Tuesday, June 30, 2009

At the Last Minute

So just as I was starting to think (ok worry) that the guys at work were gonna let me go with completely no fanfare at all, Mohan busted in on me and Khem during a meeting this morning and told him to make sure he was free at 6pm tonight for a party for Rob.

I said, "what's happening at 6?".

Mohan took a step back, and goes, "you understood me?"

"Yeah, my Nepali's not that bad. Come on, I've been here for a year. What's going on?"

"We are organising a program for you tonight."

He actually had to idea where were were going. But it seemed that more and more people knew about it. But no one was talking. I wasn't sure whether it was because they didn't want me to know or because nobody actually knew. I left work early because I have been ffeeleing a little sick and wanted to get better before leaving for Hong Kong, but I made sure that Mohan or Nhukesh would call me to let me know where I was supposed to go.

I passed out pretty soon after getting home and woke up at 5.45 with no missed calls and no clue where to go. I called Nhukesh, but mobile phone in Nepal make it impossible to understand even English speakers, let alone English speakers with broad Nepali accents. I eventually found the Marco Polo Hotel, which was the only thing I understood from out conversation. I called again and he told me to go tot he Windmill Restaurant, its well known and very close.

I spent the next half hour searching to the south and east and not a single person knew what I was talking about. Its amazing how when you really need people to understand you that you can't construct an intelligible sentence in Nepali nor can they speak any English at all.

Finally I did a loop back and found Mohan and Krishna standing almost outside the Marco Polo, and they led me out the back to the Wind BELL Restaurant. I mean, what the hell is a WINDBELL anyway?

Inside Dr Reeta, Dr Govinda, Nabin-daai and Khem-daai were already waiting. More of the guys slowly joined us until altogether there were about 20 of my TIlganga friends there. It wasn't long before KHem-daai was pouring me whiskeys and demanding that I have more. In true Nepali style the snacks kept coming and coming and coming. I knew I had to pace myself as a big meal of Daal Bhaat was just around the corner waiting for me to have one momo too many before making its appearance.

Bikram, who we discovered yesterday is 2 years my elder (much to his surprise), found out that I am partial to the occaisional beer. I have always found him to be so professional and curt, very strict in his conversations and not very likely to laugh, or smile. He apologised. "Rob, I am so sorry, if I knew that you liked to drink I would have had you over to my house. I didn't think you drinked." So there you go. 12 months, in almost the same office and bad communication had led us to believe that one may not want to be friiends with the other.

We got some great photos and they presented me with the most amazing present. A map of the disctricts of Nepal, in a beautiful model Nepali window (they have some of the most amazing wooden architecture adourning windows in Nepal). It is obnoxiously heavy, and I hope I can get it home OK, but I really do love it.

Nhukesh also gave me a special present, a rather smaller version of the above with a photo of us during the Festival Jatra in his village.

I had the most amazing impromptu night and I really hope my colleagues and friends realise how much I have appreciated them this year. They are such a great group of people.

Tapaailaaiharu dheri dhanyabaad!

Friday, June 26, 2009

Ma American hoina

For God's sake. I went to the Chinese embassy this morning to collect our visa's and passports. After going through 2 levels of security and waiting for 15 minutes I find out that you can only collect passports from 3 in the afternoon.

Returning at 3 I waited in an entirely empty room waiting for someone to notice that I existed. When they did notice I went to the "pickup window" but was ushered to the one next to it that was labelled something else. Fine whatever, there's one guy on the other side of the glass, what do I care? He gave me a printout that said I had to pay them 66USD quiet as a churchmouse. Annoying as it is to constantly be given costs in US dollars I have unfortunately become accustomed to it. I took this to a seperate window where I was informed that I had to, in factm PAY in USD. THere is also an additional 2USD "handling charge".

The most infuriating this about this is that Nepali citizens can pay in Nepali rupees! I mean of all the insane shenanigans. "Tell you what, tell me the exchange rate, I'll work it out and I'll pay you in rupees." The cheerful Nepali guy about 7 years younger than me said "Not possible sir, you must pay in dollars."

"Tara ma American hoina! But I'm NOT AMERICAN! I don't wander around with US dollars in my pockets! What am I supposed to do???"

Apparently, what I am supposed to do is go to Thamel and buy some US dollars to pay for our visas. I simply cannot comprehend why it must be this way. Are the workers at the Chinese Embassy / Consulate or whatever you call it going to go on a big trip to America to go and eat pizza on Broadway? Why in the hell would they want USD? Here I am in the Chinese Embassy, there's a mute Chinese man on one side of presumably bullet proof glass, there's one 18 year-old Nepali demanding money from me in a currecny I don't have, haven't seen since 2005 and which I am developing a rather serious hatred for. I even hate it when people call the stuff "greenbacks".

