Today marks our 8th day in Ilam, Nepal – past the half-way point for our trip. Jeff, our professional mentor for the trip, and Arista, a former student of the EWB-CU Nepal program and a current member of the Rocky Mountain EWB professional chapter, have safely arrived in Ilam. Everyone is healthy and doing well.
So far the trip has presented some potential pitfalls, which we have avoided thus far with good fortune. Heavy fog and weather conditions have cancelled many of the flights from Kathmandu to Bhadrapur in the past week, but Jeff was fortunately able to catch a flight without running into any delays or cancellations.
We’ve had a lot to accomplish in this past week. We have been busy working with the Namsaling Community Development Center (NCDC), our local partner NGO, to prepare for a spring source protection workshop that took place yesterday. The goal of the workshop was to create discussion among different stakeholders involved with spring source protection programs in Ilam. Workshop attendees included members of NCDC, the Ilam municipality, EWB-CU Nepal, users’ committees from three different spring sites, and various other stakeholder organizations involved with spring source protection. The workshop was based on the work of Tammy Stone, a recent graduate from the engineering for developing communities (EDC) program at CU, with help from Dr. Barry Bialek, a professional mentor for the EWB Nepal Program. Their work has been to create a manual for sustainable spring source protection and yesterday marked the initial workshop in a series to bring about discussion for sustainable spring source protection in the Ilam district.
In the design realm, we have visited Jhor Dhara, Nali Dhara, and Patpate Dhara with Jeff to gather design ideas and answer pertinent questions with the various users’ committees regarding their needs/desires for spring source protection. We have also scheduled a meeting with the municipality on Sunday to discuss spring site priorities and funding for each of these projects.
Tomorrow is Saturday, which would normally be a holiday for NCDC staff, but all will be busy with yet another workshop! This meeting will include people from all over the Ilam district as well as the Nepali government to discuss the Green City Initiative (in other words, it is a pretty big deal). Ilam is the first district in Nepal to create a hundred year development plan outlining the needs for sustainable development within the district and how they plan to address those needs. Tomorrow’s workshop should be another great opportunity for discussion about how to move the country forward, and we are excited to see what comes of it!
Alas, another travel team, another trip to Nepal, and another set of adventures awaits the EWB team members as we embark on a trip around the world. After four plane rides (including a 12-hour layover in Guangzhou, China) and a three-hour car ride through the Terai, we have finally made it to Ilam, Nepal and are adjusting to the 13-hour time difference between here and back home. This winter’s travel team is small, but our goals are lofty. We have big plans for our time in Ilam, and we are off to a great start!
Steven “Wild Walton” is a junior in Environmental Engineering and is heading up the design team this trip. He is currently living in a house of engineers here in Ilam and is spending his “dal bhat time” with Madhu, our engineering partner at NCDC, and Aviv, a construction management guru who recently graduated from Columbia University and has teamed up with EWB to help make our trip all the more successful!
“Brittany the Brave” is a junior majoring in Chemical Egineering and is returning to Sunrise Guest House for her time in Nepal. She has been involved primarily with the sustainability team within the Nepal program, but is helping out with design as well for this trip.
Okay, now that our obligatory introductory blog post is out of the way, stay tuned for more Nepali adventures with our dynamic duo!
We’ve all made it back to safely to Kathmandu and, in fact, everyone but your current author has taken off to further adventures. Jessica and Celeste flew to Pokhara yesterday, looking forward to trekking part of the Annapurna Circuit. Max didn’t leave until around 10 PM, but if all went well, he should now be safely in Dubai, en route to Uganda. Which leaves me to tell the story of our last few days.
Let’s rewind to last Saturday – our last night in Ilam:
The team’s farewell evening dal bhat, kindly hosted by Bhupal, was rudely interrupted by the news that a drivers’ strike was scheduled to start the following day. This was a big disturbance to us, as our plan was to jeep out of Ilam. After lots of panicking, planning, and phone calls being made, it was decided that if we left early enough in the morning, we would get out of Ilam district before any road blocks were set up, and we’d be safe to travel through other districts where the strike would not be in effect.
