Saturday, January 19, 2013

Basketball Nepal and Life’s Lessons

While living in New Delhi from March 2009-February 2012, every Saturday night from 6-7:30 PM, I coached basketball at the YMCA. I made this connection before I came to India, as I knew that I had to have basketball in my life in order to be happy, no matter where I was living.  The group would be between 15-30 people from 8-35 years of age.  It was always fun and I thoroughly enjoyed spending my Saturday evenings with whomever had signed up for coaching. 

Since being in Nepal in June 2012, I’ve met a number of basketball players and coaches, have played, coached a Gay Basketball team, that didn’t score a point no matter how much I encouraged them, as part of the first South Asian Gay Sports Tournament, become part of a new school basketball programme, am coaching an Army wheelchair basketball team and for the first time conducted a clinic for 40 children ranging in age from 9-17 at Mt. Kailash Boarding School in Kopan. 

As I approached the basketball court I saw a number of children milling around and five fat puppies and their mother.  The basketball court, like most that I’ve seen and played on wasn’t great.  The cement was chipped away in a number of places and one of the backboards and hoops was not attached to the pole as it was being repaired.  But we were able to locate a few brooms, swept the court and off we went for a three hour session.

As I found in India, the children were very enthusiastic as we talked and ran through some exercises and drills.  One of the puppies attempted to join in as we were warming up, trying to jog with the children in his fat little black body with stubby legs, and the mother decided to lay on the court as we were conducting a passing drill.  We were able to practice the “triple threat” dribbling, shooting and passing and exercise our bodies and think about how basketball is more than a game, i.e. a chosen lifestyle. 

In my blogs in India these are some of the statements that I wrote: “ Is it possible to "love" something other than a person so much, that one just cannot wait to be doing it? It is and it has happened for me with basketball in every aspect of the game. It just so happens that this "love affair" with basketball has blossomed, in of all places, New Delhi, India. It started with a connection to the American Embassy School and the YMCA, both in New Delhi, and has grown by leaps and bounds into a full-fledged "love affair". The feeling that I get from b-ball is pure joy, at all times, nothing less, total focus on the beauty of the game, and therefore there is nothing else, when I'm involved with it.”

“Basketball is more than a game as it requires, as does life, being part of a team, sharing experiences, joy, sorrow, anger, tears with others, communication, tolerance, discipline and being in good health and eating right. Basketball is a chosen life-style by those who proactively choose to truly take part. Like life, basketball has its ups and downs. I’ve gone through many ups and downs in life, the things that we all go through, because we are human beings. We have all been gifted with different skills and as in basketball it is about what we do with those skills and talents that makes life worth living.”

“I’m not sure which sport I would truly love if there was no basketball.  I do like baseball and American football, but somehow they just don’t measure up to the excitement of life brought about by basketball.  One day, as my body ages, I may have to retire from playing.  I will continue though, to live life as being part of basketball, eating well, exercising, living in community, coaching, etc.  Maybe, I’ll turn to that sport that many people retire to, golf, but I cannot imagine playing golf after a life of basketball.  Most likely, however, I will continue to live basketball until I take my last breath, until I’m again on the court in a younger person’s body.  My love for the game will never cease.”

Bill Bradley a former New York Knicks player and US Senator from New Jersey wrote a book called, The Values of the Game in which he discusses the following values: Passion, Discipline, Selflessness, Respect, Perspective, Courage, Leadership, Responsibility, Resilience, and Imagination. All of these values can be taken to heart in how one plays basketball and lives the game of life.

John Robert Wooden was an American basketball player and coach. Nicknamed the "Wizard of Westwood", he won ten NCAA national championships in a 12-year period—seven in a row—as head coach at UCLA, an unprecedented feat.  Having grown up in Los Angeles during the Wooden era I was a huge UCLA fan and still follow the Bruins.

Coach Wooden developed a pyramid of success which includes 15 building blocks-industriousness, friendship, loyalty, cooperation, enthusiasm, self-control, alertness, initiative, intentness, condition, skill, team, poise, confidence, competitive greatness.  Coach Wooden also includes 12 lessons in leadership. 

This is it for me, whether from Bill Bradley or John Wooden or my experiences.  Basketball has taught me so much about life.  As I coached the children at Mount Kailash, these pearls of wisdom were integrated into running up and down the court and learning how to be a good teammate.  Basketball is about life’s lessons.

On Death in Nepal

I recently experienced the festival of Maghe Sankranti as the only westerner in attendance in a village near Ghorahi, Dang District.  The last time that I was at the festival site was during Tihar, in 2012, and things were very quiet in this beautifully wooded area, where I had previously visited the home of a Sadhu, with a man-made lake in the center.  At that time I noticed some old boats sitting idle in the lake.  I was also shown a small temple with an area that I was told was used for animal sacrifice.  I tried to imagine what that was like but really had little idea.

