Monday, 20 February 2012

Nepal, Feb 13 - 21 (we're halfway there!)

Hello again!

Today is Feb 21rst, which means I am officially halfway through my 6 months! I was flipping back and reading my journal entries from the first few weeks and it seems like not that long ago. I still remember sitting in Pearson airport and not even believing that I would be gone for 6 months, that I had the whole journey ahead of me still! Lisbon, Dusseldorf and Istanbul seem like they were yesterday, and I can't believe it's been 6 weeks since Alyssa left, how can time have gone that fast? I thought today was important to do an update, because tomorrow is Losar, Tibetan New Year, and I'm just going to have so many pictures and stories from that alone!

So what have I done since I last talked to you? I bought a purple and pink yak wool blanket, which is the softest and most amazing thing ever. I wish I could send hundreds of them home! I also bought a new rain jacket and threw away my ten year old Columbia shell :( (yes, Mom, it is finally gone!). I skyped with my main man for Valentine's Day, though I ate all my chocolate before he came online (we were supposed to eat it together, but I have no will power). I love skyping, it means so much to be able to see and hear everyone. The rest of V-Day was excellent, we had spinach for lunch, which always makes me happy (I am acutely aware at how few green veggies I consume here, so whenever I get the opportunity I just stuff my face with them). Speaking of stuffing my face, I realized that I had no idea how much rice I was consuming... I mean, I knew it was a lot, but I was curious how many cups I actually ate per meal. So, I got out my calculator, did some number crunching and then actually made paper cubes to represent 1, 1.5 and 2 cups of rice. Then I took a bowl from the kitchen and put the cubes in them so I had a visual representation. Yeah, it sounds just as silly out loud as it did in my head, but there, now you know (I will not tell you how much rice I was eating, it is embarrassing).

News from Nepal includes the fact that most of the kids have lice now, so I simply run away when they try to jump on me. Even baby Tenzin has them! Do you think it will be a miracle if I escape without getting them? Also, pineapples have officially come into season and they are so delicious. Even the oranges are getting bigger and tastier. What a pleasure to be able to eat local, seasonal fruit (all the Australians think it's weird that I consider this a novelty!). I've still been getting the newspaper everyday, but most of what I read relates to the Greek bailout or the Iranian oil embargo.

Kay left to go back to England a few days ago, but I'm so excited to see her again in three months! I'll have to make sure to bring lots of chocolate with me. There are two new volunteers at the orphanage, Nicole from Melbourne and Mariah from Philadelphia. They are both great girls and I'm quite struck at how sad I am that I will have to leave them so soon! I don't know exactly when I will be leaving Pokhara, but I know that my time at HCCH is up as of Feb 24th. I think I am going to Bhaktapur, but then, you never really know what you're doing or where you're going until the 11th hour. I know I will greatly miss the kids and the staff here, all my favourite restaurants and people. I'll miss lying on the roof of the orphanage and looking at the stars (in between sit-ups, that is) and I'll certainly miss the laid back and relaxing atmosphere here. I think Dave and Olivia are heading to Bhaktapur around the same time, so maybe there will be a few friendly faces! I hope the new orphanage has lots of dishes and sweeping for me to do, I really enjoy those chores :)

Anyway, stay updated for Losar celebrations, and of course Holi (the festival of colours) which is coming up in early March. My 10 day meditation retreat is also less than 1 month away, so there will be lots to talk about.

Love and chocolate covered strawberries,
P.S. Did I tell you that I found the most amazing vegan dark chocolate here? Diabetes ahoy! 

Sunday, 12 February 2012

Giant worms in Nepal (Feb 4-12, 2012)

So, the title may be a little misleading, but for awhile there I was pretty sure I had a giant worm growing inside of me. After further inspection though, I think it was just some mouldy bananas that I ate (three days in a row). You'd think as a microbiologist I would know that when you can see the hyphae, the fungus is already all throughout the fruit. Lesson learned.