But here I am with no other option than to get the money as the Chinese government has our passports. So I go, I get the exact amount I was told I would need in USD at an annoyingly high exchange rate (the universe is conspiring again...) and return. Nepali dude it all smiles as he says "Ummmm...sir you are picking up two passports? That means there are two handling fees".

TWO HANDLING FEES! What does that $4 go to, can you imagine? Perhaps changing that money from USD to Chinese Yuen or Nepali Rupees I bet. What the hell is going on?

In an amazing turn of fortunes a new Nepali guy had arrived and magically procuded a $2 note from his pocket. I bought it off him and left with another docket that I had to return to the bulletproof glass and hopefully use to get our passports back. This time someone was actually at the pickup window. I went there only to be ushered again to the mute Chinese lad who printed something else out, went to find our passports from the pile sitting at the Pickup Window. As the older gentleman who was actually seated there watched on in approval. The mute lad signed some forms and checked some stuff all while walking around the older man who continued to watch in avid fascination before mute boy then returned to me, silently gave me our passports and I left.

To this moment I'm not entirely sure what happened but I hope someone was watching me the whole time having a good laugh.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Monsoon is Come

Three weeks of waiting. It has been driving me bonkers. You may choose to blame my recent irritibility on the sudden lack of living space I have developed since my brtoher moved in. You may choose to blame it on the fact that no one had any work for me until the month before I left. I choose the blame it on the fact that it has been stinking hot, occaisionally overcast but never raining and that monsoon has been pending for 3 weeks.

Well it arrived today and in amazing fashion. 5 minutes prior to me leaving work the heavens opened up with all manner of cats and dogs whining, barking and screeching their way through the sky to come crashing down all around us. It was like a cyclone. Perhaps if you are a Tracey, Larry or Katrina survivor then you will disagree. I mean, the only experience I had of any of those is that the price of bananas went up to $12/kilo for about 6 months. But this was insane, like nothing you have ever seen (assuming of course that you are not a Tracey, Larry or Katrina survivor). There were no rain drops, just sheets weighing metric f-tonne's and washing everything in sight away.

The brief 2 second dash from the carpark to the front gate through the sheets of cyclone-like rain had myself, Swifty and my bag completely drenched. Quite astutely I decided against riding home, and subjecting Reeta-didi to washing mud slash poo slash whatever other refuse is kicked up off the ground in a storm from my clothes. Plan was to a) find a taxi with a roof rack for my bike or b) the staff bus to get me and Swifty home.

The bus driver, who up unto this point (about 49 weeks into my experience) has done a bang-up job of not being able to speak much English at all, told me that the bus would be going the long way today and that would have to be dropped off last in the best English I have heard this side of the equator. With the other option being a ride through mud and muck, I said I didn't mind.

As the sweat from the heat and the water soaking my clothes started blending and giving me that uncomfortable itchy sensation you always get when you are wet and don't want to be, we started weaving our way along the Ring Road (which BTW looks exactly the same no matter what part of town you are in) and dropping off staff, Swifty up the back like a king on his horse. I watched as we took on tuk-tuks head on on the wrong side of the road along the (predominantly dry) streets. But inside the Ring Road was another story. As started heading north through town the sewers were showing their protest to 8 (dry) months of abuse in the form of trash and other waste matter being shoved down them at any opportunity. I saw motorbikes parked on the side of the road being washed away as the gutters turned from lumps of concrete to white water rapids (except that the water was brown and gross).

People stumbled along with umbrella's useless against the deluge and every man and his spade was out trying to clear gutters and sewers to try and stop the rising water level from entering their shops.

Monsoon is back and it feels exactly like it did when I arrived a year ago.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Dear Dot Dot Dot...


Charpi, thanks for the good times buddy. When I eventually leave, I will mention to the landloard that maybe you should be retired or at least fixed. Its nothing personal, but really, wetting yourself and the bathroom every time you don't been so good gets old.

Ganga, thanks for helping to improve my Nepali tirelessly and explaining what all the bandh's are about. And thanks for the political insights. I will always remember the Ilam First Flush.

Smiling Kiosk Dude, our conversations never went much further than our special handshake and 'how are you?'. You are a crazy entertaining guy. Sometimes, that special handshake was just what I needed. Keep it up.