As we made our way to the festival site for Maghe Sankranti, I noticed the number of people that were also arriving, the colors of the multiple orange and peanut sellers, the variety of balloons and foods, a make shift movie house and sugar cane.  It was really a lot of “eye-candy” for someone who loves to take photos. 
We made our way to the lake and the sacrifice site and I saw many people paying for a boat ride, while other people were bathing.  Behind the temple was the sacrifice site and I started to see a number of people roasting headless carcasses over open fires and other people cleaning what had been a sheep.  Crossing a small bridge we came to a line of sheep waiting to be sacrificed, being held from both ends over a bloody log.  A man brought what looked to be a sword, i.e. a  Khukuri,  up and then down and the head went one way with the carcass being thrown another.  This happened a number of times in very machine like fashion.  In experiencing the quiet of this particular area during Tihar I had imagined what the “screams” might be like.  But in watching the actual sacrifice I heard nothing but the sound of the Khukuri as it went up and came down.

Back in Kathmandu I thoroughly enjoy making the walk from Thamel to Sanepa Chowk, where I live.  But on this particular night around Chikamungal I came upon a group of people watching the start of a funeral procession.  I heard and saw a woman crying and walking around a body, although it was difficult to tell, as it was tightly wrapped in a mat with a pitamber (yellow cloth), lying on an arthi.  The procession started to move with five men carrying the arthi and the woman, who must have been the wife of the deceased, continuing to wail and cry. The procession consisted mostly of men it as it made its way and crossed the Ring Road, at Teku. It’s the first time that I’ve seen all traffic stop on both sides of the road at the same time.  We continued to walk to an area near Pachali, where the body was removed from the arthi, and placed on what appeared to be a slab, where various ceremonies were taking place.  I soon left and didn’t wait for the body to be taken to an area on the Bagmati where it would be cremated.

I’ve witnessed cremations a number of times in Varanasi, the dressing of the bodies, purification in the Ganges and the funeral pyre.  What did seem unusual in Kathmandu and Varanasi as I compared  this to funerals in the US, was the public nature of the process.  As most of the procession that I had witnessed stood across the road watching the ceremonies, taxis, tractors, motorcycles and cars whizzed by on the dirt road.   Many people witnessed the procession, as it made its way throughout Kathmandu, which so very different from the private nature of a funeral in the US.

The public nature of things possibly makes death more acceptable and natural.  Everybody on the path of the procession somehow took part, looking and then moving their hand numerous times from their head to what appeared to be their heart and back again.  In the US a hearse picks up the family, who are mostly wearing sunglasses to hide their tears, of the departed, and whisks them to the funeral home, where lots of money is spent on a plot, a casket and a ceremony.  But what I witnessed was not about spending on a beautiful casket, although I’m not really clear why this is the case in the US, except to support a funeral industry, or hiding tears, but was more about how this is the natural order of things.

My life during the almost past four years in India and Nepal has been so much about giving, as after all I am a VSO volunteer. I thoroughly enjoy this and have no reservations.  But I have also learned so much from what I have seen.  In many ways this will hopefully help me to become more accepting of the natural order of things as the contrast between life and death in this part of the world and the US is so very stark.   As I spend more time in this part of the world and become more connected I hope that when I am no more,  I also will be cremated on the banks of one of the sacred rivers and mix and flow with generations of those that have gone before me. 

Thursday, January 17, 2013


On my recent bus ride from Dang District to Kathmandu, I noticed two teenagers, eating several packages of potato chips.  As I dozed throughout the bus ride I noticed   that the packaging always seemed to disappear, but it wasn’t on the floor and I don’t think that it had been eaten.  I tried to watch until I saw the packaging being thrown out the window, but I never quite got to that point in order to engage the teens in conversation about what they were doing and why. 

I was reminded of my three years in India and New Delhi, where littering was quite common place, even in hill stations such as Dalhousie, Himachal Pradesh, where I spent a few weeks on different occasions.  I remember a number of times in which I spoke to people about littering and sometimes I was laughed at and people would throw things directly in front of me.  But most of the time people would apologize to me, although I’m not quite sure why.   I do remember the time when I was walking down the steps of the Delhi metro and the person in front of me threw a box over his shoulder.  I very quietly picked up the box, caught up to the gentleman and handed it to him.  He smiled almost apologetically, took the box and threw it away.  I also made it a point to get all of the participants in the many capacity building workshops that I facilitated to make a pledge not to litter and to also engage their family and friends.

At times I thought how can I, a foreigner, have more respect for the public streets than those who are citizens?  I constantly found myself saying to people, “but this is your country and how can you do this”? I know that I grew up in a society that prioritized keeping things clean.  That is not to say that the US is a perfectly clean place, but on the whole garbage is not strewn wherever one wants, especially given that one can be fined and possibly serve jail time for this type of behavior.  I remember once when I was driving in Connecticut and some young men in the car in front of me threw some Styrofoam cups directly in my path.  I noticed them laughing as they did this.  I wrote down the license plate and forwarded it to the local police, who contacted the owner of the car.  I soon received an apology from the culprits and I wouldn’t be surprised if they also had to do some community service. 

