The One World Schoolhouse, Education Reimagined – by Salman Khan

This book moved me beyond words…  Sal Khan’s philosophy on education rings loudly in my ears and this blog post aims to share my enthusiasm.  Slowly, collectively, we can effectively reform education…



Khan’s mission is to provide a free, world-class education for anyone, anywhere.  Living in one of the poorest countries in the world, with a terribly low literacy rate (~55%) and standard of education, his mission speaks directly to me.  Immediately after reading the book, implementation ideas were spinning through my head: translating his videos into Nepali, obtaining funds to bring practical technology to rural schools, starting a community learning center where adults could improve their math and language skills, and convincing the principal at our kids’ English-medium school to pilot a Khan Academy-based classroom.

A dear friend informed me that another non-profit organization is working on technology and education here in Nepal.  Ole Nepal doesn’t directly translate Khan’s material, but their philosophies are similar.  Their team has developed 600+ learning modules, deployed 5000+ laptops, trained 600+ teachers, and worked with 180+ schools impacting 40,000+ students.  WOW!  Companies this like this, inspired individuals and impassioned groups all around the world are echoing Khan’s message – educational reform is necessary and technology can be one of our best partners.  Today, Khan Academy videos are available in over 35 languages!

Khan’s diagnosis of America’s educational system also thoroughly resonates with me.  I am a product of it and my children are in it, however, temporarily experiencing the British system.  The following paragraphs summarize Khan’s perspective of education in the USA:

The Prussian Model“Eighteenth-century Prussia is where our basic classroom model was invented.  The idea was not to produce independent thinkers, but to churn out loyal and tractable citizens who would learn the value of submitting to the authority of parents, teachers, church, and, ultimately, the king.  The standard classroom model offered boundless opportunities for political indoctrination.  It was not by accident that whole ideas were broken up into fragmented ‘subjects.’ Subjects could be learned by rote memorization, whereas mastering larger ideas called for free and unbridled thinking (76-77).”

Swiss Cheese Learning“What constitutes a passing grade?  In most classrooms in most schools, students pass with 75 or 80 percent.  This is customary.  But if you think about it even for a moment, it’s unacceptable if not disastrous.  Concepts build on one another.  Algebra requires arithmetic.  Trigonometry flows from geometry.  Calculus and physics call for all of the above.  A shaky understanding early on will lead to complete bewilderment later.  Our students are victims of Swiss Cheese Learning.  Though it seems solid from the outside, their education is full of holes (83, 85).”

Archaic Customs“Parts of the system we now hold sacred – for example, the length of the class period or the number of years assigned to ‘elementary’ or ‘high’ school – are in fact rather arbitrary, even accidental (62).  This basic model – grouping kids by birth date and then advancing them together grade by grade – is such a fundamental aspect of conventional education that people seldom seem to think about it.  But we should, because its implications are huge.  To state what is obvious, there is nothing natural about segregating kids by age.  That isn’t how families work; it isn’t what the world looks like; and it runs counter to the way that kids have learned and socialized for most of human history (191-192).”  Khan also brilliantly dissects the archaic customs of summer holidays, compartmentalizing lessons into subjects or units, the recent obsession with student/teacher ratios, and the methods used to track children, all the while arguing that each of these distract from the main goals of maximizing students learning, comprehension, retention, and critical thinking skills.

Homework – We should ask, “not how much homework, but why homework in the first place?  One large survey conducted by the University of Michigan concluded that the single strongest predictor of better achievement scores and few behavioral problems was not time spent on homework, but rather the frequency and duration of family meals.  When families actually sit down and talk – when parents and children exchange ideas and truly show an interest in each other – kids absorb values, motivation and self-esteem; in short, they grow in exactly those attributes and attitudes that will make them enthusiastic and attentive learners.  This is more important than mere homework (111-114).”

Tests and Testing“What do tests really test?  Tests say little or nothing about a student’s potential to learn a subject or about how long learning will be retained.  Tests measure the approximate state of a student’s memory and perhaps understanding, in regard to a particular subset of subject matter at a given moment in time, it being understood that the measurement can vary considerably and randomly according to the particular questions being asked (91-92).”

I am a perfect example – a product of the faulty American education system.  I learned to submissively accept lessons, didn’t gain a comprehensive overview of lessons and how they relate to one another.  I passively listened to broadcast lectures in the classroom, independently worked on homework at home, and crammed hard before tests after which most of the knowledge slowly seeped out.  My education resembled Swiss cheese exactly, even though I was an A-/B+ student throughout high school and college.  I rarely had true mastery before advancing to more complex concepts.

I am a creative, thoughtful, intelligent person – but not because of the system, rather despite the system.  I want more for our children: the three that live in my house, the hundreds I personally know and the millions that will soon have their turn to make this world a better place.  This is one of my favorite passages from Khan’s book: “As a parent myself, I completely understand the human tendency to regard one’s own kids as the most precious in the universe. To every mother and every father, of course they are; biology takes care of that. But there is a somewhat dangerous corollary to this natural parental love. Sometimes it seems that, both as individuals and as societies, we think it’s okay to be selfish as long as it’s on behalf of the kids. Clearly, there’s hypocrisy here; we’re still serving the interests of our own DNA and our own narrow clan. We give ourselves a free pass on something that is emotionally right but morally wrong. As long as our kids are getting educated, we won’t worry about the kids a block, or a nation, or a continent away. But are we really doing our kids a favor by taking this isolationist, me-first position? I don’t think so. I think we’re condemning them to live in a world of broadening inequality and increasing instability. The better way to help our kids is to help all kids (222).”

Before reading Khan’s book, I was acutely aware that what our children need from education (namely, critical thinking and communication skills) is different than the skills emphasized for us 20 – 30 years ago and drastically different than the educational emphasis during previous generations.  What I got from Khan’s book is the piece about CREATIVITY and how the American system doesn’t foster, hone or reward this skill: “What I’m criticizing is an educational approach that, because of its built-in inefficiencies and obsession with control, keeps kids so busy, often with activities that have nothing to do with their particular talents or interests that they have no time to think. There’s a cruel irony in this. Pressured to keep a full plate of purportedly enriching activities, kids end up barely noticing that their interior lives—their uniqueness, curiosity, and creativity— are in fact becoming impoverished.  There is no magic formula to make kids more creative; rather, it’s a way to give light and space and time to the creativity that already exists in each of us (247, 251).

Khan’s detailed analysis of the American education system originates from two sources: he too studied in the USA from grade school in Louisiana to college in Massachusetts, and second, while as a hedge fund analyst, he began remotely tutoring his intelligent cousin who performed poorly on a middle school math exam.  This unassuming tutoring engagement took on a life of its own as Khan taught more and more students, made his lessons electronically available on YouTube, and developed software tools to help gauge his students’ progress.  Khan Academy was born and incarnated into several hundred videos, thousands of students, and a slow infiltration into a handful of classrooms while Khan was still a full-time working professional, husband and father!  In 2009, Khan left his finance job and delved fully into his dream of “teaching the way he wished he was taught (7). Within no time, thousands of students became millions, and the top of the top – Bill Gates and Google –offered to support and grow the Academy.  Khan’s vision, thus, with time and experience, grew beyond just tutoring to summer camps, pilot classrooms, and dreams of whole schools.

