Second Visitor!! Our friend, Dinesh Shenoy…

Another excellent visit from an old friend of mine from UCSD! His visit can be summarized in three parts — historic tourist sites, relaxed family time, and meeting new friends. First, I’ll tell you a bit about him…

Dinesh and I met over 15 years ago while I was an undergraduate at UCSD and he was working in San Diego after completing his Bachelors at UC Berkeley. We had the same group of friends back then and routinely frequented the same restaurants, beach spots, and friends’ living rooms. Over the years, we kept in touch and meet every few years in NC or California. He has been working in Asia for the past 4 years and made an extended weekend trip to Kathmandu before shifting his career back to California. He is insightful, entrepreneurial, kind and genuine.

We visited 3 main sites of historical and cultural significance. Patan Darbar Square was the religious, cultural and political center of Patan centuries ago. Now it is the main tourist site in southern Kathmandu (Patan) and has numerous temples in a variety of styles – Newari, Pagoda, and the South Indian style too. Our guide shared tidbits of current and historical information such as: Patan is known for its metal works; 108 animals are sacrificed within the temple grounds during the Dussera / Dashain festival in October; the profile of the 2-tiered Pagoda style temple resembles the shape of the current Nepali flag ; the healing bowl is made of 7 metals and can be used for massage, relaxation and therapy.

Patan Darbar Square

Patan Darbar Square

Dinesh receiving therapy from a healing bowl specialist.

Dinesh receiving therapy from a healing bowl specialist.

We also toured the Narayanhiti Palace in Kathmandu. The 2001 Royal Massacre occurred in this palace. Shortly after the monarchy fell as a result of the revolution, the King was asked to leave the palace and Nepal was declared a republic. A few years later, the Palace was converted into a museum. Inside, lavish interiors including furniture, paintings, animal skins / heads, wall paper and fine china can be found within the numerous rooms — bedrooms, lounges, libraries, banquet halls, entertainment halls, and tea rooms. Outside, expansive gardens cover acres and acres of land within the massive plot outlined by a tall cement wall. Previously it was grand and well manicured, yet currently it is poorly maintained… Photography is strictly prohibited (they collected all belongings and frisked us before we could enter!) so no photos.

Last element of historical significance from this weekend was a visit to a popular tourist destination just east of Kathmandu. Bhaktapur is a small village with narrow alleys, several temples, large community squares and billions of bricks! All surfaces seemed to be made of bricks – houses, temples and all roadways too! Our guide showed us a paper making factory, wood carving workshop, and the tallest temple in Nepal. The kids were troopers on the ~3 mile walking tour throughout Bhaktapur. We ended the tour with a sampling of juju dhau, sweet yogurt, a specialty of the village.

Walking down a narrow alley in Bhaktapur.

Walking down a narrow alley in Bhaktapur.

This is the tallest temple in Nepal!

This is the tallest temple in Nepal!

A unique element of friends visiting us in Kathmandu is the quantity and quality of time we get together! Traveling the long way to this corner of the globe necessitates staying for longer than a weekend (4 days for Dinesh). And we are the only family that our guests know in the area, so we get their undivided time and attention! This is a HUGE difference from the typical visits with long-distance friends back home — catching a quick lunch while rushing through Southern California, attempting to visit half a dozen other friends before the weekend is over! Quality time with the family and Dinesh was very relaxing and enjoyable… Tossing the Frisbee around in the courtyard, playing board games after school, helping Janani complete her WW2 term project, chatting up on the terrace, exposing the kids to laser tag in the local mall and going through old photos from our previous visits together.

Sumi beating Dinesh in a game of Blink!

Dinesh letting Sumi beat him in a game of Blink!

Sajjan beating Dinesh in a game of chess!

Sajjan beating Dinesh in a game of chess, for real!

The last significant element of Dinesh’s visit was two unique, entertaining gatherings with new friends! Our five-some plus Dinesh joined two other families for the Germany-USA World Cup match. Caleb, Emily and their boys (family who builds the Portal long-tail bicycles) and another couple, Geoff and Momo, who works with the American Embassy in KTM rounded out our group. At 9:45pm (yes, crazy late for the kids!), we went to a local restaurant to show support for our home team – we were hugely outnumbered! Even though we lost, watching a sports event televised from South America with dozens of Europeans and North Americans in the middle of Asia was awesome!