Before my bus reached Kathmandu I decided to talk to the teens and in my very direct way asked them why they threw the potato chip bags out the window and there literally was no explanation.  The teens were a brother and sister and the young woman apologized to me and said I won’t do it again.  I encouraged her to talk to her friends as well.  We ended up having a nice conversation and exchanged some small gifts.
Born and raised in the US and now having spent almost four years in India and Nepal, which I’m thoroughly happy about, I do notice the many differences.  In some sense it is very difficult for me to understand why people would throw  their garbage into the public arena.  I almost asked the two teenagers what they would think if a busload of people threw all of their garbage into the teen’s parent’s front yard, but fortunately I thought better of this.    Of course, as anybody would , they would be aghast if someone did this on private property.

But this begs the question as to why people don’t take more responsibility for the public arena?  Maybe a formal garbage pick-up would help the situation, but somehow I can’t really imagine this given the huge issues facing this country.  Maybe it is also more of an urban kind of thinking, as I have noticed that in the villages that I’ve been able to visit, they are fairly clean.  People definitely kept their homes clean and spent a lot of time sweeping.  Although on this same Dang trip and in a visit to a village, I bought some candy for a few children and they immediately threw the wrappers on the ground, but after some prodding did throw this into a dust bin which, when asked, the shop keeper provided. 

In many ways this all comes down to a mindset, i.e. how do we treat our country, i.e. the public arena?  Far too often I hear people saying to me, “my dream is to go to America”.  I also often heard this statement in India.  My response is, “ yes you might go and get an education, learn some other types of thinking, but come back and build your country”.  My fear is that all too often once people leave, they won’t come back.  But I also recently met a young man who told me about getting his PhD. at Brown University inn the US and that his wife to be was being educated at Harvard.  He said that he and his wife might work in the US for a few years but then they would hopefully come back. 

But it doesn’t take going to school in the west to change how we treat the public areas in Nepal.  All it takes is one person saying I won’t throw my garbage out the window of a bus, and I will also talk to my friends and family.  Maybe I don’t really understand, but my hope is that, things will change and as I travel none of us will have to look at potato chip bags spread over the landscape.


My role of partnership builder for both VSO Nepal and Community Self Reliance Centre (CSRC)  has led to numerous opportunities and unexpected turns.  However, I’ve learned to expect the unexpected from living in Asia.  Working in India from 2009-early 2012 really helped me to open my eyes to all of the doors and windows, which I never quite saw before living in the United States.  This experience also enabled me to take more chances, step through to the other side and be curious about what I might find.  Since coming to Nepal in June, 2012  I’ve not only been able to meet with some of the top business people in the country, but will also start appearing on Nepal TV as the host of the show “Inspirations”. 

Although my sister and her husband, as well as my daughter, are all performers in their own right, in both music and film, in India I found my stage to be that of a capacity building, facilitating NGO workshops in strategic and fundraising planning and human resources development.  I had appeared on the stage a number of years ago when I decided to take acting lessons and perform in some minor roles in Shakespeare plays for Flocke Theatre in New London, Connecticut.  I thoroughly enjoyed this, dressing up, saying a few lines and participating in pitched sword battles.  I had also been interviewed for various television shows in my previous jobs in the US.  But I had never given any thought to hosting a  television show.

As I’ve come to meet a number of media people, one thing led to another and the producer of “Inspirations”, Anmol Tandukar of Media Gallery asked me to help out.  Initially I was off screen asking questions, but things have evolved into me being on screen.  The current point of the show is to interview INGO and NGO Directors, inspiring people, focusing on information about their personal lives and how they came to work in Nepal.  The personal touch really adds a lot and provides greater insight into how and why people chose Nepal.

I started helping Anmol after the eighth episode when we interviewed Arlene Mahinay, VSO Nepal Country Director.  Arlene is from the Philippines and had worked in a number of countries before coming to Nepal.  One could sense how impacted Arlene had been by her parents and large family leading her to her present position.   One could also feel her passion for women's issues.  

From Media Gallery’s side having a foreigner conduct the interviews was seen as positive, after Anmol tried his hand at interviewing Dominic O’Neill, a former VSO volunteer who is now the DFID Nepal Head.  I liked Dominic immediately as I’ve come to find him to be a very, warm, friendly and helpful person.  When asked to describe one of his most memorable moments he immediately talked about his not too long ago wedding and one could feel the depth of love that Dominic felt for his wife.