The decision made, we finished dal bhat, said some goodbyes, and stayed up late packing. The plan actually worked perfectly. We were out of Ilam municipality before the crack of dawn and we faced no troubles for the rest of the journey. Saying goodbye to Ilam was difficult. It’s hard to make such important connections with a place and group of people, then have to say goodbye not knowing if or when you’ll ever meet again. The long drive through the flatlands of Nepal distracted us from our sad thoughts, and we were fascinated by how different the countryside is from the hills of Ilam.
After a little over 13 hours of chatting, dozing, watching the road, and getting generally jumbled around in a jeep, we reached our destination, Chitwan. Chitwan is probably one of the 3 most touristy places in Nepal, and what it’s most famous for is the jungle environment and elephant safaris. Tourists flood into the area to take day-long rides on elephants through the jungles. We also had our eye on the elephant-riding prize, but due to the passed-along wisdom of previous travel teams, we chose to forego the formal (and expensive) elephant safari programs. Instead, we followed some elephant trainers to the river and, for a very cheap price, had the delight of getting in the river and riding on the elephants while they bathed.
After a post-elephant shower to get the mud and river water off, the team piled back into the jeep, and we rode the remaining 6 hours to Kathmandu without a hitch.
As I’ve already mentioned, yesterday was a day of parting with goodbyes all around. I fly out of Kathmandu tomorrow and back to the States. Although the prospect of leaving pulls at the heartstrings, I’m reminded that my sadness at leaving is directly proportional to how well-spent my time here was. This was an amazing trip for this EWB group. We were productive, did lots of technical and social work, made friends, made memories, and learned so much about Nepal, ourselves, and each other.
Thanks for following our blog this trip!
These are the voyages of the Engineers Without Borders University of Colorado team. Its two month mission: to explore strange new spring sites; to seek out new projects; to boldly go where no man has gone before. Excepting all the people who have gone there before – who are many.
Star Date 91149.5
All field work completed – mapping done, community surveys carried out – and all crew safe aboard the Enterprise. All crew save one. Tammy, intrepid Masters student as she is, has been called to a new mission in a distant star system (Dhuli Khel….about an hour east of Kathmandu). There, she will attempt to bring together peoples from all nations to exist in harmony (she will be TAing for an international development course), assisting the twin stewards of sustainable planetary development Doctors Barry Bialek and Bernard Amadei.
While on the nearby planet of Barsum (in the bazaar), the girls took advantage of the coming of the new lunar month to have new uniforms tailored (they had saris made and henna done!), and took precisely 196 pictures with the women of NCDC.
Immediately following the last captain’s log entry, a surprise visit was made by four officers from our home planet who were on a special diplomatic mission in honor of the anniversary of our world’s independence from the Englingons (This is a horribly confusing sentence. What we mean to say is that some representatives from the US Embassy in Nepal came to Ilam as part of a program celebrating the American independence day.)
Our last few days have been calm and filled with meticulous preparation (we’ve been buying tea and souvenirs and soaking in the beautiful landscapes of Ilam as our time slips away) for our return to the galactic capital (Kathmandu).
Most recently, in an attempted financial transaction, one team member was barred from withdrawing money by the Holy Goat that holds free reign in the town center (there’s literally a Holy Goat that wanders the Ilam bazaar and it would not budge from in front of the door to the ATM).
Back on the Enterprise, we are gearing up for a long journey to what some call home and reflecting on the last week’s adventures.
In a mere 3 days, we will depart. We are sad to leave this part of the galaxy, but have cultivated numerous meaningful friendships and new opportunities.
My Dearest Hamburger,
I have been counting the days we’ve been apart. I received your package last week and it made a powerful impression on my heart (we got the batteries!). It is as if I now have a little piece of your heart. I bring it everywhere I go, hoping it will map the way back to you.
