Inspired Words

These are the experiences of our volunteers in Nepal.

DWC 2019 Nepal Team empowering communities

Posted in Nepal on October 18, 2019

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

The Developing World Connections trip to work with Creating Possibilities Nepal in villages near Lamahi (Dang Province) is set to go after over a year of planning. The team consists of ten from the US (6), Canada (3), and Italy (1 US citizen) that will be arriving in Kathmandu from 9-13 October. Once there, we’ll be meeting with Dinesh and Nura from Creating Possibilities before flying and driving to Lamahi.

As the team leader, I can say that it’s been a lot of work–but very rewarding work–as I work with the DWC staff (Gerry Shea and Patti Miller, primarily) to recruit volunteers and work the logistics of the trip. I’ve been impressed with DWC’s communication throughout the process as well as the enthusiasm of the volunteers. As we’re all going over the final arrangements and getting the last of our questions answered, the excitement level–tinged with a little anxiety–is fairly high.

I decided to volunteer to lead this trip soon after also deciding to retire from the US Air Force after 37 years of active duty service. I’d arranged an Air Force Academy-sponsored service trip with DWC in June 2014, taking five Academy cadets to Cambodia to do similar work and was so impressed by the organization at that point that I made a personal commitment to continue my relationship with DWC and sign-up to lead a trip on my own once retired. Gerry Shea was great about providing that opportunity and the response from several friends and others to the trip has been gratifying.

Four of those going on the trip are long-time friends of mine and also retired US Air Force officers, including two other brigadier generals, one retired colonel, and a retired lieutenant colonel. All five of us have technical backgrounds as scientists or engineers and four of the five have deep academic roots as professors, too, so the dynamic should be interesting. The team is completed with the daughter of one of the generals, a pair of Canadian female friends from the Toronto area, a semi-retired American man living in Italy, and another Canadian lady from British Columbia.

Four of us (Mike, Grace, Kevin, and I) will be meeting in Istanbul to take out final flight into Kathmandu together and we plan to meet Hal–our earliest arriver, getting there on 9 Oct–at the Kathmandu Eco Hotel in the Thamel part of town. The current plan is for the five of us to walk around for a couple of days, possibly arranging some short tours to Bakhtapur and some temples, before uniting with the rest of the group (except for Mark) for dinner on 12 Oct. We’ll all be in Kathmandu by the morning of the 13th and then we’ll meet with Dinesh and Nura for a visit to the Creating Possibilities offices, a set of briefings about the trip and our work, and then a welcome dinner that evening arranged by Dinesh at Saktar Restaurant, walking distance from our hotel.

The trip to the Denver airport was uneventful. I decided to try a new parking arrangment since I’d be gone for four weeks and parked at the 6st Ave and Pena Blvd train stop since you can get a 30-day parking pass there for only $48. The train stop is a short walk away and I had just a nine minute wait for the next train ($5.25 each way). All–in-all, it was 35 minutes from parking spot to check-in counter at the airport–not much different from the actual airport parking economy lots that are $8 per day and require a 15-20 minute shuttle bus ride. Check in went smoothly, too, though I did have to move one pair of work pants (my Air Force utility pants) from my checked bag to my carry-on, dropping my checked bag from an overweight 51.5 pounds to a svelte and acceptable 49.5.

It was good to see a Facebook post from Hal Rhoads who’s currently in Doha awaiting his connection to Kathmandu. He’ll be the first among us to arrive and I’m hoping that his visa processing and hotel shuttle pickup go smoothly.

I’m trying to come up with a sleep strategy for my back-to-back red-eye flights (ORD-IST and IST-KTM) but I think everything will be a failure. When you’re going almost exactly to the other side of the world (actually 11:45 different because of Nepal’s weird time zone), you’re going to be wiped out no matter what you do, so I’ll just try to sleep as much as possible (thanks, Ambien!) and work my way into Nepal Time when we arrive by walking around in the sunlight as much as possible.

 DWC Team Leader, Marty France

 Wednesday, October 9 to Thursday, October 10, 2019

The flight to Istanbul was uneventful, but long.  I managed about four hours of sleep, spending the rest of the time either reading or watching Toy Story 4.  We arrived at Istanbul ahead of schedule and, after taxiing for quite some time, made it to the terminal.  

The new airport in Istanbul is huge and beautiful, but it has the most ungainly and inefficient wifi system around, allowing only one hour of free access per person.  Luckily, in that time, I was able to locate Mike and Grace and we decided to set up a small camp and wait out the next 3.5 hours until our flight to Nepal would board.  We couldn’t locate Kevin, but eventually met up with him at the departure gate–which wasn’t announced until about an hour before departure.

We spent most of our time relaxing or walking around the new facility, marveling at the luxury goods retailers and duty free shops, as well as the amazing diversity one sees in a city like Istanbul–especially at its airport.  Turkish Airlines claims to fly to more countries that any airline in the world, and that seemed obvious from what we saw.

We bought a couple of snacks, but not too much food.  Mike picked up a big Tobelerone chocolate and some drinks.  I had to have an authentic Turkish coffee. We also bought a bottle of Laphroaig whiskey just to have something a little stronger during the trip.  I bought a new wireless mouse, too, as I quickly discovered something that I’d forgotten on the trip.

Before boarding, we met up with Kevin who seemed to have weathered his first flight quite well.  It was good catching up with him and he seemed to be enthusiastic about the trip as well as meeting Grace and Mike.  We boarded on time in the usual gaggle fashion, but I was happily surprised to get an unexpected upgrade to seat 1B in business class.  That made the next leg of the trip so much more comfortable with my lay-flat seat and great food and drink.

The guy sitting next to me was a 30-is German tea dealer, educated in Scotland, who was visiting Nepal for the first time.  Interesting guy with a fascinating accent when he spoke English. The flight departed the gate on time but had to return to the gate for about 10 minutes due to some minor mechanical issue.  We left almost an hour late–more extensive taxiiing–and landed about 40 minutes late into Kathmandu.

I didn’t sleep very much on the flight–maybe an hour or so–occupied as I was with watching Gary Oldham in “Darkest Hour,” the great service, and the free wifi that I used to catch up.  It was also fascinating to watch live TV coverage on TRT (the Turkish CNN) of the Turkish invasion of Northern Syria and to get their slant on these events.

The approach into Kathmandu at dawn was spectacular with the Himalayas out the left-side windows and the twisting, turning, final track into Tribhuvan International Airport.  We departed the plane–what looked like the only flyable aircraft then on any tarmac or runway and walked to a shuttle bus that took us no more than 100 meters to the entry gate to immigration.

I was literally the first person off of the bus and into immigration, finding myself one of their electronic kiosks with which to process my visa–something that took no more than five minutes.  From there, I only had to pay my $50 fee, get my passport stamped and then go through a security scan before arriving at baggage claim.

Mike and Grace were just a few minutes behind me but Kevin was one of the last to clear immigration as he had a couple of false-steps due to some poor advice. Nonetheless, we were all glad to claim our bags and head out together to the curb to meet our driver.  I’d been conversing with Dinesh, our Creating Possibilities Nepal Team Lead, via WhatsApp so we knew they were ready to pick us up. I was also quite pleased to see that my cell phone (Pixel 3 on the Google Fi network) worked in Nepal since the Google Fi webpage reported that Nepal was not one of the 180-plus countries in which service was available.  They must’ve just fixed that because I had a clear signal and Google Fi VPN right away. That saved me–so far at least–from buying a new SIM card for my extra phone.

We saw a guy holding a sign with our names at the curb and walked out to him.  He directed us to another location and a van came to get us quickly. Our big bags were loaded atop the van in a small cage–not strapped down or covered–and we headed to the Creating Possibilities Nepal (CPN) site to pick up Dinesh.

Dinesh jumped into the van and gave us lots of info right away.  We arrived at the Kathmandu Eco Hotel within 20 minutes (in the heart of the Thamel district) and checked in without any issues.  Hal Rhoads met us in the lobby and we all relaxed for a few minutes over some coffee and tea.  

The next 30 minutes were spent chatting with Dinesh about the trip, hotel, Kathmandu, etc.  I told the others my plan to relax for about an hour and get unpacked–as well as shower and plug things in–followed by as much walking around the city as possible before crashing for the night.  This has always been my plan when recovering from overnight flights. All agreed, though Kevin said he might do only a half day with us.  

Dinesh introduced us to his friend, Bimal (sp?) who worked with the hotel as a guide.  He informed us that the Chinese President, Xi, was coming to Kathmandu on Saturday, 12th, and that if we were going to visit anywhere outside of Kathmandu (e.g., Bakhtapur) we needed to do that on Friday since road closures and traffic would be an issue.  He offered to get us a driver to pick us up at 9am the next morning and drive us around all day to the outer sites of Kathmandu and we readily accepted. We would hit  sites like the Monkey Temple on the 12th when our need for transpo and crossing the city (or going anywhere near the airport) wouldn’t be an issue.  Bimal also warned us that the flights of those coming in on Saturday were likely to be disrupted (Hoot, Sue, Deb), but that there was nothing we could do about that.

The group reassembled in the lobby at 10:30am and we began our walk, maps in hand, through Thamel south to the Kathmandu Durbar Square area.  I was immediately struck by how little had changed since my last visit almost five years prior, though as we got closer to the square we seemed to see more damage from the April 2015 earthquake in the form of unrepaired buildings, vacant lots where collapsed buildings had stood, and lots of bracing and scaffolding around unstable buildings or those in some state of repair.

We all successfully navigated use of an ATM, each getting out 10,000 Nepalese Rupees (about $90 US).   A few blocks later, a young man seemed to glom onto us, asking about us and showing us around. We couldn’t get rid of him. He said he was just a student who wanted to practice his English and be nice to foreigners, but we knew it was more.  

He was a nice guy, but we couldn’t distance ourselves.  We finally found a place for lunch and he followed us in.  I offered to buy him lunch, but he said he only wanted tea.  We ate a light lunch of local food (daal, chicken, mo-mos, etc) in a small hotel restaurant and then went into Durbar Square.  By this time, our “guide” was getting pushy and asked if we could each give him 1,000 rupees for his services. I kind of lost it and told him that we never asked for or agreed to his help, that we’d asked him to leave us alone several times, and that he wouldn’t get any money from us.  He stomped off in a huff, quite miffed that he’d wasted so much time on us.

We spent about an hour walking around the Durbar Square area, much changed from my previous visit.  Almost all of the buildings were closed to access and several were barely more than heaps of bricks,  The largest building on the site, a nine-story, 17th Century structure was completely cordoned off with huge signs proclaiming the restoration work underway funded by the Chineses.  We each paid 1,000 rupees for entry, but really shouldn’t have bothered as there was open access everywhere. We justified the expenditure to ourselves by saying that we were supporting the restoration of the site, too, but it wasn’t clear that the money was well-spent!

From Durbar, we meandered out way back towards the hotel through the twisting, dirty backstreets of Kathmandu, stopping at about 3pm at the “Garden of Dreams” to relax and get a coffee or drink.  This beautiful little spot looks like the perfect wedding shoot location with manicured laws, ponds with lily pads, a classical building, sculptures, and walkways. It’s the nicest kept area in Kathmandu with no trash on the ground.  Several hundred were in the park with their families taking photos and enjoying the peace and quiet. 

I took several photos of families with their cameras and enjoyed interacting with the locals as usual–and also taking photos with my own camera.  There’s a huge swing there supported by 25-foot tall bamboo beams that’s always a treat and people stand in line for five or six swings on the giant pendulum, each smiling for the cameras that are clicking away.  I took shots of several including Mike pushing Grace to start her turn.

We walked the last 800 meters back to the hotel and agreed to meet up at 5:45 to walk to the Fusion Himalaya Restaurant about 300 meters away for dinner.  Kevin, who left us just after lunch and skillfully made his way back to the hotel solo, sent me a note that he was fine and would join us for dinner.

We joined up a few minutes late–I was late as I had become engrossed in photo post-processing–and started out walking, led by Google Maps.  We found the place easily, dodging cars, motor bikes, and huge potholes in equal measure along the way in the falling dusk.  

We walked into the restaurant and the owner immediately greeted me by name.  I’d been in touch with him asking for a reservation and he’d seen my WhatsApp profile. The other tourists turned and looked at us a little bit surprised.  I found his place because it was somehow rated #3 of over 600 restaurants in Kathmandu despite having no more than 30 seats at its narrow, back alley location.

The owner was very helpful, but also explained that he was short-handed that evening and missing one of his cooks so he’d have to run back and forth between us and the kitchen to help the staff.  We thanked him, ordered beers and relaxed.

The place was filled with western tourists and every seat seemed taken.  The beer was cold and the appetizers were excellent. We ordered currys and chow mein and watched the action.  Hal drank two large bottles of cold beer a little too quickly and was having a great time. Grace was starting to crash, as was I.  We left the restaurant at 7:45 and all hoped to be in bed by 8:00pm.

I almost made that goal.  I had to shift all of my stuff to another room earlier in the afternoon because my air conditioning wasn’t working, so that cost me some set-tup time, but by 8:30 I was sound asleep. 

DWC Team Leader, Marty France

Friday, October 11, 2019

I woke up only two times during the night–shortly after midnight and again at about 2am–but went back to sleep until a little after 4am when barking dogs and realizing that I’d slept for eight hours told me that it was time to just get up, write in the blog and upload photos. That done, I went downstairs to make a call home to check on things and reassure my wife, Becky, that all was well. I then went to breakfast and was quite pleased with the service and food that included porridge, sauteed beans and carrots, potatoes, fresh fruit, small omelets, breads, juices, and yogurt.

After eating, I completed some more work in the room and then went outside for a short walk around the neighborhood with my camera to see the city starting to wake up.

By about 8:45 everyone was in the lobby or eating breakfast.  Debra Powell was incoming today, so I reconfirmed her pickup at the airport and sent her messages with additional contact info and some reassurance.

We’d arranged for a driver to pick us up at 9am, but he didn’t arrive until almost 9:30.  Lama pulled up in a small silver van that seated six and had air conditioning, I sat in the front passenger seat with the others behind and we decided on the day’s itinerary with a phone call to Lama’s boss, Bimal.  It was decided that we would start by driving out of the city to Sanga, followed by visits to Bakhtapur Durbar Square and then back to Kathmandu and the Buddha Stupa or Buddhanath.

We drove through heavy traffic, once again on the obvious route that would be taken the following day by the Presidents of China and Nepal for their summit as indicated by all of the portrait photos along the way, banners, clean-up, and armed security.  In the city, the quality of the roads is generally better than I expected or remembered, but there are some rather incongruous patches where they go from perfectly fine to about 50-100 meters of just pen gravel and potholes.

It took us about 45 minutes to get to Sanga, the site of the world’s largest Shiva statue.  It’s kind of like Rio’s “Christ the Redeemer Statue” or the Virgin Mary statue in Beirut except without the massive crowds.  The statue stands 43 meters high and has some dimple temples around it and great views looking west towards Bakhtapur and Kathmandu.  They would be even better views if the air wasn’t so hazy from vehicle and other exhaust causing an inversion layer that limited visibility to about 10 miles.  Occasionally, during the drive, we could catch glimpses of the snow-capped Himalayan peaks to our north.

