Monday, September 19, 2011

Kathmandu, Nepal

As my visa is for Business, multi-entry with the stipulation that I leave every 180 days, VSO India paid for me to travel to Kathmandu. I was all too happy to go, as Nepal had been on my list of places that I wanted to visit. Taking advantage of every opportunity that presents itself, I had previously written to VSO Nepal to see if I might do a workshop. Through lots of persistence and mails, VSON indicated that they wanted a workshop on Fundraising Planning. This would mean training staff and volunteers. VSON also indicated that they wanted me to do a one day workshop for an NGO, TSDCBD . To my way of thinking, no problem.

I arrived on Friday September 9 around 4 PM, Kathmandu time, which is 15 minutes ahead of New Delhi. Strange given that India is also off by ½ hour to other world times. The Kathmandu airport is quite small and one has to deplane to a bus and then drive about 50 paces to the terminal. But from the air I could tell that Kathmandu was a very different city than Delhi, with lots of greenery and some hills surrounding the valley in which Kathmandu was nestled.

I went to get my visa and didn’t bring enough Indian rupees for both the visa, $25, and the passport photo, 230 Nepali rupees. I left my passport with the visa officials, causing a bit of anxiety, and had to go outside of the terminal to an ATM. The first ATM was not working but I found another one and proceeded to get 5000 Nepali Rupees, which at the exchange rate is about 3000 Indian Rupees. I returned, without any major issues to the visa area, gave the money to the exchange guy, who then converted the Nepali Rupees to dollars to pay the visa people. I also took my passport/visa photo and I had my visa.

I then looked for the VSON driver, Prem, who was going to pick me up. Instead of looking for a sign that said VSO, I looked for my name and of course, didn’t see anything. I went to a tourist counter and called VSON and the Pacific Guest House, where I would be staying. Finally around 5 PM, Prem came to the Tourist Counter and told me that he had been waiting for some time, with the VSO sign.

I felt immediately at ease as I made my way into the front seat next to Prem. Kathmandu is a much smaller city than Delhi and as we drove I noticed more cleanliness, less people and a different building style. (People’s perceptions are so interesting as they said Kathmandu is a very dirty city). It didn’t feel overwhelming as Delhi might to the first time visitor. We drove to the Guest House and I met up with Arlene, the VSON Director.

Arlene has been around the world working with VSO, being in this most recent job for about 1.5 years. As a VSO Country Director there is a lot of balancing, with volunteers, staff, donors, governments, partner NGOs, etc. A super challenge and even though Arlene was somewhat diminutive in stature she seemed very much up for the challenge. I think that the challenge is especially great in Nepal where the government is very new and the local press, during the week that I was there, posted a number of articles about the public’s wariness towards INGOs and NGO’s.

On Saturday I decided to walk a bit, having been given some tips from one of the VSO vols. I went to a place called Tamal, which is a large tourist focused area. Lots of stuff and the usual tourist, “come with me”. I spent only a little bit of time there as it was close to the Pacific and I wanted to get my bearings. I then made my way up a main street and had momos for lunch and then to the Shangri-La Hotel where I was going to meet some of the volunteers in order to go on a HASH walk.

I had never heard of the HASH House Harriers prior to coming to Kathmandu but apparently these walks/runs happen in communities around the world. I met up with a number of the volunteers, including Tiffany, Dorieke and John, as we crammed into a taxi. We went outside of Kathmandu to an area with a lot of green hills. There was a group of maybe 50 people, some walkers, some runners. We had an opening circle and then the runners took off, soon followed by the walkers.

I spent most of the time being in awe of the green hills and talking to a lovely, young Nepali woman. She told me about her family, obtaining her Master’s in English, etc. It’s these types of conversations that really make my work special. Connections occur even though we grew up in very different worlds. (I also ended up talking with a man who is doing, at least what seemed to me great development work. He has been involved in getting roads to rural areas, employing the rural folks, helping them to set up self help savings groups, planting more vegetables for a better diet, etc). We ended up walking through a village, which is something that I’ve come to want to see more of in India. Although I can’t communicate with the villagers, what might seem as simple lives seem so extraordinary to me. After the walk we all circled up again and people did their drinking, singing. All in all it was great fun.