 One Room Schoolhouse – Khan succinctly condemns America’s current educational system then, lightly sketches his vision of an ideal future.  Beautifully, he conveys that this is one possible approach, other creative solutions exist too.  Just as he reiterates that there are multiple ways of solving a math problem, he never states that his vision of what school would look like is the only right one.

Khan’s school would more closely resemble a One Room Schoolhouse: kids would be mixed with others of varying ages, learning would be self-paced, holidays would be taken on an as-needed basis (similar to how businesses operate), well-designed assessments would be taken by anyone at any time and students would maintain a portfolio of their work and assessments.  Classrooms would have seventy-five to one hundred children, spanning a broad age-range, with three or four teachers.  A snapshot of the classroom would include 20% of the children working on computer-based lessons while the other 80% are working in several groups on activities, games and projects applying the skills just grasped from the computer-based lessons.  Thus, “the school could cover basic course material in one or two hours, leaving plenty of space and time for open-ended thinking and creativity (205).”

It really takes a creative imagination to visualize this.  There will surely be challenges along the way.  However, educational systems must change to match, or even come close to, the rate at which our world in changing.  What are the consequences of continuing with education the way it is?  This leads to my second favorite passage in Khan’s book, “Among the world’s children starting grade school this year, 65 percent will end up doing jobs that haven’t even been invented yet.  The certainty of change, coupled with the complete uncertainty as to the precise nature of change, has profound and complex implications for our approach to education.  What we teach children is less important than how they learn to teach themselves.  The crucial task of education is to teach kids how to learn.  To lead them to want to learn.  To nurture curiosity, to encourage wonder, and to instill confidence so that later on they’ll have the tools for finding answers to the many questions we don’t yet know how to ask (179-180).”

How is all of this related to the FiveInTheFoothills Blog and our lives and experiences here in Nepal?  I am not quite sure yet…  I’d like to join the global efforts to improve education and how, when and where this happens will unfold in due time.  I thank you for reading my piece about Khan’s book, however my most humble request is that you read it for yourself and SHARE your thoughts broadly.  Collectively, positive change will happen…

As per Khan’s philosophy of sharing knowledge freely, his book is available online as a pdf :-).

Two-Wheeled Yetis – Whoosh! Look left, look right, here they come!

I aim to condense the adventures of the Two-Wheeled Yetis into this one little blog post… Technically impossible, but simply hoping to commemorate and share :-).

The Group

The Yetis are a cycling group composed mostly of British School parents. We cycle every Tuesday that school is in session, rain or shine (the extra courageous ones at least!). We drop the kids by 8:15am, slowly collect the group, and head out by 8:30. Routes range from 20 – 35 kilometers. We ride out into the low KTM hills usually south and west of the valley and eventually stop at a rickety tea shop for a rejuvenating snack break. Several cokes, teas, donuts, and plates of potatoes, chana and choila later (the whole bill was often less than one latte back at the usual coffee shops around school!), we’d head back home reaching around noon. It left just enough time to get home, freshen up, have lunch and head back to school to pick up the kids. Our rides ranged from 2 – 12 people, but usually have 5-9 riders.

12 riders - we made a statement on the road!

12 riders – we made a statement on the road!

I started with the Yetis one month after arriving into Kathmandu. We purchased our first bikes, and I was ready to restart an exercise routine! Day 1, I did complete the ride, but COLAPSED on the sofa of our apartment and two hours later, could barely walk the ¼ kilometer to school to collect the children, forget about staying awake through the afternoon or getting dinner on the table! After a few days, I built up enough courage to give it another chance the following week. I’m SO glad I didn’t give up! I attribute it all to the morale, ethic and atmosphere of the group – supportive, encouraging, uplifting…

Don't look down!

Don’t look down!

“It does not matter how slow you go, so long as you do not stop” – 2WY’s motto written on advertisement flyer welcoming more parents to join us. It was always true – riders were never taunted, teased or judged for their pace or place in the pack. There was always encouragement once we reached the top of any hill, skillfully made it down the hills, or clumsily fell off and scraped a knee. This was the sentiment from all members to all members. The focus was on athletics (getting a good workout while staying safe), sights (surreal views of the lower hills, mountains, forests, clouds, and beautiful Nepali buildings and people) and friendship (once off the busy roads, we had great conversations while riding!). Competition, aggression and boastfulness were just not within the fabric of this group.

Water and 4-legged friends are always nearby!

Water and 4-legged friends are always nearby!

The Sights

There was always something special to see… Snowcapped mountains, lush green hills, a yellow monastery atop a hillside, a white temple atop a different hillock, temple’s pagoda profile highlighting the horizon, unique Nepali home architecture, babbling streams, rickety narrow metal bridges, verdant mustard rice and vegetable fields, harvested crops drying in the sun, numerous 4-legged creatures around every corner, field workers inevitably breaking to see the 2WYs swoosh by, blossoms in all shades of the rainbow, the list is endless… It was always a treat for the eyes and soul to take a break from the hustle and bustle of Kathmandu and escape into the peaceful hillsides even if only for a few hours.

Simplicity and beauty of Nepal's villages - women, homes, harvests...

Simplicity and beauty of Nepal’s villages – women, homes, harvests…

More recently, the extreme summer heat led a few of us to ride from 4:30 – 6:30am. Early morning sights are simply spectacular… The golden orb low along the horizon, those first morning rays casting a glow on peeking snowcapped mountains, and monsoon rains creating unbelievable clarity distilling each and every tree on the green hills – like as if we were wearing binoculars while riding!

Ahhh.... the sunrise... early morning quietude and peace

Ahhh…. the sunrise… early morning quietude and peace

It was always a challenge – how to manage looking at both the sights ahead while also paying attention to the path. Isn’t that a common issue we face in day to day life, though? Going through life’s rat race at too hectic of a pace to enjoy the immeasurable beauty and wonder everyday immediately around us – cycling reminded us to take our time and enjoy the view!

Beautiful layers of green fields

Beautiful layers of green fields

The Members

People and wheels are the heartbeat of this group. Our guide and guru – Adrian – almost never missed a ride. There simply weren’t excuses valid enough to skip a cycle ride. He knows, by heart, the roads and trails in Patan better than most Nepalis. Thousands of kilometers of riding with 3 cycle groups each week for nearly 4 years – we never needed a GPS when Adrian was with us! The one and only one Tuesday Adrian missed our ride (his daughter was home sick), we got lost!

Mountains floating high in the sky - what a treat!

Mountains floating high in the sky – what a treat!

Andy was the rock, coach, and best caboose. He never let anyone get too far back from the pack and NEVER made you feel bad or guilty for slowing others down. A truly experienced cycler since childhood, he has much knowledge and wisdom that he often shared with us novices – when we should change gears, how to effectively get up the hills without walking and how to safely coast downhill on bumpy trails.

Some single track too - got to add some adventure!

Some single track too – got to add some adventure!