We spent about 45 minutes at the Shiva statue taking photos and relaxing.  The air was noticeable cooler in the higher altitude and it felt very good.  We then rejoined Lama for the torturous drive down from the site, sliding past narrow streets and sleeping dogs down to the busy highway that connected Nepal with the Tibetan border about 150 kilometers away.

Next we drove back to the west and then veered north toward the temple complex and ancient city of Bakhtapur.  Lama parked outside the gate and, as we descended the van, we were immediately accosted by local guides that wanted to show us around for two hours–only 10,000 NPW or about $9US.  We decided that we just wanted to walk around, so we avoided them all, paid our normal 1500 NPR entry fee and walked in unescorted. We’d made an arrangement to meet back at the van with Lama at 2pm and it was now 11:30am.

I was both impressed and disappointed with the condition of Bakhtapur.  Some of the most famous temples were barely piles of rubble still five years after the earthquake, but a surprising number were still in good shape.  Very few looked to be in any serious process of rebuilding, though. In Pottery Square, the damage seemed to be quite severe.

We walked around for about 90 minutes just soaking in the sights and taking photos.  The crowds weren’t bad, but we did notice that there were few if any Americans or English speakers of any kind. Most of the tourists seemed to be southern or eastern European or East Asian, though many were local or visiting Nepalese.

After enjoying the sites, we did a big loop of the complex and settled into a small garden cafe for lunch, ordering cold drinks and some local style food.  As usual, Grace was served last, some drinks were forgotten, several ordered items weren’t available, but we enjoyed the meal anyway. It was shady, cool, and the break felt good.  Time passed quicker than we thought and by the time we paid the bill, we barely had time to walk back to the van to meet Lama.

It took us another ten minutes to get out of the parking lot because a taxi was blocking our van and he refused to move until he saw Lama’s paid parking ticket.  From there, we braved the crushing afternoon traffic to go to the giant Buddha Stupa in the northeast corner of town. This involved driving past the airport and a few other sites and some back-tracking from earlier travels.  We saw more “Xi signs”, too. Lama finally got off of the crawling main highway and took us through shortcut to end one block away from the entrance. He gave us directions on which way to walk and we made it there easily in two minutes, crossing one major road that had been reduced to dust and gravel from disrepair.

The rest of the group was getting better at crossing roads as they adapted to Nepalese driving and we managed the traverse without incident.  The entry fee was 500 NPR, so we paid and went inside to see the huge white stupa with the golden top and eerily observant eyes painted on the tower.  Flag ropes fluttered in the breeze as hundred of locals, tourist–some devout, some just enjoying the weather circulated around the monument always clockwise, turning the hundred of prayer wheels on the outside, surrounded by a real tourist shopping mall experience on the exterior complete with multiple coffee shops and the usual souvenir stands.  A walk around the outside was about 200 meters and maybe 120 meters on the elevated level on the inside. Everyone was stopping to take photos, staged and selfies with the flags an stupa in the near-perfect weather conditions. Many families with little children and grandparents were there as well.

We toured the facility and then went into Himilayan Espresso for an afternoon snack.  Grace was served last again. We retrieved Kevin, who’d become separated and he joined us. Meanwhile, I went out for a last few photos after downing my double espresso and using the shop’s wifi to check on Debra’s status and make sure she had landed and had transpo back to the hotel.

Lama returned us to the hotel about 4:20 and we agreed to meet again in the lobby at 5:45 to go to dinner.

I use the time to post-process all of the day’s photos again and began to upload them.  Meanwhile, I was comforted to see that Debra was en route, Hoot had landed in Doha, and both Deb and Sue seemed to be on track with their flights.

I met Debra in the lobby and we got acquainted quickly just before dinner departure.  I introduced her to the rest of the team except for Kevin who’d decided to stay in. The hotel staff then tried to arrange for a pair of taxis to take us to a restaurant, but that didn’t work very well and caused us about 20 minutes in delays.

By the time we got to the restaurant, chosen by my friend Utsav–brother of the bride in a wedding I photographed in Kathmandu five years earlier and brother-in-law to one of my US Air Force friends–it was almost 8:30.  Utsav was waiting for us outside of the unexpectedly closed restaurant, but he assured us that other restaurants were nearby and that we could walk to them.

Indeed he was right.  Just around the corner, we found a nicely upscale place serving local food called Nilgiri Thakali Delights. We decided to let Utsav order everything for us and we would pay.  I was surprised that he brought a gift–a bottle of Nepalese “Old Drubar” Whiskey and thanked him profusely.  He read to me a very nice note just received from his sister by email and we settled down to dinner.

The conversation was even better than the excellent food as we learned about Utsav and his job.  A civil engineer with a MS in environmental engineering, he worked on water and power projects in Nepal, attempting to coordinate water storage, preservation, and distribution improvements throughout the country.  He likened the water infrastructure to the cable/telephone/power infrastructure with its thousands of unknown, hanging, exterior wires–in an undocumented pattern unknown to all and completely both insufficient and undocumented.  We also talked a lot about the history and current politics of Nepal, really enjoying the chance to learn more about this fascinating but challenged country.

The food he ordered was great, too.  We tried the dried mutton (really goat) that was like a salad with crunchy jerk, the roti (fried bread), a pasty blob made of millet that you made into balls and dipped into sauces, the standard mo-mos, fresh vegetables with dipping spices and sauces, yogurt, etc.  All was very good.  

We agreed to pick up the tab for our host, took a few photos, and said our goodbyes after a very memorable evening.  Hal took a taxi back, while Debra, Mike, Grace, and I walked the 2.2 km in the dark back to Thamel and the Eco Hotel.

The walk was uneventful as traffic was light by almost 9:30pm.  Hal was waiting for us in the lobby. We made plans for the next morning (6:30 am departure for the Monkey Temple, emailed that news to Kevin, and then sat down in the lobby for more chat and a wee nip of the Old Durbar.

The whisky wasn’t bad at all.  Not exactly McCallum 25, but drinkable. We were confident it would enhance the rest of the trip–especially the many upcoming evening discussions in Lamahi.

I went up to my room, checked emails on WhatsApp one more time and settled in just after 10pm.  Tonight, I put in ear-plugs to defeat the dogs and the music coming from the beer bar across the street and was quite successful, sleeping almost straight through to 4:30am so that I could get up and write in the blog.

DWC Team Leader, Marty France

Saturday, October 12, 2019

I woke up at about 4:45 and decided to get some things done–uploading photos, checking email and writing my blog for 11 Oct.  We then assembled in the lobby a little before 6:30 in the morning to go to the Monkey Temple, though Hal and Debra decided to sleep in.  

We asked the hotel security guy in the front to get us two taxis to take us to the base of the mountain on which the temple sits and when I asked the first driver how much the fare would be for each cab he said, “One Thousands Rupees!”  I laughed at him, offering him exactly what the guy at the hotel counter said should be the cost this time of the morning, 300 NPRs. I offered him 300 and he countered with 500. I said, “No, we’d rather walk,” and he said “Okay, 400!” I said, “No, we’re walking” and told the others to follow me.  We walked about 20 meters before two taxis pulled up beside us and said, “Okay, 300!” (That’s about $2.80 for the 2.2 km ride)  

We jumped into the two taxis and they made it quite clear that, in return for the bargaining, we were going to get exciting rides.  My driver led and he drove like a bat out of hell, with the other taxi giving chase. It was the fastest I’ve ridden on the streets of Nepal.  He came to a screeching halt in front of the temple steps and I handed him the money and thanked him. The second taxi was close behind and Mike described a similar ride during the chase.

We walked up the steps in the cool, comfortable, but somewhat humid air and immediately began to sweat during the 300 feet of climbing on the rock steps.  Hal took his time, while we went up a little quicker, still stopping occasionally to take photos or check out all of the dogs (favorites of Grace), monkeys, and families along the way.

The top was not very crowded, but there were many still celebrating the festival of Dahain and a small band and some singers were performing in one temple.  Along the south wall, some worshippers had started small fires in the triangular wall top slots overlooking the city. Others walked clockwise around the large stupa, and some lit candles, spun prayer wheels, or or made offerings.

We stayed at the top for about an hour, just walking around, watching all of the people, monkeys, and dogs and enjoying the cool air and views.  Most were very quiet as they worshipped and it was a very peaceful morning. I met one German tourist who had the exact same camera and lens that I did.  He told me that he had just bought it used and was trying it out. He asked about a few features and details and I helped him with the autofocus points and some exposure issues.  I gave him my photo website and he seemed pleased with not only his new knowledge and contact, but with his decision to buy a seven-year-old used camera.

We walked slowly down the steps and then back to the hotel without incident.  We loaded Hal into a taxi, though, and he went back for 500 NPR. I bought one liter plastic water bottles along the way for 20 NPR apiece, or about $0.18.  Once back in the lobby at 8:30 (only two hours for the whole trip) we enjoyed breakfast and then relaxed for a little while. I kept in contact with Hoot as he had landed and was on his way to the hotel and at about 9:15am, Deb’s and Sue’s flight landed.  The hotel was helpful in contacting me once their shuttle made contact with each.

We sat around deciding what to do for the day with Grace discussing going to other towns in the outskirts of Kathmandu.  Bimal, Dinesh’s friend and apparently a hotel employee or associate of some type, arrived to ask us what we wanted to do.  After a while, we decided to go to Kirtipur and a few other areas on the southwest side of the city, avoiding anything near or passing by the airport with the upcoming arrival of the Chinese president.

Bimal said that he could arrange another van for us and I went around to our group to find who was interested in going with us.  In the end, it was decided that Grace, Mike, Hoot, and Debra would join me when a van was scheduled to arrive at 10:30. Bimal was evasive when we talked about the cost of the day, but said that since it was later in the day, it would probably be about $75 and no more than $100.

We waited until about 10:45 and still no van. Meanwhile, Bimal had disappeared.  The hotel management and security guy then told us that our van couldn’t get in due to traffic and they led us about two blocks away to a main street where, with a little looking around, we found a gold Mitsubishi SUV with five seats and a very young driver named Nikas.

I tried to communicate with Nikas as we got into the vehicle, but his English was not good at all. I pointed to Kirtipur on the map and he seemed confused.  He called someone at his office and we finally left when, I think, he realized where he was going.

The trip to Kirtipur did not go well.  Nikas stopped three times along the way asking for directions and was pulled over by a pedestrian traffic cop for driving on the wrong side of some temporary traffic cones.  

We finally arrived at Kirtipur after paying a 100 NPR per person entry fee.  We descended the vehicle and started walking around, first into a large temple in the center of town.  Nikas then seemed to disappear and we starting looking for some of the other sites in town based upon the tourist flyer we were given–that didn’t have a map.  We talked with a few locals and found several of the sights.

It was nice that this was not a touristy area and we felt like we were walking through a more authentic, quiet village.  

We walked back to the vehicle and tried for several minutes to find Nikas.  When we did, he suddenly became a tour guide and starting leading us around without many verbal clues.  We eventually made our way to a relatively distant Buddhist Monastery before turning back to the car.

Once in the car, we talked about going to Khokana, but Nikas said that he didn’t know how to get there.  He called for directions, but also suggested that we go to Sanga. We told him that we’d already been to Sanga the day before–Sanga is Nikas’s hometown.  We asked about Bungamati also, but he said he’d never been there.  

Once we started driving–thinking we were going to Khokana–Nikas showed me his gas gauge and said he was almost out of gas, so we stopped for gas.  It now became apparent that this was not Nikas’s car. He didn’t know how to release the door to the gas cap and then, once found by the guy at the gas station, couldn’t get the gas cap off without help.  

When he came back to the car, he said that he didn’t know how to get to Khokana and that he’d never been there.  We, by that point, had lost patience, so we decided to tell him that we just wanted to go back to the hotel. This confused him and he called “The Office” to ask them what he should do.  A minute later, he handed me the phone and someone at “the office,” asked if there was a problem. I explained that there was a problem and that we wanted to go back to the hotel. He asked if it was a problem with the driver and I said that I would explain it when we got back to the hotel.  I reiterated that several times before hanging up.

On the return to the hotel, our driver became lost and didn’t know how to get back to the hotel.  We had to pull up Google Maps and direct him. He finally made it to the Eco Hotel and I gave him $5 USD as a tip and then went inside.  One of the managers at the hotel asked if there was a problem and I explained the whole story to us. We did not and have not paid anything for the aborted trip.  Bimal hasn’t contacted me.

With that debacle over, we walked down the road a little (with Kevin joining us) to the Thamel House Restaurant for a light lunch that was very enjoyable in an outdoor courtyard.  The meal was capped with some small complementary shots of Nepali “rice wine” that was really just moonshine. After a short excursion to the ATM farm down Thamel Marg to get cash, we relaxed a little in the hotel as everyone went to their rooms.  We agreed to meet at 6:15 to go to dinner. I checked with the front desk and they confirmed that Deb and Sue hand gone to the Fairfield by Marriott to meet a friend and that they’d be back by the time we left for dinner.  

I used the remaining time to process photos and clean-up a little.  Nothing was said again about our earlier trip.

I met Deb, Sue, and Debra in the lobby at 6pm and the others joined soon after.  Mike and Grace begged off to have more time to chill. Deb and Sue seemed to be in good spirits despite arriving just a few hours earlier after a 12-hour layover in Delhi after a red-eye from Toronto.  We walked down Thamel Marg and found the Yala Cafe without any trouble about 500 meters away.

The Yala cafe was very nice and open, as well as friendly.  We all got along very well right way and everyone was talking constantly. Sue and Deb tried to order a bottle of wine, but the only read was a sweet Nepali wine that had no appeal.  They ultimately settled on an available Jacob’s Creek Australian white after Deb looked at the selection in the back room. The rest of us had water or beer (or Fanta) and we ordered from the menu.  The food was excellent and our waitress was very nice and charming.  

Deb asked us all to tell the story of how we decided to do this trip or deal with DWC and most agreed that they wanted to step outside of their comfort zone, make real, objective contributions to a local community, and see another culture.

During the walk back to the hotel, Deb was leading when a moped suddenly veered in front of her to cut into a back alley.  The right-side exhaust pipe grazed her leg and that, coupled with the shock and surprise, cause her to tumble awkwardly into the gutter and curb.  The driver stopped when I yelled at him, but he didn’t say much. Deb was clearly shaken but there were no cuts or serious injuries. Her left elbow seemed to swell a bit and was bruised–the largest injury.  She was quite shaken psychologically–as anyone would be in the first hours of their time in a new country like Nepal.

We were able to walk back to the hotel from there without incident, keeping plenty of space (as much as we could) between the traffic and the others.  Once inside the hotel, others went to their rooms while Deb, Sue, and I went to the bar. Deb got some ice from the bartender and applied it to her elbow while she and Sue ordered some “real red wine.”  

We spent the next hour or so talking about our trip, politics, Canada, the US, and many other topics before calling it a night at about 10pm.  I went up to my room, entered my spending and receipts for the day, and gave Becky a call before going to sleep.

DWC Team Leader, Marty France

Sunday, October 13, 2019

 I slept reasonably well again, waking up a few times before getting up at about 5:30am and making some tea.  I also did sink laundry with underwear and two T-shirts to stay ahead of the game, then turned on the Air Force – Fresno State football game back in Colorado Springs via internet radio and started writing in the blog.