Geoff, Dinesh and Caleb watching the Germany USA World Cup match.

Geoff, Dinesh and Caleb watching the Germany USA World Cup match.

Prakash’s boss hosted a potluck for their work group that our five-some plus Dinesh also attended. What an enjoyable evening — a variety of delicious menu items, children bubbling around sharing their colorful personalities, beautiful foothill views from the garden, picture-perfect picnic weather, instrumental and vocal musical entertainment, and even a small volleyball game!

Prakash and Aman entertaining the crowd.

Prakash and Aman entertaining the crowd.

Janani singing in the garden.

Janani singing in the garden.

All in all, an incredibly fun, relaxing and enjoyable visit :-). Imagining your visit to Kathmandu?!? I hope so…

By the way, MOVING DAY is tomorrow! We will shift from the apartment to our new house!

Initial Thoughts on Nepal… By Sumanth, Sajjan and Janani

Here are the kids initial thoughts and observations on Nepal…  This is a LONG OVERDUE post, and I hope to include more of their words in the upcoming posts.  Here, I’ve included a piece that each of them wrote soon after we arrived.  In addition, I interviewed them asking questions like: Tell me about Nepal ; What do you like about school ; Tell me about some of the work you’ve done at school ; What do you miss from home ; What are the names of your classmates…  This is completely unedited — all their words!  I added a bit in brackets when explanation was helpful.

Please feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments section!  I will share it with the children 🙂


Writing (late April): I laaic Nepal. On the rods in nepal thar is dust. today i am going to start sccool. My school is cold the british scool. my clas is cald fawndashun. the end. Translation: I like Nepal. On the roads in Nepal, there is dust. Today I am going to start school. My school is called The British School (TBS). My class is called Foundation. The End.

Interview (mid June): These are the things that I really like about Nepal. I like getting books from the book stores in Nepal, and I like going to birthdays at Moksh [this is a FUN place with several businesses – restaurant, book store, music school, yoga studio, art studio, cycle shop, rock climbing wall, and coffee shop] and going to Swayambhu. In Swayanbbhu I like the monkeys and I like the beautiful view when you get up the stairs and go to that golden thing. Some of my favorite things about British School are that Dr Moore [school principal] said we can play inside a field that the workers were making and I’m very excited that the workers are making my class a new playground and I like that I have an old big playground that I get to play in.

Sumanth getting a horse ride at a recent birthday party.

Sumanth getting a horse ride at a recent birthday party.

I like getting house points. Getting a house point is like doing something good and getting a house point. Like you can write all of the colors that you know on the white board or write how high you can write from zero on the while board or A B Cs all the way to Zed. [There are 4 houses at TBS: Makalu, Dhaulagiri, Kanchenjunga, Annapurna.  All children are placed within a house and various school competitions occur between Houses.]

I am learning all about mini beasts at school and mini-beasts are bugs. Even we have done research about them, even we have maked our own information about mini-beasts. We have learned about wasps, bees, spiders, ladybugs, leeches, all kinds, and caterpillars.

Sumanth showing his bug research laboratory!

Sumanth showing his bug research laboratory!

The kids in my class are Miles, Ollie, Prathista, Nadeen, Phorpa, Jhumpai, Samaira, Tanuska, Nimarose, Freya, Poppy, Norzen, Ariya and Yuvaan.


Writing (late April): My thoughts about Nepal. Nepal roads are not as dusty as India at all. Nepal has much more variety of trees than North Carolina. The water from the tap you can’t drink. You will get sick if you drink tap water. You have to drink filtered water or bottled water to not get sick. The ground is dusty so you have to wash your feet before you go to bed. There is no traffic lights so the road is loud. The road is loud from all the beeping. We only have 12 hours of electricity per day.

Interview (mid June): I like British School because it is almost the same as Heartwood [Montessori school the kids attended from 2010-2013] and schools in North Carolina. The similarities are that in both schools they speak English. Both schools I like. I like British School because even though we are in Nepal, we don’t have to speak Nepali in the school.

I like Nepal because we can walk closely to our school, we don’t have to bike or drive or ride a car. And I like my school because everyone is nice to me. I enjoy playing football on the football field. And I enjoy football club. Football club is on Thursday. I like tennis club and craft club and all my clubs!