Clare was the cheerleader of the group – always happy, energetic, peppy and always at the head of the pack. She is a true athlete and excellent motivator! Kath was the quiet, smiling photographer of the group. Her keen eye knew when to pause and capture the moment. She and I had many lovely conversations as we were often together in the back of the pack! Pema was one of the newest but most dedicated members. New to cycling, yet a native of Kathmandu, she went places with 2WYs that she had never been before!

Simple, happy man with flowers - Kath's photo!

Simple, happy man with flowers – Kath’s photo!

So many more enthusiastic and happy riders — Arthi, Shelley, Matt, Christina, Juliet, Theresa, Daniel, Isaac, and Tashi — each brought a new twist to the weekly ride. We also never forget those who departed Nepal and our cycling group this past year — Amanda, Jona, Roger and Rebecca.

Amanda, Roger, Jona -- some of the starting 2WY members

Amanda, Roger, Jona — some of the starting 2WY members

Being a member of Two-Wheeled Yetis has been a significant HIGHLIGHT of my stay in Nepal. I know I am not alone in this sentiment – the unparalleled passion, enthusiasm and determination of each member made our group (or any successful group) what it was. Although many of our group members will continue living in Nepal, the departure of our guide and guru will make the group hard to recreate ever again. Here’s to sweet memories of Kathmandu’s Two-Wheeled Yetis and many more cycling adventures in Nepal and other spectacular corners of this special earth – cheers!

Cheers ya'll!  Get on your cycle and ride :-)

Cheers ya’ll! Get on your cycle and ride 🙂

Ek Barsa Bhayo…

My experiences in learning the Nepali language (translation below).


Thake ek barsa agadi, mero pariwar ra ma Nepal ma aaye…

Mero naam Nita ho. Ma North Carolina, United States of America badaa aeko. Mero pariwaar maa, paach janaa chha. Mero srimaan ko naam Prakash ho. Wahaa ICIMOD maa, scientist ko kaam garnu hunchha. Mero chori ko naam Janani ho. U paach class maa padhchha. Mero thulo chora ko naam Sajjan ho. U theen class maa padchha. Mero saano chora ko naam Sumanth ho. U ek class maa padchha. Sab bachhaa British School ma padchha.

Ek mahinaa Nepal aaye pachi, ma Nepali bhasha shikna suru gare. Dui janaa saathi-le, dui janaa shikshak ko laagi salaa dinu bhayo. Mero bichaar maa, ma eutaa class pahilaa shikshak sanga garchhu ra eutaa class dosro shikshak sanga garchhu ra ma-laai kun man parchha, wahaa sanga ma sadaai shikchhu. Tara, dubai shikshak dhere raamro thiyo thyesaile, ma dubai sanga Nepali bhasha shike!

Mero pahilaa shikshak ko naam Raju ho. Wahaa ko puraa kaam, bhasha shikaaune ho ra wahaa ko ghar bhitra, euta classroom chha. Raju ko ghar ra mero ghar dhere najike chha, paach minute hidera lagchha, theti. Asti, wahaa ko srimati, Prabina, pani class maa aaunu bhayo bhasha-shikaaunu shiknu ko laagi. Hamro theen-jaana ko class dhere ramailo thiyo! Raju dhere raamro chha grammar, verb conjugation ra pronunciation maa.

Mero dosro shikshak ko naam Deepa ho. Wahaa ko puraa kaam pani bhasha shikaaunu hunchha. Class ko laagi, Deepa mero ghar maa aaunu bhayo. Hami dui janaa matre padheko. Deepa dhere raamro chha vocabulary ra conversation maa.

Agadi, harek hapta, theen choti ek-ghanta ko class ma gare – eutaa ki diutaa class Raju sanga ra eutaa ki duitaa class Deepa sanga. Tyo bela-maa, ma raamro padhe. Harek class pachi, ma sab pheri padheko ra sab notes pheri lekhe. Bistarai bistarai mero Nepali raamro hudai chha. Hami ghar sare pachi, harek din Nepali bolna suru gare – Tika Dai ra Sonu sanga (mero ghar maa kaam garne didi-dai). Tes pachi, taxi driver sanga, sahuni ra sahuji sanga, ra chimeki sanga, ma bistarai Nepali bolna suru gare.

Nepali bhasha padhnu ko laagi sajilo chha! English banda dhere saadhaaran chha. Arko jaruri chha, mero afnu-bhasha Marathi ho. Marathi ra Nepali dhere pharak chhaina, milna janchha. Eute chithi chha, devanagari, ra dhere shabda eute ho. Thyesaile, mero-laagi, yo bhasha shiknu ko laagi sajilo chha.

Theen chaar mahinaa pachi, mero nasike saathi, Houk, ra ma sangai-class suru gare. Kasto ramailo thiyo! Wahaa Dutch ho tara wahaa ko Nepali dhere raamro chha. Ma banda ek barsa agadi Nepal maa aaunu bhayo ra ek barsa badi class shiknu bhayo. Thorai classes Raju sanga ra thorai classes Deepa sanga haami-sangai padheko. Dubai ramailo thiyo.

Raju ji ra Deepa ji, dhere dhere dhanyabad ra mero namaskar tapaai-haru-laai dinchhu. Ma dhere dhere bhagyamani chhu –Nepal maa basne mouga, nayaa bhasha shikne mouga ra dhere janaa raamro manche sanga padhne mouga paye…


Exactly one year ago, my family and I came to Nepal…

My name is Nita. I am from North Carolina, United States of America. My family has 5 people. My husband’s name is Prakash. He works in ICIMOD as a scientist. My daughter’s name is Janani. She studies in Year 5. My older son’s name is Sajjan. He studies in Year 3. My younger son’s name is Sumanth. He studies in Year 1. All of the children study in The British School.

One month after coming to Nepal, I started learning the Nepali language. Two of my friends recommended two Nepali teachers to me. I thought, I will do one class with the first teacher and one class with the second teacher and whichever teacher I liked, I would continue studying with them. But, both teachers were very good therefore I studied with both of them!

My first teacher’s name is Raju. His full-time job is as a language teacher and within his house, he has a classroom. Raju’s house and my house are very close, only a 5 minute walk away, that is all. Initially, his wife, Prabina, would also come to our class for her to learn how to teach Nepali. Our three-person class was very fun! Raju is very strong in grammar, verb conjugation and pronunciation.

My second teacher’s name is Deepa. Her full-time job is also as a language teacher. For our class, Deepa would come to my house. Just the two of us would study. Deepa is very strong in vocabulary and conversation.

In the beginning, every week, I went to three one-hour classes – one or two classes with Raju and one or two classes with Deepa. At that time, I studied really well. After each class, I would again study and rewrite all of my class notes. Slowly, my Nepali improved. After changing houses, I started speaking Nepali everyday with Tika Dai and Sonu (our house helpers).
Afterwards, I slowly started speaking in Nepali to taxi drivers, shop keepers and neighbors.

The Nepali language is easy to learn! Compared to English, it is simple. Another important thing is that my mother-tongue is Marathi. Marathi and Nepali are not very different. They share the same script, devanagari, and many words are identical. Therefore, for me, learning Nepali has been easy.
After three to four months, my close friend, Houk, and I started taking group classes. How fun it was! She is Dutch but her Nepali is very good. She came to Nepal one year ahead of me and started Nepali one year before me. We studied a few classes with Raju and a few classes with Deepa. Both were enjoyable.