Grumpy Fruit Man, eventually, I got you to smile. Remember that, turn that frown upside down!

Nawuraj, nothings news. Not today, but thanks for asking...every....day.

Mohan, no I'm not finished. Not yet.

Bhojaraj, thanks for the kiss. I didn't ask for it, but I know you enjoyed it none-the-less.

Happy Fruit Granny, BI! Bye-bye. Bye-bye....bye.

To the hundreds of people I have met in this last year. I can't describe it. Thanks team.


Shorts, I can't wait to see you again.

Power/Electricity, I swear I won't take you for granted again.

Grass, I can't wait to feel you between my toes.

Ocean, counting down the days till I see you.

Australia, see you soon.

Monday, June 22, 2009


There are seven days left. There are easily more than five activities, but I have had to cut down to just five. And here they are with a short description as on my TO DO list:

Dr Surman - co-author a paper on glaucoma without having seen the concept paper, the questionnaire or had a say in how the data was collected before becoming involved. In the remaining week, perhaps I will just help with the preparation of the manuscript and wait for the hard work once I am back home.

Dr Raba - prepare results on Age Related Macular Degeneration where once again my advice on data collection was ignored and I have been left with a horrible horrible mess to make some sense of. But she did take me and Tim out to her house for lunch the other day to say thankyou. [incidentally, her husband Dr Kiran works at Jess' hospital so we refer to them as 'my doctor' and 'her doctor']. My doctor and her doctor's kids are very shy, but cute and the little one has a car with only 2 wheels - really, its miraculous it goes anywhere...wait, this isn't about them.

Cost-Analysis - where I work trying to say how two eye clinics will be cost-effective in 15 years. It's kind of a long period of time so a demented monkey could probably do it. But I'm struggling.

PPVA - where we look at how blind people are before having cataract surgery. And then we compare them, and make such strange recommendations as "if we take services away from these people, we can give it to these people". It really makes you feel good.

My Report - so I have been here for a year. And I sort of need to say to everyone "HEY! Look what I did." Unfortunately, its so far down on the to-do pile that the place will fall down before I get to doing it. Add to that, probably no one will read it. So I guess the universe evens out and I shouldn't stress that much that it might not get done.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

My Last Resort

I told you about the bandas the other weekend. I didn't get the chance to tell you about our fantastic weekend. Rather than just sit listening to music, this time our visit to The Last Resort took in Canyoning and a High Ropes course I have wanted to try for months.

I remember reading about Canyoning in the Lonely Planet this time last year. When I was on a plane back to Australia from Italy. I was so excited. Waterfalls, abseiling, rock climbing, hidden areas you couldn't access any other way. I'm glad I did it, but I have to be honest, the experience itself was a little underwhelming. Kind of just like abseiling, but your shoes get wet.

[Rosie's already gone! AAAAAAHHHHHHH!]

Not like the ropes course. This was an amazing activity. This was one of the last weekends that I was going to have a chance to spend with a group of my friends together. Over the past and coming weeks, people have started to disappear. They are going home. Somehow I managed to land myself in a crowd that are all leaving within a month of each other.

I was paired with Sanjana, a great experience as we have never really had much one on one time. She was so nervous at the beginning. "No Rob. I can't do it, go without me!". At that point we were about 1 metre from the ground. As we approached the end she jumped onto the last platform and gave me a low (she's short) five. She made it through 7 stations, including one where I pretty much dropped her. Luckily we're still friends...

We were all so proud she made it. On the way back to Kathmandu in the bus, you should have heard her chattering away to her mother, telling her all about wht she had just accomplished.

[Flo and Ulli, the intrepid Austrian adventurers]

The bus ride back (after the banda business) provided one of the greatest feelings and views I have had here. As the sun set in the west, we could see 2 mountains ranges distinctly to the north and north-west. The sun had set over the rest of Nepal, but it was still dancing over the tops of the mountains to the north. Gradually, the north-western mountains became cast in shadow. For about 45 minutes, as our bus twisted left and right, climbing the hills to get back to Kathmandu, I craned my neck this way and that. Resting against the window when they were on my side, straining in my seat, and shifting the eggplants nestled between my legs (remember we took a bus that was free as a result of the banda, turns out it was delivering supplies to the Last Resort) so I could get a view when they were on the other side.

I briefly contemplated getting out my camera and making a feeble attempt to get a photo. They were too far away, and nothing, no photo or description could do the scene justice. Immediately words came into my hed to describe it, and the feeling I had just then. But even as they came to me I could feel them slipping away as I got closer to those Himals even as they got further away.

