Our Family “Gap Year”

Our three year adventure in Nepal will come to an end within days. It is bittersweet as we will dearly miss our colorful and nourishing life and friends, but we also are truly enthusiastic about the next step in our lives… Our family of five will take a GAP YEAR aiming to relax, de-stress, contemplate and just BE for some time :-). So… how did this peculiar idea take shape?!?

Prakash and I deliberated for months about our next life chapter – whether to extend his contract at ICIMOD for another year or two; if not, where to move next and which jobs to pursue; and more generally speaking – what aspects of life should we focus on next?

Life in Nepal has been absolutely phenomenal: amazing school with countless growth opportunities for the children and me too as an active parent and board member; slow-paced, high quality of life (cycling as primary mode of transportation; fresh, healthy and nutritious food; small town atmosphere; pleasant year-around climate) and excellent professional opportunities for both Prakash and me. Nepal isn’t a utopia, just like any other corner on this planet… there are trade-offs including the poor air quality, painfully cold indoor temperatures during winter, isolated location and the other usual difficulties with life in an undeveloped nation (limited resources, poor infrastructure and weak governance). In addition, Prakash struggled at his workplace to make meaningful contributions to the local and regional air quality.

Although Prakash and the kids felt they could live longer in Nepal, I prodded the clan to move onwards… My initial preference was to return to the USA, however, after Trump’s victory in the November election we hesitated. Also, Asia is just such an amazing place and once we repatriate to the USA, we most likely will not move back to Asia until all the kids are finished with high school. So, we sought out atypical options… Taking a bit of “time off” from life was a welcome idea for Prakash and for me. We could stay in Asia and wait out the initial months of the Trump administration. India seemed like an ideal option – our ancestral roots, close to many relatives and a very affordable place to live while not earning.

Our plan is certainly unorthodox, but one we feel will be enriching and enjoyable for the children and us. We will leave Nepal in May after Prakash’s contract finishes and move to Belgaum, a small city in northern Karnataka where Prakash’s parents and several of our relatives live. Neither of us will work and the kids will attend a local English-medium school. We’ll take some classes (finally learn to properly speak our mother tongue, Marathi!). Prakash plans to give more attention to his health and fitness. We’ll also travel around India, visiting places off the typical tourist path. Mainly, we will spend time reflecting and relaxing – low priorities in our hyperactive, accomplishment-focused society. We aim to take three to twelve months off and have faith that the next amazing opportunity will soon reveal itself.

We told our parents about our unusual plan and, thankfully, they were all very happy and supportive. The kids too, are eagerly anticipating our family gap year – being close to family, traveling to mango farms, cashew groves, sea sides and hilltops in rural India and experiencing a completely different school with children whom they otherwise wouldn’t have interacted with.

Recently, Prakash and I recognized that this “gap year” coincides with both our 40th birthdays.  We cannot think of a better way to celebrate this milestone year than by spending it with each other, our kids and relatives, reflecting and relaxing…

If you visit India soon, please pop over to Belgaum – we’d be happy to share a bit of our continued adventure with you :-).

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Let the adventure of LIFE continue… 🙂

Kathmandu Parks and Rec – Grassroots style

Over the last two months, I have been involved in an extraordinary project – one of the best experiences since moving to Nepal: playground redevelopment…

Nepal, like many developing countries, lacks adequate, public greenspaces. There are a few scattered throughout Kathmandu, but they are often inaccessible, ineffectively designed and poorly maintained. Having grown up and having raised children in the USA, I appreciated and enjoyed parks, playgrounds, walking trails and other greenspaces, totally taking them for granted until experiencing life here without.

My dear friend, Bahar, a first generation Indian-American from California now living with her Nepali husband and extended family here in Kathmandu, not only shared this sentiment with me, but was motivated to do something about it. Working with local governments who have limited resources can be ineffective, inefficient and frustrating beyond words. Instead, Bahar envisioned a collaborative, community-based initiative to revive an existing, dilapidated playground, one that she passed daily while dropping her children off at school.

Lamo Chaur Community Park has been a public greenspace for many decades. Some of the local community members even remember playing there when they were children. The park comprises four adjacent grassy lots, divided by private driveways, each with a small, peripheral chain-link fence. Adequate play equipment existed at some point, but when we began, only one corroded metal slide, one damaged but still used cement ping pong table and two small metal bars remained.

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Lamo Chaur’s first plot – the only one with remaining play equipment.

