Saturday, June 29, 2013


Written from New York City on my first evening back to the US after one year. 

Due to my “cheap” flight arrangements, and before transiting through China, I had had some visa issues.  I didn’t realize that I needed a visa, given that I only wanted to transit.  When I originally went to the airport with my ticket purchased some three months earlier, I was not allowed to check in.  When I tried to get a visa in one day,  I wasn’t allowed to apply.  But one and one half weeks later, after successfully obtaining a visa in the regular four working days,  I was able to board a plane for Kunming.  Based on my short visa experience, admittedly I was somewhat biased as to what I might find.

I arrived in Kunming around 10 PM.  Since I now had a visa and about 24 hours I decided to venture into the City.  At the airport, I went to exchange some money and was advised by the attendant, that she would have to charge me $10 and that I should try an ATM.  She also recommended a hotel and told me how to take the bus, rather than a taxi.  I was told by numerous people before I came to China that hardly anybody would speak English, and this made me a bit anxious, although given my four years of living overseas, I felt that I could overcome any language barriers. 

Everything was incredibly organised as I paid for and found a seat on the bus, which was fully air conditioned, had a television, nothing different from anything that one might find in the States, and possibly even better.  The number of people helping/directing was astounding to me. 

As we left the airport I again noted the orderliness and how the highway resembled what one would find in the States.  The last stop was the hotel.  It was now after 12 and there were no rooms.  The one employee who spoke English said, “follow me”.  We went through some alleys and made our way to another hotel  where we were told again that there were no rooms.  A third hotel, nearby,  bore fruit.

The employee took me to my room, opened the door and even made me a map of how to get back to his hotel in order to take the bus the next day.  I was amazed by this employee, seemingly going out of his way to help me. The customer service was excellent and I felt as if I was in the “West”.   As he left my room he said, “Welcome to China”.   

The next morning I ventured out, walked a bit, found a lovely little restaurant and was able to explain that I wanted vegetarian dumplings.  I was astounded by the number of technology related shops in a small city area.  I was very pleased to see fully accessible sidewalks, large streets, many trees, bicycle lanes and cars and buses following traffic signals.  In terms of infrastructure, I was already in the “West”, maybe even better.

On Sunday afternoon I arrived in New York City and went directly to clear customs in the US/green card line.  What I observed astounded me.  In this line there was literally a United Nations, with so many variations in skin tone and a plethora of languages.   My ride on the subway to my relatives home reinforced this feeling.

One of the reasons, as to why I’ve wanted to live overseas, was to gain a greater appreciation for the US.  The “UN observation” gave me one of those moments, as I’ve been used to seeing so much more homogeneity in my brief time in India and Nepal.  This also made me wonder what it means to be an American?

All in all it feels good to be back in my birthplace, but also knowing that a larger world has always been available. 

Monday, June 17, 2013

Making Voices Heard

On a recent Thursday I trudged through the rain, flooded and uneven muddy streets and sidewalks, in order to attend a program titled, the “Collective Campaign on Women’s Proportionate and Inclusive Participation in Upcoming Election”.  The Nepal Academy auditorium was filled to capacity with more than 700 people, primarily women, in attendance. This program was sponsored by Sankalpa a Women's Alliance for Peace, Justice, and Democracy.  Sankalpa is a very inclusive organisation and literally means a resolve, a promise, a commitment, and determination. The Organisation strives to give voice, genuine space, dignity and respect to Nepali women in the new constitution and is working towards the "Mission 50/50" Campaign, meaning proportionate and representative participation of women at all levels of the peace process and in all state structures.  Sankalpa is also working on a national campaign for a minimum 33% female representation in the upcoming election.

As I left the program, it was continuing to rain.   I walked in and out of puddles, approaching the main road and a university where I encountered a number of police.  As I looked up and down the street, I noticed that there were no vehicles, which was odd for 3 PM.  I saw a number of students in the street who apparently were part of the Akhil Force, a youth organisation under the student wing of the CPN-UML, All Nepal National Free Student Union (ANNFSU). A few speeches were being made and after about 15 minutes the students and police scattered and traffic resumed. 