The time I saw the sun set below the clouds in Perth and rise again below them only to set over the ocean again wasn't as good as this. That time we were 4x4'ing in Moab, and above the desert of Utah you could see the snow covering the mountains. It was cool. But it wasn't this. That time we spent Australia Day of 2000 on top of Switzerland throwing snowballs at each other. That wasn't this either. Not even floating down the Seine on a houseboat, staring at the sky from the top of our boat.

You have probably heard me go on many times about what these mountains are like. But there really is nothing like them. Nothing in Australia, anyway. You have no idea how frustrating it is to know that if there was no pollution or dust in Kathmandu, that you could see these every day. That you could almost throw a rock at them. As it is, we may as well be living in the Sahara for the amount of times I have seen the mountains from my house.

I have lived here for a year, and although it's not my country, I still feel the pride that Sanjana does when she stares out at those beautiful mountains. I am going to miss you Nepal.
[not mine, stole this from here and it simply doesnt do it justice]

Monday, June 1, 2009

"My Country, My Pride"

"So man, why don't these villagers just kick these rocks off to the side of the road so the buses can get through?"

"Well, these villagers put the rocks there."

"Oh...so if we try to move them they'll get upset?"


My feeling on bandas is well documented. Imagine my surprise when I find myself wandering along a road next to an American named Chris (I think) explaining the finer details of this particular political stunt. Chris is a man who this time last week was actually standing on the top of Mount Everest which I found really creepy. Impressive, but creepy. In an aside, these guys seem to all be about town at the moment. If you aren't talking to someone who was on top of Everest this time last week then you are talking to someone about someone who was there.

We had just spent another glorious weekend at the Last Resort. Many of my friends will be leaving over the next month and it was kind of like our last hurrah. I organised a weekend of relaxing combined with a little adventure in canyoning and a high ropes course. The crew weren't all that enthused about the idea but tell you what, afterwards they agreed with me. It was LEGENDARY!

I think I will give you more on the activities later, this is yet another banda post. Ironically, on our way home, IN THE SAME TOWN as the banda with the burning tyres with the photo that makes me look guilty and menacing we were stopped by a banda. This one was was so far in progress that 2 dogs were actually taking a nap underneath the bus that was blocking the road. We actually knew about this one ahead of time and as one of the staff (Raju) went to check it out we milled around enjoying the scenery. It had rained enough overnight that we had a beautiful view of the hills around us. The Bote Koshi raging below. And there was the sweet squelching below my feet as I realised I had stood in a rather thick mud puddle.

We collected our backpacks and walked around the two buses parked in the middle of the road. We loaded ourselves onto another bus that was trapped between this banda and the next, and went along our merry way. Liz and Rosie on the roof, Sanjana, Katherine, Rory, Ulli, Flo, Richard, Rhian and myself wedged somewhere between a smelly t-shirt, 400 eggs and a bag of spinach.

We descended from our chariot again to walk through the next banda, and it was here I found myself next to Chris. Kind of ogling at the idea that this guy my age has been standing on top of the world last week. It turns out that the villagers were unhappy that the policemen in town collecting taxes had had a scuffle with someone over his or her willing to or not to pay their tax. I really don't know how you resolve an issue where the people that tell everyone to disperse and break it up (the police) are the people you are protesting against.

My dear Nepali friend Sanjana (who was also my partner through the glorious high ropes course) chimed in to help explain things to Chris. "My Country, My Pride. That's what we say. When I am standing out work looking out the window at the amazing mountains around me I just think, My Country, My Pride. But then I look down, and I see the sewers backing up because no one has collected the garbage in 10 days and I think 'my country, my pride'. This is kind of one of those moments."

It took us 5.5 hours to do a 3 hour bus ride.

Fast forward to today. There is a complete traffic ban. The "Newars" have declared a banda as they want an autonomous Newar state. The Newars are the most populous people in the Kathmandu Valley. I put them in inverted commas because there appears to be a great deal of suspiscion that the Maoists are really creating havoc behind the scenes and pulling the strings. It's kind of like someone declaring that Melbourne be declared an autonomously white-ruled zone.

As I rode to work there wasn't a single car or bus. There were about a total of 10 guys waving red flags trying to get people to band around them but for the most part people were ignoring them (or probably swearing under their breath because they would have to walk for 3 hours to get to work). Their demonstrations definitely lacked the militancy behind any kind of Maoist protest we have seen in the past.

I have got to the point where I now accept bandas as a regular occurence. But they can't expect this one to work...can they?