Monday, December 31, 2012

Village Land Rights

Village Land Rights[1]
As a VSO volunteer I’ve been working, since July 2012, at Community Self Reliance Centre (CSRC), a Nepali NGO engaged in 53 Districts in the areas of land and agrarian reform, livelihoods and women’s empowerment.  The organisation implements a ground up philosophy, i.e. approximately 2400 Village Land Rights Forums (VLRFs)  feed into District Land Rights Forums (DLRFs), feeding into the National Land Rights Forum (NLRF) in Chitwan.  CSRC’s base is in Kathmandu, but the real action occurs at the village and district levels and staff are constantly in the field. 

Most recently I had the opportunity to visit with some land rights activists in Pravas, Palpa District.  The two women that I visited , and who hosted me along with their families, are the staff of the Palpa DLRF, working with approximately 22 VLRFs.   

I set out from Kathmandu with some other CSRC staff, a first major stop occurring in Rupandehi District where we attended a peaceful sit-in of at least 50 people, of all ages, who had recently been evicted from forestry land which they had inhabited for a number of generations.  It was a cool, overcast day and the people were sitting on a plastic tarp, many seemingly without very warm coverings.  As one member of our group spoke to the people in tones of solidarity, I wondered if they would be able to go back to their homes and land.  Unaware as to why these people were evicted, it was difficult to draw any conclusions.   But, in a country where there are many landless and tenant farmers, what really is the rationale for making people homeless?  Maybe the land was being occupied illegally, and setting some precedent would impact many, but if someone has occupied land for generations and has made it productive, why not let it be and/or assist people in making their occupation legal, possibly through a long term lease?  The bigger question is where will these people go and will they be able to start over, will some be forced to immigrate for their livelihoods in order to maintain and provide for their families?

We had to leave and headed to Butwal where I would be dropped off in order to take a bus to Pravas with my colleagues heading to Surkhet for some further work regarding women vis-à-vis  land rights. 
Arriving in Pravas I was initially greeted by a women who lived at the bus stop.  The Land Rights Activists soon arrived and we went to their one room office where district strategies are formulated.  After this we walked to the home of one of the activists. For three days I was able to experience rural Nepal and what it was like to daily drink fresh buffalo milk, eat food cooked over a mud, wood stove fire, take a somewhat warm bath in an outhouse, sleep in a frigid room without glass on the windows and enjoy the hospitality of the friendly people in this country.  I even met a priest in the front yard of the other activist who tried to sell us a stone. 

On the second day of my visit the two activists and I walked for about an hour past a football field, the Lumbini Medical College Teaching Hospital and through some lush “jungle” to the site of the Kunsare VLRF.  We were greeted by five men and a map of the village was produced showing the location of all 70 families.  Over the course of the 2.5 hour meeting, the group of people huddled on the porch of the venue grew to about 35, of which 20 were women. People came and left but anyone could join in the conversation.   Everyone listened attentively and spoke freely regarding the land issues of this particular village.  There seemed to be quite a bit of sharing as to how to take issues forward. 

Although my Nepali language skills are questionable, the feeling I had is that through the VLRF, people were being given a forum to voice  their opinions, truly providing opportunities to become empowered and make consensual decisions.  Many organisations speak of empowering others in their vision and mission statements, but in reality sufficient opportunities may not be provided.  Given that women do provide much of the agricultural effort in Nepal, it was very comforting to see so many women in attendance , not just listening but giving their opinions.

From what I’ve been able to garner through reading and talking to people in the land rights movement, there is a long road ahead and major changes need to occur at all levels of society.  But I do marvel at how this movement seems to be “walking the talk” and not just paying lip service to those most impacted as they seem to be the ones truly driving things.  Someday things may even get to the point of there being very few landless/tenant farmers and people truly feeling that they have alternatives, other than having to immigrate for their livelihoods and in order to take care of their families.  Jaye Jamin!


[1] This only reflects the views of the author and does not in any way reflect those of the organisations mentioned. 

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Brown Sugar Restaurant in KTM

When I first came into contact with the restaurant, “Brown Sugar” I was at a Social Entrepreneurship Bazaar on October 6 at Baber Mahal Revisted.  Amongst the various entrepreneurs I spotted amazing looking cakes and breads and my salivary glands immediately started salivating.  I bought a piece of cake, took a brochure and knew that I had to find this place. 

Hearing the name Brown Sugar made me think of one of my favorite Rolling Stones songs of the same name-Ah brown sugar how come you taste so good”.  After talking to the guys serving the cake and finding out that they were former addicts, who wanted to have a sustainable and independent life, I knew that this was one restaurant that I wanted to support.  Brown Sugar was opened in February 2011 and is directly opposite the British School in Jhamsikhel. 

After a few weeks, I mentioned Brown Sugar to one of my friends and we went for breakfast. Brown Sugar advertises itself as specializing in a number of foods and although I have been to Brown Sugar a number of times, I have only eaten the whole wheat banana and apple pancakes, with a bit of honey mixed in.  When my children were much younger I used to make pancakes and waffles almost every weekend and I thought that I knew how to make these special breakfasts.  But after eating the pancakes at Brown Sugar I know that I am just a novice.  I also know that I need to try some of their other delectable delights from a very diverse menu, but whenever I think of the pancakes…well, ke garne?