On Friday as part of the NTV Inspirations Show  I Interviewed  Bhakta Bishwakarma, Chairperson of  the Nepal National Dalit Social Welfare Organisation (NNDSWO) established in 1982 when it was not allowed to even utter the term ‘Dalit’.  The Organisation focuses on ending ‘caste-based discrimination’ and ‘untouchability practices’ throughout Nepali Society, as well as Dalit focused development programs and advocating for socio-economic, cultural, political and educational rights.  Throughout the interview Bhakta told me stories of personal discrimination and how he worked to overcome his seemingly life’s fate, in order to become an advocate and now lead NNDSWO. 

On Sunday I went to a mass rally and disability bazaar, at City Hall, which included more than 300+ people, for the, “Launching of the UNICEF State of the World’s Children’s Report-Children with Disabilities”.  Since I spend a good deal of time in helping to facilitate disability sports, this was an opportunity for me to be with a variety of differently abled people, who were taking advantage of opportunities and participating in life.  The performances at the Launch by differently abled people, including the Captain of the Nepal Army Wheelchair Basketball Team and his dancing partner Roma Neupane, were so very touching.  However, the rally and bazaar brought up a number of questions for me including how to increase accessibility for differently abled people in Kathmandu, as well as, how to increase sensitivity to this issue throughout society. 

On Monday evening I was able to interview nine men and women who are Dalit, Haruwa/Charuwa who were staying at CSRC and advocating, with government officials, for their rights.  Through a translator I was able to hear their stories of being illiterate, living in poverty and long-term generational “bondage”, leaving little future hope for their children.
The common thread that I see in all of this is that like the rain flooded, muddy streets and sidewalks, life is a struggle and is messy, and there is no straight, level path, especially if a group is considered to be “marginalised”.  I realize how important it is to live in a society which allows and enables those who are considered marginalised to be heard.  But real change will only come if all sectors, i.e. government, civil society and corporates can come together.  In some sense all of the events, although there was media coverage, but as witnessed by those in attendance, were “preaching to the choir”. 

These glimpses into some of the challenges and issues facing Nepal, provides me with hope that if advocacy efforts continue in a pro-active manner, more inclusion, over the long term, might become a way of life.  

Thursday, June 6, 2013

I-MAN travels to ASU

I-MAN’s[1] Visa Adventures
After spending one year on the planet of LAPEN, I-MAN wanted to reacquaint himself with one of his birth places, i.e. the ASU.   He also needed to get back for his Bar Mitzvah, which was a very important event in his life.    He could have easily flown using his superhero powers but wanted to see what it might be like to take a really, really long flight for a really, really low fare.  

On Tuesday, May 28, in the LAPEN year 2070, I-MAN was supposed to leave for ASU.  He had purchased a ticket two months ago and had some layovers on the planet Anihc, which he didn’t think too much about, since he would arrive at odd times and stay in the airports a la Tom Hanks in The Terminal, except for one change from domestic to the international airport in Iahgnahs.  I-MAN’s good friend and confidant Unhsib drove him to the KTM airport and his friends Arat, Tarahb and others met him for a lovely Nepali send off, which almost brought tears to his eyes.  Little did I-MAN know that these tears would be on the verge of flowing as soon as he tried to board the plane. 

I-MAN went into the airport around 1:30 and thought that he had plenty of time for check-in for his 4 PM flight.   At the check-in counter he was told that he needed a special visa because he would be in Anihc for more than 24 hours!  I-MAN’s sense of excitement of sleeping in Anihc airports under the watchful eyes of  Chairman Oam of the board statues and posters, at least that is what he pictured, dropped about “100 floors”.   Unfortunately I-MAN, being an international planetary citizen had never consulted the CheapOAir website, from which he had purchased his really, really cheap ticket,  which apparently provided information regarding the potential need for a visa.  I-MAN was flabbergasted as the Anihc Eastern employees tried to help but to no avail.  They suggested purchasing a ticket, for $1,000 to San Francisco, which would put I-MAN in Anihc for less than 24 hours,  but which given his internal ASU flights would really mess things up.    I-MAN went home very dejected, trying to think about his next steps. 