 Air Force ending up winning the game 43-25, which was nice.  Mark Kijowski arrived on time without incident and we all filtered through breakfast downstairs in the hotel.  Hoot left early for the Monkey Temple and a chance to get in some stairs which I knew he would enjoy.  

We told everyone to start meeting up in the lobby starting at about 9am, about the time that Dinesh arrived.  He arranged for the hotel van (a 15-passenger vehicle) to take us to Creating Possibilities Nepal (CNP) and we left at about 9:45 after talking in the lobby and answering some questions.  Several also went for cash at a nearby ATM.

The trip to CNP was longer than expected because the visit of President Xi of China was still on-going.  We appeared to be redirected on one street towards roads with more security, possibly because of the size of our van.  The main street heading towards the large government buildings were lined with police.

We pulled down a very narrow alley and Dinesh got out to open the gate to the CNP compound that is also his immediate family’s home.  The driver edged his way into the parking area of the very well-kept home and we were greeted by several young ladies that were resident students at the home.  

Dinesh directed us into the first-level living room and we all took off our shoes and entered.  We all formed a circle on the couches. We were introduced to Nura as well as Dinesh’s wife (whose name I now forget).  His two sons were there, ages 5 and 13 were there and the older one was quite sharp–excellent English and very inquisitive.

Dinesh went over the general background of CNP and the NGO environment in Nepal.  He told us that there are nearly 10,000 NGOs operating in the country, many of which are very small and many others that are of questionable integrity and purpose.

Creating Possibilities Nepal is a group dedicated to “empower vulnerable girls, youth and women through education and income creation ending the cycle of poverty in their communities.”  They’ve done this by providing school scholarships (5,000 per year), building homes, community centers, and schools, providing literacy classes, helping women build their own homes and buy land, providing bicycles to children and mothers, rescuing boys and girls from domestic slavery, and providing sickle cell anemia screenings.  They strive to be very open and honest about their programs and impacts.  I won’t go into any more details, as the links to their websites cover the information much better.

We then went into a discussion of the mission of our trip and our objectives.  I went over Developing World Connections policies for the trip as well as expectations for myself and the team.  Everyone seemed to receive all of this quite well and their enthusiasm was clearly building.

Some of the kids at CNP then took us on tours of the building/home showing us all of the rooms, kitchen, chores lists, roof-top, etc.  I was impressed with their openness and lack of any pretense or sense that our visit was staged in any way. The young lady that showed me around is 17 and has two more years to complete her high school diploma.  She then wants to go to university and study to be a radiologist.

We had lunch in the courtyard with all of those currently at the CNP facilites (about two dozen), enjoying chicken Mo-Mos and talking more about CNP and the project.  

By 1:30, we were ready to go and returned via three taxis to the Eco Hotel.  I paid the taxis and we then split up with some of us walking around Thamel–Mike and Grace needed to buy gaiters for our later trekking in Annapurna and Debra was with them some of the time.  I did street photography for about 90 minutes covering as much ground as I could.

After we returned to the hotel, Hoot and Mike then brought over their trekking gear that they didn’t want to bring to Lamahi and we consolidated our gear into my one large REI duffle bag.

At 7pm, we met in the lobby for dinner and walked to the Satkar Restaurant on Amrit Marg.  The restaurant has a set menu and a small stage with some dancing. Dinesh and Nura had arranged for the meal as the big kickoff for the trip.  There was one other large party there, coincidentally a group with Intrepid Travel, an organization with which Becky and I have done several international small group trips.

The food was very good and the beer and wine were flowing pretty freely.  They started the meal with a shot of their “rice wine” which was not nearly as bad as the hooch we had the day before at the Thamel House.  We enjoyed the first two dancing set–the first done by two women and the second done by a man and woman. But then, about an hour into the meal, we lost all power.  Naturally, the dancing ended as music and lights were inoperable. The staff brought out candles, though, and the meal went ahead as planned. At the end, Dinesh and I went to the front counter and paid the bill after I collected from everyone for the wine and beer.

We walked back to the hotel slowly, passing by a very large brick-lined rectangular area that serves as a communal hand laundry spot as well as the many open bars and shops one finds in Thamel. 

Upon arrival at the hotel, we all got together one last time to reiterate that the hotel would have coffee ready by 5:50am, breakfast by 6am and that everyone should bring their bags down in the lobby by 6am as well.

DWC Team Leader, Marty France

Monday, October 14, 2019

I woke up before my 5am alarm, took a shower, completed my packing and brought everything downstairs in two loads,  The guy at the desk was very helpful–he’d been on-duty all night–and took care of our checked common bag for trekking.  Debra was already in the dining area having coffee, so I joined her and the others came down shortly after. As promised the food was ready, everyone showed up on time and (somewhat to my surprise) we were loaded, in the van, and moving at 6:18.

Traffic was very light as we made the 15 minute trip to the airport.  We drove to the domestic terminal on the north side of the airport and our driver just let us out.  He got some nice tips for his help with the luggage, though, especially from Deb and Sue who had three very large bags filled mostly with things they planned to give away during our time in Lamahi.

We walked towards the terminal–whose first line of security seemed to be the many monkeys in the trees and on the power lines at the entrance of the terminal–and found the Buddha Airlines front desk.  I asked about our tickets and tried to pull up the PDF versions of each on my mobile phone when one of Dinesh’s helpers showed up, followed shortly thereafter by Dinesh himself, who had paper copies of our tickets and led us through the first screening.  It was a short walk from there to the Buddha Airlines check-in and Dinesh handled all of that expertly after getting our passports. Within ten minutes we were headed to the final screening and the terminal.

As usual in Nepal, I set off the metal detector despite having emptied all of my pockets due to my steel hip, but they barely batted an eye, patted me about twice and moved me along.

Frankly, the domestic terminal at Tribhuvan is better than the international terminal.  They’ve done rennovations in the bathrooms and there are a few little shops. Wifi was good while we waited and the flow to buses that carried passengeres to their planes seemed to work well.  We were in the terminal by 7am and flights for Buddha Air to places like Pokhara were boarding. We waited about a half-hour for our flight to be called with most of us sitting around checking in with wifi, using the clean bathrooms, and perusing the maps on the walls or the trekking maps Hoot bought in Thamel that showed both Bardiya National Park and the Annapurna Region.

At about 7:30am our flight was called and we went through check-in to the bus.  I sat next to what I thought was a Nepali family only to find out that they were from Fairfax County, Virginia and the two kids (ages 9 and 13) were born in the US.  They were on our flight, visiting relatives in the Lumbini area–where the parents had been born.

The bus arried quickly at the ATR-72 twin engine plane that looked to be very well-maintained.  We boarded through the rear entrance and took our seats. Dinesh was kind enough to get us all seats on the right side of the plane so that we’d have good views of the Himalayas as we headed east towards our destination.

The plane was about 80% full at take-off.  We climbed quickly out of the Kathmandu Valley and above the hazy inversion.  The pilot said we were flying at 12,500 feet, though it seemed higher. Once above the smoky haze, the views of the Himalayas were spectacular and the flight passed quickly as most everyone was crowding to the right side to take cell phone photos.  Despite the short duration of the flight, the attendants served water and small bags of peanuts. They were very well-dressed and courteous and I was surprised to see that Buddha Air had its own in-flight magazine and was now even flying internationally to Kolkata, India.

We descended into the haze on our approach to Buddha International Airport and landed headed west.  We did a u-turn at the end of the runway and proceeded back up the main runway to park at the terminal.  Bags were unloaded and brought to a rather simple baggage claim area–there is only one terminal there–and we quickly got out bags.  There was security, though, as Dinesh had to show claim tags for each bag as it was handed over the low concrete wall to us.

The parking lot was dirt and rocks, but we managed to get our bags over to the Tata bus and our driver that awaited us.  Two teenage boys were also on the bus for the duration of our travels, friends of the driver who were helping him with the bags as well as with transporting some other goods that we later picked up.

Over the next three-plus hours of driving, we really had a chance to see the southern Nepal countryside.  The roads were largely terrible with big potholes that required the driver to come to a near complete stop, interrupted by stretches of good asphalt that allowed for very high speeds.  The bus had no air-conditioning or seatbelts, but plenty of rust and reasonably good tires and suspension. Our driver was VERY good and as safe as could be given the rules of the Nepali roads which seem to be:  just don’t have a head-on collision; honk frequently to let others know you’re coming; pass other vehicles at every possible opportunity. 

Our first stop was the Buddha Birthplace Shrine near Lumbini, a World Heritage Site.  We parked off of the main road and walked about a kilometer into the main entrance, accompanied by many pilgrims that looked like they were bused in from India as well as many others.  The complex is huge and resembles a nature park with a few large buildings.  

I bought my entrance and photography ticket first and then waited adjacent to the ticket office for the others, taking some photos of flowers and plants in the area.  A few minutes later, I turned to see Kevin and Mark had joined me and we started walking north to what we thought was the main destination, a large golden Buddha statue about a quarter mile up the wide walkway that was filled with pilgrims and others.  We didn’t see the rest of the group.

We continued walking to the Buddha, took some pictures and, along the way, Mark and Kevin said that the others must be well ahead of us since they (Mark and Kevin) were last in line for tickets.

We walked another quarter mile or so and followed the pilgrims to the large Chinese shrine to Buddha, took photos and bought some water.  We still didn’t see the others. By this point we were getting worried, so I checked email and found that the others were on their way back of the bus despite Dinesh telling us that we would be here for two hours–at this point we hadn’t been there for an hour yet. 

We realized that we had gone the wrong way and that the main attractions (Buddha’s birthplace and temple) were actually BEHIND the ticket office–we’d passed it coming in–and that we were a good half-mile away.

We started walking quickly and communicated with the group that had to already be back at the bus and frustrated with our absence–and their wait in the heat.  We did a quick loop through the shrine to see the birthplace and went back as quickly as we could. We probably should’ve taken one of the rickshaws or tuck-tucks to make it an even quicker trip, in retrospect.

Finally, we made it back to the bus (just over 1:45 after we’d left) and met up with the group.  Dinesh was very happy to see us, not wanting to lose members of his group on the very first full day.  We boarded the bus after many apologies and headed towards lunch and then Lamahi.

We passed through a broad valley covered with rice fields, occasional home and small villages.  The roads had plenty of bicycles, motorcycles, pedestrians, large transport trucks, and a few passenger cars on them, as well as goats, dogs, and cows.  We passed through one forested area from which many bicyclists were bringing bundles of firewood to villages and to small stands at which they sold the wood for cooking.  The forest looked healthy and not overharvested, the wood being sold mostly being branches, not full logs.

We stopped for lunch at a small hotel called Pauwa and relaxed on the couches with cold water and the food we now know is not just typical, but standard for just about every meal in Nepal:  a mound of rice, a bowl of daal, and then small surrounding bowls of spinach, mustard greens, fish or chicken in sauce, a smaller bowl of some spicey sauce, and then either soft roti or a very thin, crispy and peppery cracker bread–all very good and pretty much all you can eat.

We boarded the bus and drove the remaining 79 kilometers to Lamahi, a trip that took almost two hours.  The most harrowing part of this segment was going over a mountain pass with many twists, turns, and narrow bridges.  We miraculously avoided about a dozen head-on collisions with large trucks, motorcycles, and cows as we and others continually passed other vehicles on blind curves and hair-pin turns depending upon the brakes of oncoming vehicles, last-second swerving, and other evasive maneuvers.

We finally arrived in Lamahi shortly after 3pm and checked into the Hotel Classic.  We’re apparently the only people staying here in the family run establishment that has eight rooms on two levels.  Mike and Grace share a room as do Deb and Sue, and Kevin and Hoot. Mark, Dinesh, Hal, and I are in single rooms. The air conditioning works well in each room, wifi is pretty good on the first level where our rooms are (but very weak, strangely, in the lobby), and there’s really nowhere to put clothes other than a coat rack in each room.  The carpet is like low-pile astroturf and the beds range from soft to plywood in firmness. The bath/shower is exactly that–a toilet room with a shower head coming out of the wall. It’s tiled to about a meter up from the floor with two floor drains. Hot water is merely an aspiration. We have a couple of plugs that seem to work well. The curtains don’t block out much light.

After checking in and getting the rooming arrangements set, we were told to meet for dinner at 7pm.  Several of us decided to go for a walk and I used WhatsApp to announce the activity as well as to pass along the room numbers of the whole team.

We walked the mostly dirt streets of Lamahi for about an hour:  Debra, Deb, Sue, Kevin, Mark, Hoot, Grace, and I. We asked about the price of the 650ml beer bottles in the shops (ranging from 270 NPR to 450 NPR), scouted any potential restaurants, and managed to get some cash out of an ATM on our second try.  The locals seemed curious by our presence as this is clearly not a tourist town and we did not see any other non-locals during our walk. The west side of the town, where we’re located, is dominated by a large cricket pitch and we saw some teenagers practicing in batting cages upon our return.  We walked through the dusty bus depot and MArk avoided becoming our first serious casualty by stepping out of the way of a bus that was turning (careening?) from the main highway into the gravely bus staging area. Along the way, we also saw plenty of water buffalo walking the streets on what looked like a regular evening stroll back to their home, a couple of rather large and impressive multi-story building construction sites, and plenty of agricultural machinery.  The primary means of paid transportation in town seems to be tuck-tucks and we discussed taking a larger tour of the area via tuck-tuck on a future evening.

We were back at the hotel shortly after 5:30pm and everyone relaxed before dinner.  Mark, Hoot, and I asked about beer in the lobby and were told that it was 500 NPR for Tuborg and 550 NPR for Carlsberg per bottle.  They also had “Dragon” high alcohol beer for 400 NPR but we passed on that.

We ordered two bottles, three glasses and sat down to cool off.  Shortly thereafter, Hal joined us and the so did Dinesh. We ordered more beer as Dinesh said that they would just run a group tab for the beer and charge us at the end of our stay–I can’t wait to see how big that bill is.

Deepah, one of the local reps stopped by to say “hi” but couldn’t stay.  Sam and Hemaj introduced themselves as the construction experts for our trip and I opened up photos from my Cambodia latrine building trip to compare notes and better understand what we’d be doing over the next two weeks.  They explained that the latrines would be similar to what we’d done near Kep, Cambodia, but that we wouldn’t be making brick walls. Instead, we would be adding rebar and other structural supports vertically from the poured foundation and then constructing steel walls in each latrine along with a corrugated steel roof.  That should make the whole process go much quicker.

Dinner arrived shortly after 7pm and it was the standard plate, much like we’d had at lunch.  The beer continued to flow, too. We finally adjourned at about 8:30 pm with the plan for the next day to have coffee and tea available starting at 6:30am, breakfast served at about 7:30am and then a departure at or near 8:20.  I returned to my room, took a quick shower, plugged in things that needed recharging, inserted by earplugs, put on my eye mask and went to sleep.

DWC Team Leader, Marty France

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

I woke up at about 4am and couldn’t go back to sleep.  Closer to 5am, I just got up and rearranged all of my things in anticipation of the day.  I also began posting photos and writing this blog before going down for coffee at 6:30. I also spoke to Becky by phone (wifi) and updated her on our status.  Wifi was poor in the lobby, so I returned to the room to get more work done.