For me it is not about asking people questions, but is more about listening to their stories.  We recently interviewed Ben Ayres, the Country Director of the dZi Foundation.  Ben is a young American from New Hampshire  who has been in Nepal for a number of years.  He originally came to this beautiful  country to spend part of his junior college year abroad.  Ben became fluent in Nepali and communicates and listens as a native speaker.  He previously worked with porters and now, along with his Nepali colleagues, works in villages in the eastern districts, providing integrated capacity building and assistance based on the villagers identified needs and not any other agenda.  I asked Ben if he would ever return to the US to live and he hesitated and talked about creating a community.  But I could feel from speaking to him and watching his interactions with the Media Gallery crew, that he is very much a Nepali and has been greatly impacted in his thinking and being by this country. 

We interviewed Dr. David Molden, like me originally a Californian from Los Angeles, and now the Director General of ICIMOD, a huge responsibility given that the organisation serves the eight regional member countries of the Hindu Kush Himalayas AfghanistanBangladeshBhutanChinaIndiaMyanmarNepal, and Pakistan .  David spent his college years in the mountainous state of Colorado and  during the 1990’s worked in Nepal.  Early on in his career David spent time in Lesotho in the Peace Corps, which had a huge impact on his life and helped lead him towards his present assignment.  Recently David’s and his wife’s daughter married a Nepali man in a traditional ceremony.  As David described this I could see from the wetness in his eyes, what this meant to him.  I saw a great sense of pride as he described how he was now a greater part of  Nepal. 

After interviewing David we met Ramesh Puri, the new Country Director of Room to Read.  Ramesh is the first Nepali that I’ve interviewed, possessing a very strong background to lead this literacy program.  Ramesh had spent some 15 years abroad as Country Director for organisations such as Save the Children and Concern.  Ramesh and his wife made the decision to return to Nepal and he has brought with him a plethora of experience and knowledge in helping to build his country. 

The opportunity to spend some time with such inspiring people and hear their stories is something that I will always treasure.  But it goes well beyond that as I learn how other people approach life.  But I also know that anybody can be inspirational.  As I left ICIMOD I admired the perfectly white topi of Farid Ahmad who is from Chitral, Pakistan.  Without hesitation Farid gave me his topi and said in his culture this is the way that it is.  This simple gesture made my day and I hugged Farid.  Given the harsh realities in the world, isn’t this the true inspiration, the little things that we can all do to show kindness and help one another.  I left with a huge smile, feeling truly inspired. 

The Inspirations TV Show can be seen on Wednesday evenings at 10:10 PM on Nepal TV.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

A good road leads to a wedding

I-MAN had heard that there was going to be a wedding amongst the land rights community and pleaded with the best driver in Nepal to take him.  The wedding was to be between the daughter of a land rights leader and a young man with a shining face, who knew that his and his wife’s future would be open to all kind of possibilities, if they could only dream.

Once I-MAN knew that he would be traveling in the magic truck where people appeared and disappeared, he became quite excited although he wasn’t at all sure which road would lead to the wedding.  As I-MAN, the best driver in Nepal and three other land righters, including one who wrote a lot of newspaper articles about this particular issue, got into the truck, he noticed that there was plenty of space for others.  Sure enough after a short distance, the father of one the main land righters, appeared on the side of the road and was shifted into the front seat.  I-MAN was curious as to whether this gentleman was going to the wedding, which seemed to make some sense, given that all of the land righters knew one another, or whether he was just along for the ride. 

As the now six men rode in the truck, and the bumping began, I-MAN asked if this was the right road to Sindhulpalchok District, where the wedding would take place.  There wasn’t much of a response and soon the truck made its first stop where I-MAN noticed a number of people gathering in a bit of a square, full of temples and gods and such.  I-MAN walked over to the square while the others went shopping for some wedding gifts. 

After a bit of time and a look at what seemed to be an archway to a town, I-MAN sat down on a raised cement hill next to a man with a picture of a palm. From this vantage point I-MAN could see the magic truck, but none of his companions.  I-MAN wondered if they had gone through the archway, because the last he saw of them was at a shop directly across from where the truck was resting.  I-MAN looked at the picture of the palm and tried not to panic, thinking that although he couldn’t see beyond the archway he liked sitting in the square, so he would just wait.  After not too long, I-MAN saw his companions, somewhat weighted down with huge bags, most likely full of gold and silver, i.e. the wedding presents.  However when I-MAN asked what was in the bags, all the companions would say was that there were five rice cookers.
Once everybody was inside the magic truck and he felt a few bumps, I-MAN again asked the question as to whether this was the road to the wedding.  The response this time was that, “this was a good road and it would lead to the wedding”. 

After seeing the Himalayas in the not too distance, the group stopped at a home where the father of one of the main land righters, got out, at his real home.  It was a beautiful setting and it was good for I-MAN to see where one of the main land righters had grown up.  This was only to be a short stop as the group headed to the next stop.