When I-MAN  arrived home he Skyped  CheapOAir which is actually located in Ihled, although they have a Kroy Wen City address.  CheapOAir explained that they don’t advise on visa issues and that I-MAN should have checked their website.  Unfortunately there was nothing on his ticket indicating a need to check anything, as if somehow he should have known.  (Given the fact that I-MAN is a superhero maybe he should have). 

After multiple calls to CheapOair, all of which revolved around waiting for the California office of Anihc Eastern to open I-MAN got to the point of changing the reservation to Friday the 31st.  This was after spending 2.5 hours on Skype with a CheapOair supervisor.  However after paying an additional $650 CheapOair migrated into samepricesasotherinternetairlinecompaniesOair.   It was just magical!
After reviewing the site of the Esenihc Embassy in Kathmandu,  I-MAN felt that he could obtain a visa in one day. The website clearly indicated that extreme rush visas, one-day,  were possible, there was even a section specific to ASU citizens.  I-MAN thought and thought about this, i.e. should he trust a website from an Embassy, and finally, he decided that he should.   I-MAN was once again excited and thought that it would be possible to leave during the week, which would maintain all of his plans.

On Wednesday morning I-MAN took his visa photos, printed out all forms and made it to the monolithic cement walls of the Esenihc Embassy, where he waited, along with some 20 other people, for the metal gate to open at 9:45 AM.  Everyone scrambled into the office where there were a number of windows, one for people like I-MAN, applying for their visas.  There was also a special door for Tibetans, whom I-MAN saw rubbing their prayer beads and chanting as they nervously stood in line.  There was also an English magazine called, “Sanihc Tibet”.   I-MAN wasn’t all sure what this meant, because he thought that it was Tibet’s Tibet. 

At about 10:10 the employees decided to take their places behind the glass windows.  (The office is only open between 9:45-11 am Monday-Friday).  I-MAN approached the front of the line, feeling as if he would get to go to the ASU, when the man behind the glass window looked at his application and said, “we don’t do rushes for,  Snacirema see my supervisor”.   That feeling of dread hit I-MAN’s stomach as he tried to explain to the Supervisor what was on the Embassy website as well as posted on the office walls.  The Supervisor’s statement to I-MAN was, “we don’t do rushes for Snacirema, if we try to put a rush on, the computer will reject it.  This will take the normal four business days”.  I-MAN felt like crying, as if somehow he would never get to the ASU and as if he was throwing his money down a very red hole in which he would never recover. 

I-MAN dragged himself back to his flat in Sanepa and called samepricesasotherinternetairlinecompaniesOair and they said we can’t do much now but call back later when the Kroy Wen Office of Anihc Eastern will be open.  I-MAN felt so drained by all of this,  that he went to sleep for a few hours, something that he never does in the afternoons, no matter how tired he might be.  When I-MAN woke up he called sameprice….and spoke to a supervisor.  I-MAN  felt  that the service at sameprice…was really outstanding.  The people from Aidni with English names like Maynard were really good but I-MAN wondered why they didn’t use their real names and what were their real names anyway?  A supervisor was really helpful and spent another 2+ hours on the phone with I-MAN and just as they were about to  change the flight, the internet went out!  What else could go wrong?

The internet came back on and I-MAN immediately called back trying to get the same supervisor, but to no avail.  He explained to another supervisor the situation and said you cannot charge me and she agreed, got I-MAN the flight and it was done after another hour plus long Skype call. 

On Thursday morning, I-MAN’s friend Lomna picked him up and drove him, once again, to the Embassy.  They were early and had some milk tea.  Finally the gate once again opened and I-MAN was in line, trying not to be too nervous.  I-MAN met two men from the Kathmandu Post who were going to a conference in Anihc.  Finally it was his turn and the same man behind the glass window, said, “TALK TO THE SUPERVISOR”.  I-MAN started thinking about how Chairman OAM of the board must be smiling in his very cold dwelling, thinking about messing with people from the ASU.  Most likely his thoughts were of a cultural revolution and starvation, or some such nonsense.    