I went back and forth between the lobby and room for a few hours, alternating between coffee and wifi.  Mike sat outside in the cool morning air with his coffee until the air conditioning was turned on in the muggier lobby.  A local woman came buy with a large bag basket of produce on her head for the hotel. The lady proprietor picked through the small bags in the basket consisting of mustard greens, spinach, and the very long green beans that seem to be a staple here.

At breakfast we discussed the days plan with Dinesh.  Everyone was excited to get started. We were told that wouldn’t be leaving until about 8:20, which we interpreted to mean that we wouldn’t be out of the hotel until 8:45, but we were happily surprised when Santos, our driver, showed up with the bus shortly after 8am.  We were on the road by 8:15 and headed southeast across Lamahi and then on the road to Unako House (local home of CNP) and our work sites.

Along the way, Dinesh explained that this was one of the main roads to India and that there was considerable construction along the way, funded in part by the Indian government, to improve the road.  We saw immediately that the state of the road was not very good and in one little town saw the construction first hand. The road was down to one bumpy, muddy lane in the middle of town and workers along the side were putting in drainage channels.  The road alternated from very good to very poor several times and included a long, “one-plus” lane bridge across the river. I say “one-plus” because a bus and a tuck-tuck could cross paths on the bridge, but it wasn’t wide enough for two vehicles larger than a passenger car.  On the return that evening, we had to wait for a string of buses coming the other way.

Dinesh told me that we could be passing through another town on the way and when he arrived he explained that, outside of Lamahi, it was the nearest large town that included both a police station and small clinic.  He also said that we were passing by the hardware store where we might be buying things during the week and asked if we’d like to drop by to see what they had in stock–a short five minute visit. I agreed and the stop was just that–about a 50 meter walk from the town’s main intersection to the very, very crowded little shop that held everything from a paint mixing machine to corrugated steel roofing sheets, glass, plywood, flooring, hardware, etc.  It was kind of like a micro-Home Depot in the size of a small convenience store. Every square inch was used for something.

Dinesh had told us that there would be a welcoming ceremony at the Unako House with the families that we would be helping attendance along with the rest of the staff and some trainees.  When we arrived shortly before 9am, that’s exactly what we saw. We were greeted with leis of flowers and led into a large room with about twenty others. We were seated in somewhat of a semicircle and a little girl, along with a couple of other young ladies came around to each of us giving us a hand-full of flowers and putting s very bright pink bindi on each of our foreheads, saying “Namaste” as she did so.

Dinesh then introduced us to everyone and asked if one of us would like to say something and that he would translate for us.  I stood up and gave a general thanks and welcome and Debra did the same, emphasizing CNP’s role in helping girls and women and how much that meant to her.  Dinesh also explained some of the circumstances of the families, especially pointing out a widow we would be helping near the Unako House that had been abandoned by her husband’s family upon his death–a cultural issue not uncommon to the area by which the husband’s family places blame for his death on the wife.

We then took a few group photos and split into our two groups.  Debra, Grace, Mark, and Mike joined me–we would be walking to the widow’s home about almost a kilometer up the road and the others (Hoot, Mark, Deb, Sue, and Hal) would be working at a site just a few meters from the building.

Sam, one of the staff members, joined us in the walk to our work-site as did Santos, our driver.  The road was dusty with loose gravel, traveled by a tractor, a tuck-tuck for local transportation, and many on bicycle.  We passed small farmhouses with water buffalo, goats, chickens, and a few pigs. Several of the homes had beautiful gardens with tall marigolds and other flowers attracting plenty of butterflies.  Families from the homes were making their way to the rice fields as harvest season was underway.

When we arrived at our location, we were pleasantly surprised to see that much of our work would be done in at least partial shade as there were several small trees lining the ditch bank near the stick, mud, and thatched roof home.  The site “foreman” used his three meter tape measure to mark out circles where we would dig the two septic pits (four feet in diameter), separated by about two feet, and the structure itself that would only be four feet by five feet.  We were surprised that all of their measurements were in feet.  

Our team took to digging the septic pits quickly–maybe too quickly.  We were digging furiously and started to sweat profusely and overheat.  Our pent up enthusiasm was getting to us. The weight and thickness of the loamy soil quickly took its toll, though, and we slowed.  We had to cut through some fairly big roots as well.

At first, two could dig at the same hole at once, but once we were down into the ground by much more than about two feet, it got two crowded and we had to alternate.  At first, the foreman said that we needed to dig down “nine feet” as we would be putting in (i.e., stacking) six half-meter tall, one meter wide concrete rings for each ring, but I had my doubts as to whether we’d be able to go that deep before hitting water.

As we worked in each hole, the foreman, along with Sam and Santos dug the foundation for the latrine with a wide hoe.  It seemed larger than what we’d done with bricks in Cambodia. Once that was dug (about six inches deep and a foot wide, they began to line it with large, rounded river rock.

Throughout this process, we had about ten kids from the family and nearby watching us, ranging in age from five or six up to early teens.  Some of the kids helped by carrying river rocks to the foundation–something Debra was helping with, too, but most just stood around and watched.  As it got warmer, I opened my bag of Jolly Rancher hard candies and handed them out to the workers and kids who seemed to like them.

The digging got more serious as the clay soil got thicker and thicker.  Soon, in the hole nearest the house, we were alternating one person at a time and struggling to pull that person (Mark, Mike, or me) out of the hole.  Grace was working hard on the other hole as was Debra and while one was in each hole, the others were using the excavated clay to build a berm between the latrine and the drainage ditch beside the home–something we told might flood the house during the monsoon season.  We also had to clear the excavated dirt from around the pits just so the digger could successfully toss their shovel-fulls of clay over the edge.

Soon, in the first hole, we were too deep to even throw out the clay easily.  Debra suggested using the plastic buckets nearby and also tried to explain to our non-English speaking foreman that we needed steel buckets and rope.  Sam and Santos weren’t there at the time, so this became a little frustrating. We decided to use the plastic buckets while we had them–along with some rope–and that worked for about five or six trips out of the hole until the handle broke.  It was repaired but broke again. By then, Sam and Santos had returned, understood the problem, and promised to go into town during lunch to get steel buckets.

We took a lunch break at noon and walked back to the Unako House. The others were headed to lunch at the same time.  We could see that they were suffering a bit more from the sun than we were with their work in an open field. They did have a “relief site” next to the building with shade, though, at which several chairs allowed them to take breaks.  They also were struggling with the thick soil and, in their first pit, had hit water barely a meter down.

Lunch was a good break.  We had a chance to clean up a little, get some water and have the standard meal.  We compared descriptions of our sites and discussed the project more. Then and again later in the day, we realized that the latrines were going to be different than we expected and the thought came to us that it would’ve been nice to see a diagram or photos of the plan or to just visit a similarly completed toilet in the area before we started work.

We walked back after lunch and had a very productive afternoon.  We completed digging the closest pit first. Mark had struck water before lunch and when we returned there was quite a bit in the bottom.  We used the bucket to clear out the water and continue digging, but it was clear that we wouldn’t get much farther down. Sam came over and told us that we were close to finishing and that seven feet deep–the depth to the now-established water table level would be good enough.  Meanwhile, Grace was working on the second pit with Mike and Debra was helping with the rocks and mortar at the latrine, all of us switching in and out of roles, taking some photos, too.

Over lunch, not much was done with the toilet structure, but once the two pits were completed by about 2:30, everyone focused on that.  Our foreman allowed us into the mix as Grace and Debra brought us buckets of mortar and we worked together to add layers of rock to the walls of the latrine.  Mike turned on his bluetooth speaker and the kids listened first to some classic rock and then some country music of Mike’s choosing. Grace (and I) got sick of that, though, and she chose a “Glass Animals” playlist followed by my selection of “Portugal. The Man.”  The kids seemed to like that quite a bit better.

By about 3:45, we were done with the rock and mortar.  The foreman and others piled some dirt around the outside the rectangular structure (with a step on one side and a slot on the other for the pipe) and filled the two-foot high structure with clay from our excavation piles to keep everything in place.  We were told that we would dig out the clay from the inside once everything was set the next day.

As we left, I took a few photos, gave the kids another Jolly Rancher, and we packed up for the walk.  It was a beautiful afternoon with the fields being harvest, the golden colors and vibrant dress of the locals making for some striking sites and photos.

At Unako House, we surveyed the work of the other team with Kevin and Hoot still digging away.  One of their pits was nearing seven feet in depth–it was the one farthest from the nearby well head, while the other, only two feet away was wet barely four or so feet down.  Mark jumped into that one and did some more digging, but it seemed obvious that both would have water in the bottoms when we returned the next day.  

The rock structure at this site was a little higher than ours by a few inches and they did not used mud in the middle to hold things in place.  They also seemed to use noticeably bigger river rocks than we did.

We decided to pack up for the day and left by 4:10pm.  On the way back, Dinesh showed us a completed latrine that we saw from about 100 meters away.

Back at the hotel (we arrived at 4:45), everyone cleaned up with some doing sink laundry but others discovering that the hotel would do laundry.  I cleaned my clothes in a bucket of hot water in the bathroom, showered and felt refreshed. We started to gather for the 7pm dinner by 6pm to have some refreshments.

At dinner, Dinesh told us that we would be helping load the concrete rings in the morning and that he had some meetings but would see us on-site later in the morning.  He also said that the menu would change a little the next day and that we’d get some noodles and chicken instead of the same meal we’d had for lunch and dinner in each of the last three or (in some case) four days.  That made everyone happy.

The evening concluded with Hal singing “Oh, Canada!” to the Canadian ladies in our group, fueled by a couple of beers and a generous shot of “Old Durbar” Nelapi whiskey–a highlight of the day.  I was in bed shortly after 9pm and slept (with a few interruptions) until almost 5:30am.

DWC Team Leader, Marty France

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

I spent my first waking hour-and-a-half writing this blog and loading photos before going to the lobby for coffee at 6:45.  It was another cool, hazy morning but we could see a little more blue in the sky today–or maybe that was just our imagination and best wishes.

Today’s breakfast was a little different with grilled eggs on lightly toasted bread for sandwiches and local, small and tart bananas.  I had two of each and particularly liked the bananas. Everyone else seemed to like the change.

Dinesh couldn’t join us in the morning as he was already on his way to Unako House for meetings.  Instead a tall young man named “Man” joined us. Everyone was ready to go at 8:10 and Santos was there early with the bus.  Man asked if anyone wanted to ride on his motorcycle with him to the site, but I quickly declined for everyone–especially Grace.  We had a good chuckle over that. Man took off on his bike and we were a few minutes behind.

About a mile into the trip, we realized that Man was just dropping his bike off at home (or somewhere) as the bus picked him up on the way.  We stopped in Gadhawa at the concrete shop where they made blocks, bricks, as well as the concrete rings and caps used for septic pits. Sam met us there and he along with Santos were trying to arrange for truck and wagon transportation for the 24 rings and four caps that we would need today.  We looked around the site and found the rings and were fascinated by the machinery and processes used to make the pieces. There were also long rectangular steel molds for the kind of steel reinforced pillars that are standard for local home and building construction. There were several rings and caps recently formed that were drying and curing on the ground and the rings were stacked in several places about four high.  Checking the dimensions, each ring seemed to be about two- to three-inches thick, 14”-15” in height and with a diameter very close to three feet. Mark later did a calculation on the weight of each based upon the density of concrete and came up with a very believable 260 pounds.

The wait for a truck took much longer than usual as it turned out the first candidate hand truck wasn’t operable.  We waited almost an hour for the first to arrive, then loaded six rings and two caps aboard the small steel trailer.  The hand truck, used for everything from plowing to towing and taxi service in the area was very slow when laden with the trailer and rings. It was also slowed by our driver’s propensity for stopping in each direction to pick up and deliver other cargo for additional pay, we later learned.

We arrived at the work sites shortly after 10am and found that at the near site the local workers had determined that one pit needed to be three feet deeper and the other one only needed another foot of digging.  Mark jumped in along with Kevin and they started to work. Meanwhile, out hand truck and rings showed up and we walked behind it to the second site. There, we needed to prep the path to the latrine pits as it was a narrow fit to our work site for the truck and trailer.

The truck and trailer backed in very delicately to the closest approach point to our latrine, just a footstep away from the pig sty.  Meanwhile, we had to disassemble most of the wooden gate to the homes backyard area where the latrines were located so that we could bring the rings back.  The 30 meter move of these 260 pound rings was not trivial and by the time we had them stacked near the pits along with two caps, we were all drenched in sweat.

The first thing we did, though, noticing the speed of the truck was to unload all six at the back of the wagon so that he could head back.  In addition to unloading the rings, one of the local guys also went into our pits and dug out a little more along the sides to even up the pits.  Even more water had seeped in during the night and the water level was just at seven feet below the ground surface.

Santos had the bus waiting for us and we jumped aboard to go back to the concrete foundry for another load.  When we arrived a truck was blocking the way getting a load of bricks, so we had to wait almost a half-hour for the driveway to clear.  During that time we bought drinks at a local restaurant–bottled Coke and Sprite along with some cold water–and sat in the back to relax.

We finally had a chance to load the rings and did so quickly, returning to Unako house to find the pits complete at the nearby site as we also unloaded this shipment of rings there.  By the time this was done and we’d sent the truck back for more, it was lunch-time.  

During lunch we discussed our mounting frustration with not knowing who was in charge or what the plan for each latrine was.  We had not received any kind of plan, the plans seemed (to us at least) to be changing hourly, and there was not a good sense of why we were doing what we were doing.  I also did not have a good sense that whoever was in charge of the building knew anything about soil hydraulics and water tables.

After lunch–which was excellent, by the way, featuring a rice and coconut porridge–I asked Dinesh about our concerns.  He still could not tell me who was in charge, but did say what we would be doing next which was to put rocks in the bottom of each pit to make sure the rings had a level base on which to sit.  In each pit, the water was bailed again until they could see the bottom in order to ascertain if the base was level as rocks were thrown in, but that was very difficult to maintain as the water just seeped in quickly, covering the rocks and any sand that was added.

We asked about the steel rods that would act as the corner braces for the structures and never really got a good explanation for why those couldn’t be now installed into the set foundation corners with rocks and concrete.  We wouldn’t do that until Thursday when the welder would come to look over our work, but then he wouldn’t weld the top braces and roof truss to our four vertical shafts until Friday. Oh well. In the meantime, we had people sitting around that could’ve easily and enthusiastically installed the rods.

In the afternoon, we managed to get our final two loads of rings to the sites bringing the daily total to 24.  At the far site, with Mike’s, Debra’s, and Grace’s hard work and insistence, one of the rings was actually installed in the base of the first pit–video’ed by Debra for our instruction.  Mike reported that the expert at that site, though, wasn’t completely happy with how level the ring was in the bottom of the pit and said that we would need to go down into the pit with two of three people in the morning and shim it level with river rocks.  That should be fun.

Meanwhile, back at the near site, the foreman kept insisting on adding more sand and gravel to the bottom of each pit which, given the water that had now seeped back, only raised the level of the water and did not provide any visibly level bottom.