Janani and Sajjan in their PE Uniforms.  They only have uniforms for PE, not for the school day.

Janani and Sajjan in their PE Uniforms. They only have uniforms for PE, not for the school day.

We were learning about nature and we all stood in a circle and we got into pairs of two and we each got a thing. Like we could get water, the sun, the trees, the birds, some part of nature. And then there was this big ball of yarn. The yarn started with the sun and then the tree needed the sun and then the sun passed the yarn to the tree. And we kept passing the yarn. The tree passed the yarn to the plants. And then the plants passed the yarn to the soil and then the soil passed it to the tiny little animals and the tiny little animals passed it to the water and then the water passed it to everybody again. And that’s how we feel that nature is all connected but climate change is destroying it so we have to make it better.

I miss from NC the fun parks and the water parks like Great Wolf Lodge. And I like getting books from the book store, but what I don’t like about Nepal is that there is no library so we just have to get books from the book store. And I don’t miss my house because we are going to get another house!

The kids in my class are Yulo, William, Shaurya, Ishat, Max, Anna, Iona, Keito, Honami, Hanon, Emily, Jack, Nitesh, Musa, Fayaz, Aayan, Seoyoon, Kirsten and Sangye.


Writing (late April): Nepal is very cool! It is very different from USA. One big difference is that there is two power-outs a day. Power-outs are when there is no power so the refrigerator and the lights don’t work. But in our house, there are windows on the roof so in the daytime, we get lots of light. It is so awesome when everything is dark! Another small difference is grocery stores. Most grocery stores in Nepal are very small but they can fit lots of things in it. Also the people in Nepal pay with Nepali Rupees instead of dollars. Nepal is so different from the USA.

Interview (mid June): Some things that I like about Nepal is that our house isn’t that big but we can have so much things in it and it is easier than living in a big house. And at school, I go to the British School and it is really fun because we do lots and lots of different things very often. And we have breaks very often and we do fun things very often. And just last week, I went to a soccer game to play against another school and it was really fun! We do projects, big projects, so my teacher gives us the projects after half-term and we have until the end of term to do them. And for this term, we’re going to do three big projects about WW2 and I am going to make a collage on a picture of WW2, and I’m going to make a fact file about kids in WW2 and I’m also going to make a board game that involves facts of WW2.

Janani playing defense at the soccer match.  TBS lost 3-2 against KISC.

Janani playing defense at the soccer match. TBS lost 3-2 against KISC.

At Bristish School, we have a lot of unique assignments. In English we watched a film with no words and it was very interesting and it had music. Then we were supposed to make our own film that only used music, no talking, and the film had to use the music that the film that we watched, that one use. So we had to create a film and act it out and make a video of it and it was really cool and it make us think a lot. Math is not that unique. And I don’t really remember the math assignments…

In Nepal there’s lots of differences than North Carolina. We have to clean lots of things like body parts and things that we buy before we eat them or play with them or do anything with them. For example, when we come home we have to wash our feet unlike North Carolina because it is so dusty. And I’ve noticed that there’s much less buildings than NC. Well, like the buildings, there are lots of buildings but not very much of them are very big. And they all seem to be made out of the same things – bricks. And they don’t look very new, they all look so old. And the weather is very hot, not like NC [remembering how NC felt in April when we left!!].

There are lots of things that I miss from NC. The thing that I miss the most is all of my friends and also I miss how clean it was and that we could just like drink any water, like from the tap or whatever and that we didn’t have to wash our feet when we came in from school. Well, one thing that I don’t miss that much is our car because I feel so good when we are biking and walking everywhere because we don’t like use so much pollution, I mean make so much pollution. It’s really fun biking and walking, it is much more fun than sitting in a car doing nothing. I kind of miss school because there is not so much British accent and people that don’t understand me or I don’t understand them because of their accent and because the words the words that they use like loo, trousers, trainers [toilet, pants, sneakers] and all that!

A birds eye view of the dust and pollution within the KTM valley.

A birds eye view of the dust and pollution within the KTM valley.

The people in my class are Yashasvi, Sana, Mina, Yuriko, Harira, Soyun, Jini, Miyu, Chinyue, Prama, Charlotte, Isabella, Amodini, Shloka, Samir, Dan, Daniel, Dorjay, Rosheen, Karou, Kyoungmin, Letti.