The Supervisor remembered I-MAN from the previous day and  he explained everything and said, “we’ll give you a double entry visa, so come back on Tuesday.  Also in order to go from one airport to another in Iahgnahs you can just talk to the border police who should give you a pass.”  Thank goodness it finally looked as if I-MAN could go the ASU, but what about those border police?  I-MAN wished that he had his Chairman OAM pins and red star hats, but they were most likely stored somewhere in a basement in Connecticut. 

Finally Tuesday arrived and I-MAN was the first in line.  He spent some time talking to a young man from Dnalnif who had dreams of going from Lapen to Dnalnif overland, through Anihc on some trans Anihc-Mongolian train thing.  He also wanted to visit Tibet.  The Man Behind the Window  (MBW) said to I-Man’s new friend, “What is your purpose in visiting China?”.  When the young man from Dnalnif explained the situation the MBW said, “go see a travel agent and come back later”.  The young man didn’t flinch and when I-MAN finished he would wish the young man, “good luck”. 

I-MAN nervously gave his voucher to the teller who gave him a receipt so that he could pay ASU prices to go to sleep in some airports in Anihc.  This time it worked and I-MAN had visions of Chairman Oam of the board thinking, “I need to mind meld with the border police, just wait and see what happens to you  Nacirema.  I wouldn’t sleep in my airports if I were you!”

Less than 24 hours to go and I-MAN is quite excited for this visa adventure to end and for another with the planet of Lapen to begin. 

I-MAN will always be indebted to those of his friends and family who showed him what empathy is all about.  This was really a good lesson in listening and caring and had many implications for I-MAN’s life.  He will also always remember  the muzak, when he was on Skype hold, which was a lot,  affiliated with samepricesasotherinternetairlinecompaniebutatleasttheyprovidereallyexcellentcustomerserviceOairbut theyalsocontinuallychangeflightdetails. 

[1] Many people throughout the world know about Batman and Robin, the Green Hornet, the Incredible Hulk, Fantastic 5, Iron Man and other super heroes, many of whom have been made popular through a variety of comics, movies and television shows.  However few people, up until now, knew anything about I-Man, a Jewish Indian superhero living in Seattle, Washington.  In the year 2011, I-Man was ten years old to most people who saw him only through their eyes, not really using their inner senses, although he was actually well over his 500th year on earth.  I-Man was a very unassuming young man, attending a Jewish day school, along with his sister Sophie, in Seattle.  He stood about five or so feet tall, had straight black hair and brown eyes and was dark in complexion due to his native country.  From his outward appearance, one would never think of this young man as anything resembling a super hero.  But, most people don’t look too deeply at others, only making judgments based on outward appearance and not necessarily on what is really inside of a person.   For further information on I-MAN please contact Michael Rosenkrantz, who is the official I-MAN biographer.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Opening a Letter

Opening a Letter

As usual, one recent morning while at my NGO CSRC in Dhapasi, I went to a small fruit shop to purchase breakfast.  I picked up a mango and an apple and when I tried to pay, the owner started saying something which I couldn’t understand.  I asked an adjacent shop owner for help, but he didn’t speak any English.  I tracked down a man who could help me and he explained that the fruit shop owner was indicating that last week I had overpaid and that today’s breakfast was free.  I walked away with a huge smile and a special start to my day with a new feeling of love for Nepal. 

The previous day I had gone to Boudhanath with an American friend, who had contracted polio as an infant.  Dan was visiting Nepal, with another American athlete, Greg, a contingent from Wheelchair Athletes Worldwide (WAW), making a donation of sports wheelchairs and conducting two clinics and a tournament for 60 Nepali wheelchair athletes, children, men and women of all ages.  At Boudhanath, Dan used his titanium crutches to get around as we met many people including a monk using wooden crutches.  Dan gave a small donation to the monk who told him that this would bring good karma. 