As we left, Dinesh and I chatted for a short time and he apologized for not fully explaining the process to us at the beginning.  I told him that, especially with a group of five PhD engineers and yet another engineer in Mark, we could probably be a LITTLE overbearing in our questions and need for explanation, too.  We ended the day, though, happy with our progress and ready to put all of the rings into the pits the next day. Dinesh also said that we might begin digging at sites three and four later tomorrow if the rings went in quickly.  We could leave behind some of the team to do the concrete and rod installation while we dug pits again. There was some mention of a visit to see and meet some locals that would be at an indeterminate (or to be determined) time, but that was left as a possibility only.  We all seemed to hope that that would be quick and that we would have a full day of work now that we’d overcome some of the uncertainty of the previous two days.

On the return to the hotel, we picked up a few locals who asked for rides.  Santos had done so a few times earlier moving from Unako House and Gadhawa and back during the day.  In each case the riders were thrilled to get a free ride to their destination and not required to pay.  It was a special treat, it seemed, to ride with a group of dirty foreign workers, too! 

We returned to the hotel shortly after 4:30 and everyone went to their rooms for their own cleaning ritual.  Hoot brought laundry to the front desk and we’ll all be curious to see how that goes. I didn more bucket laundry.

Dinner was ramen noodles and chicken in a spicy sauce along with plenty of beer.  We hung around until about 8:30pm talking, then everyone went to their rooms for a good night’s sleep.

During the day, I did take a few minutes to photograph the rice harvest, especially the winnowing of the rice using hand-crank fans to blow the husks away from the rice–all of this done by hand.  The amount of hand labor–or lack of machine assistance–in the rice industry here is amazing. All of the fields seem to be cut by hand, gathered by hand, arm, and back, and threshed by hand. We’ve seen a few machine systems threshing the rice along the roadsides, but it was all from stalks carried to that site.  We’ve also seen a few tractors plowing fields, but water buffalo seem to be as prevalent for that task as well.

The land is amazing fertile, too.  In the bottom areas around the river, people are gathering what looks like wild growth lentils.  I could find black lentils growing in the corners of fields and it was unclear whether those gathering the lentils had actually planted some small plots of their own on public land or were just more-or-less scavenging.  The rice grows amazing thick here and in the ditches and along fences you can see long green beans growing free, squash sprouting from thatch roofs (the fruit growing on the roof), okra, and all types of flowers. Cabbage and cauliflower are being grown in some fields and we did see one field of corn as well.  The only bare earth is in the rocky banks of the rivers. Everything else is green or grown and ready for harvest.

DWC Team Leader, Marty France

Thursday, October 17, 2019

I slept better than any night so far, waking only once in the middle of the night–oddly when the power went off and my white noise devices (ceiling fan and air conditioning) stopped.  I didn’t wake up again until shortly after 6am, then did my normal routine prior to breakfast.

At breakfast and along the way, team members were discussing the weekend plans.  We were being expected to vacate our rooms and put all of our bags into one room for the two days we would be at Bardiya National Park, but many wanted to just keep their rooms and either pay the difference or asked why DWC wasn’t covering that cost.  In the meantime, I confirmed–as we had suspected–that the negotiated price for the rooms didn’t just include breakfast, but also dinner and all of our bottled water every day. Both the hotel owner and Dinesh confirmed that verbally.

So, en route to our work place, I composed an email to DWC suggesting that, since all of the meals were included, which was a significant savings over expected costs, that they (DWC) pick up the costs of our rooms over the weekend as well as covering the cost of the additional single rooms we now had for Hal and Mark.  I allowed Mike to pre-read the email before sending it and after a good suggestion on his part, I sent it on its way. (As I type this morning on 18 Oct, I’ve received approval for my plan as well as approval to buy any snacks and additional food needed for the team during our remaining time.

Today was going to be the big day for setting concrete rings into our four very wet septic pits.  Each team went to their site and began work quickly. We were actually surprised at how well it went, too.  Team 1 had their rings in quickly after fishing a very agitated rat from one pit. They had already set rock and gravel in the bottom the day before.

At our site, Mark went into the first pit and using a stick and the water line as a reference proceeded to use rocks to shim the bottom ring the Mike and team had installed the day before until it was level.  We then used four people at a time with ropes around the rings to lower them into the pit. The process went smoothly, using the stick and rocks to continue shimming the rings and make sure we were vertical and very closely in the center of each pit.  

Our local leader for the day (who had a very difficult name to pronounce, so we just called him “Yellow Shirt”) was a very strong young man with zero people skills.  He had impressed Mike the day before as someone who considered us a hindrance to his work despite the fact that little was done when we weren’t on site and he simply couldn’t get ANY of the heavy-lifting or digging work done without us.  He wouldn’t smile, wouldn’t try to communicate with any of us. I told Sam, one of our very friendly, hard-working local folks with CPN who spoke some English that Yellow Shirt wasn’t very friendly and Sam just smiled and shrugged and said that that was just the way he was and that we all had to work with him.  Oh well.

After the third ring was installed in the first pit, Yellow Shirt starting bleeding profusely just above his left ankle on the outside of his leg from two puncture wounds.  I did not know what caused them. Nonetheless, I got out the first aid kit and with Debra’s help, we cleaned the wound with disinfectant wipes and applied a compress. Happily, the bleeding slowed fairly quickly.  We sprayed with Bactine and applied a large band-aid to his leg. He was silent through the process. I then got out tape and wrapped it around his lower leg to keep the band-aid in place and asked Sam to tell him that we didn’t want him going into the water again today and that he should keep the would dry all day.  Sam relayed the message, Yellow Shirt responded to him, and then didn’t make any attempt to say anything to Debra or me. He just went back to work. No smile, no thanks, not even the simplest acknowledgement of our existence.

A few minutes later, Debra brought the compound’s wife and mother to me for treatment.  She had badly cut the tip of her pointer finger on her left hand with something sharp (possibly a rice scythe?) and it was infected and dirty.  We cleaned it up as carefully as we could with wipes and bactine–it had to hurt her terribly as the nail was nearly sliced down the middle–and then I carefully wrapped it with four band-aids and some tape.  We again instructed her to keep it dry for at least a day. Meanwhile, we made a point to check on her again and encouraged her to go to the local free clinic for better treatment.  

Despite this cultural clash, we got all of the rings in quickly.  The first pit, though, needed another ring to protect it from monsoon waters and keep the rim firmly above ground, so we put in an order by phone with Sam’s help for the required ring as well as the two caps we knew we would need–one at each site.

We then left Debra and Grace to help with the concrete and installation of the structural rods for the latrine along with a few local workers.  Mike, Mark, and I returned to Unako House and helped Team 1 haul sand and gravel to a large open pit where it would be mixed and used for the same installation at that site.  We had heard that Team 1 also needed one additional ring, but that was not the case.

Once the 45 baskets of sand and gravel were hauled to the mixing site and the portland cement was added, Deb and team did some work dry-mixing along with a local woman, Sima.  By then, though, groups of ornately dressed women were arriving for a large meeting at Unako House concerning women’s issues in the region–an event to which we were invited. We called for Grace and Debra to return for the event and Mark started to trot in that direction to get them.  They were on their way, though.

We sat in the front left corner of the meeting on the second level of Unako House and were amazed to see about 200 women seated cross-legged on the floor, some with small children. They waited patiently in the heat chatting amongst themselves.  It seemed clear that some groups were in what almost constituted uniforms–saris of identical design and decoration–that we presumed represented unique villages. Dinesh later told us that some had some from up to a three hour’s drive away and that many had walked more than an hour to attend the meeting.

The meeting started with some short speeches and then the local dignitaries sitting to our right were blessed with a red tika and given a sash that went around their necks.  The same presentation was then held for each of us. All of us, though, were VERY dirty, straight from work. I was, in particular, at my dirtiest and felt terrible among all the finery.

Dinesh asked me to get up, move to the back of the room and take photos and in doing so I had to walk right down the middle of the 200, tip-toeing in  my dirty boots between the amused (or shocked and stunned) women, hoping that I wasn’t dripping sweat or dropping dried mud on them as I passed.

Music started and three beautiful young ladies danced on a large red plastic tarp.  They soon asked Debra, Grace, Deb, and Sue to join them, and Debra and Grace did so.  Before long, the men were dancing, too, except for Hal, while I was happy to be taking photos and a video of the event from the back of the room.

The dancing done, at one point a local leader stood and said a few words, then I was motioned to the front to accept a small plaque showing the community’s appreciation for our work.  I was just filthy, though. I said a couple of words of thanks and returned to my seat. At this point, we were asked to depart and we went out to the north, shaded side of the building for lunch while the meeting carried on.

Lunch was a rather unique roasted rice along with chicken in a mildly spicy yellow sauce–very good once again.  We chatted over lunch and made plans for the afternoon. Our final ring was delivered as well as the needed to caps, so we off-loaded the cap at the first site and then delivered and installed the final ring and second cap to our site.  Mike, Grace, and Debra stayed behind at that site to continue help with the latrine while Mark and I returned to Unako House. Once back, we joined with Hoot and were led by Hemraj to the third work site. Meanwhile, Team 1 was mixing concrete for the vertical rod installation led by Sima and Deb.

Dinesh said that third site was about 500 meters away, across the main road from Unako House.  We walked with Hemraj and one other young man to the site that, according to Hoot’s GPS, was 0.88 miles or 1.4 kilometers away.  We didn’t enjoy seeing the different countryside, though, including crossing a small stream that had many cattle grazing nearby.

When we arrived it was clear that we would be digging in an elevated area about five meters or so above any nearby water sources, ditches, or streams, so that made us optimistic.  It took some time before we were cleared to work, though. Our local technical leader was quiet but very nice and down-to-business. He and Hemraj staked out and marked the latrine as well as where the rings would go.  We suggested that the rings be a little farther apart than in the thick, clay soil of the other locations as the mostly sand composition at this site worried us in terms of sidewall collapse. Hemraj explained that to our leader and he agreed.  The pits would be a little over two feet apart.

Pleasantly, too, a young lady delivered three perfectly new Tata shovels complete with sharp points.  We got to work quickly in the hot sun–zero shade or breeze–and also asked that Hemraj send a message back to Unako House asking that Mike and Grace be sent over to help.

Work went quickly in the much drier soil.  The young lady and our tech lead dug the latrine foundation and placed river rock and dry concrete mix atop the rocks after staking it out with sticks and twine.  We dug in teams of two: Hoot and Mark on the east side; Hemraj and me on the west. Both teams made good progress and we were happy to not have mud and thick clay.  Mike and Grace arrived shortly thereafter and we shifted to three-person rotations, with Mike joining us and Grace on Mark and Hoot’s “team.” Our only obstacles were a few roots, the occasional gravel (that gave us a sense that this was a filled hill) and the oppressive heat that required us to rotate diggers frequently.

I decided that we would work until about 3:40, giving us time to walk back to Unako House to meet the others for departure.  The digging seemed to get a little competitive,especially in the last few rotations when we were changing diggers at the same time, comparing depths, etc.  By the time we finished, both holes were over five feet deep and almost six feet in some places. We’d kept good diameters all the way down, too. Hemraj said we were done as the pits only needed to be five feet deep here due to the elevation and dry soil–that was a most pleasant surprise.

We walked back and along the saw families winnowing rice and carrying bales of rice stalks along the road.  Three girls were carrying big loads on their heads and asked if I would take their photo. I did some group shots and then did close-ups under the burden of the rice bales and was very happy with the result.  They were practicing their English and giggling as they asked my name and where I was from–a great highlight to the day.

When we returned to Unako House, we were very impressed with the work of Team 1 that had four rods set in the concrete-molded corners as well as the squatter “toilet”, trap, and piping to the pits set–virtually complete, functionally at least.  Debra suggested that as we drive out we go by the other site to see what Sam, Yellow Shirt, and the others had done since she had left (Note: she was not optimistic). We all agreed and shortly after 4pm we departed, headed south on the narrow farm road.

We were actually pleasantly surprised by what we found at Site 2.  The work was comparable to Site 1 except that the toilet had not been placed and set, nor the piping.  The corners and vertical rods were in place, though, and it would be less than an hours work to catch up to Site 1.

The return that followed took us on backroads–about as backroad as possible in Nepal–and we emerged from the farmland and tight squeezes between fences and bamboo stands at the main river crossing bridge back to Lamahi.  From there it was quick drive in.

This was probably my most exhausting and sweaty day.  Mike and Mark agreed. We were as fatigued as we’d been all week and ready for a long cool shower.  We gathered cold water bottles and headed to our rooms.

At dinner, we talked about the next days plans–something I’d discussed with others on the team and then with Dinesh during the return drive.  We would send two each to Sites 1 and 2 to help with completion of the latrines, send a couple more to Site 3 to help put the finishing touches on the pits and work on the latrine foundation, and then send the “Digging Team” to Site 4 to get started there. Meanwhile, we asked that rings and caps be delivered to Site 3 even if we couldn’t install them on Friday.  Dinesh agreed to the plan as did the others.

Dinesh also told us the plan for Bardiya–that we would wrap up work by about 11:30am, get lunch at Unako House, and then return to clean-up and try to be on the road to Bardiya by 1:30pm.  He also covered the Bardiya itinerary and I once again briefed the group on the room and spending plan that I had emailed to DWC. We all drank a little more beer and wine (following the usual dinner plates) talked about the day and retired early–we could tell that many were fading quickly.

That evening, I got a message from Debra that she wasn’t feeling well due to a persistent cough and some congestion and that she would be skipping the morning’s work on Friday to recover.  That morning we had also stopped by a pharmacy to get her some cough drops.

DWC Team Leader, Marty France

Friday, October 18, 2019

We started as usual on Friday morning and discussed our plans in the lobby, hopeful to get some meaningful work done before departing for Bardia.  Along the way to work Kevin, Hoot, and Deb stopped at an ATM for cash while I got out and bought some fresh fruit (apples and bananas) for the team, especially Grace.

We arrived at the site and Deb, Sue, and Hal stayed to work at the first site toilet area.  We left site 2 to the local workers (Yellow Shirt et al) and the rest of us took the bus to the edge of the river to work on site 3.  

When we parked, we saw a small game of cricket happening on the plain above the drier part of the river with three kids in their mid-teens.  The cattle were spectating.

The short walk was night, but it was already muggier than usual.  The locals working on the site were already there waiting for us and we got to work quickly.  The locals were mixing concrete on the ground in the volcano fashion that we’ve seen. Mark and I jumped into the pits to finish them off and were pleased that we could do it without relief.  We smoothed the bottoms, checked the width and then Sam went into each hole and spaced the river rock that we threw in.

About this time, a large tractor (that we’d seen in Gadhawa) carried in all 10 rings plus a cap to the site, just next to our pits.  We unloaded all of them so that the tractor could leave while the locals started adding mortar to the foundation and Sam continued tapping down the river rocks.  

The rings went in quickly with good help and guidance, five into each.  That done, we decided to head to the fourth and final construction site by bus with Dinesh.  The fourth site was all of the way across Gadhawa and probably another two kilometers to a mud hut house and compound on the left (south) side of the road.  We parked on the opposite side of the road and walked into the back, past a plot of okra, some goats, and plenty of other garden vegetables.

The back compound bordered rice fields and was very small.  We immediately dug up two small pepper plants and then our team lead marked out the circle for each septic pit in the dirt, just below a medium-sized papaya tree.  The whole area was about 4 meters by 4 meters and we recognized how difficult this would be. The lady of the house told us that we could use all of the dirt to help build up the height of the back yard, as opposed to throwing it into the rice field, but that still wouldn’t leave us much room to work.  The daughter, 15-year-old Ayuva, spoke English fairly well and helped translate. She also took photos with us.

