Leave for Change Blogs
Many Leave for Change participants blog - often before, during, and after their volunteer assignment - capturing the diversity and richness of their volunteer experience, their reactions to being in a new country, how they navigate and negotiate their mandates, and the impact the whole experience has on them personally and professionally.
You can search blogs by person, country, or year. Enjoy!
It’s been so busy the last 3 weeks but I felt like a lot was accomplished during the short period of time. I was able to travel to many citws and villages across the country, from La Paz to Cochabamba to Tarija.
After 4 hours of hand gestures and Google translate with the travel agency. I am going to Salar de Uyuni . It seems like half of the passenger going to Uyuni is either Korean or Chinese lol. And as always, Everyone thinks I’m Korean.
Lucky me! I was the practice tourist for students from the tour guiding program. Motor bike to Cholon, Saigon China Town, banh beo for breakfast then the flower market, fabric market, Tien Hau Temple (goddess of the sea), palm salad and more for lunch. So fun! And helps me to better understand the curriculum to have seen it in action. Tomorrow I present my findings to faculty and staff.
Beyond their hospitality classes, the College students here also learn English, exercise every day to music, oh… and juggle!
Got here last night at 3am, didn’t really get enough sleep but oh well, I have the day off might as well go travel the city.
I am currently in Bogota, Colombia for an almost 10 hours layover. And I can’t speak any Spanish hahaha, but i got to stay in a nice hotel to rest.
It really is an interesting experience to review a tourism program while being a tourist! The College has programs in culinary arts, hotel management, and tour guiding. My review is based on the Vietnamese Tourism Occupational Standards, aligning the current tourism curriculum against the standards, but influenced by own travel experiences I must admit. So, here I am pictured with students, and also with performers at the Saigon Opera House show Teh Dar, depicting Vietnamese tribal life, amazing!
Unfortunately, I put all of my eggs in one basket with the micrococcus culture. The very promising colony that had passed all of the initial testings, but did not pass our last and final test; sensitivity to bacitracin. So back to the other colonies with fingers crossed very tightly that this does not turn into a disaster.
Tonight after work was really great. We had our friend Gele from the CECI office take us around Swayambhunath, also known popularly as one of the Monkey Temples. We cheated and took a taxi to the top of the hill in order to not miss the sunset and I’m glad we did. The top rewarded an excellent view of the city, the wonderful stupa and of course monkies!
Before even coming to Nepal I had the notion that I do not trust monkeys. My idea of them is that they are a smarter version of raccoons, with their grabby hands and love of anything food related.
Before even coming to Nepal I had the notion that I do not trust monkeys. My idea of them is that they are a smarter version of raccoons, with their grabby hands and love of anything food related. I even heard a story from long-term volunteers of a nearby restaurant that gives out popcorn before your order comes out, immediately followed by hungry monkeys.
Going around the stupa in the traditional clockwise direction I got my fill of all the shenanigans that monkies have to offer. I hear that during the day the monkeys are chased away by monks and people who have come to pray and leave offerings, as the evening falls, it’s fair game for the monkies. They were having a blast on the scaffolding used for repairs from earthquakes, climbing all over the stupa and hanging from the decorative materials and prayer flags and of course eating all of the food offerings left behind during the day.
I kept my distance from the monkeys but was glad that they didn’t pay any mind to me being there. I was also pleased to see a lot of babies with their mothers.
The stupa although torn apart was very pleasant to walk around. Walking around spinning the prayer wheels, observing the shrines and statues and ringing the occasional bell.
It has been a pleasure to work side by side with Nativos and Elizza. To finish my stay, both invited me to delightful meals in Tarapoto. I am going to miss them and hope that my work will help them in the future
Today’s ride into work was the fastest yet somehow, yesterday we were stuck in a deadlock for so long that it was the better decision for me to walk the five minutes to HICAST and the CECI driver to turn around and go back.
Walking, I was a bit cautious for two reasons; one the copious amounts of mud; and two the giant Nepali trucks, who if they were to start moving might not see me. In Kathmandu, especially in the Ring Road area with construction going on, the air quality is rather bad. On the main roads I use a mask, especially since I have allergies and somewhat sensitive lungs. It might look a little silly in Canada, -in fact, I get weird looks when I’m cycling in pollen season with a mask, but in Nepal, it’s an essential fashion item. You will see everything from the thin surgical masks, fancy patterned, to more heavy duty to make-shift scarf or clothing used to cover the face.
This morning I was nervous when we first took our plates from the incubator. I was expecting a number of different bacteria from the skin swabs, especially since everyone had their own plate. There were four tiny colony candidates and by looking at them I was suspecting that I might not have any micrococcus at all! Then what would we do for my demonstration on drug residue?