On December 9, I took a German VSO friend from India to Brown Sugar for breakfast.  Kristiane was in Nepal, for the very first time, to go on a trek but spent two days with me, prior to leaving.  This is what she had to say, “Having only arrived in Kathmandu the previous evening, I couldn’t have been treated to a better breakfast. On first sight I was impressed with the inviting atmosphere of the “Brown Sugar” and the friendly staff. The young guy who served us did it with a genuine smile all the way through our visit. I ordered the “Princess Breakfast” and it made me feel like one. A steaming hot Nepali Massala Chai arrived first – served, of course, with brown sugar – what a way to start the day. It was followed by fresh orange juice, Egg Florentine with spinach on the most fantastic bread I have come across in Asia … and I have been here a while. The breakfast was concluded with a delicious buckwheat banana pancake. My only complaint: it turned out to be too much for me and I had to ask for half the pancake to be parceled. A definitive recommend!”
When I initially walked to Brown Sugar I wasn’t quite sure where it was located.  There are really no signs advertising the fact that one is near a restaurant, but there is a sign post at the entrance.  Once one enters, one comes into a courtyard with a number of tables.  I saw this as a very comfortable, relaxed atmosphere, and of course, there was western rock music playing in the background. 

I’ve always found everyone working at Brown Sugar to have a smile on their face and found this friendliness to be very sincere.  It always makes a difference to have servers, serving with a smile and makes one feel very welcome.  On some level, Brown Sugar feels like eating at home, at it has a laid back feel, but unlike my home the customer service is truly tremendous. If one requests something the order comes quickly enough, without having to ask more than once to be served.  

Brown Sugar is a clean restaurant and if one doesn’t want to sit outside, there are multiple indoor tables.  Being somewhat of a nut for clean bathrooms, especially at restaurants, I found the toilet facilities very up to western standards.  Overall, Brown Sugar is very clean and there are plenty of napkins at each table.

Like my friend Kristiane, I highly recommend Brown Sugar as a great neighborhood place to eat.  I know that I’ll go back numerous times and next time hopefully, I’ll try something else. The restaurant is open every-day from 8 AM-10 PM.

General impression about the restaurant (up to 700 words)
By Michael J. Rosenkrantz[1]
Please rate the following areas on a scale of 1-10 with 10 being the highest score.
1.    Ambience :                              __8_____
2.    Food quality/presentation: ___8____
3.    Quality of service:                 __9____
4.    Hygiene:                                 ___8____
5.    Value for money:                   ___9____
6.    Overall satisfaction value:    ____9___

[1] Michael, an American from Los Angeles, California, has been in Kathmandu, Nepal since June 2012 and will be here until, at minimum, June 2013.  He works  for both CSRC and VSO Nepal in building partnerships, primarily focusing on the corporate and media sectors.  Michael has been working on Corporate Social Responsibility, in helping corporates to become more involved in community projects.  He also plays, and coaches a wheelchair army basketball team.  Prior to living in Nepal, Michael spent three years as a VSO volunteer in India, working for the National Trust, Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, Government of India in the field of developmental disabilities.  While in India, Michael also played and coached basketball at the New Delhi YMCA.  Michael was involved in a sport wheelchair donation project in India, collaborating with Wheelchair Athletes Worldwide, an American NGO, and hopes to do the same in Nepal during May 2013.  Michael has worked for almost 30 years, mainly in the US, and most recently as Executive Director for various NGOs.  Michael has two adult children living in California, Daniel, 27, who is becoming a monk and Sarah, 23, who is in college and is an actor, musician and dancer.  You can reach Michael at


Typically I like to sleep late on weekends, but the mornings are when I play and coach basketball.  From March 2009-Februrary 2012 I coached basketball on Saturday nights at the Delhi YMCA.  But in Nepal, the basketball action seems to happen in the mornings.  I came to Nepal as a VSO volunteer in June  and most recently on Sundays I wake up at 6:30 AM, my friend Raj Kumar picks me up at 7 and by 7:30 we are on the courts at Arunodaya Academy in Swoyambhu, waiting for the team to roll in from their home about one kilometer away.  

I see the smiles on the guy’s faces as their attendants lift/roll them down the stairs to get to the courts, many of them with their urine bags attached to their wheelchairs.  I see the amazement of the children at Arunodaya Academy as they watch the guys play basketball.   This is no ordinary basketball team, but is an Army wheelchair basketball team, showing up with the same enthusiasm of any other athletic team, ready to take on all opponents.  These guys are different as they can’t jump for rebounds or shoot a jump shot, can’t run up and down the court, although in their wheelchairs they can move fairly quickly, but not as efficiently as someone in a specialized sports wheelchair.  These guys can set a pick, although sometimes their chairs get tangled up, can play defense, although sometimes their leg rests extend out  too far and can shoot a basketball on a regulation hoop, although sometimes their shots are way off because they can’t get the same lift as someone who can jump.  The athletes on this team can even “run” plays, do a three person weave and make layups. 

This team is full of young guys, who might have been injured in the Maoist conflict, injured by a land mine and spent years in a hospital rehabbing, or maybe they were injured in a car accident or fell  and injured their spinal cord to the point where they could no longer use their legs to walk.  Some of these guys are married, have children and want to be productive members of Nepali society.  Those who are married, have incredible wives who have overcome prejudice and who as one wife told me, “look beyond disability”, who are strong women in their own right, enduring sometimes years of a family not accepting  their husband and his “fate”. 