Shree Saraswoti Yuva Pariwar (SSYP), an active temple and community club, adjacent to Lamo Chaur, have historically looked after the park. This spring, Bahar approached them about collaboratively improving the space. As luck would have it, an energetic youth group, The Generation Green, also expressed interest in renovating the playground. Timing was perfect and all three groups agreed to collectively tackle this project!

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Archaic tools ; design and planning meeting ; teamwork from start to finish ; old sign.

Progress in Nepal usually happens slower than a snail’s pace, however, once this project began, the momentum was vibrant and contagious. Bahar started a public Facebook group to streamline communication between our large group (dozens of people from SSYP, a handful of students from the youth group, and several motivated people from the local expatriate community). She also entrusted her sister, Bhavna (a construction manager from Portland, Oregon currently living in Nepal on a 2-year “break from life” with her husband and 5-year-old son), with project management and I quickly became her sidekick, utilizing my broken knowledge of Nepali language and where to get things here in Kathmandu. Since our first meeting to brainstorm design ideas, the energy and enthusiasm kept multiplying:

Date Progress
8-May Initial design and planning meeting at the playground
11-May Dig out concrete of old play equipment, trim bushes, remove trash and yard waste
13-May Remove old metal slide
16-May Cut branches and trunks for balance beams and steping stumps (donated from our yard)
17-May Install swings and set wooden stepping stumps
20-May Build bamboo sandbox and first bamboo bench
23-May Install balance beams and fill sandbox
25-May Set tires and more stumps, hang swings, build second bamboo bench and sandbox canopy
26-May Set metal beams (reducing potential seismic damage from brick wall)
27-May Build bamboo planter bed and install three trash bins
28-May Build third and fourth bamboo benches and secure second-hand metal gate
1-Jun Purchase thatch material for sandbox canopy and additional tires
3-Jun Install thatch material, set monkey bars and prepare leftover bamboo for wind chimes
4-Jun Host “Family Fun Day”
6-Jun Repair and resurface cement ping pong table
8-Jun Build mud hill, install new slides and mount a nighttime flood light for security
10-Jun Build a bamboo barrier to protect the new flowers
11-Jun Spread gravel mulch in planter beds and around ping pong table

The resources to execute this project seamlessly came together. Bahar initiated a sale of her children’s old clothes and toys where all proceeds would go towards the playground. Several others chipped in their kids’ old things and we earned a few hundred dollars during the school garage sale. The Generation Green had a $750 grant from The World Wildlife Fund, Nepal which they fully put towards the project. As the momentum built, other local expats pitched in as well, bringing our pool of resources to $2600 USD, which in the developing world, is a HUGE amount of money!

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To get the kids involved in beautifying the space, we hosted a Family Fun Day — we painted leftover bamboo and created wind chimes, planted over 100 new plants and made reusable plastic coke bottle planters — HUGELY fun and successful day!

We stretched the budget as far as possible, using supplies and expertise wisely! The gymnastics elements of the playground (wooden stepping stumps, balance beams logs and monkey bar design) were crafted by Clare, an enthusiastic and amazing gymnastics instructor. The imaginative colors for the playground were craftily chosen by Theresa, a beautiful and successful fashion designer (Vintage Himalayas). And the plants and flowers were meticulously selected, purchased and planted by Caroline and her family – residents of the UK who are enjoying a 5 month sabbatical in Kathmandu. And Narayan, an eco-friendly builder (Rammed Earth Solutions) helped seismically secure the massive brick wall.

In addition, we used fairly inexpensive materials (bamboo, wire and junkyard treasures) and free supplies (old tires and donated wood and plants from private yards). We worked for free, yet paid the main laborers – mostly the underemployed gardeners and drivers who work with our expat families – a wage of $10 per day, plus lunch and drinks (considered generous per local standards). Our budget was completely exhausted after completing the first plot and new fundraising efforts will precede development of the rest of the park.

ITEM Approximate Cost (supplies + labor)
Family Fun Day Supplies

$30

Tires

$40

Ping Pong Table

$60

Monkey Bars

$140

Bamboo Benches

$150

Wooden Stumps

$170

Sandbox

$260

Mud Hill n Slides

$270

Site Development

$270

Swings

$330

Planters

$400

Seismic Wall

$480

TOTAL

$2600

Some of the challenges we faced are typical of parks in any urban area and others were to be expected in a developing country: petty vandalism, late night non-child-friendly activities and the perspective that expat financial support would never run dry. The morning after we set fourteen tires in the ground as a hopping caterpillar activity, all tires were removed and strewn about the site, dirt scattered everywhere. We persevered and reset the tires the next day. Beer bottles and other adult paraphernalia are sometimes left behind at nighttime – frequent efforts to clear these items occur. And lastly, the large economic gap between many locals and expatriates unsurprisingly gives the impression that financial resources are plentiful and unending. As long as the local community continues to give what they can and support with their time and energy, this shouldn’t be a significant issue. We will surely have more incidents in the future and as a unified community, we will address each one accordingly.