But we had some luck, the largest colony of them all shows promise. We tested for catalase and oxidase, with both being the required positive reactions and finally gram-stained a small portion which looks beautiful. The last and final test is in the incubator for tomorrow and my fingers are crossed. The final test is whether the culture is sensitive to the drug bacitracin and if it is we are good to go and create a culture for some basic drug residue testing.
Today was day two of our microbiology testing in poultry. Yesterday we received an entire dead chicken so that we could inoculate our plates and tubes today. We each took turns taking a puncture sample from the liver and inoculated a few medias in order to determine if there is any salmonella or e.coli.
Next, we all took a sterile swab and with the choice of skin or nose we took a sample and inoculated some broth. Now, why were we sampling ourselves? Over the next week, I am hoping to isolate a micrococcus culture, from what better place than ourselves. Micrococcus is naturally occurring in our skin’s flora. When we finally isolate and confirm, we can then use this culture for a workshop on drug residues, similar to an old method we did back at Laboratory Services, but adjusted to HICAST.
So far it has been very short days at HICAST but there is nothing you can do when it comes to microbiology. No matter how much love and encouragement you give your plates (even if they are growing something nasty such as the salmonella and e.coli), they won’t grow any faster!
Did I mention it’s monsoon season in Nepal? We have had rain almost every single day. In some ways I don’t mind it; it cools you down for a bit and if you have laundry drying, just think of it as extra refreshing rinses to your clothes. The season has been particularly bad this year, this means a lot of roads, paved and unpaved; are becoming mud swamps or bring up even more obstacles. I’m super glad I brought my ugly clog-like shoes, they protect my feet both from the muddy street leading to HICAST and from any additional rain or puddles.
Today was prep day! Anyone who works in a lab knows that if you have a lot of work ahead of you, aside from a plan, a full prep day is what you need to keep sane.
Today I arrived very late due to being stuck in one of Kathmandu’s famous Ring Road traffic jams. Apparently, ring road has been under construction for the past 3 years and it is always a fool’s guess as to how long it will take to get across the city. It seems like every time I go about the city there are new types of obstacles each time. With cows being sacred, they are at the very top of the traffic hierarchy, deciding to walk and rest wherever they choose. Pedestrians, as I may have mentioned earlier, they are strictly at the bottom of this list.
When I finally arrived at HICAST, I found that most of our prep day was already started. The job of sterilizing items such as the glass petri dishes were done at 7am. The media we require for our upcoming tests were already out with the calculations already done by the students. So, I got to work by helping to weigh out some media and kept an eye on some of the flasks heating over Bunsen burners.
Normally back home we order almost everything we need. We order plastic disposable plates with guaranteed quality and all you must do is store it in the fridge and keep an eye on the expiry date. Here we are making everything ourselves and even acquired fresh blood from the campus cow for our blood agar.
Something new to me as well is the use of four Bunsen burners as a perimeter. Pair those with a lot of alcohol for our hands and work bench and we have our sterile environment. On the topic of new things in the lab, there are three kittens and mother cat wandering around the HICAST campus, you can shoo them out but they always come back for a place to play or nap. Lastly, it was my first-time drinking milk tea… in the lab! Felt a little wrong drinking in the lab, but hey, when in Nepal.
Canada days to remember
The first of July, a slightly early Canada Day in Nepal started with a 7am pick up from a local tour guide.
-It was truly early for be because I was up at 4am working on my PowerPoint for HICAST later in the day.
We were very lucky to have a half day city tour set up by CECI and participated with the newly arrived long-term Australian volunteers.
We started out in the Kathmandu Durbar Square, a stunning area with ancient architectures blended into both temples and city life. The first temple was filled with so many sites and sounds, in one small area but I could have spent the entire day there. We stopped by several other sites and museums in the square and I took some of my favourite photos of my stay in Nepal so far.
The second stop was the Pashupatinath temple, a holy place for the Hindu population with one of their most important temples. At the entrance, I got my first close-up view of some monkeys. I’ve been wary of getting close to them; since they appear to be smarter versions of raccoons who will take your stuff and smell if you have food. I was glad that they didn’t care that we were there and I didn’t have to worry about them, but rather the people. A bit farther in is when we started being harassed by people trying to sell us stuff. Even with the tour guide, it started to turn into another parade of people trying to sell things and children begging for money.
Coming to the Bagmati river we saw two cremation ceremonies taking place. One had already begun and the second was in progress. It was interesting to learn about such a different practice for when your loved ones die.
Our final destination was the Boudhanath stupa, one of the largest stupas in the world. It is a round dome where you can walk around clockwise spinning prayer wheels and admiring the hundreds of colourful prayer flags. At the top of the dome, you can see the eyes of Buddha on all four sides, it is a beautiful place to visit.