We got new volunteers on Feb 4th; two of them bailed after the first day because they "weren't feeling well," but I guess they were well enough to go biking around Lakeside ;) We never saw them again. If you see them in Australia, shame them! lol. The other three volunteers are Olivia, Dave and Sam. Olivia is lice picker extraordinaire (yes, she has independently confirmed that most of the kids have lice. I have managed to avoid it; what would I even do if I got it? Shave all my hair off? Who would pick out all my knits?!). Olivia is from Australia, as is Sam, who did an arts degree and is pretty much the kids' favourite person. He bought a bunch of drums and has been teaching them different rhythms, which they obviously love! We've even had a few drum circles with the staff, I have to concentrate really hard on keeping my beat. I read an article once about someone who got anthrax from a drum they bought in Africa (if the animal has anthrax and their skin is used to make a drum, you can infect yourself. Not to fear, I'm on the lookout for black buboes growing out of my skin). Anyway, Sam is a real sweetie and I'll be sad when he leaves in the next few days! Dave is from Montreal, he's been teaching the kids French phrases... they can now speak more French than I can (but can they say "I like chocolate cake with ice cream"? No, and that's the most important phrase to know!). Dave was telling us last night about his trip a few years ago to Southeast Asia and how he and his buddies bought scooters and drove from Ho Chi Minh to Hanoi. I love meeting people with such cool stories! I think after I'm done in Pokhara I will be heading to the orphanage in Bhaktapur that Dave came from. Speaking of which, I officially finish here on the 24th, so I'll be here in time for their Tibetan New Year (Losar) which starts on the 22nd. I'm trying not to think about the fact that I'll have to leave, I'm going to miss Pokhara and everything about Himalayan Children's Care Home (HCCH). I will miss Tashi singing in the shower in the morning, and how him and Chhewang have skipping competitions (even though they are both grown men). I'll miss Jyoti and Lama, who own HCCH, and their 14 month-old son Tenzin, who I am planning on stealing away to Canada. I want a baby Tenzin. Lama was a monk until he was 32 and then he married Jyoti and they started HCCH. Then there's Uncle, who has the best smile and who walks the kids to school and makes sure they keep in line during the day. He also likes to ring the gong really loudly when you're near and scare the pants off you. We have a new cook, and there are a lot of Aunties who mill about, and I'll miss helping them out with chores and sneaking across the floors they just mopped. But, I don't have to leave just yet!

Life has been lots of fun with Kay around, we both go to sleep early, we do the daily newspaper crosswords/sudokus together (except today's, because we accidentally made Losar chains out of today's paper) and we go to SunWelcome everyday for tea. Yesterday at SunWelcome we met a man from England who has been traveling around and living in his truck since June 2009! He's on to China and up through Pakistan next. It makes me feel like I have so much to accomplish, lol. Kay's introduced me to her favourite chocolate bar called "Twirl," which seems like something noteworthy that I must tell you.

I have booked the rest of my flights also! On April 24th I will be leaving Kathmandu for Amman (Jordan). I have two weeks in Jordan (will I just sit and stare at Petra the whole time?) and then I fly to London (England) on May 10th. I was going to head down to Spain and fly out of Barcelona, but I found another cheap flight to Toronto from London, so now I'm going to spend my last 11 days in England with Kay! She's going to take me to the pub she works at, Stonehenge, Bath and Oxford. This is arguably the best part about meeting so many great people, you have the best tour guides when you go traveling again :) Over the past few days I saw my first wedding procession in Nepal, and my first whole day of rain in Pokhara! It's funny that everything gets canceled when it rains (I doubt they can do that during the monsoon season though?). I also booked a 10 day meditation retreat in mid-March. I had read about it in the Lonely Planet guide, and another volunteer did it, so I decided to give it a go. You meditate for about 8 hours each day, there is no talking and you can't communicate with any of the other participants (not even eye contact). There's no yoga, reading, journaling, anything really. I have already been told by many people that know me that I don't become silence, and I think they are right. I think my biggest challenge will be not losing my sanity. I mean, 10 days in silence with nothing but your own thoughts is bound to make even the best of us mad, am I right?