Behind Every Dark Cloud is a Silver Lining…

BOOM!!! The largest, loudest, most dangerous explosion erupted in our kitchen — the pressure cooker on the stove. I was standing nearby and darted away screaming. The kids and Prakash sat nearby in the living room, getting a board game ready to play – they sat shocked in silence. Within a few seconds the deafening noises and cloud of steam subsided and Sumanth’s loud, scared cry broke out. A thin layer of black-eyed-bean mush covered every visible surface in the entire kitchen — counters, floors, backsplash, stove, window, ceiling, cabinets, walls — EVERYTHING! It took a few minutes to quiet Sumanth down and assure him that we are all safe and that the mess will (somehow) get cleaned up…


Minutes later, help arrived in droves! Gordon, our next door neighbor stopped by. Since our meal was splattered all over the kitchen, he graciously offered to make lunch for us! Within minutes, Gordon and Marilyn whipped up a yummy lunch of pancakes and fruit — hadn’t eaten pancakes that delicious in months…

The nephew of our landlord along with their maid also arrived moments after the explosion — I think the whole block heard!! He inquired about our well being and ensured us that their staff will help with the mess. Within 10 minutes, six – yes 6!! – of their maids were over scrubbing, wiping and sweeping the food waste. It took this army of helpers about an hour to get the kitchen back in order…


Needless to say, we felt SO blessed that we escaped this horrible accident, relatively unscathed… I FORTUNATELY was far enough from the stove to only have a few small, minor burns ; the troop of maids completed our insurmountable, but unavoidable job ; even though our lunch was spoiled, a yummier one was kindly offered to us. Angels in disguise came to rescue us in our time of need… Sincere appreciation to the Rana family and staff, and Gordon and Marilyn…


Behind our dark cloud this Saturday afternoon was a bright, shining silver lining…

Had this incident happened in North Carolina, would our neighbors have heard the explosion? Likely not, as the distances between homes is much greater and windows are generally closed. Even if they had, would they know the boom came from our house? Would they have come to inquire? I’m not so sure… We likely would have grabbed take-out for lunch and started cleaning up the mess ourselves. Several hours later, perhaps, the kitchen might look somewhat like normal, our arms would be really sore and we’d be ready for a LONG nap. A testament to “village-style” life as opposed to the “nuclear-style” life we are used to in the USA. There are pluses and minuses to both. A lot depends on one’s perspective or preference — lack of privacy OR someone’s always there to help ; everyone knows my business OR there is always someone to keep an eye on the kids ; anonymity OR life as an open book…

This minor disaster left me grateful to live in Nepal :-). What would you prefer and why?


Daily Routines…

I wake up around 5:45 as the sun rises exceptionally early here in the summer – it is difficult to sleep much longer!  My morning routine consists of making breakfast (for all of us) and lunch (for the kids) and herding the children through their morning routines! We have a TV but don’t use it, so light classical music courtesy of Pandora is switched on after waking up. Pandora has become a dear and treasured friend… It is always on (when the internet connection is working, which is about 90% of the day). Soothing classical music in the am transitions to upbeat tunes later in the day. Prakash bathes, chants morning prayers then cycles out to a bakery to pick up a fresh loaf of warm bread and a 1/2 liter packet of milk. He’ll have a quick breakfast, chat with the kids and then ride to work around 7:30. The kids wake up between 6 to 6:30 but drag their feet to complete their few morning tasks (change clothes, brush teeth, make bed, get backpack ready and eat breakfast). We walk to school at 7:55am and the school gates open at 8am; at this time the kids can play and run around with their friends until the bell rings at 8:15. This is an enjoyable 15 minutes :-). Kids are fresh and enjoy greeting their friends; many parents are mingling around; a few teachers are available to chat with and generally the morning weather is very pleasant. Drop-off at The British School is so different than any of the half-dozen other schools we’ve been to – the strong community and family feel is very prominent and sets a good tone to start the day.  When the selected student of the day happily rings the giant cowbell,  parents then distribute goodbye hugs and kisses and the kids are off for the day!

Greeting the teacher before running off to the football / soccer field.

Greeting the teacher before running off to the football / soccer field.