Although my new friends T and J were going out to listen to some music I decided that I wanted to go back to the Guest House as I would be working on Sunday. I was rewarded as I saw a number of people gathering on the badminton court cum square outside of the Pacific. As I sat talking to a young man named Arun, a crowd of maybe 3-400 people lined the square on three sides. As two dancers with very large masks came out a band played Nepali music. It gave me a strong sense of community which in that moment I felt a part of.

Sunday was a good day, as eight staff and one Japanese volunteer joined me from TSDCBD to do a one day fundraising workshop. I truly appreciate the seriousness of people partially brought on, in this case, by a need to diversify the funding base. This NGO has a lot of opportunities and who knows, one day I might be able to help them further.

From Monday-Wednesday I spent time at VSO Nepal with 16 volunteers and staff. We had wonderful conversations and did really good work providing me with some opportunity to see another Programme Office. I always say that people are people no matter where they live in the world. I’m curious to see if this holds throughout my life and the places that I’m able to visit in the future. My connection with VSO Nepal will continue as I will help them with further developing their fundraising plan and integrating it into their strategic plan.

I have to say that I really enjoyed meeting the staff and volunteers. The volunteers are really exceptional, learning the Nepali and regional languages in their efforts to truly fit in. (Certainly, my one regret is that I haven’t truly put in the effort to learn Hindi). I spent some time talking to G, who to me, would be a great mentor. G and his wife are retired and working outside of Kathmandu. T is an American who has traveled quite a bit and has done incredible work throughout her life. J reminds me of my good friend Marky in that they are both musicians and real go getters. J is in a band and I saw a video of him playing lead guitar on the Cure song, “It’s Friday I’m in Love”. Who would have ever thought that I would be watching something like this in Nepal? A and D are wonderful volunteers from Holland and man oh man are they tall. Have to get them playing b-ball next time I see them. Of course I also did a little b-ball ice breaker and my lion, which I’m becoming known for throughout India! ( I also saw some Army guys getting ready to play wheelchair b-ball one morning on my way to VSON)

On Monday night I was looking at a menu in a restaurant when a woman inside said this is on the list of good restaurants. I walked in and asked to sit with and have dinner with the two friends from Peru who were living in the US. The pizza was fabulous! Openness is something that is serving me well, helping me to meet and share experiences with others from around the world. On Tuesday night I had a really good dinner of tofu and rice and share momos with a number of volunteers. Riding the local bus back to the Pacific with T and A was really good for me to understand how the volunteers typically made their way around Kathmandu.

On Wednesday I walked with E, another great volunteer from the US from the Pacific to the VSON office. E really knows Kathmandu and it was wonderful having her as my tour guide as we walked through numerous neighborhoods, markets, past shrines and greeted a number of her friends. E was in the PC in India in the mid-60’s and her depth of information had me listening in rapt attention. On Wednesday night E took me to hear some Nepali music which I truly appreciated as the musicians were working to raise money for education for their village children.

Thursday morning E. accompanied me back to the Durbar Square which is a World Heritage site. This multi-temple, shrine area is a place that I felt immediately enriched my life.

After this walk, I was able to rest up a bit and then had a Chinese lunch with Arlene after which I went to the airport.

As soon as I was on the plane I knew that I was back in Delhi and this proved to be correct. Once I landed I came to find that the metro wasn’t running, the airport pathways were slippery due to lots of water and the pre-paid taxis took a long time to arrive due to traffic jams caused by the rain!

I know that I want to see many of the people that I met up with again, hopefully will see T. in the US in March, and possibly do some work in Kathmandu if things align correctly. My experiences continue to tell me that the world is large and that it is very open to me if I remain open to the world. I feel my privilege everyday in my home but know that this very same luck of being born in the US makes it possible for me to continue to lead this extraordinary life. Trainings Kathmandu Durbar Square HASH Walk