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Pure, simple enjoyment at the park — just doesn’t get much better…

The outcomes of this revitalized space have been simply magical. The main result – people are mixing! Now there is a space for kids from international schools, kids from premier private Nepali schools, and kids from government schools to all play together. They speak differently, dress differently and play differently, but now they interact and can slowly learn about one another. Similarly, a wide variety of adults – moms, dads, nannies, drivers, grandparents, college students, nearby shopkeepers and school teachers – all visit, sit in close proximity and coexist, regardless of economic class, ethnicity, caste, age, gender or other barriers. The playground has been rejuvenated for approximately one month now and hundreds of people have passed through. On any given evening, easily over 50 people are playing, talking, laughing and peacefully enjoying the space!

Celebrate

Extra special thank yous to Ram Krishna Dai and the SSYP club members; Samhita, Bishal and Deepak from The Generation Green, Team Pratik Pradhan ; the amazing Dais and Bhais — Gopal, Purna, Buddhi, Deepak, Krishna from Chitwan, Krishna from Sanepa, and especially Tika ; and Clare, Theresa, Caroline, Bhavna and Bahar!!

Please contact me if you’d like to be a part of developing Lamo Chaur Community Playground! Visit our Facebook page at Lamo Chaur Playground. We can use donated supplies, labor and enthusiasm from locals and financial support from friends abroad :).

Random Fun Facts

  • We had to put a gate and bamboo supports on the open passageway to prevent stray cows from coming inside the playground; although they make wonderful natural lawn mowers, their excrements in the lawn cause sticky, smelly problems!
  • On full workdays (as opposed to 3-4 hour work sessions), we would order chicken and veggie momos (steamed dumplings) from a very local eatery down the road and fill all bellies for about $1 per person!
  • We originally planned the first plot for children aged 2-5 and intended to ditch the crumbling ping pong table by building the mud slide hill over it. As the building slowly progressed and families visited more, it became apparent that Nepali children seem happy not to segregate themselves by age and that the ping pong table was a huge asset. We made some quick design changes, moved the balance beams and salvaged the ping pong table!
  • We painted the swings and monkey bars at the playground, after installing them into the ground – big mistake! Keeping the children off the equipment while we were painting and while the paint was drying was next to impossible. Next time, the metal elements will make a pit stop in our back yard to be painted then transported to the playground!
  • Using the help of secondary or college students, we hope to design and build a marble track on the seismic metal wall, using PVC pipes and wire.
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Final Product! Phase 1 of 4 complete.

Blog Comes Out of Hibernation

As we approach our two year anniversary living here in Nepal, I am determined to restart writing and actively reflecting on our experiences. Many of you have gently inquired, jokingly commented and sincerely missed our routine blog posts. The precise reason for the long gap is nearly impossible to pinpoint, but I’ll do my best to explain…

Year #1 in Nepal was blissful. All experiences, friends, incidents, sights, sounds and tastes were new and novel. It was the ‘honeymoon phase’. We were blessed with a smooth and seamless transition into life in Asia, thanks to an incredible school, supportive employer, devoted household helpers, cheerful friends and a relatively simple way of life (cycling as primary mode of transportation, fresh food diet and ‘it takes a village to raise a child’ atmosphere). Personally, delving into new activities like mountain biking and learning Nepali tremendously recharged me. Similarly, the kids thrived in school and picked up new hobbies (crochet, sitar, football / soccer and singing). And for Prakash, seeing and smelling a variety of air pollution sources every single day inspired his work at ICIMOD.

Year #2 has been strikingly different. The earthquake (April 25, 2015), our first home-leave visit as expats (July 2015) and unofficial embargo (September 2015 – February 2016) supplied us with countless challenges and growth opportunities…

The earthquake shook my whole world. My family, home, household helpers and close friends were all okay, but still I was shocked and paralyzed mentally and emotionally. Perhaps, it is like any other tragedy or life-altering challenge (natural disaster or accident, death of a loved one, divorce, parenthood), you never really know how you will truly ‘be’ in the situation until you actually experience it first-hand. The initial earthquake and the 450+ aftershocks simply threw my life out of balance, literally and figuratively. I stopped mountain biking, jogging and walking (felt disrespectful to tramp through areas of destruction for recreation), stopped learning (felt like now just isn’t the right time to enrich myself when neighbors are suffering with inadequate shelter, food and water) and stopped writing (all reflections seemed like complaints).

