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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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