Raju ji and Deepa ji, thank you very very much and I offer my salutations to you. I am very very lucky – I have the chance to live in Nepal, the chance to learn a new language and the change to study with several very nice people…

Embracing and ENJOYING a new lifestyle!!

NOTE: I wrote this post months ago and foolishly delayed on posting.  However, it still paints a true picture…


My daily routine is significantly different since we moved from an apartment into our house – all for the better… Main difference is our two amazing house helpers, Tika Dai and Sonu, who enable this effortless and efficient lifestyle…

Prakash and I wake up early, usually just before 6am. I get ready and then prepare a fresh, healthy, hot breakfast — never before have I managed to successfully and consistently do this! I prepare nutritious “parathas” (similar to a tortilla) supplementing the usual whole wheat flour and water with veggies, lentils, nuts, seeds and flours of other grains. I make 8 each morning – one for each of the five of us, one for Tika Dai, one for Sonu, and one for our dog (he is a street dog that the previous tenant cared for and just kind of came with the house – truly a gentle soul…). I prepare the kids’ snack and water bottles, and sometimes their lunch. Since school is nearby, often their lunch is prepared a bit later and taken over at lunchtime. Simultaneously, Tika Dai is buzzing around the kitchen – drying and putting away dinner dishes, making tea and setting the table. While we are busy in the kitchen, Prakash holds down the fort upstairs ensuring the kids complete their morning routine amongst the nonstop horsing around! They all head down, get their backpacks ready for school and we all sit down to breakfast together — again, this never happened in the US, but we are enjoying and cherishing it. Prakash heads out on his bicycle around 7:45am and we follow a few minutes later on our cycles.

I’ll introduce our house helpers a bit before describing how significantly they impact our life… Tika Dai is 52 years old, married and has 3 sons and 2 daughters. His wife lives in their village (Chitwan, which is a 5 hour bus ride from KTM) and 4 of his 5 children live, work and/or study in KTM. He never attended school, but ensured his children studied. His daughters completed up to 10th grade and his sons completed high school and are pursuing further education. Self-taught, Tika Dai learned to read Nepali (Devanagari script) and can manage to read and write, although at a fairly slow pace. His knowledge of English is limited to perhaps a few dozen words, spoken only. He lives in a small, detached room within our compound. I can write pages about his personality but will summarize – cheerful, optimistic, content, caring, thoughtful and hard working.

Tika Dai with Prakash and the kids on a temple outing!

Tika Dai with Prakash and the kids on a temple outing!

Sonu is 32 years old, married and has 1 son. Her husband lives in Saudi Arabia (an astronomically high number of Nepalis work abroad in Asia and the Middle East as they can financially contribute significantly more to their families) and her 16-year-old son just completed 10th grade and now works at a cycle shop as a manufacturing assistant. She also never attended school but has learned to read and write Nepali. Her vocabulary of English is surprisingly high and she has taught herself the alphabet. She and her son live in an apartment 3 km from our home. Sonu is kind, smart, thoughtful and hard working.

Sonu and the kids on her birthday!

Sonu and the kids on her birthday!

Sonu and Tika Dai take care of most household tasks:

* Laundry and cleaning — Sonu takes care of all the laundry (sorting, machine washing, hand washing, hanging to dry, ironing and folding). I only put clothes away where they belong. She and Tika Dai together take care of all cleaning (dusting, cleaning bathrooms, sweeping, moping, cleaning the kitchen). I only help with tidying up — a nonstop task with 3 kids at home! Their efforts to take care of our house simplify my life tremendously.

* Groceries — As I wrote about before, purchasing groceries is a bit tedious in Nepal. Since we don’t have a car and since fresh fruits, vegetables, milk and bread don’t keep for long, frequent purchases are a must. However, Sonu and Tika Dai, do most of the shopping! She purchases produce in the morning on her way to our house. Tika Dai gets grains, dairy and all pantry items as and when we need them. I’ll make a list, written in English, and read it out to him as he rewrites it in Nepali. At the end of the day, we do the “jisab” and he gives me the receipts from the day and I pay him back. About once in two weeks, I’ll go shopping to get items that require some selection or searching. Again, their efforts in this regard greatly reduce my work load.

* House work — There is quite a bit of work to do to maintain a house in the developing world! We do not have a direct line of water to our house from the City Government. Four large tanks hold our water supply (equivalent to 6000 liters). Tika Dai makes sure the tanks are cleaned (about once a year), pumps the water from tank to tank (when the electricity is on), and calls the tanker truck for deliveries (about once every two weeks). Gardening work is plentiful and Tika Dai singlehandedly completes it (cuts the grass with a non-motorized cutter, trims trees and bushes, cares for the veggie patches, sweeps fallen leaves, waters the plants, etc). The list of items that need maintenance goes on and on – but thankfully Tika Dai seemingly effortlessly manages all.

* Cooking — My cooking work has been cut in half! Sonu prepares lunch (for me, her and Tika Dai) and dinner (for Prakash, the kids and me) Monday through Friday. I only take care of breakfast on weekdays and all meals on weekend. Usually, she prepares a typical Nepali meal (rice, lentils and curried vegetables), but once in a while she mixes it up – pasta, fried rice, noodles, chole-puri (curried garbanzo beans and fried bread) and even homemade pizza! Also, baking has become weekly entertainment for all of us – banana bread, peanut butter cookies, date cake and peanut butter ladoos!

I’m sure you are wondering how much we pay Sonu and Tika Dai… First, I’ll tell you that they are well paid as compared to others holding similar jobs in Kathmandu. They, and all others who do this kind of work, do make ends meet but do not have many luxuries in life. Sonu earns the equivalent of $140 USD per month and Tika Dai earns the equivalent of $190 USD per month. Unfortunately, the cost of labor in Kathmandu and most of the developing world is appallingly low. These drastically low rates leave me with mixed feelings. On the one hand, it is great to have happy employees who are relatively satisfied with their earnings, but on the other hand, it is difficult to digest that we live in the same city and they have to survive on their meager Nepali Rupee salary while we enjoy a salary in US Dollars.

I’m sure you are also wondering what I must be doing with my time. I have no job, very little house work to do, my kids are in school full-time, so what do I do?!? It is a blessing to have so much free time and I’m thoroughly enjoying myself – here is a summary of my activities:

* Exercise — I have never been so fit in my life! In addition to the Tuesday mountain bike rides with other British School parents, weekly, I run twice a week and walk twice a week. These coupled with cycling as our new mode of transportation, I feel super fit, energized, and healthy.

* Nepali Class – attending Nepali language classes is very enjoyable and has enabled me to effectively communicate with Sonu and Tika Dai, in addition to shop keepers, taxi drivers, and other locals I meet. I’ve become the household “translator” – the kids and Prakash use my basic skills to communicate in Nepali!

* CSGN – I am keenly interested in learning about Nepal, Nepali people and culture. The Cultural Studies Group Nepal organizes informational lectures, discussions, walks and studio tours about three times per month. Attending these events has been very enjoyable and educational. From December, I joined as a Board Member and have enjoyed planning and organizing various CSGN events.