I-MAN saw a two story house and the group got out to spend some time with another land righter.  In some sense it seemed that this land rights stuff was everywhere.  I-MAN wandered up the road a ways to see what he could see.  Sure enough he saw some huge birds flying over a free flowing river.  I-MAN waited until the birds landed in a tree where he took some photos of the winged beasts kissing one another 

I-MAN walked back to the two story house and joined the others in drinking some tea.  It was time to leave again and with the Himalayas in the distance everyone seemed happy.  Finally the main stop, a short hike and they were all at the wedding.

People were crammed, dressed in their Nepali wedding best, onto a porch, with some lush green hills in the background, watching a priest perform the marriage rites.  The bride was upstairs and I-MAN burst into the house and asked to take a photo, with the bride obliging.  When I-MAN came downstairs he made his way through the crowd in order to get the best shots of the events. 

There was an area with a number of items, a fire, some upright sticks and such which were all part of the marriage ceremony.  People were gathered around this area, talking, laughing, watching and enjoying.  When it came time for lunch everyone walked to an area overlooking a river, with long tables full of food.  People were sitting wherever they could, nothing too formal, just joy.

After lunch I-MAN saw the bride and groom sitting in chairs with everyone blessing them by putting lots of sticky, colored rice onto their heads.  Over the course of this ritual the colors started dripping down the face of the bride and it seemed as if her face was melting.  I-MAN just had to participate and took some of the rice and stuck it in the middle of the foreheads of both the bride and groom, whereupon they both turned a bright red and started shaking from the tips of their toes to the top of their heads.  I-MAN didn’t quite know what to do, but fortunately the priest took a big gob of the colored rice and placed it on the crowns of both the bride and groom and they immediately calmed down.  As quickly as possible I-MAN made his way to the back of the crowd and tried to be anonymous, which wasn’t that easy given that he was the only non-Nepali. The other thing that gave him away was the fluttering of his heart whenever he saw a Nepali woman.  Ke garne?

Fortunately the other land righters said that it was time to leave.  I-MAN took a few more photos and they all made their way to the magic truck. 

The group decided to the opposite way from which they had come and they passed many waterfalls but soon came to a construction site blocking the road with a sign that clearly stated, “Construction Site, No Admittance”.  The best driver in Nepal parked the truck near the sign and four land righters immediately went into the construction site to determine what to do.  I-MAN stayed near the magic truck and watched the waterfalls.  Fortunately the land righters soon came back and realized that they had to go back the way that they came.

After an hour or so the magic truck turned onto a road and the group entered a small town where they picked up a woman who happened to be the mother of one of the land righters who was working in Kathmandu.  I-MAN couldn’t believe all the family that he was meeting.  It seemed that the entire land rights movement had sprouted from this part of Nepal.  As if to underscore this point, the group soon stopped at the father of the major land rights guru to pick him up, met the mother of another major lands righter, who had a house next door to the father and then picked up something like 15, 50 kg bags of rice which one of the land righters piled on top of his head and butted into the back of the magic truck, like he was heading a futbol.  It was difficult for the seven people and 15, 50 kg bags of rice, given the size of the magic truck but some of the people just sat on the top of the truck, making more room for those inside of the cab.  Somehow it all seemed to work itself out. 

I-MAN was in awe, well wouldn’t you be, and just before heading back to Kathmandu the group stopped for some tea in a small town.  It was another adventure and I-MAN was quite happy as the next day was Saturday when there would be lots of basketball with I-MAN’s Nepali and Tibetan friends, but that is another story.    

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

I-MAN's Village Life-Palpa

I-MAN had long wanted to really experience what it might be like for most of the people of Nepal and asked his friend  Imxaleerhs if he could come for a visit to Palpa District about 7-8 hours from KTM.  I-MAN thought that he would directly take a bus, but some of the members of an OGN that he knew CRSC were going and offered him a ride.  I-MAN though a bit about just flying by himself, but knew that he had to keep being part of reality and that wasn’t about flying.
Early on Tuesday morning, around 6 AM, three people including I-MAN jumped into a truck that was made for the Nepali roads and headed out towards the wilds of Palpa.  Soon, however the truck was full of people, some picked up here and some there, but being in Nepal for six months now, I-MAN came to expect people appearing and disappearing.  The idea would be to drive some distance and then let I-MAN off in Butwal where he would take a bus to his final destination in Pravas, Palpa District. 

Before arriving in Pravas, there was the usual bouncing on the roads and I-MAN closed his eyes and dreamed of being in a small boat on the ocean, i.e. with somewhat choppy waters. 
After not too long the group stopped when they saw a number of people sitting with some policemen watching.  The group was quite curious and went to investigate.  As sometimes happens in this part of the world, members of the group knew the people who were sitting and as they came to find out, the people were being evicted from some forest land, which they had inhabited for generations.  There were older people with long white beards as well as younger people sitting with their parents and grandparents.

