Wednesday, January 30, 2008

charisma charisma charisma

Becca touched on our polar-opposite twins the other day in her blog, so I thought I'd talk a little bit about 3 year old Ashish- aka charisma extraordinaire!

Through broken English a week ago, Laxmi relayed to us a little of Ashish's history, which is actually quite extraordinary considering his current demeanor. Ashish was found a year and a half ago in a rural Chitwan village in the mountains. Locals in the village claimed Ashish had been living under the large tree that grows at the center of the village, sustaining himself on garbage, for an unknown amount of time. Laxmi was contacted, and Ashish was brought to Harka, but not before he received much-needed medical attention. At the time, Ashish exhibited signs of severe malnutrition, his head was much too large for his body and his belly was distended. He was taken to Kathmandu for treatment, as the Chitwan hospital was not equipped to deal with such as case, and we believe kept there for several weeks.

The Ashish of today, however, is a far stretch from the Ashish of a year ago. Though there are obviously still some medical issues he has to deal with, Ashish is none other than the attention-grabber, leader, and boss of the "little ones" at Harka. And for good reason. The kid's eyes talk. We don't need to communicate with Ashish through words, because his eyes tell all. From his sleepy-eyes when he wakes up in the morning (it usually takes him a good two hours to fully register), to his flirtatious "come play with me", to the "i'm mad at you right now"... all can be seen through a few flicks of his lids and eyebrows.

He loves his role as leader, and will often ask me questions in Nepali and then grab my hand to show me exactly what he means. He's a teacher (he likes practicing words with us), but he can also be a boss. We are currently trying to remedy this situation. It has become apparent to us that Ashish is the favorite of the children, house parents, and neighbors. Becca and I don't deal well with "favorites". 14 year old Ramesh eve n told Becca that he didn't like one of the twins, because his favorite was Ashish. They don't seem to comprehend how we could possibly like all the children the same amount...and it is hard for us to explain. Though part of it may be cultural, part of it situational, part of it is also just plain playing favorites. Advocates for loners everywhere (but still lovin on Ashish, and encouraging his already apparent hilarious character) Becca and I try to give all the kids equal time to shine. Because they should. Even if we are only here to let them shine for two months!

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

"all children very happy"

direct quote from Sirjana, our girly-girl 11-year-old. actually, it was written on a pre-birthday card she gave me yesterday after school, adorned with flowers and hearts. as many of you know, i'm not a fan of my birthday. other people's birthdays i'm all about, but when it comes to mine, it has just never been a fave. at first i wasn't sure if i wanted to tell the kids when it was, but it came up one day when we were talking about ages (and how i would soon be the godforsaken age of 24), and it spread like wildfire. never before has one of my birthdays inspired so much anticipation in others (and myself, for that matter) as this one. every day is a countdown. it has even spread to the neighbors, who will be attending whatever it is this shindig turns out to be. the kids don't know their own birthdays, but they must talk about it at school (and i have noticed birthdays are a theme in their english books), because they are really excited. they really wanted a cake, but because rebecca and i cannot find our way home from the market, we decided it would be better to make our own "american" creation. we're thinking it will be something involving plantains, crushed biscuits, sugar, and some melted hershey kisses. there will also be dancing. i'll let you know what happens.

i mention Sirjana's card because it struck me. over the past week i've had some trying times, especially with the teen/preteens. mentally it has been a struggle- i found myself feeling as though i was an outsider just living (and hindering on) others lives. this was mostly sparked knowing approximately 10 words in nepali. the constant stares and laughing did not help. a random teenage cousin of our neighbors appeared one day, and becca and i almost punched him, as all he did was stare (without so much as a blink) and laugh at our every move like we weren't human. i was almost at the edge of my patience, when i remembered where i was. halfway around the world in a very different place. i look like a freak of nature, being so pale and tall, hitting my head on every door frame i come in contact with, i would probably laugh at myself if i had the chance to see it. that night, when everything in annoyance seemed to be coming to a head, the electricity was out. i went in the kid's room to see who was in there, and was greeted by a chippering round of "hello miss" from the lower bunk. a few little ones and a few bigger ones were cuddled under a huge nepali quilt, whispering to one another. blind from the darkness, i made my way to an adjacent bed and lay down. i was quickly joined by 7-year-old Sarswoti, who sat next to me and held my hand. we sat like that (becca joining us) for a good 20 minutes. in silence, in the dark, with only little whispers every few minutes.