* Computer work – I aim to write blog posts, catch up on email, and keep in touch with friends and family while the kids are at school.

* Crochet – A hip and happening group of foreign and local women get together weekly to crochet. Since January I joined the group and two beautiful seeds have bloomed since. Janani’s creativity and skills in crochet has grown and surpassed mine! And several of the ladies are having a go at starting a small business out of our creative spirits – we’ll see what happens!

* Volunteer Project – During our summer holidays in July, I visited an old friend, Ashok Rupner, from Pune, India. He now works with Dr. Arvind Gupta, Creating Toys out of Trash, and he asked if I can help them on a project. They have over 500 videos available for free on YouTube that aim to teach children about science through the creation of simple toys made from basic household items. They have dubbed these videos in numerous languages (Hindi, Marathi, Kanada, Tamil, Bengali, Gujarati, Malayalam, Telugu, Russian, Japanese, Spanish, French, Chinese, Korean, Uzbek, Tajik) aiming to share the knowledge with children all over the world. Ashok Sir asked me to work on dubbing the video scripts in Nepali! Since my Nepali is very rudimentary (and my accent isn’t authentic), I have found native speakers to work on this project with me. I’m looking forward to notifying rural schools in Nepal of this resource when we finish.

After all of these activities, I cycle over and get the kids at 2:30 or 3:30, depending on whether they have an after-school club. In the USA, I would be trying to juggle ~17 balls at once – preparing dinner, cleaning out containers from the kids’ lunch boxes, listening to each one about their day, mediating arguments between the kids, tidying up the constant tornado, helping with homework, reading paperwork sent home by the school, and playing with the kids too. Thankfully, a few of these balls are taken care of so now I’m able to focus more on being with the kids in the afternoons.

Evenings are about the same. Prakash gets home from work, kids eager to chat with him, evening crankiness and hunger set in, bath-time activities, bedtime reluctance – the dance all families do…

Yes, life in Nepal and the USA are hugely different. At this time, we are enjoying the positive aspects to life here (low cost house helpers; biking as a primary mode of transportation; warm, open nature of Nepali people; huge range of foreigners and expats). There are things I do miss occasionally (libraries; parks, green spaces and well-protected natural resources; traffic lights and civil driving habits; clothes dryer; 80-gallon gas water heater; central heating system). There are tradeoffs. I am blessed that we have the opportunity to experience both…

Surviving Winters in Kathmandu

We were warned by locals and seasoned expats that surviving winter in Kathmandu will be one of the toughest parts of this experience. I am a spoiled San Diegan, a true desert creature – I grew up in a climate where they said the local weatherperson had the easiest job in the world. It was consistently “sunny and 70°” almost all year around! I spent a decade in mild North Carolina where I got used to wearing a coat, gloves, scarf and hat in winter. I found winters difficult, but managed and eagerly anticipated the arrival of spring. Upon hearing the warnings for Kathmandu, I knew I was in for a BIG challenge. The difficulty here isn’t outdoor temperatures, but rather INDOOR temperatures. There is NO centralized heating in residences, schools, offices and most commercial establishments.

Winters here are significantly milder than conditions in latitudes and altitudes higher than here. These are the average stats:

• Outdoor daytime highs: 55 – 65° F (12 – 18° C)
• Outdoor nighttime lows: 32 – 40° F (0 – 4° C)
• Indoor daytime highs: 52 – 55° F (11 – 12° C)
• Indoor nighttime lows: 50 – 53° F (10 – 12° C)

I’ve had to readjust my lens of “normal winter behavior” to survive winters here. What is considered “normal” is so foreign from winter back home, but so ordinary here…
• I wear a ski hat, gloves, scarf, sweater and jacket all day long.
• I only bathe about 4-5 times per week because the bathroom is so cold and I don’t feel dirty or generate much sweat in between.
• I drink hot water instead of room temperature or ice water (as we did in the US).
• I sit outside in the sun for hours in the daytime. I make sure the laptop is charged up in advance, and sit outside with any work that is portable and can be done outside – soaking up the natural, reliable, consistent heat from the sun.
• I avoid going to the toilet unless absolutely required because the seat is so cold.
• Changing clothes (nighttime into pajamas or morning time into day clothes) is painful, like putting layers of iciness on top of my warm skin.
• Prakash and I usually sleep by 8 or 9pm because it is too cold to stay up chatting, watch a movie, or playing a board game.
• The floor in our house is so cold – it is uncomfortable walking barefoot or even with a layer of cotton socks. House slippers are a necessity in Nepal (outdoor shoes are not worn inside the house in Asia). Many people even come with their house slippers in tow when invited over to a friend’s house!

Kids getting ready for bed - footsie pajamas, woolen hats, fleece jumpers, and warm Nepali felt house slippers.

Kids getting ready for bed – footsie pajamas, woolen hats, fleece jumpers, and warm Nepali felt house slippers.

At the coldest point in winter, we could see our breath as we exhaled while inside the house, and steam emanated from the toilet while the boys did their business! We live in a 50 year old house with single pane windows with up to ½ inch gaps and wooden doorways with up to 1 inch gaps. Even the thickest of curtains block only some of the draft.

Ah, centralized indoor heating – what I currently miss most here in Nepal… Oh I remember the days I could walk over to the thermostat on the wall and adjust the gauge to 65, 70, or even 75°F (when I really wanted to warm up!) and the temperature would quickly adjust – I really miss that. Given that there is no central indoor heating, we have several other devices to keep us temporarily warm indoors:

• Our family’s current best friend is our wood stove… Now, I understand why SO many locals’ jaws dropped in awe when we mentioned that our house has a wood stove (not a common feature). We can temporarily heat our formal dining room (aka eating room, sitting room, playing room, computer room, work room, nap room… we do everything in here except sleep at night!) up to 80° F (26° C) ! Toasty, warm, temporary bliss… Firewood is relatively plentiful because in the last few months, Tika Dai trimmed several trees in our yard, removed a bamboo wood fence and dismantled an old dog house. We are slowly eating through our supply of burnable wood. In general, we light a fire at breakfast time for about ½ an hour and again at dinner for 1-2 hours. Prakash despises the smoke and pollution we are sending out, but takes comfort in the fact that it’s only for a couple months.

Sitting next to it now as I type this blog post!  The most effective indoor heating device, our wood stove.

Sitting next to it now as I type this blog post! The most effective indoor heating device, our wood stove.

• We purchased 3 gas heaters from the previous tenant of our house. However, at this time, we are not using any. Unlike in the West, there is no constant government supplied gas supply piped into each house or business. EVERY residence and business uses large, heavy gas cylinders and changes them out as the supply depletes. Every winter Kathmandu suffers from a gas shortage. Midway through the season, poor families who have run out of gas turn to kerosene for cooking. It is nearly impossible for the average person (i.e., one without personal connections) to get a cylinder of gas at this time. To meet the extreme spike in demand in wintertime, there simply isn’t enough supply (it maybe actual supply or what the government chooses to provide… however, that is another topic). Given the extreme shortage, we don’t use gas for heating the air. We do use gas for cooking and heating water for bathing (solar heated water is tepid during winter, but I like REALLY hot water and am willing to splurge for it!).