I celebrated Murrikaa’s birthday last week. I ordered her a cake with red, white, and blue frosting, but was disappointed to pick up a cake in orange, green, and brown. Luckily she and her friends (NCDC) didn’t know the significance of the colors and enjoyed the cake anyway. For me, the sugar in the cake was nothing compared to your sweet buns.
I had a chance encounter with our friend Muna in the bazaar. It was wonderful to see her, but her presence just reminded me of your absence. I long for you as I long for Muna’s chiyaa.
My friend Manish has left for India. Although I will miss passing afternoons drinking tea with him, I miss having a milkshake with you much more.
Prakash and Pradeep helped distract me from my sorrows by hosting a lovely dinner. Corn, sweet rice, and paneer dazzled my taste buds, but fell short of the succulent taste of you on my lips.
The rain won’t let up, just like the tears in my eyes. If only I could hold you again, the sun would shine on my heart. Instead, my heart molds in sadness.
Nothing can fill the void inside me. I just hope you will be waiting for me when I return.
Missing you awfully,
Your biggest fan
(The EWB team)
5:25 PM – We receive word that our mentors back home have acquired and shipped off new survey batteries. Morale is good.
Saturday, June 28
9:20 AM – The Green City Women’s Group program is nearly a success. People gather, despite any present danger, to clean and beautify the bazaar and bring in plants, but the sudden and torrential rains drive everyone to shelter. We hope the cloudy skies are not an omen of things to come.
2:00 PM – The need for support and training in a nearby village, Mai Pokhari, leads us to bid farewell to Li-Mae. She departs into the fog with Rashmina and Bhupal, in the hopes that they can spread hope that we will all make it through this safe and sound.
Sunday, June 29
3:44 PM – We receive a tattered scrap of paper – the remnants of a message Li-Mae attempted to send via messenger pigeon. What is legible reads “….There are allies in Mai Pokhari. The female community health volunteers are eager to improve their situation. Plans are set to construct many new toilets and soon they will declare the village open defecation free….Reports are positive; there have been no attacks here for 5 days….” The good news lifts our spirits and, though we take refuge, waiting for batteries to continue field work, we glimpse hope.
Monday, June 30
11:42 AM—The office is quiet. No electricity. No lights. Good thing it’s the middle of the day. But soon night will fall. Celeste and Max furiously scan through materials available on the computer in a near-futile attempt to find information that will lead to the ultimate sustainable development project. They rummage through guides, articles on best practice, accounts of past failures, anything that might prevent the worst from happening. Meanwhile, Jessica deciphers previously maps that will help her and Li-Mae create accurate topographic maps of springs already visited. The lay of the land. The beginning of a journey. A journey towards thorough research, planning, community involvement, construction, and sustainability. Against all odds, the group of three proceeds onward into the depths of their office work. They can only hope Li-Mae will make it back.
Tuesday, June 31
10:21 AM—We rejoice when Li-Mae arrives. Although a bit disheveled from the long journey, she brings the welcome news of a successful mission. We cling to this ray of hope as we shoulder our bags and trek to the office. We wait with baited breath for our faithful friend Bim to arrive, hoping that he will survive the perilous journey, carrying our precious cargo of survey batteries from Bhadrapur to Ilam. We know he faces unimaginable dangers on the road, and Li-Mae and Celeste grimly learn the lyrics of Eminem to fend off menaces unknown.
We’ve run into a few…technical issues since the last blog. The total station that the design team uses for land surveying is a very specific piece of equipment that is a little finicky and deserves to be treated like a baby (in fact, its home during jeep rides to sites is safely on Li-Mae’s lap, in her arms), but overall it’s a great machine. However, a few days ago, when the batteries for the total station were dead and needed charging, they wouldn’t charge. The team tried every possible combination of outlet/voltage converter, charger, and battery to no avail. Without charged batteries for the total station, it isn’t possible to do comprehensive land surveying of any more sites. After several unexpected phone calls to mentors back home and one Skype call, we decided that the best course of action would be to order new batteries and chargers and ship them into Kathmandu, from where they will come to Ilam about a day later. We’re so grateful for our mentors who stay calm and collected in situations like this and help guide us to the best, most logical decision.