Many of my thoughts resembled ‘survivors guilt’… we had power restored four days after the quake (others received power after several weeks), we received a tanker-truck delivery of water at our house five days after the quake (locals waited over two months for the government water supply to be restored), our house had a few cracks but was completely safe to live in (millions of people were displaced from their homes), and our kids’ school reopened four days after the quake (local schools reopened after more than two months). We had SO much to be thankful for, yet I still felt tremendously saddened. In that state of mind, writing and reflecting just didn’t come naturally to me.

Two months after the earthquake, we made our first visit back home since moving abroad. I didn’t realize how mentally, emotionally and physically difficult a trip home could be. We jam packed our four-week visit primarily with seeing all our loved ones and purchasing essentials and nonessentials unavailable in Nepal. The nonstop schedule coupled with living out of a suitcase explained the physical difficulties. The mental and emotional adversities are a bit harder to describe. It felt very odd – like we had never left the USA, but mentally we knew we’d be returning to Nepal in just a few days. It was almost like an illusion for our hearts and minds. So much warmth, familiarity and coziness of our past life that we get a snapshot of, a quick taste, a short glimpse… Bittersweet it truly was…

And lastly, the bizarre political climate in Nepal over the last eight months also contributed to our blog hibernation. In September, Nepal adopted its first Constitution. Some northern states of India, where many Nepalis now live, were unhappy with particular clauses in the constitution due to inadequate representation of those living in the Terai or the lowlands of Nepal. Within days of the inauguration of the constitution, the border between India and Nepal closed. Petrol, diesel, LPG (cooking fuel), medicines and most atypical items that would normally have been delivered into the country by truck became scarce. Food supplies, surprisingly, remained fairly normal, however prices did increase.

The country was paralyzed all over again. After picking up the pieces post-quake, this was the last challenge most people and businesses were ready to deal with. Queues for gasoline lasted days; lines of parked cars littered roadways near all petrol pumps. Traffic subsided for a short while as people had no choice but to reduce their driving. However, after the black market kicked into high gear, traffic was back to normal (a 100npr liter of petrol sold for 400npr, equivalent to $14 per gallon, and a 1600npr cylinder of cooking fuel sold for up to 9000npr).

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A hugely common sight, fuel being syphoned into a vehicle using bottles, cups, tubes, canisters — anything that could hold or transfer liquid!

Lack of diesel for generators caused problems in hospitals, schools, businesses and homes. And the lack of cooking fuel made people resort to burn anything in order to cook. Those who couldn’t get gas, kerosene or firewood, ate beaten rice, a common product that doesn’t require cooking.

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Queues of empty plastic containers and their owners waiting for hours and sometimes days for kerosene. LPG or normal cooking fuel, was and still is in very short supply.

Many restaurants closed down because they had no cooking fuel. Those restaurants that could remain open created ‘Temporary Menus’ eliminating those items from the original menu that take too long to cook. Last but not least, surviving the cold indoor temperatures (~ 50 – 55 degrees Fahrenheit) with no LPG gas really made many feel like we had reached ‘rock bottom’.

For us, the closed borders caused discomfort and frustration, but our basic needs were still always met.

  • After waiting three hours in a petrol queue in early November, I successfully managed to get twenty liters of petrol. And in February, Prakash received ten liters from ICIMOD. How we spread eight gallons over five months is mind-boggling even to me! We just stopped driving our car regularly… therefore didn’t use the car for errands or go out of the valley for our usual weekend hike or outing. We also avoided traveling within the country out of fear of inability to return home because of empty fuel tanks or canceled flights. In early March, I was able to get 35 liters of fuel… it felt like I just won the lottery! (We didn’t feel comfortable purchasing fuel on the black market because contributing to the corruption was unappealing and we had other available modes of transportation – walking, cycling and the ICIMOD bus for Prakash to get to/from work).

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    The peaceful chaos near the petrol pump while I was sitting in the queue – dozens of cars, hundred of motorcycles and scooters and unlimited people waiting and watching.