Mark, Hoot, and others dug about a foot of the heavy clay earth from pits to start our work and they marked the foundation for the toilet that would sit just to the east of the two pits.  By now, time was getting short, so we returned to the bus and Unako House for lunch.

The team at Site 1 was complete with the exception of the work the welder would do to add frame for the walls, door, and roof and it looked great.  We received no word from Site 2. Lunch went quickly and we were on our way back to Lamahi and the Hotel Classic by 12:10pm. We arrived and set our next departure time for 1:30pm and all agreed.

Check out–for those that weren’t keeping their rooms–went well. We were on the road 1:45 and headed west to Bardia.  The trip to Bardia took over four hours with two quick stops for drinks and snacks, arriving at the Jungle Resort just before 6pm.  Along the way, we crossed one more pass and thousands of acres of rice fields filled with farmers and their families working the harvest.  Santos’s driving became noticeably more conservative as darkness fell–much to my relief–and we was especially careful of children and animals.  It was amazing to me that he never really traveled faster than 50 mph even if it seemed like we were going 70-80mph.

We checked into the Jungle Resort and were given very spartan rooms.  The dining area was covered, outdoor, but with a dirt floor. There were three dogs.  Some were immediately concerned (rightfully so) that they were given double rooms and some were given singles when everyone paid the same price for the weekend.  I explained the situation to Dinesh and that was solved by getting another single room. Dinner would be served at 7pm.

I showered before dinner to get the ride off of me and arranged my things.  My fan was unbalanced and made a lot of the noise. The floor was soft brick, turning my bare feet red when I walked from the wet bathroom floor.

Dinner was the most bland we’d had.  Dinesh said that the plain chicken, plain spaghetti noodles, and plain green beans were their idea of what Americans would like.  I told him that I think we’d prefer their local food.

We all had a beer or two. Deb and Sue tried again to find some non-sweet wine, but were unsuccessful.  We talked about our plan for the next day (breakfast at 6:30, departing at 7) and how we would split up into two groups with Deb, Sue, and Hal joining another Spanish guest on a jeep for the morning, while the rest of us would go for a trek in the morning and do the jeep safari in the afternoon.  Deb and Sue didn’t bring clothes compatible with on-foot trekking, which, along with Hal’s inability to walk long distances drove this decision.

Hoot, Hal, and I asked that the firepit be lit and Mike broke the seal on the Laphroaig for an end of dinner drink there.  We stayed there for about thirty minutes and then went to our rooms, but not before talking for a short time with a couple from Berne, Switzerland that were traveling on sabbatical from work for a full year and had been in India the previous two months.  Clearly, a party was going on in the resort area next to us and the noise was quite loud. I was glad to have a room on the other side of the complex, even if it was uncomfortable.

I didn’t sleep well at all.  Even though I used the mosquito net, I felt like I was being bitten or crawled over by bugs frequently.  The off-balance fan made noise, but I needed the circulation and you couldn’t really open the windows because the screen was so coarse that large bugs could come in.  By midnight, with no sleep, I decided to take a half-ambien and actually got in about four hours of sleep.

DWC Team Leader, Marty France

Saturday, October 19, 2019

At breakfast, most everyone complained about the noise and partying that went on almost all night.  However, everyone was ready to go shortly after 7am with the jeep safari picking them up outside the gate, while the rest of us starting walking with Hemraz to the Bardia gate.  About halfway there, a jeep picked us up and took us the rest of the way.

The others were waiting for us in their jeep at the gate, but departed shortly thereafter.  We met our guide, Gatam, who was a 25-year veteran of the park–since its founding. He looked to be in his early to mid-50s, fairly small of build with very bright eyes and a lot of energy.  He had a long, sturdy stick that was all that might stand between us and a Bengal Tiger. For the next three hours and nine kilometers, he led us through tall elephant grass, forest, across a river twice, and to some truly spectacular views.  He explained everything clearly–including what to do if we actually did see a tiger–and knew the Latin names of virtually every plant, insect, tree, and mammal we saw.

Unfortunately, we didn’t see too many large wild animals, but that didn’t take away from the excellent hike and all that we learned.  The tourist-accessible area of Bardia National Park is really just the far western ten percent. A much large region lay to our east. In the park, there were between 100 and 120 tigers, nearly 100 Asian one-horned rhinos, and an undetermined number of wild Indian elephants.  There are also five different species of deer, two species of monkeys, wild boar, 400 species of birds, two types of crocodiles in the riverain system, countless insects–especially butterflies, river otters, leopards, jackals, and other animals. We managed to miss all of the really cool ones (IMHO), except for the deer and monkeys.

We could tell that Gatam was clearly frustrated.  He was a very professional guide and took his job and the park seriously.  I could tell that he was disappointed to not be able to show us some of the key animals.  I asked him questions about poaching and he said that that was well under control, but that 15 to 20 years ago, during the Maoist insurgency, it was a big issue because the insurgents were hiding in the national parks like Bardia and Banke and poaching rhinos and tigers for money.  He said that they now had two anti-poaching teams patrolling Bardia and that they hadn’t had an issue in some time.

I also asked about tigers and other wildlife and their effect on local livestock and citizens.  He said that the tigers (who often occupy 10 to up to 60 square kilometers apiece) leave the livestock alone, but occasionally old and weak tigers will venture outside of the parks to kill goats and cattle.  He said that elephants can be an issue and told us a story of when a rogue elephant damaged his house (to the tune of 30,000 NPR or about $2600 US) when it came through his village and rammed one of his walls because a dog was harassing it.  He also said that leopards were a bigger problem than tigers as they were more likely to come to villages and kill small livestock like goats, calves, and even dogs. Every year, elephants kill more people than tigers, but there is a tiger killing of a human about once per year.  I thought that this sounded similar to much of Africa where hippos were generally a bigger threat than lions.

The weather was fairly nice for the hike and we had enough of a breeze, plenty of shade, and stops often enough to not get overheated.  We stopped at one tall concrete observation tower for about 20 minutes but didn’t see anything. Along the trails, we did see piles of scat, feces, or manure–whatever you’d like to call it–from tigers, rhinos, and elephants, as well as footprints from all of these large mammals and tiger scratchings on tree trunks along frequented trails.  Gatam was expert at identifying all of these marks and that really enhanced the experience.

We met the rest of the group at lunch and learned that they had done jeep safari and not seen much more than monkeys and deer.  The guide crew served us a large pot of rice and cabbage along with some fruit, juice boxes, and cookies. The other crew would go from there to do another hour or so of jeep safari and then take more than an hour to return to the lodge.  We would take a jeep and head north with Gatam looking for more large animals.

We went to the northwest tip of the park along one of the rivers that were part of the inland delta that was the center of local geography.  We could see a wide plain coming out of the mountains and were surprised to learn that, especially during the monsoon season, freshwater porpoises (dolphins) could be found here.  I knew that there were freshwater dolphins in the Ganges and other Indian rivers but had no idea they came this far inland. Gatam tried several overlooks of the delta trying to spot large animals along the river banks, but we didn’t see anything bigger than a few deer and some wild boar in the four or five cases.  Still, the views were spectacular. He also stopped us at every water hole he could find. Near one there were two cars, including one with Nepali plates and a photography dressed in full sniper camo with a Canon 1DX Mk II and an 800mm prime lens that claimed that they had seen a tiger and taken video of it ten minutes earlier.

The day ended with us returning the main park entrance without any encounters with rhinos, tigers, or wild elephants, but it was still a good day and all in our group agreed that it was worth the time.

We returned to the Jungle Resort and found the others in the dining area.  They’d returned there shortly before us having visited the crocodile and elephant enclosures near the entrance when their safari had ended.  Deb and Sue seemed quite upset by seeing a mother and baby elephant tether by their legs in the compound.

I went to my room and found that nothing had been done to clean it. Moreover, the toilet wouldn’t flush at all.  I went to the front desk and asked for another room, then had to demonstrate to the owner that the toilet wasn’t functional before I got another room.  He also told me that they didn’t clean rooms unless the guest specifically asked for that to be done. I moved all of my things to the new room and then went to the dining area after doing the usual plugging in for recharging.

Everyone was very tired at this point after being bounced around in jeeps all day and/or walking several miles.  Dinner was served a little after 7pm and we received some rather weird things that were kind of a cross between chimichangas and Chinese spring rolls.  We had no idea what was inside of them. They came with french fries and some vegetables. The beer was cold, though.

Rumor had it from the day before that we would have some sort of dancing/cultural show at 7:30pm.  By almost 8pm, I asked if, in fact, that would occur and Dinesh checked with the owner. None of us were in much of a spectator mood, though, and a couple just went to their rooms.  I was close to doing the same thing, but “took one for the team” as Kevin said and went to see the show anyway.

The dancing/singing show was typical of what we’d seen in many, many developing world villages over the years from Uganda to Rwanda, Cambodia to Senegal.  Local kids and young adults dress up in traditional costumes and put on a show for tips at the end. I dreaded it.

I will say, however surprisingly, that it was a good show and it helped lift my spirits after what could only be called a disappointing and tiring day.  The Jungle Resort is probably one of my least favorite destinations, but I was in a better mood after the show, tipped appropriately (as did everyone) and headed for my room shortly before 8:30pm.  (The show was also mercifully short).

DWC Team Leader, Marty France

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Again, I didn’t sleep well in the very spartan room with another off-balance ceiling fan.      It was no problem at all to get up at 5:30am, repack my bags and join Kevin in the dining area–the only place with wifi–and do some blogging and photo work.  I called Becky and also tracked result of Air Force hockey (5-2 loss to Arizona State) and the upcoming Air Force-Hawaii basketball game. I saw photos from the Lost Friend Brewing Company’s Festiv-Ale, too, and was pleased it went so well.

At breakfast, we discussed the morning tour plan.  Hal, Sue, and Deb had seen some of the animal enclosures the previous day and Sue and Deb had no desire to see them again, but the others in the group wanted to see both the elephants and the crocodile breeding facilities.  The cost would be an additional 200 NPR ($1.80 US) each and I handed Dinesh a 1,000 NPR bill to cover five of us. A few others chipped in, too.  

We drove farther to the elephant area than I had expected–I thought, as did the others, that it was the small facility near the park entrance.  However, it was a few miles outside of the park. Deb and Sue stayed in the bus while the rest of us walked to the elephant area that had “barns” or covered shelters for over one dozen female elephants.  

All but two were released for grazing when we arrived.  The remaining two were chained in their enclosure in an arrangement that didn’t look all that humane.  Each female had plenty of food and seemed healthy and not mistreated, but it did rankle us all somewhat to see them chained.  

We fed the elephants from the piles of branches and leaves and inspected the facilities.  The descriptions said that this was an active, accredited facility and told of how and why they did what they did.  Male elephants were not kept in the facility because they were just too powerful and unpredictable. They would rely on wild males to visit the site when the females were in estrus to produce off-spring.  We also saw the workers there hand-making large, one pound “treats” for the elephants consisting of unhusked rice with balls of molasses wrapped in grass. They looked like little green footballs. Each elephant at up to 60 of these per day.  Just the care with which the workers used to produce these gave us a better feeling about the facility.

We left at about 9am and returned to the main park area to see the crocodiles, enclosed rhino, and elephants.

The crocodile area was very large with about a half-dozen pools with sandy beaches all containing crocodiles or gharial crocs seemingly grouped by age or size.  The gharials are fascinating with their very long and narrow snouts, the males also having a bulbous protrusion on the tips of their snout. The gharials, in particular, are very primitive looking, but are quite common in the regions rivers.

The rhino enclosure had one very docile rhino in it that looked like it was frequently tormented by monkey.  The elephant area had two females and one baby, restrained in the same manner as at the breeding facility. There was also a tiger enclosure with one tiger, but we couldn’t see it from our vantage point.

By 10:15 we were walking back to the bus–where Sure, Deb, and Hal had stayed–and, after chasing away a few monkeys–started the long trip back to Lamahi.

AFter about 45 minutes, we stopped along the top of a dam on the Babia River from where we could see crocodiles on the nearby beach and also below the spillway.  In the water on either side of the sam we could see very large fish that looked like carp of some type, many well over two feet long and probably also over 10 kg apiece.  The dam produced hydroelectric power for the region. I took a few photos and we all walked over the dam to meet the bus.

Another hour or so on, we stopped in one town and all bought snacks at a local convenience store.  Ice cream bars were a big item with the purchase as no one in the group had had any ice cream since the trip started.  I bought a bag of peanuts.

As we started back on the bus, I asked Dinesh if we would be stopping again (we had over 2.5 hours to go) and he said that we would stop in about a half hour for lunch.  We did stop a few minutes later for gas and Santos, our driver, asked that we head straight for home (I learned later) because his wife had had an accident (relatively minor) but was still in need of assistance, so we drove straight through to Lamahi, arriving shortly before 2pm.  The time passed quickly for me as I was engrossed in Margaret Atwood’s new book, “The Testaments,” sequel to “The Handmaid’s Tale.”

We checked back into the hotel and those of us that left laundry picked up our bags containing clean (but wet) clothes.  I hung mine on the coat rack in my room to dry, each piece now having my Hotel Classic Lamahi room number permanently written inside inside it in black marker.

At 3pm Hal, Dinesh, Mike, Grace, and I left to walk into town.  Mike and Hal wanted to get a haircut and Dinesh led them to a small shop near the hotel.  Hal was getting the Full Monty with his ears and nose hair trimmed, full haircut, beard trim, neck shave–everything.  Mike got a shave and haircut and so did Dinesh. Each were billed a whopping 300 NPR for the work (about $2.70 US). Hall and Mike (and I presume Dinesh) gave them a generous tip.

While Mike, Hal, and Dinesh were being groomed, I walked around the city with my camera and took door and window photos as well as general street shops.  Several young people stopped me and asked that I take their photos. I picked up several Instagram followers, too, since that’s really the only way we could transfer the photos without me passing out my email address (I still have to upload these).

I returned to the hotel just before 4:30pm and the others were just a few minutes behind me. I processed photos, wrote a little and took a shower.  A little after 5:30, after sending a WhatsApp message to the team reminding them of dinner, I went downstairs for Happy Hour in the lobby and was soon joined by Hal, Deb, Mark, and Mike.

Dinesh was there, too, and the rest were down by dinner just before 7pm.  We had the standard dinner again, but it was very good. I asked the owner if he could get some different beer besides just Tuborg and Carlsberg, suggesting Ghorka, and he said that he would try. Mark presented Deb with a bottle of Merlot that he found during his weekend scavenging and said that he’d also found some Cab.  I tasted the Merlot and it was truly bad by Merlot standards, but it was also the only game in town, so Deb and Sue drank it without too much complaint.

After dinner, we made tentative plans for the next day.  The challenges over our remaining four days in Lamahi will be working at four different sites, keeping everyone occupied, and getting the final pits dug at what looks like a very difficult fourth site.  I reiterated that coffee, breakfast, and departure would occur as usual (6:30, 7:30, 8:10, respectively) and we began filing up to bed.  