times like that are yogic in nature. at a time when i was constantly rethinking why i was here, i suddenly found the answer. it's in the little things. sitting alone in the dark holding hands, getting a birthday card in english 6 days early, or an instant smile and "good morning miss" when i stumble out of my room at 7am make me understand completely why i'm here. i just finished reading "the god of small things" by arundhati roy (thank you emily) and it couldn't have come at a better time or in a better place. taking pleaure in the small things, and noticing how the small things effect the larger things is a concept to be taken in stride.

it actually amazes me to think that we have already been here two weeks. time moves slowly and quickly at the same time. our routine is set, and we have (i believe, knock on wood) achieved a level of respect with all of the children. though we may not be able to speak nepali, our minimal nepali and their minimal english have meshed together to form some new language understood by both parties. there are still times when we have no idea what is going on, like when we received a new bed for our room yesterday that appeared to be strikingly similar to the current bed. in actuality it is maybe 4 inches longer, sans baseboard, for our extended frames. all hilarious misunderstanding, as we thought we were getting an additional bed for our room. nonetheless, the extra few inches is much appreciated, as now we can stretch to our hearts content! the weather is getting slightly warmer, and i am currently only wearing one pair of tights to bed (last week i pretty much wore everything i brought with). in conclusion, "all children very happy". myself included.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Just a quick note on the goings-on of the orphanage, because I don't think I mentioned anything
in my last (and pretty much only) post:

At the Harka Self-Sustaining Orphan Home we have 9 girls, 6 boys (ages 1 1/2-14), 1 house mother (Kumari) and house father (Primo), 1 orphan home director (Laxmi, who is virtually never there), 1 bisi (buffalo, not like the American version), 2 bacra (goats), a coop of kukura (chickens), and a pig (don't remember the nepali word...). There is no running water, but there is sporadic electricity (we have yet to determine if there is a schedule of when the electricity comes on and off, but it's at a different time every day). We pump our own water, cook ourown food, produce virtually no waste (all food scraps go to the animals!), and use a sanitary latrine (which is quite a stretch from Western bathrooms, if some of you haven't had the experience). We eat two meals a day of dal bhaat tarkari (rice with lentil soup and vegetables), which is interspersed with kalo chiyya (black tea) and khazah bouzah (basically rice krispies). Becca and I have a permanent stash of digestive biscuits because our Western sweet tooth gets the better of us (though these cookies probably have 1/10 the sugar of the American variety).

Life is simple. We wake up at around 7, help make breakfast while the kids do yoga, and then walk with the kids to school. We're kind of a novelty due to our obvious foreign-ness, but also
because no one walks their children to school. The walk is usually full of stares, but I think the neighbors are getting used to us. I think some ofthe kids might be embarrased by us when we get close to school (the too-cool-for-school pre-teens), but most of them think we're pretty fun. After school the kids have a snack, we play for a little bit and then start making dinner.
The whole meal process usually takes around 2-3 hours- and I LOVE IT. Most of you know, if I could spend my life cooking, I would be fine with that. AFter dinner and cleaning (if the electricity is on), the kids watch WWF or an Indian soap opera. Yes. It's true. In a little Nepali village, children are watching TV. Becca and I were alarmed (and continue to be alarmed by some of the things that they watch...), but such is life I guess. At least they do all their chores first!! After TV there is hare krishnas and dancing some nights, but some nights
it's just off to bed. It has taken a little while to get used to what our place is, but I think we're getting there... onlookers and friends in a world very different from our own.

And on to our first child--- Tulie! Hopefully this is the first in a series of bios of the kids.

Tulie (aka little Sirjana)

Tulie, the youngest child of the group, was introduced to me within seconds of my arrival at Harka. Before Becca arrived on the rickshaw, before I had time to gather my bearings, before I even realized what was happening- Tulie was plopped into my arms by Laxmi. She looked up at me with her huge brown eyes and scabby, snotty face like she had the world on her shoulders. Her face read, "For just one dollar a day you can help this child get the food she needs." Little did I know it was all a facade.