Why these people were being evicted just didn’t seem to make much sense especially given the fact that they had been on this land for generations.  The people decided to stage a sit-in and a member of the group, a true leader named  Hserus, addressed the people and told them that the group were in solidarity with them and they appreciated that.  But these people still had no homes to go to and many were barefoot and it was pretty cold, it being December.  But soon the group had to leave and they said their good-byes, with I-MAN in a constant state of questioning, shaking his head.

Finally the group left I-MAN off in Butwal where he got on a bus and made his way to Pravas.  It was a pretty windy road and the bus drivers in Nepal never having received any kind of formal licenses, tended to drive any way that they wanted not paying much attention to any other of the many vehicles on the road.

I-MAN got off at Pravas and waited for his friend Imxaleerhs and her friend, soon to be I-MAN’s friend,   Allakmu.  At the bus stop I-MAN noticed a person just sitting in a pile of clothes.  The person seemed to be living at the bus stop, although it was out in the open and must have been quite cold even with the pile of clothes.  I-MAN decided to go across the street to a little restaurant cum grocery store and wait for his friend. 

Finally Imxaleerhs and Allakmu appeared, somewhat magically, and the trio headed off to the office of the District Land Rights Forum of Palpa.  The office was easily identified by I-MAN as he saw many posters of people in struggle, just trying to get their little piece of earth, so that they didn’t have to be tenants and pay half of their crops to the landlords.  The office was located in a building with a number of rooms that were homes to many people including a young love married couple, with the wife’s name being Aliehs.  After a bit of time and of course, inspection of the squat toilet by I-Man,  the trio left for Allakmu’s home. 

The time in Palpa was to be one of lots of walking as neither of I-MAN’s friends or their families owned anything mechanized.  Walking through some dirt roads and agricultural areas the mud home was finally sited.  To nobody’s surprise I-MAN was the first non-Nepali to visit and the relatives of Allakmu’s looked on with curiosity.  I-MAN was in the same state as the relatives as he saw Allakmu’s father squatting over a mud stove with a warm fire boiling the ever present fresh buffalo milk.  A warm greeting was given by the father and I-MAN immediately felt “at-home”. 

Whenever I-MAN tried to sit down a mat was placed on the ground beneath him.  This could be quite funny at times as there seemed to be the “butt dance” continually taking place.  But this was the way and I-MAN gladly accepted.  I-MAN as usual had over-packed and brought a rather large back pack.  The room that I-MAN was to stay in had a beautifully painted blue door with a lock on it.  The chubby key was found and the door unlocked to a room with a bed and a large steel cabinet.  I-MAN being quite cold given the weather and the fact that there was no heat, except for the fire under the pot of buffalo milk, placed  his back pack on the ground and asked for more blankets.  I-MAN noticed that there were some kind of windows and openings with no coverings on them and he wondered how this might impact his sleep. 

It was soon time for dinner and I-MAN appreciated the fact that the stove was outside with a little covering, because he knew that having the fire oven in the house would cause lots of health problems.  I-MAN came to find out that the father was not able to work much and did, at least, some of the cooking.  He also found out that the mother had to collect fire wood on a somewhat daily basis.  This was a problem given how far one might have to travel and then carry the fire wood back on one’s back.  Fortunately though Allakmu’s brothers and their wives lived in the homes next door where they also had cooking ovens outside.  It was interesting for I-MAN to note that the outhouse stood in close proximity to at least two of the cooking stoves and I-MAN hoped that this wasn’t a sign of what might come after dinner. 

I-MAN noticed a number of others things such as a very young niece of Allakmu’s being very close to the fire and using a small scythe to help cut the vegetables.  He also noticed that there was another fire wood stove in the house which was being used for cooking.  This somewhat troubled I-MAN, but fortunately there were some small openings in the mud walls near the fire, but also the door was kept open, so I-MAN never fully felt the smoke. 

The meal was quite delicious, sitting on a mat on the floor with Allakmu, Imxaleerhs and the mom dishing out the food.  The food consisted of rice, vegetables and warm buffalo milk.  Everyone had on their winter clothes while they ate, but this didn’t seem to deter anyone, especially I-MAN who having lived in the west for too long was the only one to use a spoon and not his fingers.  Once the meal was finished the dishes were piled into a big tub for washing in the morning, although without any source of hot water, I-MAN thought that this must be quite painful.  I-MAN excused himself and went to his “igloo” to watch a movie.

Although he wasn’t thinking about it at the time, watching a downloaded movie on his laptop, would probably have been quite foreign to the Allakmu’s mother and father.  Unfortunately, I-MAN hadn’t shared any movies with them, but maybe next time.  He was now wondering if the mom and dad had actually ever watched a movie? Ke garne?