I have 6 hours until picking the kids up in the afternoon and it is amazing how those precious kid-free hours fly by so quickly! I spend much of this time running errands and maintaining the household:

* Laundry — After sorting, counting and tabulating quantities and prices, I drop off dirty laundry at a small business which is a 2 minute cycle ride away (yes, riding with bags of clothes can be tricky and wobbly!). It is a family-business with the son and father manning the shop and ironing all items. I don’t have the courage to ask where they hand wash the clothes (likely a not-hygienic-per-Western-standards water source) and just pick up the (relatively) clean clothes 2-3 days later. Another wobbly bicycle ride home!

* Groceries — Purchasing groceries is tedious for two main reasons – there is no minivan trunk to fill a week’s worth of food in and the refrigerator doesn’t operate 24-hours-a-day, so food doesn’t keep. I end up going to a grocery store, fruit seller or vegetable seller about once every two days, filling up my backpack and carrying 1-2 additional bags. We borrowed Caleb’s “minivan bike” for a few weeks and this eased the load on my back and almost tripled my carrying capacity. I’m looking forward to having our own within a month or so! Also, since we don’t have Sams Club and Costco down the road, toilet paper is purchased in packs of 6 rolls, not 56; lentils and grains are sold in bags of 1 kg, not 10; and dish soap comes in a 6 oz bottle, not 1 gallon. You get the drift – we buy things in MUCH smaller quantities thus needing to replenish more often. Also, food doesn’t stay fresh as long as in the USA. Milk will keep for 1-2 days; bread, fruits and vegetables for 2-3 days. Frequent grocery store visits just can’t be avoided.

The panniers can hold an amazing amount!  Toss the groceries inside and the kids on top and you are off!

The panniers can hold an amazing amount! Toss the groceries inside and the kids on top and you are off!

* Cleaning — Nepal, and most other countries in Asia, have extremely low labor costs ($1 to $5 USD per day for low-skilled, working-with-your-hands jobs). Whether this is a blessing or curse, we are living in this society and are somewhat accepting the ways… Our apartment is serviced 6 days per week. The maid cleans the bathrooms, floors and kitchen, dusts everything, and changes the sheets and towels. Dust and pollution levels are high and windows are always open to allow indoor circulation (no air conditioner), so frequent cleaning is required. She doesn’t do dishes, so that, along with tidying up and cooking are my responsibilities. Needless to say, I’m enjoying the reduced burden of home-maintenance!

Laundry, groceries, cleaning and other home tasks (maintaining water levels in storage tanks, gardening, exterior home care) will look very different after we move to the house in July. After settling into a new routine, I’ll write about the daily practices of living in house and how that compares to apartment-living…

I spend the remaining, kid-free time on a variety of enrichment activities:

* Classes – attending Nepali language classes has been really enjoyable and a highlight of my routine! I feel the language is easy to pick up because the origin is Sanskrit as is my mother-tongue, Marathi. Many words are identical or similar to Marathi and the grammar and sentence structure is logical. I have two teachers, Raju and Deepa. I go to Raju’s house twice a week and he uses the class with me as an opportunity to train his wife, Prabina, to become a Nepali language teacher. The three of us focus on conversation and ensuring I use correct grammar. Deepa comes to our apartment once a week and her focus is more on vocabulary. Both are great teachers and I’m enjoying learning not only Nepali from them, but tidbits about Nepal’s culture too…

* CSGN – The Cultural Studies Group Nepal is an amazing group of motivated, curious expats who want to get to know the culture they live in. I attended the Thanka Art Studio visit and the day-hike from Dhulikhel to Panauti with this group. Most members are a bit older (my guess is an average age of 50). They meet 3 times per month (one hike, studio visit and lecture or presentation each per month).  After a short break for the summer months, they’ll resume educational activities in September.

* Exercise – Tuesdays are biking days! I bring my bike with me to school and a group of 6-8 parents leave shortly after drop-off. We ride for 3-4 hours, stopping at the tops of steep hills and at some scenic viewpoints; after a few hours we break for Cokes and snacks then finish up the ride back to home. For me, the ride is an enjoyable but very grueling challenge…  I come home, scour off the layers of sweat, dust and mud and then collapse for the bit of time before picking up the kids. I really look forward to Tuesdays :-). I’ve also attended a few yoga classes (NOT on Tuesday, no more time or energy left!). There is a lovely studio within a 5 minute cycle ride from our apartment. Only expats attend as the price is prohibitive for locals ($6 USD per class). Rotating expats teach the classes and the broad variety of styles is wonderful.