The guys on this team and other persons with physical disabilities tell me that without sports they would be depressed, have bed sores, have little exposure to society and have problems such as urinary tract infections.  These guys are artists, weight lifters, advocates for themselves and other Persons with Disability.   These guys and their wives struggle to live a life like any other couple.  But there are also the guys who can’t find a wife because they are in a wheelchair, can’t find a job, which is most of these guys, because employers won’t give them an opportunity, even though there is nothing wrong with their minds, their arms or their eye site.

While in India, working for the National Trust, Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, Government of India, I learned a lot about Persons with Developmental Disabilities .  One of the popular words coined by our Joint Secretary was “Discoverabilities”, i.e. looking beyond a person’s disability to truly discover their abilities and is based on society being inclusive and providing opportunities.  I saw a full range of Persons with Disability doing the same thing as anybody else in society, having  the same aspirations,  but needing  more accessibility and opportunity in order to live out their dreams.  But I also heard a lot about the myths as to why someone had a disability.  At the National Trust we worked a lot on overcoming these myths through an all India discoverability awareness campaign known as Badhte Kadam.  The fourth year of this campaign was completed in November 2012 by the National Trust throughout India.

I recently attended the first “Career Expo for Persons with Disability” in Nepal, a good start.  Through my association with Persons with Disability I know that  a lot more is needed for the athletes on “my team”.  I know that these guys need to be recognized for their talents, need to have opportunities to participate in sports on a regular basis, have a job to go to in order to earn for themselves and their families, for those not married  they need opportunities to find a woman to marry, but mostly they need, like all of us, to have dreams, which society will help them to achieve.

The athletes on “my team” inspire me, just for who they are and what they are trying to do.  I complain to myself when I miss a shot or make a bad pass, but the reality is that even as I get older I can still jump  a rebound or shoot a jump shot.  Maybe I can’t run as fast or am not as quick as I once was, but for the guys on “my team” they just keep rolling on, and hopefully we can help them to discoverabilities. 

[1] Michael is a VSO volunteer working at both VSO Nepal and Community Self-Reliance Centre in Dhapasi.  His primary role is to build new partnerships, specifically in the corporate and media sectors for both organisations.  When not working you can usually find Michael on the basketball courts either playing or coaching.  You can reach Michael at

Life in Nepal-One Volunteer’s Story[1]

I learned a lot about living in another culture during my three years in India and upon returning to the US in March 2012, I knew that I wanted to continue to live overseas.  When an opportunity became available in Nepal in June 2012 I relished the thought of coming back to this part of the world.  My assignment was to be that of building new partnerships, especially in the corporate and media sectors, for both VSO Nepal, an INGO working in the areas of livelihoods, health and education with the cross cutting themes of gender and climate change and Community Self Reliance Centre (CSRC), a Nepali NGO working in the areas of land and agrarian reform, livelihoods and women’s empowerment.  VSO Nepal will be celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2014 and CSRC will be 20 years in 2013. 

I really enjoy meeting new people and being a Partnership Builder is a role that I’ve truly enjoyed.  I’ve spent a good amount of time meeting with and talking to corporates regarding community involvement.  I’ve found that, in general corporates are open to discussions regarding ways to engage with society.  Some projects seem to be percolating.  But it does take a lot of effort and persistence, to make Corporate Social Responsibility, where both parties mutually benefit, a reality.  The same goes for “cracking” the media and getting articles in print, on-line, etc.  This is a long-term activity as strong relationships and mutual trust take time to build.

Another role that I have is that of coordinating 50th anniversary events for VSO Nepal.  With more than 800 volunteers from a wide array of countries having served in Nepal, it has been a major effort to connect with people.  Fortunately, we’ve been able to develop an international Steering Committee with the members focusing on making connections with returned volunteers (RVs) in their home countries.  We hope to put together a 50th anniversary book, music CD and documentary, conduct some treks and have a number of events in RV’s home countries and in Nepal.  It’s a huge effort but is very doable with the idea to raise the presence of VSO Nepal throughout the country.

In my spare time I’ve enjoyed getting to know the basketball courts and players in Kathmandu. I’ve found some really good players from a range of nationalities, but most recently have been playing with Tibetans and Nepalis.  I’ve made contacts with the Nepali Basketball Association (NeBA) and the National Sports Council and it has been a good learning experience trying to help move the Nepali game forward.  

Basketball tends to be a universal game and the National Basketball Association (NBA) has made its way to Nepal.  With family members living in the US and other countries and playing basketball, the names of NBA stars and their teams are well known in Nepal as indicated by jerseys and hats worn by the guys that I’ve played with.  There has also been space for wheelchair basketball and a future with wheelchair rugby.
While in India I coached at the New Delhi YMCA every Saturday night that I was in the City.  I also played at the American Embassy School.  I was able to combine my love for basketball with my professional work when a group of Americans from the NGO, Wheelchair Athletes Worldwide (WAW), came to Delhi to donate 12 sports wheelchairs.  This was a great experience for me as I hadn’t worked on an international project of this magnitude.   We were fortunate to have Aamir Khan at the first clinic, as he was filming a segment for his television show Satyamev Jayte at Amar Jyoti Charitable Trust School in Delhi, where the clinic took place.  At our second clinic at Amar Jyoti, Kenny Natt, the Indian Men’s National Basketball Coach and a former NBA professional coach and player, played wheelchair basketball with the children. At the final clinic in Visakhapatnam, Andhra Pradesh we worked with the Disability People’s Organisation, The Ability People to promote wheelchair sports in this part of India. 