I came up to the room to write and upload photos, as well as to call Becky,  The wifi continued to be poor so the phone calls were not of high quality, but it was good to chat anyway.  All I have left to do now is transfer some photos to Instagram for my new, awaiting Lamahi fan base and then I can go to sleep.

DWC Team Leader, Marty France

Monday, October 21, 2019

We followed the normal routine in the morning, but Hal was feeling under the weather and decided to take a rest day.  Sue and Debra are doing better.  Grace is still under the weather but has decided to go to work.  Kevin will be coordinating the work at sites 1 and 2.  Deb and Sue will go to Site 3.  The rest of us go to Site 4 to dig.

We arrived at Unako House and split up.  At Site 1, they had put one piece of steel siding on the latrine and planned to complete the job.  Kevin and Deb walked to Site 2 while we jumped on the bus and dropped Deb, Sue, and Sima at the river from where they walked to Site 3.  We rode to Site 4, but Grace went on the back of Sam’s motorcycle–with her dad’s approval.

At Site 4, our site foreman, Raj, was there along with Santos, Sam, the lady of the house, and her daughter, Ayuva.  Raj corrected the site of the two pits and latrine after the woman told us that she had been given more land on which to grow crops by her grandfather and that we could move the latrine from the small backyard area into one of the fields that was just sprouting mustard greens.

We used a stick to measure the diameter of the holes, as usual, and started work.  We also moved a large pile of rocks from the front to the back of the house.  Raj and Sam started work on the foundation of the latrine, too.  

We hit water within four feet and the soil was very sandy.  The bottoms started to cave in as they filled with water, so we stopped work.  We knew that our concrete rings were being delivered and they arrived a few minutes later.  Before we left for lunch, we unloaded all 12 of them and carried them across a ditch, then they were rolled across the small field to the pits.  For Mark and I, we calculated that we had by now moved 71 of these rings–several of them twice with loading at the foundry–and there were probably only a few left.  Grace took a video of our last unloading of the day.

We went to lunch with Grace again jumping onto Sam’s motorcycle.  Santos honked several times trying to get Grace to turn around for a photo, but there’s so much honking in Nepal that she never noticed.

When we returned to Unako House we saw that one wall was up on the Site 1 latrine and some repair had been done to the steps.  Kevin and Debra said that progress was finally being made at Site 2 and they were happy with how it was progressing.  Deb, Sue, and Sima returned from Site 3 (part way via tuk-tuk) and said they, too, were moving quickly and expected to complete what they could do that day.

Lunch consisted of spicy ramen noodles with hard-boiled eggs.  We all discussed the day’s work and what we might do if, as expected, we completed the work earlier than planned and were free on Wednesday afternoon and Thursday.

Grace decided to stay at Unako House in the afternoon to learn more about the operation and what we’d be doing with the locals on Thursday, while the others went back to their morning work sites and we returned to Site 4.

Our afternoon work consisted mostly of mixing concrete and helping Raj and Sam set the foundation for the latrine.  It involved quite a bit of leveling as it was set on a bit of a slope. We also filled in the pits on the outside of the rings and leveled the field on which we’d thrown all of the dirt from the pit.  The woman of the house continued to do great work hauling rocks to the foundation work, Mark, Hoot, and Mike took charge of the concrete mixing, and Raj seemed to trust me–and later Mark–with setting some of the stones into the mortar at the foundation.  With the top of the rings in the septic pits set high above the ground to prevent overflow during the monsoon season, we knew that the foundation would also have to be built quite high.  We ended up putting in three layers of river rock above the base foundation layer set in mud and made room for the pipe that would come out from the toilet.

Time was passing quickly, so at about 3:30 we decided that we’d mixed our last batch on concrete and focused on using all of the remainder to set rocks in the foundation.  At the same time, the five metal rods that would form the vertical structure of the latrine were delivered.  We completed the work by 3:50 and packed up, saying goodbye to Ayuva, her mom, and Raj.  I asked Sam to tell Raj how much we appreciated working with him and he seemed pleased–showing about as much emotion as we’d seen from a Nepali (i.e., some, but not much)

We arrived at Unako House at 4:10 and saw that, with the exception of the door and any tile flooring that would go in later, the first site was complete.  Mike gave it a ceremonial “test drive” posing for a photo over the squatter, too.  All others had returned for the day and gave reports of solid progress.  We decided that Deb and Sue would take Sima and join the team for concrete work at Site 4 in the morning, while I would float among the sites and see what could be done.  Kevin and Debra would join me.  I was most worried about Site 2.  We also learned that one more ring would be added to each pit at Site 2 for the same reasons that the pit caps were so high at sites 1 and 4:  monsoon flooding.  We all discussed the fact that none of the concrete is reinforced.  Grace and Debra brought up the very valid point that, now having seen two of the round caps break, they were worried that any kid that might mistakenly or mischievously jump on the caps once installed might break them and fall in.  Of course, the engineers in the group knew that adding even a few layers of thin chicken wire or some metal matrix or mesh to the pours for these would be both cheap and effective, increasing their strength manyfold. I discussed that with Dinesh and he said that they were aware of the issue and would be pursuing that point with the concrete foundry for future work, possibly replacing old caps to prevent just the sort of thing that we all feared.

We arrived back at the Hotel Classic shortly before 5pm.  Mark, Kevin, Hoot, and maybe others went out shopping and bought some beer and snacks.  I processed photos, wrote a little bit in the blog, cleaned up, and went to the lobby for happy hour and to get more work done.  

Shortly before 7pm, Hal came in and said that he was still not feeling well and, in fact, was running a fever of 102F (39C).  I asked around if someone had Tylenol or aspirin and Kevin had the latter (Mark had Tylenol).  We decided to give Hal some aspirin and asked him several questions about symptoms.  He said that he just had general body aches, no digestive issues.  He also had a bit of congestion, but attributed that to the dust and bad air and told us that he was treating it with nasal spray (Afrin).  Mike asked if he had any open sores and Hal said that he did on his left foot and took off his socks to show us a corn on the fourth toe of his left foot that didn’t look good.  His lower legs also looked swollen.  We saw no other large scale sign of infection, though.  Dinesh said we could go to the local hospital that night, but I asked that we wait to see how Hal responded to the aspirin before doing so.  Deb handed Hal a packet of Motrin and Motrin Nighttime, but I asked that he not take any of that until we saw how he responded to the aspirin.  Also, I asked Hal to start checking into earlier return flights.  He was not planning to leave Kathmandu until 2 November and I did not at all like the idea of him being solo there for almost a week after the others had left and we’d departed for our Annapurna trek.  He grabbed his tablet and started looking on Orbitz.

Dinner went well with the normal plate we’d come to expect.  We kept Hal in relative isolation, given his fever, at another table.  Meanwhile, Grace used the tweezers from the first-aid kit to remove a splinter from one of her fingers after which I sprayed it Bactine.  Within an hour, Hal reported that his fever was easing and he was feeling better.  We gave him more aspirin with instructions on when to take them during the evening.

Dinesh, Sue, Deb, Mark, Mike, and I remained in the dining area for about an hour after everyone left, discussing lots of issues.  Deb asked what I would be doing for a tip for the driver, Santos, and others and I said that I would leave that up to everyone to handle on their own at the end of our time in the valley, when we said goodbye to him at the Buddha Airport.  We all left shortly thereafter and returned to our rooms.

DWC Team Leader, Marty France

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

I woke up shortly after 4:30 and couldn’t get back to sleep, so I checked email and wrote.  I saw in note from Hal that he was feeling better, the aspirin was helping, and as of late the previous evening his temperature was back to normal with no more body aches.  Dinesh and I still planned to take him to the hospital to have his feet checked.

Hal was looking much better at breakfast and I asked him to continue to research earlier return flights to the US.  I received an email from his wife, Betsy, expressing her concern for him after receiving a photo of him the day before when he looked so poorly.  I told her about the plan as well as encouraging him to rebook his return flight and she was somewhat relieved.

At breakfast, we went over the plan for the day.  The bus dropped Dinesh, Hal, and me off at the Florence Private Hospital along the main road just after 8am.  We stepped into what looked like a one-room facility with a nurse at a desk in some sort of blue uniform and four beds behind her.  A woman was lying on the nearest bed in obvious distress with an IV in her arm and another woman was sitting next to her consoling her.

Hal sat down on a chair and Dinesh translated as Hal described his symptoms. The nurse asked him to take off his shoes and socks and Hal complied.  A few minutes later, a man walked in (wearing flip-flops) with what looked like two gangrenous toes.  He went to the back and the nurse began work on him as the doctor arrived and starting examining Hal, still in his chair, but now with his feet exposed.  

The doctor was concerned about Hal’s edema in his ankles, but not too worried about the couple of open sores that had developed from a corn and a blister.  He asked about Hal’s medications (mostly blood pressure related ones like Losinipril) and Hal assured him that he had not had any edema issues with them over the several years he had taken them.  The doctor, dressed in a T-shirt and flip-flops himself, was worried about kidney issues, but Hal told him that he was urinating frequently without issue.  The doctor then gave Hal a prescription for some pill antibiotics, a stomach settler to avoid any issues with the antibiotics, and then we also bought him some Tylenol.  The pharmacy was almost part of the exam room, so the young lady there just brought the drugs over.

I took photos of the drugs themselves and sent them to Betsy.  The nurse, now finished dressing the wounds the guy who’d come in ten minutes earlier, did the same for Hal.  The woman with the IV left with the woman that had accompanied her.  There was very little talking between the nurse and these two patients the entire time I saw them.

The pharmacist and several in the staff were quite pleased to have western customers and asked to have photos taken with us.  Several started following me on Instagram when I told them that I would post a few of the photos there.

Meanwhile, the nurse finished with Hal’s feet, he put his shoes back onto his feet, and left with instructions from the doctor that if the edema persisted he should see a doctor in Kathmandu and that he should keep his feet elevated whenever possible.  The total bill for the visit and prescriptions was 800 NPR or about $7.50 US.

Dinesh loaded Hal into a tuk-tuk and gave the driver instructions to return him to the hotel.  Dinesh somehow found or borrowed or had a scooter and I jumped on the back and rode with him for the 30 minutes it took to get to Unako House.  

It was a cool, foggy morning and I enjoyed the ride.  Dinesh was clearly driving very carefully with me on the back.  When we arrived, Mark, Sima, Deb, and Sue had already been dropped off at Site 4 and the others were at Site1.  Grace stayed back at the hotel as she wasn’t feeling full-speed.

Around Site 1, we were doing finish work, mostly.  The welder was there to put sliding latches on both the inside and outside of the toilet.  Hoot and Kevin mixed concrete near Sima’s house in the same place they’d done it on previous days, while Hoot, Mike, and I started leveling the piles of soil around the latrine.  We also, with Debra’s help and also the help of one of the local kids, placed rocks around the down-tube that connected the latrine to the septic pits and then I put concrete around it to secure the channel.  Man then asked us to pile dirt around the tops of the septic pit rings which meant moving the dirt we’d already spread in the leveling.  Halfway into that project, we received other instructions to now pile that dirt not around the top rings, but the area between the rings and the latrine.  So, we moved the dirt again.

Meanwhile, our site foreman was putting concrete on the low walls of the latrine in a very thick stucco-type fashion.  We also laid some rocks in a channel along the base of the latrine’s south side and I put concrete over the rocks to make a somewhat level platform.  Our foreman was also repairing the steps up to the latrine that had been repeatedly damaged by the welders since they were working over unset materials and concrete.

We completed most of the work before lunch and had worked fairly hard–the dirt was still in the form of large lumps of clay and very hard and heavy to move or spread.  Deb, Sue, and Mark returned from Site 4 somewhat frustrated that Raj had arrived an hour late and they had not gotten as much done as they had hoped.  Mark had independently mortared the inside of the rings in those septic pits after the pits had been mostly bailed of standing water.

At lunch we spoke about the afternoon and Dinesh told us about plans for a big group dinner on Thursday afternoon that CPN would host.  We would provide money for beer and wine.  It sounded like a good way to end the project and also an opportunity for all of us to bring in (or leave behind) items that we intended to donate to the Center and community.

In the afternoon, the same group went back to Site 4 to continue work with Raj while, with Site 1 functionally complete, the others of us went to Site 2 to see its status and do what we could.

When we arrived at Site 2, the welders were already there and had strung a line of blue wiring from what looked like a 220V line about 100 feet to the work area.  The bare ends of the wires were stuck into positive and negative sides of an electrical plug and then to a transformer to up the voltage for the arc welding set up.  The welder was wearing flip flops and a T-shirt, standing on the latrine and also on a small metal frame inside the latrine, welding the structural bars in place.  Sparks and drips of molten steel were falling from his work.  A few hit me and my T-shirt, but I tamped them out quickly.  We don’t know how he wasn’t getting his feet burned and blistered from the same treatment.

The welder needed to cut bars, so he took a break while we worked on concreting the base and pipes as before.  Our foreman from Site 1 had joined us at this site and he was doing great work on the steps and in stuccoing the sides.  I worked on the pipe again while Hoot, Kevin, and Mike mixed and transported concrete with the help of Debra and others.  Most of us then joined in with the stuccoing and the rock/concrete work around the pipes.  We also mortared the septic pit caps in place after having put them in place.

Mike and Debra were having fun with Mike’s bluetooth speaker as we introduced the crew to some musical favorites.  Debra’s a big Bob Marley fan and that struck a chord with the locals.  I requested some Lumineers later, too.  

While the welder returned to work, we shoveled more dirt and did the sort of leveling and grading that we’d done at Site 1, led mostly by Mike and Man.  Hoot and Kevin continued doing yeoman’s work with the concrete mixing.  Debra and I took a break to check out the woman of the house’s cut finger that we’d bandaged four days before.  I carefully removed her existing bandage–that someone had placed on her finger in the last 24-48 hours–and looked it over.  I was pleasantly surprised that there was no swelling or puss around the wound and that it was generally dry and looked to be healing well.  We opened up the First-Aid kit and I applied some antiseptic wipes and then some antibacterial cream before rebandaging the finger.  The woman didn’t say anything during the entire procedure, but seemed pleased when we were complete.

Hoot had brought some little gyro-copter toys and we played with the kids a little during the welder’s work.  They were very amused and it kept them out of the way of the flying sparks and metal.  We left just before 4pm, very happy with the afternoon’s progress, realizing that the only work that needed to be done the next day would be the attachment of the blue steel walls, the door, and the latches.  The latrine was very close to complete.

We walked back to Unako House and enjoyed the stroll as we had each day we’d done it.  The dirt road and farm houses with families working the rice harvest were tranquil and colorful.  Each house, no matter how poor, seemed to have room for a flower garden to balance the water buffalo, goats, piles of rice straw, ducks, and manure.  The kids all waved to us and either said “Namaste!” or “Hi!” as we passed.  Rice winnowing with the hand-crank fan was happening in the front of one house, so I asked if I could turn the wheel for a few seconds while Mike took photos.  The locals were amused.  In other fields, the tractor-powered thresher was working, blowing out clouds of chaff against the late afternoon sky.