  • We changed our cooking habits minimizing the use of gas (less chapattis, dosas, pizza or anything baked and more quick-cooking rice and lentils). At the peak of the crisis, we cooked rice and lentils outdoors using firewood and tea and vegetables were prepared on an electric induction cook stove. Gas was used at most once weekly for chapattis.

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    Sonu, our house helper, is preparing curried garbanzo beans. Thankfully, we have plenty of firewood because our yard is large and has several trees.

  • We have two electric space heaters that we used when the electricity was on. We also have a woodstove in our dining room which we would use in the evenings for an hour or two. The high levels of emissions from the wood burning prevented us from burning more frequently.
  • To maximize body heat, we all slept in the same room. We placed one queen-size bed and two twin-size beds pushed together (equivalent of a king-size bed) in our smallest room. Each night it was like a game of ‘musical chairs’ to see who sleeps in which spot! A mountain of fleece, down and flannel blankets kept us reasonably warm throughout the night.
  • Bathing was difficult. The air in the bathroom was very cold and the solar-heated water just wasn’t very hot. In many parts of the world, bathing is a daily ritual. Not the case in wintery Nepal… It just isn’t necessary or practical. While bathing, it was so cold that steam emanated off our bodies just like steam from a hot cup of tea! We’d generally bathed once or twice per week… that is it.

Overall, circumstances tried our patience so much, we started strategizing how we could leave this country as quickly as possible (the opening of the border and thawing winter temperatures have alleviated our urgent desire to escape)!

But… Surprisingly… Nepalis generally handled the embargo with significant peace and patience. Embarrassingly, our family who enjoys tremendous expat privileges, seemed more frustrated and unhappy about our circumstances than many others. In general, people were upset, but in a peaceful manor. Lessons this amazing country taught us in the last few months – graceful acceptance and undying gratitude – will hopefully stay with us lifelong.

The borders officially reopened in February yet supplies are taking time to restore to normal levels. Another lesson we learned early on here in Nepal – things take time! Our standard American values of diligence, timeliness, punctuality and efficiency just doesn’t translate here.

I must also mention the basic human tendency of ‘habit’. I simply fell out of the habit of writing and actively reflecting. The momentum required to restart a good habit is so much greater than that required to continue an existing one. Our imminent two-year anniversary living here in Nepal is the driving force to revive the blog…

Thus, a lengthy explanation for the hibernation of Five in the Foothills and a hope that Year#3 brings several new flavors to this grand adventure…

Nepal Earthquake 2015 in Sanepa, Lalitpur

It was a lazy, grey, Saturday morning at our home in Sanepa. Prakash was traveling in some villages in Nepal from Tuesday to Friday, was very tired and wanted to take it easy. We contemplated going out for lunch and watching a movie in the evening, or having a simple lunch at home and going out for dinner. The second option won the family vote… thankfully.

Prakash was half asleep in our living room on the sofa. Janani and Sumi were playing on the floor with legos. Sajjan was cuddling up with Prakash. I was in the kitchen, getting started with lunch prep, but in the process of writing a text message on my phone which was resting on a narrow table we keep our water filter on. The “bati gayo beep” (electricity ON / OFF signal) just went off and immediately, the narrow table started slowly rattling. In my mind, I thought, “why is the bati gayo / electricity making our table shake?” As the seconds passed and the shaking increased, I started walking over to Prakash in the living room. The confusion quickly turned into intense fear. Barely able to walk on the shaking floor, I hobbled to the landing between our dining room and living room. Sumanth and Janani and I crouched down and I covered them as best as I could. In Sajjan’s words, “Baba went flying off the sofa and I went with him”. They crouched down in the living room. I was screaming loudly and was VERY scared. Janani and Sumanth reacted to my fear and were crying uncontrollably. Prakash, having experienced three California earthquakes was calm and was holding quiet little Sajjan tightly. It went on and on… The shaking got worse, then finally subsided. My first thought, “let me call Tika Dai!” I called twice and couldn’t get through. We then walked quickly out of the house into our front yard. Our brick privacy fences had all crumbled – but our house and all neighboring houses were still standing! The landlord and his family (our neighbors) came out into the yard too – we were all shocked, stunned, and at a loss for words. We were huddling at our picnic table trying to calm ourselves and the children and the first aftershock came (minutes from the major quake); the landlord’s house helper asked us to not sit near the trees, but come to the open grass area in the landlord’s yard. We waited for well over an hour with about 1 dozen people in the yard. My phone rang, and I was so gratefully to hear Tika Dai’s voice on the other end. He was with a friend in Kathmandu, but was ok.

