Tania Framst's blog
Tomorrow I will head home. I am desperate to see Mike and the boys. I hope to return with them some day. I am sitting at my desk, decorated in bangles, a necklace, a special hairpin and a Teeka, all gifts from "DiDi" the cook. Despite a language barrier, we have developed a special friendship. She says she likes that I am soft. I like that she is always smiling and singing despite the difficult life she has endured. She is very grateful for her job at ANSAB and it has provided a better life for her and her son. Her happiness is genuine; you can see it in her eyes.
The ANSAB team is taking me to dinner tonight at a local organic restaurant. There is an impressive organic movement in Nepal despite the country's struggles to improve efficiency and grow enough quality food to be self sufficient. Agriculture accounts for 35% of the GDP and 78% of the labour force yet Nepal is a net importer of food and the majority of agriculture workers are ultra poor.
I am sad to leave but it is time to go. I miss my family, my friends, my work colleagues, and the comforts of home. I am excited to decorate for Halloween and to beat last year's honourable mention for best costume at College Idol!
Tomorrow I will leave Hotel Shakti to stay at the CECI house for the last three nights of my stay in Kathmandu. Hotel Shakti is in Thamel, the main tourist/trekker district. Thamel is outrageously awesome and exhausting at the same time and it can really wear on you after a while. It’s packed to the brim with tourists, locals, shops, guest houses, restaurants and bars and of course motorbikes, taxis, rickshaws, and stray dogs. It has a crazy energy and you can always spot the “newbies” who nervously clutch their bags and teeter on the edge of the road afraid to step into the mix. It takes a while, but now I stroll confidently around Thamel and have developed great skills like banging on the hoods of cars and glaring at the drivers to tell them they’d better not run me over, staring down rickshaw drivers (they think it’s funny to drive straight at you and stop at the very last second), getting sellers of flutes, mini chessboards and purses to leave me alone AND I’ve finally found a place to get small bottles of beer (I can’t seem to get through the giant ones that restaurants serve but I’ve put in a good effort). But alas, it is time to say goodbye to Thamel. I will miss the staff at Hotel Shakti and the rice pancakes and vegetable pakoras but I will not miss the gas spewing into my room each night from the generator, nor the live music exploding from the neighbouring House of Music (though they do get some talented bands), nor the stray dogs that bark along to the music. I am looking forward to staying at the CECI passage house and spending time with other volunteers.
Finished week two at the Asia Network for Sustainable Agriculture and Bio resources (ANSAB). ANSAB builds capacity and creates economic incentives for the poorest of the poor to increase the benefit from and sustainably manage the ecosystems on which they so heavily depend. A huge focus is on providing training and technical assistance at the grassroots level (mainly for women and other marginalized groups) and they facilitate the development of community-based enterprises from entrepreneurship and business development to value-chain promotion and market linkages. They also pioneered Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification in Nepal. In 2009 alone, its programs generated $6.82 M USD in total monetary benefitting 78,828 participants. Lots of information is at www.ansab.org. What feels right about ANSAB is that it is a local organization, headquartered in Nepal and run by Nepali people. It employs about 50 people, some at the head office here in Kathmandu and many in the field. I am in the company of excellent and extremely bright people, some have travelled abroad for post-secondary education (my office partner Sudarshan has studied at Yale as did a couple of others), and several are from remote rural areas and bring that knowledge and expertise to the table. It is a little intimidating and my assumptions have been messed with but I am learning many things and I actually managed to make a valuable contribution to their capacity to manage their programs. Phew! My favourite part? An incredible cook prepares outrageously good Nepali fare for lunch and the entire staff gathers in the boardroom at 1:00 pm each day for a relaxing meal. I love the sound of the lunch bell ringing!
View from CECI office
The airport is very small and easy to navigate. Getting through customs and finding my driver was a breeze. I was warned about the traffic and chaos of the airport and it was indeed nuts.
The drive was terrifying and terribly exciting. I am getting more and more used to what I once thought was an insane free for all on the roads but now seems (?) more like an organized yet chaotic system of unwritten rules - I could be completely wrong but it makes me feel a bit safer. Ten years ago the city had adequate infrastructure to support about 400,000 people. Now that same crumbling infrastructure is trying to support over a million people. The Maoist insurgency, political instability and a search for employment has led to several hundred thousand people migrating from rural areas to the city. The roads are mostly dirt and very narrow - as my driver pointed out - very few are designed for cars. Not so long ago, primary transportation in the city was by foot. Streets are indescribably crowded with motorcycles, cars, buses, pedestrians and animals. There is a road widening project underway across the city - and walls/homes/business that lined the roads too closely were torn/down - reduced to rubble. Some were compensated by the government. Others who were in violation of a previously unenforced bylaw are on their own. I will try to post pictures - if you didn't know any better you would assume that there has been a recent earthquake. All of the destruction/reconstruction is being done by manual labour. Temporary workers were hired to rip up the streets/houses and property owners are slowly putting them back together. Others, I think will be left as is. I have not seen a single machine - just men, women and children with a bag of cement mix and a bucket of water rebuilding walls one brick at a time.
Airplanes are like freezers to me. Despite my expert layering of coats and blankets I still froze and barely slept. It was a relief to get off the plane and into Heathrow airport for a hot cup of coffee.
The UK border official made fun of me for thinking I was going to go into the city for the day instead of sticking around the airport because the weather was so nasty. I told him not to worry because I had a raincoat and warm socks.
One can hop on the London express to Paddington Station without stepping outside the airport. At Paddington, it’s easy and cheap to take the “tube” to anywhere you want to go.
Just for fun, I chose Piccadilly Circus as my first stop. As soon as I stepped outside the station, I knew it wouldn’t be fun.
I promptly purchased an umbrella in my effort to suck it up. After about three miserable blocks I found a lovely and cheap diner, got my fish and chips and mushy peas fix. With my belly full, I immediately headed back to the airport, tired, soaked and freezing cold. Hopefully on tonight’s flight I will sleep soundly, dreaming of the 42 degrees heat that will greet me tomorrow in Qatar.
It was pretty crazy flying into Qatar – nothing but a cluster of buildings completely surrounded by desert.
Everything was the same colour, no variation in the sand or buildings. Very strange to not see anything green – nothing, literally. A few potted trees outside the airport. The heat was punishing and the wealth was extraordinarily obvious and kind of uncomfortable.
I was mentally and physically ready to leave last June. I'd organized home and work, had my shots, was mostly packed, had gone over details in my head a million times. While at L4C training in Toronto one week before my scheduled departure, I got a call that my mother-in-law had a critical health emergency while alone with my 8 year old son. He was truly a hero and got her the help she needed. This was a scary time for the whole family and I postponed my trip. I'm happy to report that mother-in-law is recovering beautifully. My son has also recovered from this traumatic experience and is enjoying spending time with his grandma. New departure date: September 22 - only 5 days away!!
I am making final preparations and I am relieved to have hired a super UofG student to help out at home while I'm gone. My family has told me to stop fussing - they'll be fine.
I am now trying to focus less on logisical details (which I've covered over and over again) and more on my mandate, the people and places I will get to know, and THIS BLOG! I've really enjoyed reading the posts by my fellow Leave for Change participants and I admit that I will have to work very very hard to be nearly as entertaining.
Must get back to getting ready to get out of here!