On previous visits to Boudhanath I had noticed piles of prayer flags waiting to be burned and was wondering who I might request these from.  On this day, I asked, a security guard if this was possible and he subsequently spoke to a manager.   I explained that Dan was from California and wanted to bring some prayer flags to the States.  The manager obliged by having the security guard provide some hanging prayer flags.  He also gave me a strand which will be brought to my son’s ashram in California.  The manager then unlocked the main temple for us.  Both Dan and I were taken in by these acts of kindness but it somehow felt greater, knowing that the prayer flags which had been hanging at Boudhanath would make their way to California, a small but somehow important connection.  

As I wrote in my May column, I was involved during the month with facilitating a wheelchair sports event involving civil society, corporates and the private sector.  The three days were a success on many accounts as primarily witnessed by the smiling faces of the wheelchair athletes, their friends and family, spectators and the volunteers. 

One of my good friends, Bishnu of Nature Trail Travels & Tours, Trekking & Expeditions provided me with an analogy relating the clinics/tournament to an envelope, and how so many people read the outside but only the receiver sees the inside.  Given that the three day event was developed through a range of partnerships, I found this analogy to be quite compelling.

It is often very true in life that we only see what appears on the surface, and that random acts of kindness, everyday events, go unnoticed.  In terms of the wheelchair sports event I can safely say that many persons and businesses behind the scenes did most of the work.  Bishnu selflessly provided transportation for Greg and Dan, inviting them for dinner and generally made them feel, as if, part of the Nepali family.  DRAGONAIR provided a huge donation of transporting the wheelchairs at no cost from Los Angeles to Kathmandu without any word of wanting/needing publicity.  The International Collage of Hospitality Management (ICHM), although I had asked them to initially provide 50 meals, ended up providing upwards of 100 meals and had 10 students volunteering at the event working from early morning to late into the afternoon.  All of this was done as an in-kind donation.

Most of the donations were conducted with little publicity, except for having a logo on a banner or an ad.  Naysayers might say that nobody does anything for “nothing” and to some extent this is true.  Many times a business doing a good deed is looking for free publicity, which in terms of CSR makes sense. Never-the-less what I generally found was an overall desire to help. I would also venture to say that it is the little guys, those in the background, who really made this particular event a success.   

The little guys didn’t have much to gain as their logos really couldn’t’ be seen and were at the bottom of everything.  Also, the general lack of an audience didn’t help/serve their business.

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is about partnership, but these connections have to come from the heart to have true impact.  I would never fault a corporate for entering into a CSR partnership for wanting to advance their business objectives, after all this is what CSR, in my mind, needs to be truly about.  The place where CSR however often fails is that it is only about the business objective and not about the real reason as to why CSR is being conducted, e.g. advancing the needs of Persons with Disabilities and creating more inclusion, keeping children, especially girls in school, developing livelihoods opportunities to get people out of poverty.  But this is an education process and will take much more time.

I want to end with one more story about the inside of “a letter”.  When I came into the office today I was speaking with my friend who although she had wanted to come to the wheelchair sports event texted me and said that she was dealing with a person who had had a heart attack.  When I asked Janita what had happened she told me that her carpenter had called her because she was the only person that he knew who might have some money to help.  Janita was able to get the money together from a number of people to thankfully save the man’s life and if she hadn’t been able to do this, the man would have been turned away by the hospital. 

I will always try to open the envelope to determine what is inside and to truly find out what is happening; appreciating the privilege that I have in living in Nepal. 

Breaking Barriers-Haruwa Charuwa

Through my volunteer work at CSRC I was recently able to interview a number of Haruwa/Charuwa (mostly Dalits), who were in Kathmandu to advocate for their rights with policy makers.  The group included four men and five women, primarily with the last name of Ram or Sada from VDC’s in Saptari and Siraha Districts.  The majority of the group were illiterate due to lack of educational opportunities, circumstances related to discrimination, land-poor and lack of funds.