Since being in Nepal and in my spare time I’ve been able to make contact with a number of Persons with Disability.  I’ve been coaching an Army Wheelchair Basketball Team and helped my friend Bharat to get to Korea for wheelchair rugby training through a generous ticket donation by Dragon Air/ Cathay Pacific.  I attended the very first Career Expo for Persons with Disability, which indicated to me how huge an issue employment is for those with a disability.     Bharat and I, along with our friends from WAW and local disability NGOs hope to have a sports wheelchair donation program, clinics and a tournament in Nepal in May 2013. 

I’m learning a lot about Nepal, the government, the culture, work habits, load shedding, the people.  I am doing my best to become integrated, although language has been somewhat of an issue.  I do like the bhaat part of meals and have found lots of vegetarian choices.  I’ve been somewhat able to see and enjoy the diversity of Nepal, and look forward to much more traveling.  Seeing the Himalayas on very clear days from my rooftop in Sanepa, is a site that is truly a marvel to behold.  I love the sense of excitement I feel in just walking around areas in Kathmandu, the architecture, that I just can’t find anywhere in the US.  Even when I make the walk from Sanepa to Thamel there is always something new for my eyes and camera to see.  I enjoy the sense of having the unexpected happen on a consistent basis.  I’m so grateful to be in Nepal at this stage in my life.  Mero Ghar Nepalma baschuu. 

[1] This only reflects the views of the author and does not in any way reflect those of the organisations mentioned. 
Michael Rosenkrantz, an American, spent March 2009-February 2012 as a VSO volunteer working for the National Trust, Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, Government of India, in the field of developmental disability.  Through this assignment he gained a true appreciation for the challenges faced by Persons with Disability in a developing country, especially through the capacity building workshops that he facilitated for NGOs throughout the country.   Michael was able to help develop and then coordinate a disability awareness raising campaign, Badhte Kadam, throughout India and saw the sustainability of this project through National Trust continuing the campaign during November 2012.  Through his love of basketball  Michael was able to be intimately involved in a sports wheelchair donation project to two NGOs in India. 

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Wel-come to Reality

The beautiful holiday of Tihar was coming up in Nepal and I-MAN wanted to get out of Kathmandu.  I-MAN had this friend by the name of Arat, who he had met in September of 2011.  He knew that Arat came from a town named Iarohg, in the district of Gnad, a 12 hour bus ride from KTM.  I-MAN asked if he could go with Arat to visit her family during Tihar and sure enough the answer was yes.

Now I-MAN knew something about the Nepali roads from his trip out to the western region.  He realized a 12 hour bus ride, even in a smaller kind of van would be crowded and uncomfortable, but I-MAN thought it would be worthwhile.  Arat said that she and another friend, Ahsila, would pick I-MAN up at 5:20 AM in the front of the Hotel Himalaya, as the van was due to leave at 6 AM. I-MAN had doubts about any of these timings, but sure enough he woke himself up nice and early and set out to find the Hotel Himalaya.  I-MAN hoped that he wouldn’t have to climb any mountains to find the Hotel and fortunately he found a taxi to take him there.  Flying at this early hour was out of the question as I-MAN was trying to act more human like, however difficult. 

Finally around 5:40 AM both Arat and Ahsila arrived in a taxi and the trio drove off to the bus park.  Initially the van wasn’t where it might have been, but the trio finally found it and both I-MAN and Arat found their seats while Ahsila went off somewhere to possibly find her dreams.  The back windows of the van said, “Wel-come to Reality” and I-MAN was thinking a lot about this the entire trip. The van pulled out, over-crowded as could be with people sitting in the aisles and goats and three chickens and one peacock on the roof.  But the driver was only going to find some air for the tires, something which occurred multiple times during the 12 hour trip.  By this time it was nearing 7 AM and magically Ahsila appeared in the seat next to Arat.  Fifteen more people also piled into the van bringing the total to 60, which meant that it was at least double the number for comfort.  I-MAN just leaned his head against the window trying to avoid the sneezing and runny noses from his five neighbors and also ensuring that the windows were closed so that none of the run off from the roof animals would impact him.  As I-MAN went in and out of sleep consciousness, reality was appearing everywhere.

Everyone tried to sleep in the van, but given the amount of people and roof animals and bumps in the road this wasn’t always easy.  Unfortunately the people occupying the floor and seats and area above I-MAN’s seat were quite hard and a bit on the bony side. I-MAN was continuously getting poked or drooled on and when he tried to lay his head down a bone would protrude from one of the people.

A few weeks earlier in Shivapuri, I-MAN had learned something about international toilets.  It was good that I-MAN had already learned this lesson because there were many of these types of outhouses throughout the van ride. Fortunately it was not a very windy day, otherwise it could have gotten quite messy, especially stepping out of the van in order to avoid the roof animal run-off.

Finally the van entered the Gnad District, as it was already dark.  The streets were fairly quiet in  Iarohg City and Ahsila’s sister came to meet the trio as she had to walk her sister to the village which was at least 10 kilometers, or maybe a bit less, from where Arat’s family house lived.  It was quite joyous for I-MAN to be in a new place as he always liked to discover what the world was like outside of his regular comforts. 