Anyways, I think that's all to update you with for now! My fruit salad at SunWelcome has started coming with honey, cinnamon and ice cream on top... and this is why it is my favourite restaurant. I am now master of Sudoku puzzles (I still suck at crosswords) and I have read a few more books since I last talked to you: The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat (Oliver Sacks), The Psalm Killer (Chris Petit), 1984 (George Orwell), Pride and Prejudice/Emma (Jane Austen). I couldn't believe I had never read 1984 before, it was fantastic. Jane Austen was pretty good, though I still prefer Stephen King if we're being honest with each other. Also, has anyone else read Emma? What a self-centered brat. I think Mr. Knightley could have done better, I'm just saying.

Oh, and I just heard that Whitney Houston died, as did Christopher Hitchens. When I went on to BBC today there was a top story about 5 killer whales suing Sea World (via PETA), so I'm taking it I didn't miss much in the news?

Tata from Pokhara!

Friday, 3 February 2012

Nepali Birthday and into February! (Jan 12-Feb 4, 2012)

Hello friends!

It's been awhile since the last update (I say that everytime), but I'm pretty much in a set routine here so there aren't too many new things to talk about. I had my Birthday here on January 24th! I started my celebration a day early though and ate a Snickers bar and 100g of Toblerone before lunch, which did not go over well with my stomach. Brittany ate the rest of the Toblerone to save me from myself. For my actual Birthday I splurged and bought grapes to have for breakfast. I also had snacks from my favourite store in Pokhara! It's called Fishtail Organic Garden and they're partnered with a local NGO that supports organic agriculture in Nepal. They have these amazing dried strawberries and pears that they cover with chocolate. I seriously eat them everyday. Brit and I also bought popcorn and watched Love Actually on her laptop. Then I borrowed her iPod and went for a nice long walk and rocked out to Glee songs. For dinner we went to Punjabi restaurant, this fantastic vegetarian place that has, honest, the best curries on earth. I had Palak Paneer, which is spinach and yak cheese. I also had a banana lassi, my first ever lassi! The Australians rave about them, and I really think they're on to something. I've been back to Punjabi too many times to count, though I try not to go too often (I'm pretty sure everything is loaded with ghee, and my arteries can only take so much).

So now I'm 25, but I don't feel any wiser. Maybe it will take a few months to kick in? Brit has officially left for India and I have a new roommate, Kay from England. She keeps me honest about my Snickers bars and is a great crossword companion. It feels strange that all the girls I started with are gone (Brit, Rachel and Alyssa), but there are still a few friendly faces milling about!

Sorry that there aren't any new and exciting stories to tell, but I can tell you about some of the everyday things that make my life happy here! I like passing the biscuit shop on the way to school with the kids, it smells like heaven every morning. I like that the kids all scatter like sheep when stray dogs try to play with them and I think Uncle (who walks the kids everywhere) has just the greatest smile ever. Now that Kay is here we do Newspaper puzzles after lunch while sitting outside in the sun (they give you a word and you have to try and see how many small words you can make from it... like you can make at least 50 words, four letters or more, from the word "BEVERAGES." I know!). Then we head down to Lakeside and have tea while doing Sudoku and crossword puzzles. I like hearing all the kids get up to the gong in the morning, there are a few seconds of silence and then the most awesome racket as 51 kids all race down the stairs. I like cleaning up after meals and even love the Nepali brooms here! I've met so many people here from all over the world, and it's so easy to strike up a conversation with just about anyone. The staff at SunWelcome (my favourite everyday place) know all my favourite meals and are always so friendly.

Anyway, we get some new volunteers today, so maybe I'll have more stories for you in a week or so :) I've extended my volunteering in Pokhara, so I'm here until Feb 23rd!

Talk soon, Canada