Truck getting loaded with gas cylinders - people hold their's in queues for days, sometimes weeks!

Truck getting loaded with gas cylinders – people hold their’s in queues for weeks!

• One of the 3 gas heaters we purchased is dual-featured and runs on electricity, too. This is our family’s second most prized possession at the moment. It has 3 parallel rods and can heat a closed room up to a comfortable 65 degrees (18 °C). All 5 of us are sharing the single bedroom where this heater is located. The main issue in using this heater is that, in Kathmandu, the government supplies electricity for only ~12 hours per day during winter. If there is no electrical current, our invertor/battery system can power the lights, computer, TV, refrigerator and wall outlets. However, heating devices (electric heaters, irons, hair dryers) cannot be powered. We hear a BEEP when the electricity switches on and off – either excitement or disappointment follow each of these beeps 4 times a day.

Our electric heater - kept in the bedroom as much of the night, the electricity is on and we can use it!

Our electric heater – kept in the bedroom as much of the night, the electricity is on and we can use it!

• We purchased a few hot water bottles before coming to Nepal. Locals recommended placing them underneath the bed covers about an hour before sleeping to alleviate the pain of entering an icy cold bed. We tried it for a day or two, but simply weren’t organized enough to boil the water, fill the bottles, go upstairs and place at least 5 of them (one for each of us) in our beds – and getting all of this done around dinnertime.

The streets of Kathmandu are noticeably different during winter too. Shops are now inundated with warm-weather-gear. Every morning and evening, lower-income residents light fires in front of their homes and shops and in vacant lots. Burning everything from wood and dry leaves to egg cartons and newspaper, the air fills with a thick smoke. Although early mornings are the best time to walk or jog in the absence of vehicle traffic, the pollution that has built up overnight creates toxic unpleasant conditions (later in the morning, afternoons and evenings are better times to exercise outdoors).

Puffer jackets, and anything you can imagine made from fleece or wool -- jumpers / sweaters, shawls, scarfs, hats, gloves, wrist warmers, leg warmers, socks, pants... the list goes on and on...

Puffer jackets, and anything you can imagine made from fleece or wool — jumpers / sweaters, shawls, scarfs, hats, gloves, wrist warmers, leg warmers, socks, pants… the list goes on and on…

Prakash finds the ICIMOD building quite cold too, where a central heating system exists but operates very infrequently. The late mornings are pleasant as the sun shines through his office window for a few hours, but gets very cold in the afternoons and evenings. When Prakash’s fingers get too cold to use the keyboard, he exhales on them, rubs them vigorously, and occasionally visits the bathroom to use the hand dryer. There are gas heaters scattered throughout the building, but he opted not to get one for his office. The conference rooms are SO cold that they often have meetings up on the terrace in the full sun! The cafeteria dining area is also frigid, so they eat on the roof terrace. His morning commute is reminiscent of the early spring in North Carolina, with temperatures in the 40s (< 10°C). He wears a balaclava mask, thermal leggings, and lobster gloves. His evening commutes are in complete darkness (streetlights are rarely operational), so he has a flashing red tail light, handlebar headlight, and fluorescent reflective jacket to make himself more visible.

In the kids’ school, each classroom has one gas heater. Thankfully, The British School has access to sufficient gas to keep the kids warm at school. Overall, our kids have dealt with the cold very well… they seem more immune to small adjustments in temperature than I am – they live in the present and are able to focus on their current activity and remain unaware of their cold fingers or ears.

Janani wearing a "head warmer" I crocheted for her.  She also learned and made a few more!

Janani wearing a “head warmer” I crocheted for her. She also learned and made a few more!

We often feel like this is one long CAMPING trip. It has been a true challenge although we have acclimated well. The other day, I was reading in our unheated living room after the kids went to bed and looked up at the clock (thermostat read 55° F / 13° C) and was taken aback at how oddly comfortable it felt.

One of the coldest mornings this winter - 50.9 degrees Fahrenheit in our upstairs living room.

One of the coldest mornings this winter – 50.9 degrees Fahrenheit in our upstairs living room.

Keep this in consideration when you plan your visit to Nepal… We’ll visit YOU at Christmas time and ya’ll can come here during a different season!

Preparation for our FIRST trek in the Himalayan Mountains

Trekking the majestic Himalayan Mountains was one of the sweetest fringe benefits to our new location in the Kathmandu Valley — so thankful that Prakash works at ICIMOD and we live in this amazing little corner of the planet! In Nepal, there are two distinct trekking seasons — October-November and April-May — avoiding the frigid winters and wet monsoons. Needless to say, I am thrilled that our first trekking season is soon approaching…

It took us a while to make the main decisions: which range to visit (Annapurna Range out of Pokhara or the Langtang Valley out of Syabrubesi; we are not ready for the extreme elevations in the Everest Region), how long of a trek to execute (4 – 9 days), and whom to trek with (friends and relatives from India, just the five of us, or with local friends). The final plan is the Poon Hill trek in the Annapurna Range for 5 days with six other British School families!

Our family has hiked for about two years (of course, Prakash and I have enjoyed hiking for decades). It kicked off while preparing our 7, 5 and 3 year old children for a summer trip to Telluride, Colorado. We’ve been hiking as a family ever since. But we’ve never trekked, or backpacked, or done any sort of grueling exercise for several days in a row. So with 6 weeks until our trek, we started preparing! Our aim was to walk 8-12 kilometers at a stretch each weekend. Since even the tail-end of the monsoon season brings hoards of leeches to the hillsides, we opted for urban walks instead. It doesn’t offer the exact feel of trekking, but gives our legs the experience of being stood on for hours at a time. Let’s kill two birds with one stone, we thought, and walk to some of the local tourist sites we haven’t yet visited…

Pashupati Nath Temple (Aug 10): Our first walk – Prakash and I were excited! From the kids, there was a mixture of confusion (why exactly are we doing this?), reluctance (do we have to do this?), mild enthusiasm (we’ll be in the mountains soon!), and crankiness (I feel like crying and complaining and there is nothing you can do to change my mind!). Prakash studied Google Maps in detail the night before and had our route precisely chalked out – maximizing distance on smaller lanes and alleys and minimizing distance on larger, noisier, more polluted roadways. We were off, with 2 fanny packs (bum bags), 3 water bottles, a few snacks, and over a dozen pieces of candy (our version of Scooby Snacks – after every 45 minutes, a sweet reward awaits each child). One of the neat aspects of “urban walks” is getting unique glimpses of Nepali culture.

Here a young Nepali boy is offering blessings and a thread to those who approach him - perhaps he is in training to become a priest.

Here, a young Nepali boy is offering blessings and a thread to those who approach him – perhaps he is in training to become a priest.

This is the main gateway into the Pashupati Nath Temple.

This is the main gateway into the Pashupati Nath Temple.

Three long hours later, we finished 8.5 kilometers and reached Pashupati Nath temple, along with a thousand or so other folks – it was SO crowded! This is one of the most famous Shiva temples in the world. After checking out the major spots, we caught a taxi to the kids favorite pizza restaurant, Roadhouse Cafe. Famished, we guzzled down all they served then slowly completed the remaining 3 kilometers back home. Overall, a successful walk!