The walk from the bus park was maybe ten minutes and once Arat and I-MAN said good-bye to Ahsila and her sister they went inside the sacred home.  They were greeted by flying roti’s and I-MAN being ever so hungry and of course needing to check out the toilet, grabbed a few and stuffed them into his pocket.  Once he had checked out the bathroom, where he saw at least a half dozen creatures of various shapes and sizes waiting to greet him, he went into the living area to meet Arat’s family.

There was Arat’s mother, her mother’s sister, a woman who decided early on in life not to talk or listen to anyone, one of Arat’s brothers, his wife and a young man, who caught I-MAN’s gaze and wouldn’t let go.  Immediately there was a connection as if this could be a Nepali superhero.  The family called this boy A-MAN and I-MAN felt chills run up and down his spine.  The family was just about to eat and watch their favorite Hindi soap opera which in English was called, “We love to make really weird exaggerated facial expressions”.  I-MAN having lived in India for so many year’s, was of course quite familiar with the FACEX, for short, show.

I-MAN was quite pleased to be at Arat’s home and after dinner went up to his room which was up some windy stairs, where one had to pass through a huge spider’s web and a fire breathing dragon to unlock a gigantic bulbous lock with at least three sets of keys and a password.  Additionally Arat’s brother, a very warm hearted man, had to spread a mosquito net over the bed because the blood suckers, with at least a nine inch wingspan, were still out tormenting people in this part of the world.  I-MAN entered sleep after watching a movie and felt as if he might be home.

Now I-MAN knew that there was only one toilet in the sacred home and this was downstairs.  This would make things rather difficult as there was only one light in the hallway downstairs and there was a locked door to unlock to get to the bathroom.  There was also the matter of the spider’s web and the fire breathing dragon.  As usual very early in the morning I-MAN awoke from sleep needing to relieve himself.  He found his flashlight which he knew that he could use to blind both the spider and the dragon.  As he walked out of his room and into the deck area adjacent to his room, he just happened to look up into the still dark sky that was now full of glittering stars.  I-MAN fully opened his eyes and his lower lip dropped as he hadn’t seen this site for quite some time.  He heard the dragon and spider and soon gathered himself to make the trek downstairs, to the locked door and the nirvana of the bathroom. 

When he opened the door to the bathroom he noticed one of those creatures that had earlier greeted him, trying to escape the glow of the flashlight.  I-MAN wasn’t overly scared having just gotten past a spider and dragon and soon made it back to the safety of his room, where he quickly made it under the security of the mosquito net and the covers. 

Day 1-When I-MAN awoke to his first morning in Iarohg, he was greeted by many warm smiles and even a hug, something that continued throughout the time.  This really warmed I-MAN’s heart.  He decided that he would take a shower, which unfortunately, given the water situation was somewhat of a challenge.  You see, in Iarohg, water only ran between 3:52 AM and about 4:36ish AM, which meant that one had to get up early to fill the multiple tubs, buckets, cups and glasses and paint pans in order to have enough water for such things as showers and washing clothes and dishes. To I-MAN this wasn’t such a hassle as he entered the shower or bathroom and found a multitude of different sized objects filled with water.  I-MAN started pouring water from the different accessories only to find that some water was cold and some was warm and some was green and blue, some had small flowers in it, some had alphabet letters, some corn flakes.  I-MAN really didn’t like to choose his water, just wanted the hot kind, but he dealt with the situation as a person who had been on a bus with the words, “Wel-come to reality” would deal. 

Given that it was Tihar, most of the businesses, including the hospital next to Arat’s house, were closed.  But that didn’t deter I-MAN as he needed to find a fruit store.  Fortunately there was one quite close to the sacred house and I-MAN picked up his apple, banana and orange.  I-MAN was eager to explore and Arat and her brother said let’s go to visit Ahsila.  First though there would be a walk around town to see what the locals were doing for Tihar.

Fortunately for I-MAN many people were dressed up, especially the girls and women in special Tihar red outfits.  Everywhere Arat and I-MAN went there were bands of people, of all ages, singing and dancing in the middle of the streets.  Thankfully there was really no traffic to speak of, because all of the alcohol used to operate the vehicles was being drunk to get people in the festive spirit.  People were saying something like “bi-lay” and I-MAN was invited to join the bands and circles in the streets and say the magic words.  Given that I-MAN was always up to sticking out like a sore thumb he agreed to participate which made the locals laugh. 

As Arat and I-MAN continued to walk they saw others types of dancing, such as young men beating each other with sticks, because sometimes they missed hitting the sticks together.  People were also throwing rupees at them and the young men were expected to contort their bodies and pick up the money in their teeth.  For the paper rupees this wasn’t such an issue, but for the coins, one can only use their imagination to see a contorted body picking up the coins with their teeth.  Somehow though, these young men, managed quite well. One person even threw a 10 kg bag of gold pieces which one of the young men managed to pick up by inhaling the bag to his nose which enabled him to bite the bag with his teeth and mouth.  I-MAN was quite astounded to see the lengths that these young men went through to get some money.  Before going home Arat and I-MAN went to see a stupa, which was very simple but had lots and lots of prayer wheels surrounding it.

