Some buildings were so tenuously standing that they appears to held together with just one beam. It was like a secret, forgotten place.

Among all of this were signs written in Nepali. I asked Kalpana what they said. “They’re donations”, she said. “People donated money. But I don’t understand. Where did all the money go?”

It did seem extraordinary that such a significant site that was clearly of important religious significance had been left to such extensive neglect. Anywhere else in the developed world it would be repaired, groomed and open to the public, the gardens would be kept and visitors would stroll through them with a guide, and locals would sell coffee and trinkets to the tourists. But here the site sat lonely and unnoticed, just five minutes walk away from every day life.

Bagmati river temples

It was amazing wandering around the area where everyday life and ancient temples mixed.

Tin Deval temple

The surrounding courtyard buildings of Tin Deval housed salvaged artifacts, kenneled dogs and chickens. At least half of these buildings are now piles of rubble.

bagmati river temples

More everyday life among the temples. This corner was also overgrown and felt like a secret garden

bagmati river sacred temples

Dozens of small temples were tucked around every corner

Tin Deval temples

We wandered around, exploring all the nooks and crannies.


Each one with its own special carvings and detail work….

Hindu wood carving

…like this one for example! Where are they now? Buried under a pile of rubble?

I very much doubt that this building is still standing.

I very much doubt that this building is still standing.

Tin Deval Temple, Teku

Going…going…gone. Tin Deval before the earthquake

Tin Deval Temple, Teku

…and after. How precarious that middle cap looks! How unsalvagable with no crane or equipment! It’s doomed to break.

Tin Deval Temple, Teku

After the second quake. The third temple was clearly damaged also. These were taken down before they fell.

Even though I was in Teku daily during my last month in Nepal, opening the library to the public, I never went back to the site. It was just too scary. The aftershocks meant that it was foolish to wander around in ruins. There was nowhere safe to run. A part of me didn’t want to see extensive damage to a site that I knew would never receive the funding attention that Kathmandu’s famous squares will receive, but I would have gone in the end…just out of respect. I am sure very much of it is gone and it won’t be recovered. I am so glad I at least got to take photos and have captured a little of it here.

After the Quake – Part 1

Its not often that you see a city take shape before your eyes.  Manila was that way, with giant skyscrapers flying up seemingly overnight.  By contrast,  Kathmandu builders took years to put up a couple of much smaller multi-story buildings in our neighbourhood. Since the earthquake, the Nepali government stopped the construction of high-rise buildings in Kathmandu.  A significant number received a yellow or red card from earthquake damage and the skills and technology needed to implode them are absent along with any conviction to uphold seismic code regulations.  What Kathmandu excels in is the construction of two and three story apartment buildings on what was used to be rice paddies.  They fly up in the blink of an eye. There’s no seismic code implementation there either, but luckily many did survive the tremors.

Many older buildings didn’t, especially in the Narayan Chaur/ Nag Pokahari area which was walking distance from our home. Before the quake, the neighborhood was a typical mixture of old and new, but it felt poised to grow, gentrify even. Recent community efforts to upgrade communal spaces with simple outdoor activities and “beautification” efforts continued long after the recent SAARC efforts to spruce up the city.  Narayan Chaur,  an oval-shaped piece of open land in Naxal, was largely a waste ground and dumping site when we first arrived in Kathmandu. With what in retrospect was surprising foresight, the community police in Naxal developed the barren land into a park and possible rescue point in times of natural calamity. The land was fenced off and a footpath laid out around the perimeter.  For a while it turned into a favourite exercise spot for early morning joggers.  Clearly, the value to the community was enormous in a city with no parks.  Its was a roaring success.

After the quake, Narayan Chaur, quickly became a tent city.  I spent about six hours there immediately after the earthquake, sheltering in one of the few, relatively safe open spaces, as the after tremors kept coming and coming. I finally left to walk home, but others are still living there now, almost three months later.

Nearby so many old buildings were destroyed. Some were ready to fall anyway, others just ramshackle from years of neglect.  I could already see that it was just a matter of time before the old buildings were demolished to be replaced by new, but the hope persisted that perhaps they would survive long enough for someone to come save them. But the earthquake took care of them in its own way, and now there’s little evidence they even existed.


Before the quake, the ramshackle temple at Nag Pokhari  housed a school also.  Its almost dilapidated buildings showed wonderful traditional architecture and carving.

Nepal earthquake damage

Immediately after the earthquake damage whole chunks of the temple fell down. After the second quake, most of the roof collapsed


There was no option left but to demolish it. A temporary school building is being constructed among the rubble from international humanitarian funds, which is much needed. But so much history is gone.

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.