Soon after this wonderful tour, I was off to HICAST for my presentation, armed with my Canada 150 shirt and some maple candies and other gifts. I’m pleased that I didn’t feel too nervous doing my short presentation on myself, Canada and what I do at the University of Guelph. I’m even happier that the squeaky rubber chicken I added to my bag of gifts was found to be hilarious as well. We ended the day with creating a more solid schedule and work plan, which I hope goes well!
Canada Day pt 2
This morning started even earlier, we were again picked up by a tour bus, but this time 5:30am. Who would willingly get up this early for a tour? Well, this was no ordinary tour; we were going to board a local plane to see Everest! We were super lucky too, the past three days were canceled due to poor viewing conditions but today was up and running and only delayed by 20 minutes. We flew with Yeti Airlines, a smaller aircraft with views on one side of the plane on the way to Everest and views on the other side on the way back so everyone could take a turn. The views were absolutely mesmerizing with the mountain range bursting from the clouds. We even had a chance to view from the cockpit for a minute, which was totally amazing because I have not seen a cockpit since I was a very young child.
The whole journey took an hour and we had a glass of champagne on the plane to celebrate before landing. It was a trip of a lifetime and worth every penny. One thing we missed while up in the air was 4.7 magnitude earthquake but I don’t think I’m too disappointed.
To wrap up another fantastic day, CECI Nepal threw us a belated Canada Day potluck and celebration. We made a giant poutine here with what we could find and did what we could to cook the fries in a tiny oven. It turned out surprisingly well considering all we had for gravy was a vegetable stock cube and some corn starch! There was some delicious local food that the other CECI members brought and we enjoyed while listening to an all-Canadian playlist. We finished the party off with a Canadian flag cake and lots of party blowers to drown out the nearby loudspeakers that had been going for an entire week.
It was an amazing weekend that I’ll never forget and I really appreciate all of the hard work that the CECI members and fellow volunteers put into this weekend to ensure we had a wonderful time.
I was taken to the HICAST (Himalayan College of Agricultural Sciences and Technology) administration office this morning. I was feeling nervous just driving there, thoughts about how I don’t know much about how to meet people in Nepal besides “Namaste” and thoughts about maybe not being of any use once I start my mandate.
After meeting a lot of important people at the administration office, where we talked briefly about the mandate and my abilities; I learned that there are three locations for HICAST. I was taken by taxi to the main campus next to have a tour of the student labs.
The campus is located just off Ring Road that circles Kathmandu and I believe is an entrance into the Kathmandu Valley, so add in trucks to the mix of cars, motor bikes, and people. I can tell that traffic must get worse in this area due to the people walking up and down the road selling water and snacks.
Just from a glance I can tell that working here is going to be a different environment from my lab back home, but with some similarities such as campus cows.
After a brief tour of the labs on campus, I was taken by a second taxi after walking up Ring Road to the third location, the HICAST Veterinary Hospital. It was a smaller green building with a pharmacy, a lab, an operating room and a recovery room. Here we talked a bit more about a tentative plan and I waited for a ride back to Baluwatar. I have some homework tonight for a PowerPoint presentation on Canada Day, guess I’ll have to bring some Canada Day with me.
Photo credits to: Bidur Chaulagain
After a few days in Nepal, with some getting lost and even more training I feel settled in. Since I had a half day free today I found a point of interest on the map and tried to find it. Unfortunately, what I was looking at was either way too far or I didn’t end up quite where I wanted to be. It was still an adventure though with lots to see and more authentic Kathmandu. Even traveling as a group with my fellow volunteers we got lost a few times in our neighbourhood. Most of the time we just managed the very long way back to the passage house but only once did we ask for directions. All you have to remember is to ask where is the chowk. Baluwatar is our neighbourhood and the chowk is the main intersection where you can find your bearings and go the correct direction home.
A few things I like about the city is that most houses have food gardens either on a patch of land or I have even seen corn being grown on a rooftop. Everything always seems to have amazing colours and even the trucks are decorated and painted. There is always spontaneous livestock, including that rooster who wakes me up in the morning, goats, street dogs and of course cows wherever they please.
Somethings that are still a shock to me is
1) The traffic, you really have to see it to believe it.
2) There are always people trying to sell things, or ask for charity because you are a foreigner and must have lots of money.
3) Lastly, I really miss public parks…. There are sacred trees around the city and shrines and temples but those are not quite the same.
I have done a little bit of shopping here now. I have bought my first two pieces of traditional clothing; I have two kurtas which are the long colourful tunics with a split on either side. I’m going to wear one for my first visit to my partner organization to maybe help to fit in.Click to view slideshow.
I woke up to a rooster, on my first day in Nepal, and soon started experiencing my first case of jetlag. I felt tired, had a headache and was even feeling nauseous, but something about the rooster call still called my body into action at 6am.