After going back home and eating some lunch it was finally time to go to a village.  I-MAN was really excited about this as he remembered the villages that he had visited in India, as well as, those from his trip to the western part of Nepal.  Walking along the path to take the now trio, including Arat’s brother, to the village, they passed many fascinating children who were really excited to have their photo taken by I-MAN.  The trio made it to one village where some of the people had been drinking the alcohol and they approached I-MAN a bit too aggressively. 
It wasn’t too long before the trio said goodbye to these people and meandered across a babbling brook where they saw people bathing and washing their clothes.  This was what I-MAN was waiting to see.  The trio sat and listened to the wind ruffling the leaves and it was pure joy. 
After another brief walk, the trio found a golden arch and across from this a soon to be opened restaurant, by a friend of Arat’s brother.  Inside the golden arch one could imagine magic especially as I-MAN caught a glimpse, out of the corner of his eye, of an orange man with a cane.  First though the trio went to the soon to be opened restaurant to wait for Ahsila who would guide them through the arch.  The friend, even though the restaurant wasn’t opened yet, served some herbal tea and water, which was needed before one entered the golden arch, which would help one to truly experience the land inside.

Once Ahsila arrived the now foursome proceeded to the arch, where they all saw the orange man.  I-MAN, camera in hand, ran after the orange man, trying to photograph him in the now forest.  After a few minutes and some heavy breathing, I-MAN and his companions saw the home of the orange man who started opening the doors with keys that were dangling from the many trees in the front yard.  I-MAN, being very excited at catching up with the orange man, began to take many photographs.  When I-MAN saw the face of the orange man, with a long white  beard and gentle eyes, he felt a sense of ease and love and wanted to sit in this place for some time. 

But as time was passing it was time to go to the holy lake, with two boats, a tree and a house on an island in the middle.  As the foursome walked around the lake, Arat’s brother pointed out a place where animal sacrifices took place.  This shook I-MAN and he could hear sheep’s and goat’s bleating, chickens  crowing and other assorted animals screaming, but they were nowhere in-site.  If one could ignore the screaming, one could also hear the voices of many pilgrims as they made their way around the lake and to the temple to ring the bells. 

As the sun was starting to lower in the sky, Ahsila, suggested that the group walk to her home, high up in the hills.  On the way the foursome met a large group of villagers, who were making merriment as they paraded to the various houses on the path, trying to attract the attention of the homeowners who were not always home.  I-MAN thought that this might be a good time to take photos, but then he saw the evil spirit and his wife, waiting for him!

The evil spirit had a wooden like face and his wife was really, really short.  I-MAN thought, what a pair, and I wondered what their children look like, i.e. short, with a wooden face or body?  But the wife, although she couldn’t communicate very well, seemed nice enough and even allowed I-MAN to take a few photos.  The evil spirit was just as accommodating.

Finding nobody home, the group started singing and walking to another home and the foursome followed, unfortunately with the same results.  The group decided to cross a yellow field, and I-MAN started thinking about the Wizard of Oz and how Dorothy, Toto and the Lion were put to sleep by the Wicked Witch of the East.  Most likely nobody in I-MAN’s site knew anything about the Wizard of Oz, so he just kept this thought to himself.

Nobody fell asleep and the procession became quite magical.  As the group and foursome descended they came upon a house with a good sized courtyard and people at home!  The group settled with the women sitting and the men starting to dance like dervishes.  Soon a few women got up and  joined the men.  It was a spontaneous dance concert and all seemed to be enjoying themselves.

The evil spirit pulled I-MAN into the circle, took off his wooden face and plopped it onto I-MAN’s.  For those of you who have seen Jim Carrey in the “Mask”, this would adequately describe things.  As soon as the wooden face was kind of melded onto I-MAN’s, he became a different person and couldn’t help but fly, whirling through the sky.  The jaws of the group dropped somewhat like when one sees people that have been wearing heavy earrings all of their life and now their lobes are dropping quite near to their shoulders.  I-MAN finally dropped to the ground and to his knees, where the evil spirit pulled the wooden face off of I-MAN’s  and melded  it to his own.

I-MAN ran over to Arat and asked what had happened.  She just shook her head and smiled.  I-MAN had no idea but knew that maybe it was time to head off to Ahsila’s parent’s home. The road was fairly easy and when they made it to the home they saw Ahsila’s mother with her twin grandchildren.  Ahsila’s mother was making plates and other contraptions out of leaves and I-MAN became quite excited about the simplicity of this and the possibility for work. 
The twins had just starting walking and were leaning on a porch.  One of the twins smiled brightly at I-MAN but the other started to pout, scrunched her face and cried.  Now this had happened to I-MAN in parts of India, and also at a tenant in Arat’s sacred, home, where the children were frightened  by, most likely, his strangeness.  I-MAN peeled off very quickly and the tears stopped, and not a moment too soon, because although it was not monsoon time, this could have very well happened given the babies tears.

I-MAN ran to the back of the house and saw some goats, chickens and buffalo, with the goats trying to stand on their two hind legs and feet and walk.  I-MAN was quite overwhelmed with this as the goats approached him and started to speak in Nepali, but all that I-MAN could spit out was ali, ali Nepali barsha.  Thankfully Ahsila called the trio into her house to drink warm buffalo milk, a first for I-MAN and eat various types of roti. 