The International Labour Organisation (ILO) Convention Nos.29, 105 and 182 prohibits forced and bonded labour including child-bonded labour.  The Government of Nepal has ratified ILO Convention Nos. 29 and 182 and has passed its own legislation. However,a substantial numberof rural individuals and families are still compelled to works as semi-bonded labourers. Lack of capabilities and access to alternative sources of livelihood, children deprived of a school education due to having to take over their family’s generational debt, debt bondage at exorbitant interest rates, allowing no possibility for payback and lack of citizenship papers are just some of the issues which perpetuate poverty and the practice of a bonded agricultural labour systemMost of the Haruwas have no land and  have settled on a landlord’s land,  which is another reason as to why they have remained as bonded.

The Government of Nepal formally abolished the Kamaiya Labour System on 17 July 2000 and had enacted the Kamaiya Labour (Prohibition) Act 2001 to prevent and rehabilitate bonded labourers under the Kamaiya system in agriculture. This Act includes agricultural labour systems, e.g. Haliya, Haruwa, Hali, Charuwa, etc. under Kamaiya Labour”.  Haliya/Haruwa and Charuwa are very poor people who are Dalits. They are the most marginalised people with the majority being landless, traditionally considered asuntouchables”.  Often entire families are bound to work as unpaid labourers to a landlord as the father is engaged as a Haliya/Haruwa

Today there are approximately 69,000 Haruwa/Charuwa families[1] in the eastern region of Nepal. 
The number of Haruwa/Charuwas has been gradually reduced but there are still families working to pay off debt.  Most of the Haruwa/Charuwas (approximately 90%) are forced to pay 60% interest to local landlords or money lenders for their survival needs. Wage payments are mainly in-kind (rice) and the cash value is only 50-60 percent of the minimum wage declared by the government. Endemic poverty, wage exploitation, and access to land, health and quality education continue to be major problems.

Siran Sada, 55, Badagama VDC, Saptari told me that his grandfather became a Haruwa, by taking a loan and that his family is still working on paying off this debt, although he didn’t know how much remained.  In light of the fact that the landlord was charging exorbitant interest rates there is probably little personal  hope of ever getting out of poverty.  Siran has a home on public land on a river bank.  He has had opportunity for daily wage jobs, which hardly pays more than 5-6 kg of rice/day, but that the landlord is pressuring to work their land.  Siran was given four kathaland, which is insufficient to grow food for the full year.  He has also taken a loan from his landlord.    Siran has had few options for educating his children and the life of a Haruwa has now been passed down to a fourth generation, through his son. Siran’s family is one of the fortunate few among the group in that his son brought home a mobile phone from India. 

Latar Sada, Sishawani, 63 VDC, Siraha discussed how educating the young might be able to eliminate the Haruwa system, but he also said that he has insufficient resources to send his children to school and that he doesn’t have enough food for his family.  He indicated that children have to leave school early due to discrimination, e.g. non-dalits were provided with new books, while Dalits were given old books, or the fact that Dalits had to sit in the back of the classroom.  But it is also a question of having the money for exam fees and stationary items and although schools are advertised as free, in fact, there are costs.

Sonawati Sada, 34, Hanuman Nagr, Siraha  had borrowed NPR 4,000 from her landlord, but has had to borrow more than NPR 40,000 from six money lenders who charge 60% interest rates for medical treatment for her and other family members.  If the family doesn’t pay anything they will get evicted but   some of the male family members have gone to India for temporary work in order to pay something towards the loan.  Sonawati has three daughters, with the oldest, 12, taking care of the family home meaning that she is no longer in school and will have little livelihood opportunity. 

Rajaya Debi Sada, 44, Madhupati VDC, Saptari,lives on village government land in a family of nine members.  Rajaya was married at 17, neither she or her husband attended school, her father was a Haruwa and she married a Haruwa.  Rajaya has four grandchildren, her son was 18 when he was married and his wife was 16. 

In total all felt that being a Haruwa/Charuwa was not fate, that it was  man-made.   When I asked the group how to resolve the issue some talked about the government exempting the loan and providing social security for medical purposes.  Gulab Debi Ram, 45, Haripur Saptari told me that the government should providing land for housing about one katha plus additional land based on family size in order to grow 12 months of food. 