Once the movie was finished I-MAN scrunched himself way down under the covers, but given the holes in the igloo I-MAN was still quite cold.  He must have woken up a number of times as the water in his body, although trying to keep him warm, just had to come out.  I-MAN had to be conscious of the ceiling height of his igloo when he awoke  in the middle of the night to go to the outhouse.  It turned out to be ok, but on subsequent nights I-MAN got a bit smarter and sprinkled the fields directly outside of the igloo.  Hopefully the cauliflower didn’t mind showers in the middle of the rather frigid night.

In the morning although I-MAN wanted to sleep in, everyone else woke up quite early and I-MAN just had to oblige.  There was dad and others next to the fire trying to get warm and drinking their buffalo milk.  Imxaleerhs knew that I-MAN loved corn flakes for breakfast and although most Nepali’s probably don’t eat this, there was a bag just for I-MAN.  He poured in his hot buffalo milk and downed the somewhat, now soggy, flakes  This was all in preparation for making a half hour or so walk to Imxaleerhs home in the hills for a Nepali breakfast and a shower.

The trio left with I-MAN’s backpack on his back, although unbeknownst to him they would be going back to the igloo to sleep.  Never-the-less the trio went up and down a few hills and finally made it to Imxaleerhs’s home where they were greeted by her brother, his wife, his daughters and her mother.  I-MAN needed a shower and a shave quite badly as he was itching all over from not showering for at least a day and half. 

I-MAN was shown the outhouse and a seat was put over the “toilet” and some hot water, from a fire wood stove, was poured in one of the buckets.  I-MAN hung his clothes on the outhouse door and went to work putting a little soap on his body, a bit of shampoo on his hair.  It did seem to work and I-MAN emerged a clean guy.  Prior to this though I-MAN was given a looking glass and a chair and he did his shave in the front yard, which also seemed to work.

Upon leaving the shower I-MAN noticed an orange man sitting in the yard.  He had a tika on his forehead and was speaking with about ten tongues.  He was raising his hands to the sky, telling the families past and future but not their present.  Finally a red stone emerged from a pouch and he said that it was very magical, but would cost NPR 1100.  Well the family members examined the stone and it didn’t seem to do anything for them, so they declined the offer. 
Fortunately it was now time, at 10:30 AM, for Nepali lunch, which for I-MAN was a bit off but he enjoyed his portion of rice and veggies anyway. 

After lunch, the trio left for the village where a meeting would be conducted with a Village Land Rights Forum.  The walk took a good hour or so, but this was the only way to get to the Village.  The trio passed a lake and I-MAN noticed, from some distance, a swan boat, which made him quite excited.  However when they got closer the swan part had disappeared and it was only a paddle boat.  I-MAN thought that he must have been hallucinating, thinking maybe he was in Boston and thought that maybe it had to do with the lunch ingredients.

I-MAN enjoyed the walk and his heart was pumping a bit.  The trio passed a village woman with her cows grazing up the hills.  Having never seen anyone like I-MAN before the cows quickly strode further up the hill, just to be on the safe side.  They had heard about westerners and were sure that they might be turned into a hamburger, and fries, on the spot. 

Upon arriving at the village there were five people at the meeting hall, with a map, a key to the struggle.  Although this seemed like a small turnout the action began with the chief carefully viewing the location of each of the 50 or so houses and noting who lived at each.  This was at 1 PM.

But, as is often the case in Nepal people kept appearing and by 2:30 PM there were some 35 people, 20 of whom were women, scrunched on the porch of the meeting hall.  I-MAN kept snapping photos and the villagers seemed to be somewhat curious of this former Indian, who now hardly knew any Hindi and for that matter certainly only a small amount of Nepali.  I-MAN noticed a guy with a green “Bryant” jacket with a number “8” on his back and also a man wearing a sweatshirt that said San Francisco.  I-MAN was intrigued by this but let it pass as he had also noticed throughout Nepal, sweatshirts with “Franklin and Marshall” college emblazoned on them.  F&M was from another lifetime of I-MAN’s but somehow seemed to keep following him. 

During the meeting, which I-MAN really didn’t understand, although he knew the root of it all, he wandered off to look at some of the village. He met some Nepali children who took some photos with his camera, maybe a first for them, but they seemed to pick it up fairly quickly. 
As the meeting ended I-MAN asked everyone to pose for a group photo.  This seemed to be of interest to all and they lined up facing the sun and posed.  It was then time to walk back to Allakmu’s home, prepare the evening meal and do some dancing.

I-MAN knew that the Village Land Rights Forums (VLRFs) were the key to the success of the work of the OGN CRSC.  These were the real people who needed to get their piece of land, to grow some food and support themselves, keeping their relatives from immigrating to send back a remittance, and not see their families for long periods of time.  The people who made up the Forums didn’t really want much, although the idea of real reform for helping people made a lot of people quite scared.  But what the scared people didn’t realize is that if they gave up a little piece of land, then the real people would be happy and not think about “eating the rich”.  But there have always been “haves” and “have-nots” and there would always be.  I-MAN did know some “haves” who didn’t mind sharing, but for most, it had nothing to do with sharing but keeping what was “rightfully” there’s, even if it had come from some past generations. 