Sometimes Tulie does get that far-off look in her eyes, like she's deciphering the worlds greatest puzzles, but most of the time she's smiling so hard it lookslike the dimple in her right cheek will implode (there is also one in the left cheekthat we recently discovered, but it is no competition with the cuteness of the right). She is more self-sufficient than any American 1 1/2 year old I have ever seen,as she feeds herself, cleans herself up, and lets us know when she has to use the washroom (usually heralded by aforceful crying fit). Yesterday she counted to 10 in English for me. I'm pretty sure she understands exactly what I'm saying, and she responds in Nepali. She finds physical humor hilarious, and when Ashish (3 years old) does anything goofy (which is most of the time) Tulie will most likely be laughing hysterically.

Being the baby of the group, Tulie loves cuddling and being held, but it comes at a price. I discovered yesterday that if she is carried for a certain amount of time, separationanxiety gets the better of her. After holding her for a given amount of time and then putting her down, she will trail after you (most likely forever), with tears flowing from her eyes, arms outstretched. In cases like this, house-mother Kumari steps in and sternly talks to her (unfortunately I have no idea what she says to her...). It's times like that that are the hardest. While we want more than anything to just pick her up and hug her, we also don't want to give her false hope, as we won't be at the orphanage forever.

While we are here though, there is only so much cuddle-resistance we can take, and will ultimately give in to her pleas! Trying to work on her anxiety is not something either of us are educated in, but will try to tackle nonetheless. She's the most fragile, malleable child of the bunch, and while her initial face was one of grief and hardship we now knowbetter. That face was simply a facade over the real Tulie!

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

ughhhhh, internet on the other side of the planet.

Okay. I just wrote an entire blog entry on Tulee (our littlest child at Harka) and then my computer froze. Not writing it again until later. Sorry. Read Becca's blog for an entry on another favorite- Secil!!

Saturday, January 19, 2008


because i haven't written in a while (there have been a few failed attempts on behalf of the random electricity ourtages and internet screwiness), i figured i'd just relay some of the choice happenings of the past 5 days...beginning with our departure from kathmandu.

after the crazy day spent with guru traveling around kathmandu city, we were about citied out. so many people everywhere, we were just ready to head down to chitwan and the orphan home. little did we know the randomness we would encounter next. i'm not really sure what we were expecting, if we were expecting anything, but our arrival at the orphan home was both the most hilarious and overwhelming experience i think i have ever had.

due to a tourist bus mishap, becca and i were booked seats on the engine of tourist bus 423 to chitwan. unsure of what this entailed, we agreed with open minds and arrived at the bus the required 30 minutes early. after a very nimble bus attendant swung down from the roof of the bus to collect our bags (and strap them tightly to the top), another attendant pointed out our seats. we were indeed sitting on the engine, but it was probably the sweetest seat on the bus. sitting front and center, albeit a little uncomfortable after 5 hours on rocky roads, provided a full view of the gorgeous mountain drive from kathmandu to the south of nepal. think going-to-the-sun road, but for 5 hours. though at times oncoming truck traffic made me slightly uneasy (being the first to die on the bus crossed my mind only once), it was altogether a fabulous ride.

the bus was supposed to drop us in front of the coca-cola factory outside bharatpur, but due to some miscommunication it kept going. we screamed at the bus driver to stop, and about 3/4 mi down the road it came to a halt. After our bags were tossed from the top, we stood beside the road wondering how we were going to trek back up the road with all our bags (of what seemed like bricks). A friendly voice came screaming up to us, "Me, Laxmi!! Girls! Laxmi, me!!" following the voice was none other than our orphan home director/mother, Ms. Laxmi. The tiny ball-of-fire woman ran up and embraced both of us, retelling how she saw our tour bus pass coca cola, in broken hurried english, as she screamed at a rickshaw driver to stop. pushing us at the rickshaw, she told us to sit. wondering what would happen to our bags, she immediately piled them on top and underneath us. Two of the smaller bags hung from the bike's handlebars. Not able to see my own legs (or feel them) Laxmi strategically grabbed my feet and forced them into a position that locked in my bags while keeping my body upright.