How does the question of  elimination of Haruwa/Charuwa truly get addressed, in order to provide opportunities and get people out of poverty and into the mainstream?  How do we ensure that children are not born into a life without much hope, only because they were born to someone with the surname of Sada?  Why can’t land be distributed, based on generations of tilling and also paying a fair wage for a fair day’s work?  Why is it that some must remain impoverished and not share in what we all hope and dream for? 

Although Haruwa/Charuwa has been organised by CSRC and the National Land Rights Forum (NLRF) which has included demonstrations, rallies, sit-ins, submission of demand letters, and meetings, a number of times with high government officials, there has been no proper response.

At some point in the distant future the vision of CSRC, A Nepali society where everyone enjoys a secure, free and dignified life, might become reality, but until that time we need, even in small ways to give hope to people like Rajaya, Siran, Latar, Sonawati and Gulab and their families.  It is up to all of us, government, civil society and corporates to work collaboratively in making a bright future for all Nepalis. 

[1] ILO Unpublished Study 2009-Haruwa/Charuwa

Saturday, June 1, 2013


I recently ventured, for the first time, to Pokhara and observed massive amounts of lush greenness as I peered out of the window of the bus.  This trip and the return to Kathmandu made me realize how much I really love Nepal.  In a little less than one year, I’ve made a life for myself and call Kathmandu my “home”. 
The friends that I’ve made, the people that I’ve met and the opportunities that have presented themselves have helped to embed Nepal into my heart.  For the past four years I’ve been able to live/volunteer in India and Nepal and I feel so very “rich” and blessed.

There is no doubt in my mind that it is easier living in the United States, the infrastructure is well maintained, things are very orderly and familiar, there is less pollution, garbage is almost non-existent.  (As I waited to take a plane back to Kathmandu from Pokhara , I started talking to a Nepali who described Kathmandu as a mini-hell).   The US, however, lacks culture, adventure, challenge, color, the unexpected and everything else that goes along with living and being part of a so-called “developing country”. 

During the past four years I have become an avid photographer and could spend hours sitting at Boudhanath as I did on Buddha Poornima, or hanging out at Potter’s Square in Bhaktapur, or walking from Thamel to Sanepa, observing, snapping photos of people’s faces, which are my favorite subject.  This never gets old.

When I’m  not working, I spend a good amount of my “spare” time coaching and promoting sports for Persons with Disabilities.  I talk a lot about the UN Convention, accessibility and inclusion. This is a hold-over from my three years of volunteering for the Indian Government in the disability field.   I co-coach, along with my friend Raj Kumar, the Nepal Army Wheelchair Basketball Team.  On the last day of coaching before I left for vacation, we took a group photo and two hours later I was presented with a beautiful, hand-made frame with the photo inserted in it.  This was all done in a small ceremony with Raj Kumar and me receiving rose colored tikas and  red khatas.  The guys call Raj Kumar, Guru, such a sweet sounding word of respect.  This entire scene, including the taping of a segment about the athletes for the on-line magazine, Ventzine was very unexpected and “touched” me deeply.

I constantly talk to Nepalis who tell me that they want to go to America, as if somehow, this is a country in which they can fulfill their dreams.  Nepalis can tell me all about the two party system, the Democrats and the Republicans.  I can only smile in their knowing.  But yet somehow I am flowing in the opposite direction. 
I cannot name all of the Nepali political parties and I feel like an “infant” in understanding what makes the country tick.  But where else, in such a small geographical space, can I meet people from so many different countries and cultures and become part of a global community?  Where else can I enjoy the colors of holi, find so much intrigue and so much to marvel at while being so accepted? 

Of course there are other countries, but I’ve found a home in Nepal, a place where working on issues of Corporate Social Responsibility and land rights, integrated development and women’s empowerment opportunities can really make a difference.  While I was cooking a last dinner at my NGO, Community Self-Reliance Centre (CSRC), a young woman came into the kitchen and started to tell me that she had been a Kamlari and I immediately felt a sense of wanting to write about her, to help her tell her story.  I ask myself, where else can these kinds of stories present themselves.

The world is very large and there is so much richness in diversity, all of which I’ve  found in Nepal.   I hope to continue enjoying this for as long as possible, adding to it in my own little way.