Swayambhunath Temple (Aug 17): Often, knowing what to expect is half the challenge… The kids did remarkably better on the second hike: less uncertainty and more willingness. Also, by this point, Prakash strategically offered a challenge to the kids — after walking a total of 1000 kilometers (approximately 333 kms for each child), they’ll earn a Wii (we are REALLY stingy when it comes to electronics in the house) — large payoff led to enthusiastic little legs!

Approaching the Kathmandu Darbar Square, we saw a marching band comprised of percussion instruments played by high school age children.

Approaching the Kathmandu Darbar Square, we saw a marching band comprised of percussion instruments played by high school age children.

An uncommon sight -- a poster at the Kathmandu Darbar Square encouraging people to not litter.

An uncommon sight — a poster at the Kathmandu Darbar Square encouraging people to not litter.

Few bits and pieces remain at this children's playground -- in the west we are blessed with amazing facilities for little people...

Few bits and pieces remain at this children’s playground — in the west we are blessed with amazing facilities for little people…

Prakash and the kids in front of 3 golden Buddha statues.

Prakash and the kids in front of 3 golden Buddha statues.

After climbing the 365 stairs to the top of the temple, interacting with the dozens of monkeys and walking the parikrama (circle) around the hill, we completed shy of 7 kilometers. All were eager for the taxi ride to a local sandwich shop, Cafe Soma, for lunch. After the walk home from the restaurant, we completed 9.5 kilometers – with almost no crying, whining or complaining!

Boudhanath Temple (Aug 24): This is the location of the largest stupa in Asia! A stupa is a large white dome and is a common element at Buddhist temples. Numerous interesting sights and experiences awaited us along this 9 kilometer walk.

We crossed the river along an old, narrow, wooden pedestrian bridge.  Low and behold, after we walked over, a motorcycle daringly went across the 2-foot-wide, rickety passage!

We crossed the river along an old, narrow, wooden pedestrian bridge. After we walked over, a motorcycle daringly went across!

Resting in the shade and gazing at the tip at our final destination about 1-2 km away.

Resting in the shade and gazing at the tip at our final destination about 1-2 km away.

Here, we are standing at the first elevated level of the stupa.

Here, we are standing at the first elevated level of the stupa.

At the restaurant, Prakash approached a local strumming on his guitar.  They jammed together singing U2, James Blunt and Adele!

At the restaurant, Prakash approached a local strumming on his guitar. They jammed together singing U2, James Blunt and Adele!

Since we ate at one of the numerous adjacent restaurants, we taxied straight home. All in all, a great walk!

Seto Ghumba (Aug 30): Tika Dai was impressed with our weekly rendezvous and was suggesting other destinations that are off the beaten path. Seto Ghumba (White Monastery) is one of the most famous Buddhist Monasteries in Kathmandu. It is only open to the public one of the seven days each week (I checked online and learned that Saturday was the day for visitors). He was excited that we took his advice to visit Seto Ghumba and asked if he could join us – what a treat for us! Not only did he teach us various tidbits about Nepali culture along the way, he also carried Sumanth anytime he felt tired.

A massive river cleanup effort by the Nepal Army, Police and local students - unfortunately, the rivers here are used more as dumping grounds than special resources that need protection.

A massive river cleanup effort by the Nepal Army, Police and local students – unfortunately, the rivers here are used more as dumping grounds than special resources that need protection.

We crossed paths with over 700 people on a religious parade - Tika Dai swiftly elevated Sumanth so he wouldn't get swallowed by the crowd while I had my hands on Janani and Sajjan.

We crossed paths with over 700 people on a religious parade – Tika Dai swiftly elevated Sumanth so he wouldn’t get swallowed by the crowd while I had my hands on Janani and Sajjan.

Buddhist nuns and monks shave their heads and wear robes of mustard and maroon.

Buddhist nuns and monks shave their heads and wear robes of mustard and maroon.

This monastery is in the process of expansion and we peaked at the unfinished upper levels - amazing statues and intricate paintings!

This monastery is in the process of expansion and we peaked at the unfinished upper levels – amazing statues and intricate paintings!

This walk was the most representative of trekking as we climbed over 1100 feet in elevation. Unfortunately, just the previous week the visitation day was changed from Saturday to Sunday – it was closed! However, another beautiful Buddhist monastery near the top of the hill was open, and that became our final destination. Thankfully we found an available taxi that took us to our favorite (and the only) Mexican restaurant in the KTM Valley, The Lazy Gringo. After the walk home, we completed 12 kilometers – all were proud, happy and tired :-).

Chobar (Sept 7): All six of us had a ball together last week, so Tika Dai joined us again. This week’s walk was to the top of Chobar mountain and back – no taxi required. It rained quite a bit the night before which resulted in 1) spectacular views of the snow-capped Himalayan foothills (our camera simply doesn’t do justice, but the glimpses of the icy peaks are heavenly), and 2) very muddy pathways! We had biked to Chobar before on the straight forward roads, so this time, Prakash wanted to take a more scenic path along the river. We saw quite a few interesting things along the way.

There were several massive recycling centers along the riverside where plastics and glass are collected then trucked to India for processing.

There were several massive recycling centers along the riverside where plastics and glass are collected then trucked to India for processing.

The temple at the top of Chobar Hill has intriguing iron and brass decorations - a relatively costly kitchen item is given to the temple in the memory of recently deceased family member and nailed to the facade.  The tradition has been going on for years therefore thousands of plates, bowls, spoons, pots and other kitchen are visible.

The temple at the top of Chobar Hill has intriguing iron and brass decorations – a relatively costly kitchen item is given to the temple in the memory of a recently deceased family member and nailed to the facade. The tradition has been going on for years therefore thousands of plates, bowls, spoons, pots and other kitchen wares are visible.

We convinced the kids that we didn’t need a taxi to transport us the remaining few kilometers and eventually made it to a Nepalese restaurant near home. After several Cokes, Fantas, Sprites and plates of chow mein and momos, we walked home completing 11 kilometers.

Unfortunately, it rained most of last weekend so our walk didn’t transpire. The tentative plan for this weekend is a 10 kilometer walk to Kirtipur, a small village at the southwest edge of the Kathmandu Valley. And that will round out the preparation for our trek. I’m really looking forward to seeing grand mountain views, meeting rural Nepali folks, walking along the age-old seasoned paths, breathing clean pollution-free air, and enjoying our first-ever trekking experience…

Found new meaning for a “rainy day”

— Written by Prakash

Growing up in California, it was impossible not to notice a cloudy day let alone a rainy one. My first memories of the downside to rainy days are from swimming competitions. During rainy swim meets, I could never set a personal best. Years later, I remember when my older brother returned from his first year of college in Pittsburgh and told me of the gloom he felt after not seeing the sun for several weeks in a row that past Winter. It was something we’d never experienced. On my summer evening commutes from Novato to Berkeley, I recall the daily crossing of Richmond Bridge – leaving the blue skies of Marin County in my rear-view mirror and entering the cloudy East Bay. What a drag!