Dinner that night was pretty good as I-MAN was kind of getting used to village life and sleeping in an igloo.  Before dinner, there were lots of children roaming around, mainly from Allakmu’s family and so I-MAN brought out his laptop and played some Black Kids, “I’m not gonna teach your boyfriend how to dance” and everyone was jumping up and down, as former Indians in a past life, and now Americans, tend to do. 

After dinner, I-MAN went to his igloo and watched another movie and dreamt about penguins and polar bears sleeping together in harmony.

The next day was going to be a big event and everyone had to get up early as the trio was going to the district centre of Tansen.  I-MAN had seen Tansen from a distance on the hills above Pravas and was somewhat excited to go.  But first the trio went to Imxaleerhs’ home where everyone had to take a shower.  This took quite some time as the water had to be boiled for each person’s shower and then the right clothes and make-up had to be applied, except for I-MAN who just watched the proceedings with some delight. 

Imxaleerhs had a young niece who was keen to get to know I-MAN. While I-MAN’s friends were applying their make-up, the niece started taking photos, using I-MAN’s camera.  At first though she stepped up on a chair and took the clothes pins off of the washing line.  She then motioned to I-MAN to sit down and through sign language and Nepali, which I-MAN didn’t really understand, asked him to put the pins on his fingers.  I-MAN being only too happy to oblige, did just so and the photos were snapped.   They then walked up a hill and found a large hole which the niece jumped into and motioned to I-MAN to take her photo.  This was a good diversion for I-MAN, until finally he was called for lunch.  Remembering the swan boat episode, I-MAN was careful as to what he put into his mouth. 

Having finished lunch or breakfast or brunch the trio walked down the hill to the Pravas bus stop.  All I-MAN saw were the bus stop ladies’ clothes and he was somewhat concerned until he saw her sitting near the road meditating.  I-MAN asked his friends about her and they said that she was somewhat crazy.  All at once, the bus stop lady appeared on the side of the bus stop, laughing, observing.  I-MAN didn’t want to look her in the eye as he was afraid that she might jump on him.

As the bus to Tansen arrived, I-MAN hoped that the bus stop lady would find some peace.  Tansen, as it turned out was not a large town but did have a beautiful temple, somewhat like the other temples that he had seen in Nepal.  The streets were somewhat windy and steep and I-MAN came to realize why the guy in the village, although he must have not have realized this, was wearing the San Francisco sweatshirt. 

The trio walked around Tansen and I-MAN even found an internet café, where the guy behind the counter was an albino with red hair tied in a ponytail.  As I-MAN searched the net he noticed the guy tapping his hands to music and looking really closely at his own computer.  When I-MAN checked out he took a gander at the guy’s computer and saw photos of ….well he just couldn’t really say.

Upon leaving the café and knowing that his friends were doing some work of their own, I-MAN popped into a clothing store to find a beautiful Nepali vest, something that he had recently seen in Kirtipur, when he went to visit his friend Raj Kumar.  In Kirtipur the men and women were very dressed up for a festival, but as bells sounded in the city streets, they would all stop and start throwing these pink colored pretzels at everyone else.  This was rather unsettling for I-MAN, as it was as if the people were putting their arms up to heaven and waiting for some magical manna to fall down.  But this is all off of the subject at hand.

I-MAN found the beautiful vests and started trying them on along with some Nepali topis.  They looked pretty good and reminded I-MAN of the time that he was in Assam, India, where he had bought some beautiful, hand-made vests from one of the local tribes, but that is in another story.  When I-MAN’s two friends arrived he asked them what they thought, accompanied by another friend, a guy who coached badminton throughout Nepal.  The coach told I-MAN that the price was a bit high and so the now foursome went to look for other vest stores, which they found, but I-MAN thought better of making these purchases at that moment.  This mainly had to do with the price and I-MAN’s knowledge of his friend’s salaries which wouldn’t have bought too many vests.

The trio bid good-bye to the coach and headed back to Pravas where I-MAN would spend his last evening in the igloo as he had to return  to Kathmandu.  I-MAN was told that he had to get up by six because the bus would be leaving at either 7 or 7:30.  Arriving at the bus stop at 7:04 AM, which is quite on-time for Nepali standards, the trio came to find out that the Kathmandu bus had already left and that I-MAN would have to take a bus to Butwal and then take another bus to Kathmandu. 

The transfer went well and I-MAN sat in the bus, with another bus driver without a license, driving way too fast, especially around the bends in the road.  Fortunately, there were no speakers for I-MAN to bang his head on as he had done on the bus from Dang District with his friend Arat.  Unfortunately once back in Kathmandu I-MAN didn’t get off at the right stop and ended up taking an extra hour to get home where he took a really hot shower and washed his clothes.

The next morning would be full of Nepali school basketball, but that is another adventure.