With new batteries on the way, the team’s work has far from stopped. Jessica and Li-Mae have continued to go to spring sites, sketching the sites and setting control points so the surveying work will be quick and efficient once the batteries arrive, and Celeste and Max, with translator Prakash, have continued to accompany and conduct community interviews.
On the brighter side, Tammy, an EWB member and Engineering Development Communities masters student at CU, arrived in Ilam two days ago! Tammy is here for her masters practicum to do research on past spring source protection projects and evaluate their success. We were thrilled to greet her, and promptly took her out for a welcome dinner at Chiyabaari Cottage, the restaurant at the top of the tea fields. She came with us today as we visited a few sites to get an idea of what an SSP project looks like, and she had great input for the work that we’re doing.
Aside from the straightforward work and issues we work through every day, today we got the chance to attend a wedding reception! Manish was a volunteer at NCDC last summer and spent a long time with Max and the education team, helping with school interviews. He’s returned to Ilam for about a week to visit and for his brother’s wedding reception, and he graciously invited us all to attend. The girls wore kurta siruwals and Max busted out a collared shirt for the occasion. Tammy, who doesn’t have any Nepali clothes yet, asked to borrow something from her host mom Rina, and found herself in a full sari and jewelry. The reception was very fun. It consisted of hanging out with friends, formally greeting and congratulating the newly married couple, and eating mounds of lavish Nepali and Indian food.
Overall, it’s been a good week. With all its ups and downs, the team is still feeling optimistic and productive, and we look forward to what will come next!
We found out that cheese is available in the bazaar. Not traditional paneer (soft, Indian cheese) or dried, rock-hard churpi (a classic in northern Nepal), but real cow-milk cheese, begging to be sliced and eaten delicately on crackers. Upon discovering that cheese is available, we wasted no time in finding the cheese shop in the bazaar. The shop owner asked how much cheese we wanted, and Li-Mae replied, without hesitation “One kilo!” It seemed reasonable to everybody until we saw the shopkeeper weight out one kilo of cheese (roughly the size of a human head), and we realized that a kilo is over TWO POUNDS of cheese (2.2 to be exact).
Aside from purchasing exorbitant amounts of dairy product, we’ve been busily working away at our list of spring sites to survey. Land surveys have now been completed on a total of 5 spring sites for possible future protection projects. For the highest-priority springs, Max and Celeste have been accompanying Li-Mae and Jessica to the sites. While Li-Mae and Jessica do the land surveying, Max and Celeste wander the area, talking with users of the springs and learning the general sentiment toward development and spring source protection projects. So far, this system has been efficient and successful, and we look forward to continuing the model at more sites.
Along with expanding our understanding of the spring sources in the area, we have also been expanding our understanding of modern Nepali culture. Celeste and Li-Mae have spent many an hour watching Bollywood dance videos, coercing Jessica and a slightly reluctant Max to join in the activity. Currently, the team (Max included) is obsessed with Hrithik Roshan, a huge Bollywood dance star. He graces the desktop background of the team computer (a photo that has been greatly improved by our team, and is included with this post), and we listen to at least one song of his every day. Oh Hrithik, how you’ve stolen our hearts.
Lastly, the highlight, far, of the week was bearing witness to an incredible feat of nature during last night’s daal bhat. While eating, we noticed a gecko on the wall in the kitchen. At first, we were interested just to see the lizard, but then Jessica noticed that it was in the middle of eating a very lively writhing cockroach. A freaking cockroach!! The cockroach was, without question, at least as big as the gecko’s head. Urban legend tells us that not even nuclear radiation or being cut in half can destroy a cockroach. Urban legend clearly has not made the acquaintance of the Nepali house gecko, which swallows wiggling cockroaches whole then licks its chops in satisfaction.