* Blog – Writing blog posts has also been really enjoyable… It forces me to reflect which generally leads to an optimistic perspective on this amazing family adventure. I have stockpiled several topics to blog about – my aim is still to post once a week…

On most days, I pick up the kids at 3:30pm. School ends at 2:30 and 4 of the 5 days of the week, the kids have extracurricular clubs (athletics and arts focused) for one hour. After a full day of learning, playing and enjoying, they are wiped out! We walk home, freshen up (in Nepal, as in India, it is customary to wash not only your hands and face after coming home, but your feet too! it is so dusty here, that washing your feet after coming home is a must), have a snack and relax a bit. Thankfully the kids have VERY LITTLE homework, so we usually head downstairs and play in the courtyard of our apartment – the 3 favorite activities include basketball, soccer and chalk drawings! We head back up around 5:30 for baths.

Janani's chalk solar system!

Janani’s chalk drawing of the solar system!

One or two afternoons per week, I caravan the kids on bicycle to classes and activities.  Janani is continuing vocal lessons, Sajjan is learning tabla (Indian drums) and Sumanth has just started vocal lessons. Also, on Thursday afternoons, an adventure company opens their mini-rock-climbing gym to kids. We’ve only been once, but had a blast and hope to attend weekly.

Janani climbing at the mini-gym.

Janani climbing at the mini-gym.

Prakash rides home by 6:30 and we’ll have dinner together. The kids have SO much excitement to share about their day with Baba! Constant chitter-chatter and buzzing children entertain us while we eat. The kids head to their room around 7:30 to 8 and read for a bit before sleeping. Prakash often falls asleep quite early too; biking an hour and working for 10 is exhausting! I enjoy a bit more quiet time at the computer, on the phone and with a good book and call it a night…

All in all, my days are quite different here than in North Carolina! The main differences include:

* time – no job and no preschoolers home with me part-time, so overall more free time
* vehicle – no minivan, traveling only on bicycle, foot and taxis once in a while
* radius of activity – significantly smaller travel distances between home, school, shops and activities
* meals – rarely eat leftovers, cook often and in smaller quantities

What would you prefer — life in USA or life in Nepal?!?  Please answer in the comment section!!


* guaranteed basics (electricity, water — overall supply, drinking water and hot water)
* amazing infrastructure and services (roads, internet, libraries, parks)
* conveniences (dishwasher, clothes washing machine and dryer, vacuums)


* access to low-cost labor (maid, gardener, babysitter, driver)
* convenient distances (work, school, shops, ALL activities within a 1 mile radius)

Initial Impressions of the Workplace – Himalaya’s EPA

How time flies!  May has come and gone, which means I’ve been at ICIMOD for a full month already.  Many friends have asked me about the work environment and culture.  Although it’s still early to make many conclusions, I can offer some first impressions.

The ICIMOD building and campus are beautiful.  I knew this when I came out for the interview.  Attractive flower beds decorate the front garden and there’s a prominent cycle stand (i.e., bike rack) beside the main building.  Upon entering, the majestic wall hangings that decorate the main corridors and stairwells are breathtaking – panoramic photographs of beautiful Himalayan mountainscapes with native residents in the foreground engaged in their daily activities.  Even after working at ICIMOD for a month, I can’t help stopping and staring in awe at these photos.


My first day at the office had a couple surprises.  I arrived on bicycle and was directed to a handicap-accessible restroom where I could change into office clothes – no locker room with warm showers like we had at the EPA!  I went upstairs to check in with my department secretary and was greeted warmly by a number of familiar faces whom I remembered meeting during my interview a few months before.  My group leader, Arnico Panday, showed me to my office which is in a new wing on the ground floor that was still partly under construction.  The office had two bare exterior windows and a dilapidated desk.  That afternoon, a carpenter came in to take measurements of the office and we sketched out several pieces of furniture together!  After a few days, my custom-built desk was delivered and the shelving and file cabinets arrived a couple weeks later.  I used a loaner laptop for a couple days, but a brand new Dell laptop with docking station arrived the following week.  The office gradually took shape throughout the month of May.  Blinds were put on the windows, office supplies were delivered, and I even got a pedestal fan that helps me cool off after my morning commutes.