As darkness was approaching, and I-MAN didn’t want to get caught out in the wild, even though Arat and her brother knew the way home, the trio said good-bye to Ahsila’s mom, her sister and the twins.  This had to be done quite quickly as the crying twin would have started tearing again, making it quite difficult to walk down the hill. 

Ahsila, walked the trio down the hill where they all came upon a road and a large group of teenagers laying down trying to stop trucks to get alcohol, or better yet, money for the Tihar holiday.  I-MAN was somewhat in a panic as he saw a truck approaching and he shone his flashlight in the eyes of the truck driver, who soon stopped, but provided neither alcohol, as he needed to get home, or money, as he needed this for his family feast.  The teens soon got up, dusted themselves off and the trio waved good-bye heading off, what was now, through a pitch black night. 

On the way back to Arat’s family’s home, the trio passed many interesting people, including Ahsila’s father, who was coming back.  This was appropriate that the trio should meet him and it seemed as if the first day was complete.

A daal bhaat dinner was served that night, which was quite tasty, while all watched some of those Hindi TV shows.  I-MAN retired to his room and watched another movie, under the mosquito net, which continued to provide protection. 

Day 2-The next day, after getting past the spider and the dragon, and seeing the stars just before daybreak, I-MAN went in to take a shower and shave, but his razor had been de-sharpened during the night by the creatures swimming in the tubs of water.  I-MAN thought he had two choices, one, he could find  a new razor, which might be difficult given that almost every shop was closed or two he could  go to the barber next to the fruit store and get a shave.  I-MAN had to weigh this carefully as he had never had a shave from a barber and yes even though, he was quite young, he still needed to shave.

I-MAN went to get some fruit and peered in to see what was happening with the barber.  Mostly he wanted to check to see if there was also any fresh meat in the barbershop and if this was the case, he was going to rethink his shaving strategy.  He noticed a man with cream all over his face and once this was scrapped off, some paste was put on his face, kind of a cleanser.  In order to take this off the barber used, what looked to be, dental floss, as the now dried paste came off quite easily.  To top it all off the barber pounded on the man’s shoulders and head and then ejected him into the streets.

Although somewhat suspicious and given that I-MAN liked to try new things, to an extent, he sat in the barber chair, while the barber put a fresh blade into what looked like a scalpel.  As children gathered around to see what color I-MAN’s blood might be, he closed his eyes and relaxed.  In no time the process was over, especially when he was sprayed with cold water.  I-MAN had survived as his face hadn’t been this smooth in decades. 

After the morning lunch, the trio set out into town to again walk around to see what was happening.  The streets were covered with various groups of people, doing their dances and enjoying themselves.  But this time A-MAN had come along and he wanted to swing.
For the Dasain holiday I-MAN had noticed huge swings constructed everywhere he was walking.  These were made of large bamboo pieces tied together with a swing descending from the top.  Although I-MAN didn’t weigh that much he wasn’t sure if the swing would support him.  Given that A-MAN had a kind of radar and was a swing magnet, the foursome soon found what they had set out for. A-MAN, paid little attention to the gigantic bats in the trees near-by and jumped or maybe flew around 100 yards to the swing, where he started laughing as only a young superhero can.

I-MAN, Arat and her brother, couldn’t help themselves but laugh too as A-MAN’s joy was so infectious.  I-MAN’s hope was that this joy would spread around the world but he didn’t hold out much hope.  Still, in this moment, and especially when Arat, her brother and I-MAN tried the swing, there was nothing in the world but joy and the laughter of children. 

When it was time to leave, A-MAN wouldn’t hear of it and started to tantrum, lashing out at anything and everything close to him.  I-MAN knew that the situation could get quite dangerous given that A-MAN was a superhero in the making.  What I-MAN didn’t know was that Arat was quite strong.  She looked directly into A-MAN’s eyes and she seemed to hypnotize him.  Very suddenly A-MAN floated into the waiting arms of his auntie, Arat, and that was that. 

The walk continued throughout Iahrog, past many dancers, beautiful children and people enjoying the Tihar holiday. There still wasn’t much action, but people were happy.  As they approached Arat’s family’s home, I-MAN was already thinking about daal bhaat. 
That evening I-MAN wanted to find out more about A-MAN and although there wasn’t much conversation there seemed to be some unconscious understanding.  When I-MAN offered his laptop to A-MAN, the younger superhero immediately knew what to do, playing games, finding photos and videos.  It was as if A-MAN had been born next to a laptop.  I-MAN came to find out that A-MAN’s mother worked for a computer company, besides taking care of the household tasks, and apparently her mind had merged with her son’s.  To I-MAN this seemed quite remarkable, but he took it for what it was, realizing deep down, that A-MAN was of the same blood as him. 

Day 3-Was another shining morning and it was suggested to make a movie of Arat and her family, given that this didn’t exist.  I-MAN asked everyone to sit down, but then had to ask for some kind of action.  This movie was important, and although some of Arat’s family members were not there, living overseas and such, this was an opportunity to have in the same frames, Aarat’s mother, her auntie, her brother and wife, A-MAN and herself.  For I-MAN it had deep meaning, as Arat’s father had slipped away to another world earlier during the year.  Although there was great pain at this mystery, which undoubtedly there always is,  Arat and her family were working on recovery.  This showed itself a number of times, especially when a tikka was put on the father’s photo prominently displayed in the living room.