The landlord’s family was glued to their portable radio listening to the Nepali radio – my Nepali is pretty good, but I could only understand bits and pieces of it (poor sound quality, fast dialogues, vocabulary that I haven’t learned yet). However, the earth was still. Hunger soon crept into all bellies and we ventured into the house to muster up a very quick lunch. We were eating at the table and Tika Dai’s voice broke the silence, “Hello Madam!” He hugged Prakash and in tears told us, “Kathmandu katham bhayo / Kathmandu is finished”. Our hearts sank… He cycled home through destruction, rubble and crowds of crying people. Devotedly, he came to make sure our family was okay before checking on his own…immeasurable sense of duty. We sent him off to his family’s house about 0.5 kilometers from our home, and thankfully, they too were all okay (later that evening we got a call from Sonu and her family was also okay). He came back inside and asked us to take our lunch outside, it just isn’t safe inside, he insisted. We fearfully followed his advice and went back to the landlord’s yard. The Nepal Government, via radio, urged all people to STAY OUTSIDE. This guidance stretched from 12 to 48 to 72 hours.

Aftershocks kept coming. But sitting still, in a garden or elsewhere, for children is just not possible (who are we kidding, we adults are equally restless). The kids were playing with other neighborhood kids. So much of their conversations had the words “earthquake, aftershock, shaking, scary” in them. We place a half-full water bottle on the ground and were literally staring at it – when an aftershock came, the water would shake. Sometimes we’d feel it first, sometimes we’d see the water shaking first. Many times, we felt like the ground was shaking (vertigo or seasickness feeling) but it really wasn’t. We’d intermittently run into the house – to use the bathroom, get something out of the playroom, get something from the kitchen – but immediately came back outside. Phone connectivity was very poor, all electricity was out, but our internet connectivity was strong (charged by our invertor). We were so grateful.

Our garden has several very tall trees. Prakash adamantly felt we’d be safer sleeping in our home than out of it. We argued for a bit, Janani and I really wanted to listen and do what the masses are doing. Prakash wanted to be smart and do what was best for our family. His arguments were that the main earthquake is over (no matter what the numerous rumors suggested), potentially unstable trees falling on our tent could be worse, and our house walls are over 15 inches thick and it seemed / is much sturdier than the average house in Kathmandu. He won and we slept inside, but the kids and I insisted that we sleep downstairs in the living room (close to the front door and with no second story above our heads) instead of upstairs in our bedrooms.

We opened our doors to others. Tika Dai’s daughter just had a baby about 10 days before the earthquake. I suggested that she and the baby sleep inside our house instead of out in the open air. They initially accepted, but at 9pm discovered no feasible way to transport Rita and her baby to our home (motorcycle, bicycle and walking were all too uncomfortable for a new mom). Prakash also offered our home to the group of scientists he worked with in the villages. They were driving in their trucks a few hours from KTM while the quake hit, but managed to slowly travel into the city and made it back before midnight. Their hotel was initially closed, but opened in time for them to sleep there. In the end, just the five of us slept at home.

Needless to say, that first night was really really really long. We barely slept. During each aftershock (at least 4), I’d wrap my arms around our sleeping children and hold them near to me. Within seconds the shaking would stop and my blood pressure would gradually decline. I knew we were amongst the REALLY LUCKY ones – we had our lives, no injuries, food in our kitchen, water in our storage tanks, all extended family members and friends accounted for, and even internet connection to be in touch with those abroad! There was SO much death, pain, destruction, sorrow less than 1 kilometer from our house. Still, fear kept us awake most of the night.

Besides fear of severe aftershocks and a continuous vivid reel of the first quake playing through my mind, Prakash and I wanted to start mobilizing and trying to help those in need. We had food, shelter, water, family – our needs were satiated. Countless times, we’d be in our living room in the USA, watching CNN and wishing we could “be there to help” when mother nature released excessive amounts of energy elsewhere – and now we are HERE! And fully capable of helping given that our basic needs are satiated. On Sunday, we teamed up with our dear friends, Emily and Caleb Spear, from Portal Bikes, and gave it a go. Prakash and Caleb worked on getting more tarps to those needing shelter (a tarp suspended to create a “ceiling” with no walls provides decent protection from the rain and a bit of warmth from the 50 degrees low temperatures. As we are gradually realizing, connecting those in need with what they need is a slow process. A severe aftershock / second earthquake that afternoon swayed us enough to shift to sleeping in a tent in the yard. Feeling so grateful to still have our lives, no injuries, food in our bellies, and a tent to sleep in, we eventually feel asleep.