off we went, 2 people, 6 bags and a rickshaw, down a very much unpaved road to harka. halfway down the road ms. laxmi blazes up behind us (after putting us on the rickshaw, she had disappeared) on a purple scooter, salwar kameez blowing in the wind. hollering at me to get off and join her, i abandon rebecca and the bags on command. I was the first to arrive at the orphanage due to my change in transportation, and was greeted by a herd of smiling children, hands clasped, screaming, "Namaste!"

I realized, at this point, that I had no idea what I was getting myself into. All control that I thought I had, was lost. Now it was just us, 15 adorable Nepali children and one screaming, hilarious orphan home mother. The latter spoke almost no english, and when she did each sentence was repeated approximately 4 times. i was escorted into a room, handed a baby, and told to sit. 30 eyes stared at me. i decided to practice the one nepali phrase i remembered from the day before, "Tapai ko nam ki ho?" What is your name ?(and later would find out this is the incorrect way to say it). Rebecca arrived on the rickshaw shortly thereafter, and our time at Harka began.

The past 5 days the children have been on winter vacation from school, and it has been a handful. needless to say, we have gotten to know them pretty well. they have been teaching us a lot of nepali (which is horribly hard for me to learn) and we've been teaching some english. moreso though, we've just been trying to get to know them. they are all very open, loving kids, and we've mostly been someone new to play with. we've been trying to get our ground and figure out where our place is (which is especially hard with the language barrier...) , as well as how to use latrines , bathing under a pump (this won't happen very much), and how to properly help with cooking. ms. laxmi continues to be the biggest spaz i have ever met, as she works 12 hours a day and then comes back to the orphanage to force-feed us nepali words. yesterday she took us to a "program", that turned out to be a state fair of sorts, complete with fair food and scary rides. becca and i did not partake in either, which i think may have disappointed laxmi, but it was wholly overwhelming.

i would really like to touch on each child at some point, as time goes on, but right now i'm still trying to get all the names down! luckily we have 14-year-old Ramesh, who loves practicing english and is also extremely talkative. he is the leader of the group, keeping everyone in line and makes sure all the chores are done. he also lines up all their flip flops in size order outside the door.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008



the himalayas!!!!!!!

350,000,000 gods.

fun facts for the day:
-hindus believe in over 350,000,000 gods. there is a god for pretty everything you could possibly imagine.
-there are 65,000 peaks over 6,500 m in nepal. no one has bothered to count them all.

6,500 meters?? it's true. i'm pretty sure the tallest mountain in montana is around 3,500 (many of you probably know the actual height of mt. cleveland, but it is passing my mind right now). this and many other fun facts were given to us today by Guru, (yes, really his name) and BOY did he live up to that. our personal "man of knowledge", he first gave us 3 hours of language and then 9834753 hours of sightseeing. not really, but after a while rebecca and i were both very overwhelmed, but altogether VERY informed. i honestly can't believe some of the things we saw today. it made me reach back to my arts of japan days (alex, it's coming in handy!!) as well as the eastern philosophy class from high school. we visited three temples, one buddhist, one hindu, and one where both philosophies are welcome. nepal is a country that embraces both religions equally (fancy that, we could learn a thing or two), most likely becuase they share so many gods and ideas.

probably the most interesting thing we witnessed today were funeral ceremonies at the last temple we went to (can't recall the name right now...started with a P). the temple complex is one of four holy locations that hindus must visit in their lifetimes, much like mecca. the funeral ceremony provided a strange juxtaposition of holy ritual and modern squalor. the ceremonies take place on a riverbank, were the body is lain on a pile of wood and then cremated, and the ashes are then swept into the river below. the river is mostly dried up due to damming upsteam, and right across from the funeral sites children wash dishes and play in the water.

the temples were beautiful though, some of the lingas (which Guru aptly described as interpretaions of our "secret parts" ...haha, they are symbols of fertility) were from the 9th century, and perhaps before- no one is really sure. tomorrow we head off to chitwan to the orphan home! we're taking the "tourist" bus, which is evidently slightly better than the local bus, but rebecca and i did not get tickets in time, or the bus was full or something, so we have to ride above the engine. not really sure what that means. but we shall see!! much love!