One highlight of my first month at work was the bike commute.  My 6 km ride from Heritage Apartments to ICIMOD takes between 20 and 25 minutes.  The morning ride has some gentle downhills and very little traffic, providing a lovely start to each work day.  The evening ride home takes a bit longer, due to the uphill grade and heavier traffic volume.  The busiest intersection that I pass through is Satdobato, which literally means 7 roads!  There’s no traffic light there (or anywhere in Kathmandu, as far as I”ve seen), but the intersection is usually manned with a police officer who tries his best to direct the unruly traffic while inhaling an lethal dose of air pollution.  Keeping in mind that May is National Bike-to-Work month in the U.S., I commuted by bicycle 24 times.  Last week was the first time in my life that I managed to bike commute for 5 days in a single work week, and it felt great.  Cycling the streets in Kathmandu is a lot like playing a video game.  There are numerous obstacles:  most of them are moving, some that yield, others that intimidate, but one quickly learns to predict their patterns of motion.  I’m happy to report that I’ve had no accidents and only one close call in my 288 km of commuting thus far.

A highlight at ICIMOD been the genuine optimism exhibited by our Director General, David Molden, and reinforced by the near absence of cynicism among the staff.  We’ve had one all-hands meeting and a full-day retreat for all staff at an off-site resort.  At each of these events, I have to pinch myself to believe that the research budget here is actually on the rise and that ICIMOD is hiring aggressively – a stark contrast to EPA where the budget was cut year after year and morale was plummeting.  Whereas most Americans seem to have grown complacent about environmental protection, taking their clean air and water for granted, Nepalis are acutely aware of the importance of addressing their environmental hazards.  The daily imperatives to filter tap water before drinking and to wear masks while traveling the roads are the most blatant reminders.

ICIMOD colleagues descending on the refreshments at an all-hands meeting.

ICIMOD colleagues descending on the refreshments at an all-hands meeting.

My closest colleagues at ICIMOD are Bhupesh Adhikary and Praveen Puppala.   They also work in the Atmosphere Initiative and sit in offices adjacent to mine.  Bhupesh joined ICIMOD in March.  He’s a native of Kathmandu, but did his undergraduate studies and PhD in Iowa (Greg Carmichael’s group).  He’s a whiz at running meteorology and air quality models.  He even runs daily numerical weather forecasts for Nepal (reminds me of Rob Gilliam predicting wave heights and hurricane paths).  Bhupesh is extremely talkative and very friendly.  Praveen started the same day as me, after moving from IASS in Potsdam, Germany.  Prior to that, he worked at Scripps (San Diego) and at some top-notch research institutes in India.  Praveen is our measurement expert, and has been tasked with establishing a handful of mountaintop and urban observatories for monitoring air quality in the region.  He is lanky (looks like a giant next to Bhupesh), not quite as talkative, but very amicable.  The three of us often eat lunch together and have openly expressed to each other our environmental aspirations, which are quite alike.

Colleagues enthusiastically working on a team-building activity at our retreat

Colleagues enthusiastically working on a team-building activity at our retreat

Last week on a phone call to NC, Jay Helms (a close friend from Breckenridge) asked me whether the work I’m doing at ICIMOD is similar to what I had envisioned before joining.  My split-second response came as a surprise, even to me – a decisive “No.”  Whereas I came with the intent of doing research that would help reduce air pollution in Kathmandu and the Himalayas, my work during the first month can be best characterized as “capacity building.”  Our research group spent most of May gearing up to host a 5-day training class on a cutting-edge air quality model (WRF-Chem) that will be taught to young scientists and government staff from 6 of ICIMOD’s member countries, then host a regional atmospheric sciences conference with 80 participants from across the region, and then convene the first meeting of an international advisory panel for a proposed new graduate degree program on atmospheric sciences in the Himalayas.  While pitching in wherever needed, my main task has been to organize the advisory panel meeting: inviting panelists, setting the agenda, and trying to build consensus within our team about our motives for starting a degree program.  I’m hopeful to return to modeling research and data analyses soon after these meetings are over so, in hindsight, perhaps the more accurate answer to Jay should have been “Not yet.”  More on that in my next blog post…

— Prakash