On Monday, our whole family ventured off to ICIMOD. We used our car for the first time (our brand new Ford EcoSport was delivered two weeks ago but we hadn’t used it because we haven’t received our license plate). We decided that now, it was worth using anyhow. The roads on this part of town are okay. They’ve all sustained several hairline cracks, but are very passable. Thankfully, the ICIMOD office sustained only a few minor cracks and the building was deemed safe to be in. A few employees and directors were there and met to discuss next steps. The directors offered Prakash the role of organizing efforts to assist a few nearby villages where ICIMOD already has a presence. Awesome! He has a green light to channelize ICIMOD staff and resources for relief efforts. After the meeting, we waited in a one hour long queue to fill gas into our car’s empty tank while the kids napped in the back.

Soon after arriving back home, the bati aayo beep sounded and power was restored! I was so surprised, anticipating a wait of days or maybe even weeks. Power was restored in about 48 hours – unbelievable. Again, we are lucky – many families do not have power yet (over 72 hours). The kids even watched a movie on our TV – I was just perplexed as to how “normal” our life is flowing while others in Kathmandu are dead, injured, homeless, hungry, thirsty, fearful, and desolate. I was enjoying our comforts but feeling like it is all a bit unfair. To add to this bias, we splurged, indulged and treated ourselves to a bucket bath. Feeling grimy, sweaty, smelly, I justified using some of our water reserves to bathe – felt totally guilty, selfing and indulgent, maybe it was even foolish, but it felt so good. All clean and no significant aftershocks, we decided to move back into the living room for the night.

Tuesday, ICIMOD officially opened its doors to employees. Prakash was the only employee on the staff bus this morning, whereas usually it is full! Both long-term and short-term planning meetings took place. Back at home, I was restless and wanted to mobilize. The kids, Tika Dai and I cleared fallen bricks and concrete from two privacy fences that were blocking half the roadway outside our home and our neighbors’ homes. It was a small insignificant task, but felt good to be doing something. Later on, we took the Spear family kiddos to our place so Emily and Caleb could more efficiently work on distribution of drinking water and educating locals on solar-based water purification methods.

Soon we are headed to school – it opens at 10am today (kudos to The British School!!).

This is just a small snapshot at our last few days. I know SO many of you are SO worried about us – sincerely thank you for your warm wishes and prayers. We are really just fine and so thankful and grateful for how mildly this massive earthquake affected our lives, home, neighborhood, school and work. It will forever be etched in our memories… the silver lining behind this dark cloud is bright for us. The next few weeks, months and perhaps longer, we will join the immense efforts to uncover others’ silver linings…

Vacationing at Two Ends of the Spectrum – Poor Developing Village and 5-Star Fancy Resort

Truly a unique experience… Primarily for the vast difference in the two places we vacationed in and secondarily for the difference in our family constitution…

We’ve never vacationed with only a subset of our family – just haven’t done it before, although we know many who have. But the children have far more days off of school than Prakash has days off of work. Determined to take advantage of the kids’ holidays and see more of this amazing country we now live in, I set off to find other travel companions! Two dear, kind, smart, thoughtful ladies, Pema and Bahar, recently entered my life and we hit it off early on. Brutally honest yet very caring and supportive – this describes the friendship that has blossomed just over the last 4 months. They too have husbands with limited time off work and eager children wanting to DO and SEE more on their holidays. For the first time, we 3 moms and 7 kids set off on a vacation leaving the dads behind. There was a hint of guilt (would he feel left out or mind us having so much fun without him?), but mostly anticipation and joy… Needless to say, our first vacation without the dads was a huge success because we formed a new “family-type-unit” and all members collectively took care of one another.

Our whole troup!

Our whole troup!

Vacationing in a luxurious 5-star resort surely also played into the successful holiday! Private endless pool, one villa with three spacious en-suite bedrooms (the bathroom was larger than our bedroom at home!), unlimited helpful staff (admiring and engaging our troop of munchkins, providing anything and everything we requested and more, along with radiating warmth and generosity), over the top meals (I think I ate enough for 3 people!), and entertaining, well-organized, amazing activities (elephant safari, canoe ride, bathing with elephants, ox cart ride, slide shows of nature in the jungle and cultural programs of village dance and music).

Cold river water splashed from an elephant's trunk - once in a lifetime experience!

Cold river water splashed from an elephant’s trunk – once in a lifetime experience!