Sunday, January 13, 2008

We're here!

Hello all!

We have arrived! All safe and sound here in Kathmandu, my plane actually came in a half hour early...crazy. My flights to Doha, Qatar and Kathmandu were pretty much the most international of flights I have ever been on, people from all over Europe and Asia, no one culture majority. Rebecca, on the other hand, experienced being the ONLY female on a flight from Doha to Bahrain, which I'm sure was pretty interesting (she's writing more about that later). There was one man on my flight from Britian who looked to be about 70, wearing full Nepali garb (though he was white) and looked to be an old hippie of sorts, maybe rekindling a past visit to the Himalayas. He sat on his feet (squatting) on the airplane until the stewardess made him sit and buckle his belt. He was a little off, I think. Also hilarious was getting a visa and going through customs at the airport. You fill out a sheet of paper, give them $30, and they give you a visa. I don't think the man even looked at my passport. "Customs" referred to two men chatting beside a nonworking metal detector. Oh, I already love this country...

Flying into Kathmandu was absolutely gorgeous, as we descended the Himalayas stuck out of a layer of cloud cover, it is amazing we didn't crash into one actually. Kathmandu sits at the lowest spot of the valley, pretty much surrounded by mountains on all sides- so you know I love it. We also met with Ashmita, our contact here in Kathmandu last night for drinks (meaning 7UP), and she is super sweet. She's getting us connected with a language teacher and bus ride to the orphanage, and strangely enough, is applying to the University of Oklahoma... random.

Right now it is kind of chilly and my time is running out, but just wanted to let everyone know we are here and safe!

Sunday, January 6, 2008

5 days!

Hello friends, family, random seekers of interesting tales, and data-enterers everywhere!

About 5 days from right now I will be sitting on the runway at O'Hare Airport, anxiously awaiting takeoff. Though I will be arriving in Kathmandu a couple of days later (traveling via London and Doha), I thought I'd take a minute right now to update on all the essentials! 

As for a little bit of background, because many of you have asked: 
Rebecca and I met while working the front desk at Many Glacier Hotel during the summer of 2006. While I was working in Glacier this summer, Rebecca and I chatted about how we had nothing really important planned for the coming year, and had been thinking about going abroad and volunteering. Somehow it came about that we both would love to go to Nepal, and thus the fabulous idea was born! 

From that point it was just logistics, how to get there, where to work, how to get enough money to go. Originally we were going to go through a volunteer organization, but in the end decided to cut out the middle man and work directly with an orphanage. I randomly stumbled upon Harka Self-Sustaining Orphan Home on the internet, an orphanage in the Chitwan area (very south of the country) that runs their own farm (including pond with fish!) and houses somewhere around 13 orphans, ages 2-12. 

We arrive in Kathmandu on the 13th, stay a few days to explore/take a language class, and then head down to Harka via bus. We'll be at Harka for two months before heading back up north to trek to the Everest Base Camp (fingers crossed) for the final month of our trip. Of course there will be many more explorations along the way... and hopefully we'll be able to keep you all updated! Evidently there is a "neighboring" village with internet, we'll let you know later what that actually means. I'm not sure which blog who/when we'll be updating, but we both made simultaneous ones without knowing the other person was making it. I think that sentence was super confusing. Nonetheless, we have another blog at so check out both! 

Thank you all so much for your donations and support, I definitely would be in a lot of debt were it not for your help. This is something that many are not willing or able to do, and finances were not going to be the only thing to stop me. Thank you for help baking, planning, and being friends!

We have a potential address and phone number at the orphanage, so if you trust the mail/phone, we'd love to hear from you!

Harka Self-Sustaining Orphanage Home
(near San Miguel Beer Factory) 
Ward No. 12, Nauranga, Bharatpur, Chitwan
P.O. Box  61

phone: 977- 56-5-20727

...we'll keep you posted on the quality of San Miguel Beer.