The move turned out to be about five minutes and even the auntie, although she had decided long ago to not listen nor speak, was laughing as she could sense what was happening.  This turned out to be one of those moments when the universal chills flowed through everyone, as one could really notice this in everybody’s eyes. Once the movie was finished, it was watched numerous times on the home computer, with the swing joy returning to the sacred house.
As the family was watching the movie, I-MAN noticed a lizard hanging out in some corn that was drying itself on a nail.  I-MAN always loved lizards and other types of crawly things, except snakes of course, but hadn’t realized how scared Arat was of these creatures.  Arat pointed out the lizard and she jumped quite high and bumped her head on the 20 foot high ceiling.  Now I-MAN was sure that A-MAN must be a super hero, as his auntie started to show some of the same qualities, although she continued to be scared of lizards.

Today would be a continuation of previous days but this time there was lots of dancing, including the famous peacock dance, and especially with I-MAN and Ahsila’s sister, who wore a lovely brown sari and who was a dancer of some note.  It was somewhat silly as I-MAN tried to keep up with the gorgeous dancing in every nook and cranny in town.  Although A-MAN wanted to  swing, this wasn’t to happen, as instead I-MAN gave A-MAN his camera and of course he turned out to be a wonderful photographer.  But this is what I-MAN came to expect.  To make things even more special Arat’s auntie and mother were also out watching the festivities.  It was again another moment of pure joy, something that we don’t always recognize, but on the whole, need to.  When everyone made it back to Arat’s home, Ahsila, her sister and I-MAN formed a trio and were snapping their fingers to some mysterious song, playing in I-MAN’s head.

That night I-MAN made dinner, his usual, after visiting a fresh vegetable market.  The potatoes unfortunately wouldn’t brown to become real aloo chips for Arat, who was known in some circles as Ms. Potato Head, but the family forgave I-MAN, especially Arat’s mom who ate them all.

Day 4-The morning started with Ahsila, bringing some fresh buffalo milk to Arat’s home and this was most appreciated given the distance.  But as I-MAN came to find out, Ahsila, who worshipped Sponge Bob Square Pants, noting this on the shirt that she wore 24 hours every day, always had a smile on her face.  I-MAN wondered how long this would continue, i.e. not wearing the t-shirt, but the smiling face, as he knew that this was not easy to maintain.

On this, the final day, there would be more walking, more swings, break dancing from a troupe of Nepali boys and the leaving.  Due to the holidays, finding a busy was not that simple.  Arat and I-MAN had planned on leaving Day 4 in the morning but everything was full so they decided to take a night bus.  I-MAN was somewhat apprehensive, given the roads and the drivers, but ok, it would only be for 12 hours.

The bus was overflowing, this time with many more peacocks on the inside.  Arat was to sit in the cab with her knees hugged tightly to her chest.  I-MAN was one row from the back in an area where bouncing and no shocks is part of life.  I-MAN noticed a big steel speaker directly above him attached to the luggage rack.  He wondered why this was placed here given the bouncing.  He would later come to find out.

I-MAN got as low as he could in the seat to avoid the speaker, but alas, one bump, one huge smack and blood.  For a second I-MAN took one of the peacocks and rubbed it against his forehead to dry the blood, but the bird only started screaming so I-MAN threw it at the ticket taker and said please get my friend.  I-MAN took out a tissue and noticed it turning red, wondering if he might black out in the back seat in the middle of Nepal, well at least, they were in the Terrai.  Eventually I-MAN took a Band-Aid from the man in the seat next to his and the bleeding seemed to stop.

At the next stop, I-MAN found Arat and asked her to please clean the cut   Arat’s face told I-MAN that this wasn’t an ordinary cut and given the bump and hit, I-MAN knew that it wasn’t.  As a fresh Band-Aid was placed on the cut and while waiting to use the so-called toilets, both Arat and I-MAN heard some bleating coming from the back of another bus. Sure enough some men were trying to get the goats out of the back space.  I-MAN thought that even though his seat was also at the back of the bus, with a speaker in front of him, he’d rather ride this way than that of the goats.   

After a night of little sleeping, given the breeze coming into the bus, the loud music, which I-MAN finally got turned off and I-MAN’s paranoia regarding bumping his head again, Arat and I-MAN arrived back in KTM at 7 AM.  As I-MAN departed from the bus he heard the speaker saying something like, “got another foreigner, boy are they stupid”.  What the speaker didn’t know is that I-MAN had loosened the screws holding the speaker to the luggage rack and that the next time a bump was hit the speaker would go flying.   Arat and I-MAN hopped into a cab and I-MAN was dropped off first, longing for a hot shower, which was awaiting him.

I-MAN peeled off the Band-Aid and knew that he had to get to the International Clinic, but first there was a stop at a Jewelry store with some friends.  I-MAN was having trouble juxtaposing his recent trip with the Jewelry store, but he accepted it.  At the Clinic the kindly doctor said, well we can’t give you stitches now, but the scar shouldn’t be too bad.  I-MAN continued to cover the wound through the following week where he directed a Flash Mob at a 5 star hotel for Himalaya’s TV’s second anniversary.

After this it was enough to see what it looked like and the swelling started going down, but throughout the rest of his life I-MAN would always be able to remember this trip for the scar over his left eye and knowing that he had been “Wel-com(ed) to Reality”.