Perhaps one of the best elements of the trip was how little we had to think or plan or organize – it was all done for us (I’ve heard cruise vacations are like this, we just haven’t experienced that before). Everything from meal times, meal item choices, activity times, activity choices – it was already planned out and decided, we just had to show up and enjoy! How simple and relaxing…

Such a neat experience to see wildlife atop an elephant!

Such a neat experience to see wildlife atop an elephant!

Before the kids and I met Bahar and Pema and their kids in Kasara Resort, the five of us – including Prakash – visited Tika Dai’s village. He is our house helper – he gardens, cleans, runs errands, plays with the kids and overall helps our lives operate smoothly and relatively effortlessly. His wife, one of his five children, his 2 brothers and their families, and his parents all live along one lane in a small village in the town of Meghauli in Chitwan. He graciously invited us to stay with them and see what village life is like.

The morning fog is intense in the Terai - doesn't lift until after 11am and significantly impacts crop yield, airport safety, drying of clothes, etc, etc, etc...

The morning fog is intense in the Terai – doesn’t lift until after 11am and significantly impacts crop yield, airport safety, drying of clothes, etc, etc, etc…

Day 1 of a two-day trip to his village was super-action-packed. After the six hour drive, we were welcomed by Ganga Didi and Hari (his wife and son). Quickly his nephews, brothers and sisters-in-law walked over to greet us too. We ate lunch then walked to his parent’s house just a few hundred meters away. Proximity AND independence – truly brilliant in my opinion… Since our Nepali is fairly cursory and their English is relatively nil, communication was limited but our emotions and sentiments were clearly conveyed – they were so happy that we took the time to visit them and their village and we were so happy to meet them and wanted to express our appreciation of the contribution their son makes to our family.  We listened to stories of how Tika Dai’s brother was attacked and killed by a tiger about 20 years ago and how another brother was attacked and severely injured by a crocodile about 10 years ago (he survived but has permanent brain damage).

Tika Dai's Mom, Dad and younger brother (the one who was attacked by a crocodile years ago).

Tika Dai’s Mom, Dad and younger brother (the one who was attacked by a crocodile years ago).

After a small stroll along the creek, we came back for a cup of tea. It was interrupted by an excited phone call from Tika Dai’s mom saying one of the female goats has started birthing her babies! The kids dashed over and we all got to witness birth in a village setting – a very natural, normal, non-sterile, everyday kind of happening. We were hurried off however, as an elephant ride had been reserved for us that afternoon. How amazing to see wild rhinos, crocodiles and deer within 1 mile of Tika Dai’s house – put into perspective how dangerous it can be to coexist with wildlife so close to home. We drove home, freshened up, ate in a flash and in no time about half the village came by for an enchanting evening of bhajans and music (devotional songs and a band composed of all village instruments – harmonium, dholak or drum, and several hand percussion pieces). Prakash sang for the first half and their “village singing group” sang the remaining. What a special, memorable, heart-warming evening…

Music session with villagers - what a special opportunity!

Music session with villagers – what a special opportunity!

All guests were offered a bit of fruits and tea and then they all slowly dispersed back to their homes. We sat and chatted a bit more with Tika Dai and his family – we were all on an emotional high, no one ready to end the enjoyable evening to go to sleep. I was amazed how much it felt like we were visiting family and not friends… Reminded me of fond memories visiting my grandparents and paternal uncle in their village each time we’d vacation in India.

Day 2 was short for Prakash. He enjoyed a long solitary morning walk, visited the 7 new baby goats, said his goodbyes to the whole family and was off to Kathmandu after lunch. The kids enjoyed exploring the house, playing on the swing and watching cartoons in Hindi on TV (yes, they had cable TV and enjoyed it while the electricity was on!). Later that afternoon, we went to the riverside – skipped stones, splashed and scared hundreds of frogs away! Tika Dai’s brother proudly took us around the village on his ox-cart – bumpy and slow, but a pleasant experience. The next morning, the kids and I said our final goodbyes and were off to the resort!

Clean water, stones, tadpoles and hours of fun by the creekside...

Clean water, stones, tadpoles and hours of fun by the creekside…

Two vastly different destinations, only 20 kilometers away from one another, both wrapped up in one vacation. So close geographically, yet so far in many other aspects… Both emanated warmth, generosity and care in their own ways. We are looking forward to visiting again next year – the villagers asked us to come annually as long as we still live in Nepal, to enjoy more evenings of blissfully divine music together :-).