First morning cure:
- bottle of water
- a second bottle of water with electrolyte mix
- a quick cold shower
- a cup of tea made the Nepali way
- visit to the rooftop to hang my washed clothing
- and lastly my first video chat back home
Our first orientation day started by meeting everyone in the two CECI Nepal buildings. The greeting in Nepal is holding both palms together at your chest and saying Namaste. Note to self this is rather difficult to greet people if you have things in your hands!
Next we had our meetings for administrative items and orientation on UNITERRA, a tour of the neighbourhood and out for lunch. Our final task of the day was going to the CIWEC clinic and meeting with the doctor who put the fear in us about food safety, road safety and much more. The big take away is don’t eat it unless you can cook, boil or peel it; drink safe water with no ice; don’t kill yourself on the busy streets; and lastly don’t pet any dogs or monkeys.
Having a free evening, Kim, Jennifer and I took our first cab ride to Thamel. The streets in Nepal can’t even be compared to Canada. At first appearance the roads seem lawless, there are hundreds of scooters and motorbikes weaving their way around, with or without helmets. There are no stop lights that I have seen and only a traffic guard at super busy intersections. You will see a handful of cars; buses bicycles, street dogs and even an occasional cow. Pedestrians do not have the right of way and I have only seen a car stop for a young schoolgirl so it takes a lot of skills and guts to cross by yourself even at a zebra crossing.
We arrived in Thamel to first visit the Garden of Dreams, a perfect little oasis away from the hustle and bustle of the city. After getting our fill of the beautiful views we headed to the shops which turned into an overwhelming experience. I need to learn how to barter because I got ripped off big time. I won’t go into too much detail because it is embarrassing but initially I was thinking it was actually a great deal at first! Turns out we were talking about USD as currency, I’m such a fool. I’ll be careful from now on but these will be some pricey christmas gifts for my mom and sisters.
After browsing a few more shops we started getting surrounded again, people on the streets trying sell their items even after a dozen no’s. A child also joined after getting away from the initial group. Having read about this common scam before coming to Nepal we knew not to fall for it. Normally if a child asks for help in Canada people would stop and assist but here it is common for a child or mother to ask for help to buy milk and try and get you to their store, where they would just pocket the money. This was certainly a new experience. Many travel books and websites always advise not to freely give money, food or candy to children but to rather donate to existing assistance programs instead.
We grabbed another cab back towards our neighbourhood of Baluwatar, Kathmandu to go to the supermarket for some groceries.
Did I also mention that most cabs don’t have seat belts? You even have to barter with the cab over price and tell them they are lying about the price and distance. On suggestion I have installed an app that has the suggested fares for where you are trying to go. Super helpful to look that up before you leave.
We ended our first full day in Nepal with carrying our groceries home and cooking some pasta for dinner.
Day two: my travel companions and I are still on our long flight from Philadelphia to Doha, Qatar. Considering how long this stretch was and the number of passengers on this huge aircraft, it was a pleasant flight filled with wonderful middle-eastern style food and more in-flight movies you could hope for.
We landed in Qatar at 5am local time and can you believe it was 35oC already? I know for sure that if I ever spent time outside in Qatar I would surely die from the heat and burn to a crisp! I am not made for heat, for me, a 15-20oC spring or fall day is absolutely perfect.
I’m not sure if the Doha airport is the largest airport in the world but it certainly can boast about its size. A fun fact is that there is a 2 ton bronzed bear as part of the many art installations. But you really have to look at a photo to realize that this is no ordinary bear. It’s kinda terrifying. The story is that it is one of two and this larger statue belongs to one of the royal family members and is at the airport…. for storage!
Our last flight on Qatar Airlines was a final 4.5hours long. Boy was I getting grumpy about traveling by then. I put the map on my screen to observe how close we were getting…. Every time I woke up from a small nap I was disappointed to see that we weren’t any closer to our destination.
Eventually, we were rewarded with some spectacular views of Nepal just before landing.
Arriving at the Nepali airport, we applied for our visas and tried to find our baggage. I was forewarned that I would be hassled once there but I still was not prepared. Our baggage was taken and brought outside for tips by “inside staff.” After finding our Uniterra representatives who were picking us up I found myself surrounded by five “outside staff” all demanding $20USD each for helping. I made it out with a sacrifice of $10USD left over from my visa application and they took a 1000NPR (approx $13CAD). This is not my only time being surrounded by people or being hustled and over charged… I have learned now, hopefully. I’ll take it as part of my learning experience.
We were given the traditional offering of a white scarf called a Khata. These are part of a Buddhist tradition of greetings and well wishes.
After arriving at the CECI passage house and choosing a room, we met a fellow student volunteer who will be soon completing her three-month mandate. She kindly gave us a short tour and we went for dinner. So far my biggest challenge is eating right handed without making a huge mess as I am left handed.