These early experiences alerted me of the psychological impact that clouds and rain can have. I later learned that my personal experiences are affirmed by scientific studies of nightshift workers who miss the sun and non-natives of the Arctic Circle who decide to live there for a winter. Now in Kathmandu, I have a heightened awareness to the physical effects of clouds and rain. By comparison to other parts of South Asia, the summer monsoon in KTM is pretty mild. But occasionally, we’ll have a string of rainy days without a trace of blue sky in between.

For our family, two consecutive cloudy days results in getting no hot water at home because we rely exclusively on solar power for water heating. We also rely on the sun and wind to dry our clothes, so a couple days of rain can result in a severe laundry backlog. For me individually, rainfall equates to an extra slow and wet commute to/from the office. After the rain, most of the roads are muddy so those post-rainfall rides have me speckled with dirt by the time I reach my destination.

An average KTM lane after the rain, submerged in muddy puddles

An average KTM lane after the rain, submerged in muddy puddles

Of course, these consequences can be avoided. We could purchase a gas- or electric-powered water heater, and even a fan-assisted clothes dryer. Catching a taxi to work on rainy or muddy days is also well within my means. But for most KTM residents, the negative consequences of clouds and rain have to be faced.

The outdoor washroom of our lower-income neighbors, with clothes drenched from last night's rain

The outdoor washroom of our lower-income neighbors, with clothes drenched from last night’s rain

A lone fruit vendor longing for some customers on this rainy morning

A lone fruit vendor longing for some customers on this rainy morning

 A homeless man takes shelter while eating his morning meal

A homeless man takes shelter while eating his morning meal

These images flashed through my mind all evening long. I feel grateful for the lukewarm bucket bath which cleansed my face and legs of mud spots, for the wardrobe full of clean and dry clothes that are sure to outlast this rainy episode, and for the roof over our heads as we fall asleep tonight.

We moved!!!

WOW!  This was one of the smoothest, most effortless moves we have ever executed…  Largely because our belongings (clothes, books, toys, kitchen items, bathroom items and few electronic items) currently fit within 13 suitcases and a dozen small reusable bags; we also have 5 bicycles, but at the moment, we have NO furniture, cars, or any cardboard boxes!  During our six previous moves, Prakash and I have never had so few items to move.  Yes, we did downsize tremendously, but the majority of our remaining belongings are in an air shipment on its way to Nepal; it contains 60 cardboard boxes, 1 queen size bed and 1 rocking chair (a family favorite we’ve had since Janani was born, none of us felt like parting with it).

I was able to pack up our belongings in less than 1 day – record time for me!   Several people helped us on the day of our move (July 1) which made for extra smooth sailing… Ribika, the driver of our Dutch friends from ICIMOD, Flip and Houk, helped us with a mini-SUV.  Bharat (the body guard of our old landlord’s brother who is a Member of Parliment) and Tilak (a jack of all trades employee of our old landlord) helped load our heavy suitcases into the car.  We drove the short 1 mile distance to our new house and Tika Dai and Sonu Didi (our new house helpers) helped transferred the bags inside the house.  That’s it – within 2 hours, the move was complete!

This house however, is very EMPTY!  I did purchase over 2 dozen household and furniture items from the previous family, but it still looks like a blank slate.  We made a list of some initial necessary items (cleaning tools and fluids) and Ribika and I went to Bhat Bateni (our version of Super Target + Sears).  I stocked up on groceries too knowing that I didn’t have to cycle them back home.  By afternoon, I unpacked most of our belongings and brought the kids to our new home!

The rest of the week went by in a flash…  Getting acquainted with the new house, remembering where I put everything, figuring out which electric switches worked which lights, and packing for our trip to India (July 9 – 29).

Let me introduce Tika Dai and Sonu Didi – our family of 5 now feels like a family of 7!  Sonu Didi takes care of washing clothes (by hand and with a machine, hangs them up to dry, collects the clothes, irons and folds all), some cooking (all basic Nepali cuisine including lentils, curried vegetables, rice and salad), cleaning (floors, bathrooms, dusting).  She is enthusiastic, pleasant and pays attention to detail.  Tika Dai performs a wide variety of tasks including gardening, running errands, paying bills, cleaning large items, playing with the kids, making morning tea, and washing dishes.  His personality and work ethic are remarkable – always happy, content and ever ready to do any task swiftly, efficiently and effectively.  Neither speak English, so my Nepali is coming in very handy.

Here are a few highlights of the house from the kids:

A — Avocado trees — they are big and they have lots of avocados; they are small babies now but will be ready in a few months


B — Bamboo tree house — in our front yard, there is a tree house made of bamboo, but it isn’t a real tree house, because it isn’t attached to a tree


C — Chicken house — there were lots of chickens, but one day a cat came and killed them, so now it is empty; Tika Dai is going to clean and paint it for us as a play area


D — Dog — the dog always comes and sits on the front door porch ; the dog is very peaceful, friendly and quiet


E — Excellent sunlight — even in the rainy season, we get so much sun pouring into the house

F — Ferret — we’ve seen a fast, furry, brown ferret scurry around in the garde

G — Garden — the most mature, beautiful, abundant garden we’ve ever had – in addition to avocados, there is a huge veggie patch, lots of flowers, and many herbs


H — Hospitality — our house helpers make it feel almost like we are living in a hotel – cleaning, laundry, gardening, simple errands and some cooking are all taken care of

I — Internet — Aai uses the computer lots of times like for blog posts; the internet connection came really fast

J — Jumping from the Swings — in our garden there are two swings which we swing on and jump off of and we take turns swinging and jumping and it is really fun


K — Kitchen — the kitchen is very nice and even has a separate room for the pantry and fridge


L — Lizards — Janani and Aai saw a baby lizard one day behind the kitchen door

M — Mosquitoes — in our house, there are much less mosquitoes than there were in the apartment

N — Natural — there is no air conditioner or heating, just natural breeze from the many windows


O — O-Shaped Chair — when we cuddle, it is so big that 2 or 3 people can fit in the chair


P — Paintings on the Wall — it is a long line that is near the ceiling of the stairwell and it has vegetables, plants and trees on it


Q — Quiet Street — our house is on a very quiet street; there isn’t very much cars or motorcycles that go on it because it is a dead-end road


R — Room of beds — there are 3 beds in one room and we all 5 share 3 beds ; sometimes people even sleep on the yoga mat

S — Sonu Didi — she is nice, helpful, polite and gentle


T — Tika Dai — he is brave, strong, energetic, fun and always has a good attitude


U — Unfurnished — our house feels very empty because there is not much furniture and our shipment is yet to arrive

V — Very Old House — our house is very old; you can tell because the plants in the garden have grown so much


W — Windows — there are so much windows in our house and it is so much fun looking out


X — eXtraordinary House — we have a tree house, swing set, and a big garden

Y — Y-Shaped Tree — there is one tree in our garden that Janani is able to climb; it is a pine tree and is shaped like the letter Y


Z — Zig-zag stools — we have two colorful Nepali stools made out of bamboo with a zigzag design and a broken tire at their base


Hope you come visit soon!

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.

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)