After a hike scaling some Ilam mountains (large hills), we arrived in Namsaling. We trekked through the blanket of humidity that left the team (mostly Max) drenched in sweat, downed multiple Nalgenes to combat the heat, and then finally made it to Laxman’s house. Laxman is a long-time friend of Dr. Barry’s. As stated in our previous blog, our plan was to help the Action for Health team at NCDC (Bhupal, Rashmina, and Pradeep) conduct a follow up training with individuals from different parts of Namsaling regarding its recent declaration as an open-defecation-free community. There were a total of four trainings scheduled for the week in order to cover as much of the community’s population as possible.
During one of the trainings, we sat in the back of a crowded classroom as our friends from NCDC pulled off a moving presentation (we assume it was moving, although we could only understand about 0.5% of the Nepali), eventually moving outside as adults and children happily washed their hands, showing off the six steps of hand washing.
We had Dal Bhat with Laxman and his family, playing Honey I Love You to the hilarity of the entire room. For those who are unfamiliar with the game, the goal is to face your opponent stony-faced and say, “Honey I love you, will you please, please smile?” to which your opponent says, “Honey, I love you, but I just can’t smile.” Max faced off with Bhupal. Bhupal replied to Max in a deep voice, staying straight-faced, “Max… I love you. Too.” The whole room erupted into laughter. Li-Mae then engaged Laxman in a staring contest of the ages, lasting far past a reasonable amount of time.
One of the most memorable experiences of our time in Namsaling was the local chicken. By that, we mean an actual chicken from Laxman’s backyard, not some cooked pulpy patty in a McDonald’s box. Even the individuals in Ilam were jealous that we got to eat local Namsaling chicken during our stay there. This experience, of course, not only included eating the chicken, but also included us watching the chicken get beheaded, plucked clean, disemboweled, butchered, and finally spiced in preparation for a scrumptious bath in garlic, onion, and oil. While the first couple of steps were on the more graphic side for those of us who are used to picking up chicken breasts in a sealed package at King Soopers, we appreciated seeing where our food came from and how AWESOME it tasted when it was that fresh.
The hike back to Ilam was substantially shorter than our previous heat and humidity-laden “stroll” to Namsaling several days earlier. That being said, it rained the entire time, which proved to be mildly problematic for non-umbrella-bearing people. Regardless, you could say that it was a rather “cleansing” and refreshing finale to a great few days spent in Namsaling. Now, we are ready to resume our previous work surveying, and are looking forward to getting back into the swing of things in Ilam!
Lastly, we want to wish Alan, Mark, Robert, Marty, and all the other dads out there a happy Father’s Day from Nepal!!! We love you!
We have finished surveying three sites! With our survey sensei Warren Ruby, we have processed the data successfully and even have some drafts of topo maps already. Max and Celeste have been working with Cyndra, a Boulder educator, on the zero-waste campaign as well as visiting schools to observe their waste management processes. As a team we have also ventured beyond Ilam to Mai Pokhari for World Environment Day, where we planted trees and got our pictures taken many times by the residents of Mai Pokhari. We visited the beautiful pond the village is named for.
On Saturday, the Nepali day off, we explored the higher regions of the chiyaabari (tea fields) and had kaja (daily afternoon snack) at the famed restaurant Chiyaabari Cottage. From there, we got to visit one of the springs we will survey later in the summer and got invited in for tea. The family shared their concerns about the water sources, which we added to our data collection about the springs.
We have been trying many new things, including the timmur seed, which numbs the mouth and creates an interesting tingling sensation. We also went waaay out of our comfort zones and tried the ice cream from the bazaar. For Warren’s farewell dinner we visited a new restaurant called Sarangi, enjoying buff chilly and pakauda.
The girls got cloth for kurthas (pronounced coor-ta, the kurtha is a traditional Nepali outfit), which will be ready by the time end of the week.
Today, the education/sustainability half of the team (aka Max and Celeste) departed for Namsaling, a village across the valley, in order to support NCDC education staff in trainings regarding the Open Defecation Free movement and other programs such as ICS (improved cooking stoves; if you don’t know what this is, look it up. It’s very cool). Tomorrow Jessica and Li-Mae will join them, making the hike down the valley to the Mai Khola river and back up the other side.