When we arrived at Unako House, our Site 4 had not returned yet, so we went upstairs and sat down to talk to a few of the CPN staff members at the house, including Sam’s wife who seemed to know quite a bit about the operation and have very sharp, inquisitive eyes.  They wanted to guess our ages.  In every case, partly out of courtesy I’m sure, they under-estimated out age and told us that, in Nepal, if you’re 60 or over then you’re bent over and old, walking with a cane.  Given what we’d seen of living conditions there, we had no doubt that that was the case.  That same much tougher life also caused each of us to embarrassingly OVERestimate their age (three women) on average by about five years.  I took photos of Sarita (Sam’s wife) and a young 20-year-old (I guessed she was 26, oops) as we all discussed plans for the remaining two days of work.

The rest of the group made it back by bus and just stayed onboard while we loaded up.  We departed at 4:20 and returned to the hotel at 4:50, as usual.  Hal was doing better, as was Grace, and I was pleased to learn that Hal had booked an earlier return flight departing from Kathmandu on Saturday evening at 9pm through Abu Dhabi and Chicago to Greensboro.  I spoke with Dinesh about final bills, payments, logistics, etc as we approached the end of the trip and then sent out a series of updates to the team concerning the Thursday party, trip back to Kathmandu, farewell dinner, critiques, etc.  We all did the normal cleaning routine that for some included dropping off laundry with the front desk (very cheap!) and then rejoined shortly before 7pm for dinner.  

Hoot, Mike, and I went over plans for the upcoming trek following some new info from Tapan, our guide and Hoot also updated all of us on a proposed trip on Saturday to Corban Bryant’s custom clothing factory on the southwest edge of Kathmandu.  Corban is the son of Larry Bryant, a long-time US Air Force Academy professor and employee.  Corban is also a USAFA graduate and former student of Hoot’s.  Hoot and Grace also arranged for a late Saturday afternoon yoga and meditation class to be held at the hotel.

DWC Team Leader, Marty France

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Overnight, the power was off from roughly 1am to almost 5am.  It sounded like a generator kicked in at about 5am.

We started the day in very good shape, as I saw it, nearly complete with our work on all fronts and ready to do some additional tasks including some painting around Unako House.  As I descended for coffee and breakfast, though, I was also quite aware that no day had really done to plan yet!

No one needed to go by an ATM, so we skipped that step on the way and all arrived at Unako House closer to 9am since Santos and the bus were running late.  Kevin and Hoot went right to work helping the locals finish Site 1 including mixing concrete for the tiling.  They said that they would check on Site 2 as well when complete.  Mike, Grace, Debra, and I sent to Site 3 and Deb, Sue, and Mark went to Site 4, both groups planning on finishing the final steps of their work that morning.

At Site 3, we worked on putting in the steps and also on applying mortar to the sides while our locals added the cinder block layer to the foundation.  We also set the caps in place for each pit and sealed them with mortar as well.  We used quite a bit of river rock for each of these tasks.  The young man formerly known as “Yellow Shirt,” with whom we did not get along, had joined us, but was a clear number two to the site foreman.  In this role, he was also a lot more friendly with us, allowing us to set rocks and concrete, smiling occasionally, and being helpful.  He actually treated us like he valued our help and we appreciated the change in attitude.  The Foreman was a few years older but still young and was very good and precise.  He was also much friendlier.  Of course, we realized that it helped having both Debra and Grace around, too.

The land/house owner, Sita, worked very hard, too.  She was excellent at mixing concrete and enthusiastically carried rocks and pans of finished concrete to wherever we needed them.  The work went very quickly.

We did see a few innovations.  The long, six-foot softer-than-PVC black venting pipe that was to go in the first septic pit was too big for the hole in the cap, so our locals built a fire of straw, partially melted one end of the pipe and used their bare hands to force the diameter of that end smaller as they stuffed it into the vent hole.  They then just applied concrete around it in a shallow cone around the base to hold it in place.  They just filled the vent hole on the second cap.

Some kids came over to watch and Grace entertained them with some stickers.  I applied a couple of hearts on the little girls’ cheeks and they had a good laugh.  The kids all thought Grace was very interesting and special and she got a lot of attention.

On a more somber note, we asked Sita about her life.  She told us that she had become a bonded servant at age nine, working as a domestic servant in Nepal–essentially sold by her ethnic Taru family.  She worked in that role until she was 19, at which time she was married.  Now 36, she and her husband had two sons (oldest is 15) and live on land that had been cleared by the government and given to poor people to farm.  She was very thankful for the new latrine and told us about her and her husband’s plans to build a new house farther back from the dirt road closer to access to the latrine–this one made of bricks instead of the mud and wattle, thatch roof home with a dirt floor that they currently inhabited.

The work ended before 11:30am and we walked most of the way back to Unako House before being met by the bus and Santos along with the group at Site 4–their work complete as well.  Site 1 was nearly complete when we arrived with a bench tiled inside the latrine and the floor tile almost done.  They used simply Portland cement for their “mud” and left no gaps for grout in any of the tile.  All of the tiles were but with a hand-held angle grinder and tile cutting disk. Kevin and Hoot reported that there was nothing left to do at Site 2 either as they had only the walls and tile to be installed as well.

At lunch we talked about any tasks that we could do in our remaining time as well as the dinner party that we’d have on Thursday.  Hal was doing well resting and seemed content with the plans for his departure the next morning.  Mark, Hoot, and I went out to the shipping container shed that beside Unako House to see what sort of painting supplies and scaffolding we had available to paint the north side of the building.  We found two partially-filled buckets of yellow paint–one distinctly darker than the other, a very tall leaning ladder that needed to have it’s three 10-foot sections bolted together for maximum height, and a set of eight scaffolding sections.  There were also several used rollers that had been rinsed but weren’t in great shape, some extension poles, and some uncleaned brushes that would now be scrapers.  

We hauled out the scaffolding and ladder sections and Mark set to work giving instructions on how to assemble the pieces.  Grace and I decided to go to the hardware store in town to get more paint and supplies with Santos.

We drove into town and went to the hardware store where we’d stopped on Work Day 1.  Santos explained what we needed, aided by a mobile phone photo we had of the paint can back at the site showing the color mixture.  We also had a piece of white paper with a fresh paint sample.  After a few minutes and a phone call back to Dinesh to confirm the amount as 10L and not 20L, they started mixing the paint.  I went in the back and bought three each brushes and rollers and also got another piece of plastic extension tubing.  While we waited they brought Grace, Santos, and me some hot tea with milk.  The other three or four employees in the store had some, too.

Grace also bought one of the Hindu decorative tiles and then we asked for roller pans for the paint.  I tried to describe a roller pan, but had no luck with that.  Apparently, they didn’t use roller pans since they could only find some of the shallow, plastic dishes that we’d used to transport concrete, gravel, and sand.  We decided to skip the pans since we had plenty of those back at the site.

We also asked for a hook to hang a bucket of paint from a ladder and I described it to Santos who relayed the description to the shop owner.  He barked an order at an employee and that guy grabbed a hacksaw and ran out of the shop.  He came back in about two minutes with an 18 inch piece of metal rod about one-eight of an inch thick.  He handed it to the shop owner who pulled out a small anvil, placed it on the floor, then proceeded to use a hammer and a pair of pliers to make the hook we needed.  Meanwhile, the paint came off the shaker and the guy mixing it showed us a comparison of the new and old paints.  He was quite happy when we declared it a perfect match.

We departed with the supplies and returned quickly.  Mark had the scaffolding set up and they were ready to work.  We compared the paints and found that, indeed, one of the three buckets was noticeably darker.  Luckily, that was the bucket with the least amount of paint, so the least waste.  We decided to to mix the paints from the new and other can to assure some consistency.

We had to work hard to get the linking bolts attached to the segments of ladder so that Hoot could paint the highest eaves with a trim brush but finally succeeded.  Hearing that we couldn’t find roller buckets, Hoot and Mark improvised a solution by cutting a plastic water or gas can in half, giving us two relatively flat pans to use.

Mike worked with an extension pole and did all of the lower section, making quick work.  AT first the paint looked lighter than what was on the bottom of the wall, but it dried to a consistent color with the rest and looked good.  Mike had to paint over some areas on the lower section that had previously been poorly painted, too.

Mark had tough work, painting around an avoiding power lines that were obstructing his access and causing no small amount of risk.  He would paint a section, descend and then we would get five or six of us and we would all lift and move the two-level scaffolding along the brick wall.  Kevin and Hoot were working together moving the ladder as Hoot scooted along the high wall with one hand brush and another small brush attached to an 18-inch stick.

In all we finished about 75% of the job and really couldn’t do any more because of the wet paint that wouldn’t allow Hoot to access the area above what Mak had painted and we didn’t want to move the scaffolding past a certain point close to the power lines for Mark’s safety.

We packed up our stuff and left on time.  Hoot sat in the front to get some final trip-back-to-the-hotel photos.  When we returned, several went out (including me) to access an ATM.  I paid for Hal’s return trip to the airport (8500 NPR) and also took some street photos.

We came back to dinner and made finals plans for the next day.

DWC Team Leader, Marty France

Friday, October 25, 2019

I didn’t sleep all that well again and just got up at about 5:30 when I couldn’t go back to sleep.  I unpacked all of my bags and started to repack, then took care of DWC admin issues, scanning receipts, entering expenses, etc.  I went downstairs for a quick breakfast and Hoot also came by the room to get his trekking equipment and clothes from our shared bag we’d left at the Eco Hotel.

Breakfast was good, as usual, and at 9am we met in the lobby to go for a visit to Purnaa Industries–a local garment manufacturer run by Corban Bryant, a USAFA grad and former CompSci instructor.  

Meanwhile, Mark had departed and was sending us updates on his outbound experience at Tribhuvan Airport because Kevin was taking the same flight the next day through Istanbul on Turkish Airlines.  All had gone well for him and he’s made it to the gate in under an hour from arrival at the airport.  

We learned that Hal had arrived back in Greensboro NC, too, and had gone to the local VA hospital for an evaluation.  The docs had determined that he’d had a mild allergic reaction the the combination of mild antibiotics he’s been given in Nepal and they also were worried about his infected foot sores, so they admitted him overnight for a different round of antibiotics and to evaluate the source cause of his infection. He reported, though, that he was in good spirits and thankful to have made the decision to leave early.

We boarded a Toyota HiAce van along with Dinesh and headed south to Purnaa Industries shortly after 9am. It was about a 30 min ride to the south.

We arrived and parked across the street on a road being widened that was all dirt and we’ll below sidewalk level.  Cirbn greeted us at the door and took us to the top floor from where we had a good view of a valley and homes to the east.

He explained that Purnaa was a Nepalese registered foreign owned company that employed at risk and recovering Nepalis to work in their factory.  Thy provided training as well as free lunch–an important wellness and morale issue they had found.

They made everything from cloth handbags and scarves to T-shirts, hoodies, dresses, children’s wear, cloth toys, and other items. They took orders of 500 or more and worked with many European and American importers as well as selling some items in country. They employed about 75 people and kept them all on full-time.

We toured the whole faculty and discussed items like quality control, Nepali regulation and accounting practices, worker attitudes and turnover, as well as the challenges they’d faced with the 2015 earthquake, Indian border closing, and cross-cultural issues. Corban’s dad, Larry (long-time USAFA Prof and employee) is a co-owner as are some other Americans. Corban and his family had lives in Kathmandu and run the operation since starting it in another location seven years ago.

We were impressed with the overall operation and Corban’s commitment to his workers. We had a chance to buy a few items in the factory store as well before leaving two hours later.

When we returned to the van, our driver was not at the van. Dinesh called him, but since our visit had gone overtime, he’d gone to lunch. We waited for about 20 minutes and then stopped at a Baskin-Robbins for an ice cream treat. Dinesh’s son (about four years old) had come along and he really enjoyed his cone.

We returned to Thamel and the driver dropped us at the start of the pedestrian zone allowing us to walk to a trusted retailer who sold pashmima scarves and similar items. Several people bought items while I went shopping for hoodies for my grandsons and maybe a shirt for myself. Mike was going to buy a knock-off North Face duffel to use on the trek.

It took me more than an hour to find the right hoodies in the right sizes as most of the shops did not sell children’s sizes.  In the end, though, I bargained for three and got a shirt for myself that I liked.  

When I returned to the hotel, Dinesh was there so I ran up to my room and got my last “Air Force Athletics” T-shirt to give him as a parting gift. We said one last goodbye and pledged to stay in touch via social media and to look at another trip to Nepal in a year or two.  He’d really done a remarkable job leading our efforts and I was glad to call him a friend.

At 3:30, Hoot, Grace, and Mike met me in the lobby for our pre-trek meeting with out guide, Tapan, from his company named Everest Express.  Tapan arrives early and went over the itinerary with us, covering most of the details of the trip. Hoot came armed with several good questions and we thought we had most of the issues worked out, including things like money needed along the way, availability of drinking water, our rental gear, and the logistics of our travel from and to both Kathmandu and Pokhara.  All of our questions answered satisfactorily, Tapan said “Goodbye and Namasté” and left. We would see him the next morning at 5:30 for a 5:45 departure to the airport and our domestic flight departure for Pokhara at 7:10am.

We’d made dinner reservations for that evening back at Yala Café and my old Air Force friend, Fred Kennedy, and a friend of his we’re planning to join us. Fred had just arrived in town to begin an 18-day Everest Base Camp Trek with two friends.

Fred and I met up and we walked around Thamel until returning to the Eco Hotel to meet the others.  Debra couldn’t join us because she was meeting with her Intrepid Group. Along the way, Grace and Mike decided to go out on their own for dinner, too.  We also encountered parades if people with drums and candles clogging the Thamel streets participating int he Hindu festival of lights, Tihar (more commonly called Diwali in India and other parts of the Hindu world. There were large “puppets” or characters, large demon characters, singing and instrumental music. One could hardly walk along the edges of the street.

We enjoyed our dinner at Yala and they were very happy to see a few of us back that had visited two weeks before. The meal was very good, as usual, and we enjoyed a beer or two as well.

We left around 8:30pm, but after walking about 200 meters away, I realized that I’d left my camera on a shelf by the table. I ran back only to find the manager typing a message to me via Instagram alerting me to my camera’s location. He had my contact info after a conversation we’d had at the previous visit.  Now, that’s great service!

We all broke up as we neared the hotel and Fred and his friend, Chirag, broke off for their hotel. I went up to my room, checked email and prepped for the next early morning.

DWC Team Leader, Marty France

Saturday, October 26, 2019

I didn’t sleep all that well again and just got up at about 5:30 when I couldn’t go back to sleep.  I unpacked all of my bags and started to repack, then took care of DWC admin issues, scanning receipts, entering expenses, etc.  I went downstairs for a quick breakfast and Hoot also came by the room to get his trekking equipment and clothes from our shared bag we’d left at the Eco Hotel.

Breakfast was good, as usual, and at 9am we met in the lobby to go for a visit to Purnaa Industries–a local garment manufacturer run by Corban Bryant, a USAFA grad and former CompSci instructor.  

Meanwhile, Mark had departed and was sending us updates on his outbound experience at Tribhuvan Airport because Kevin was taking the same flight the next day through Istanbul on Turkish Airlines.  All had gone well for him and he’s made it to the gate in under an hour from arrival at the airport.  

We learned that Hal had arrived back in Greensboro NC, too, and had gone to the local VA hospital for an evaluation.  The docs had determined that he’d had a mild allergic reaction the the combination of mild antibiotics he’s been given in Nepal and they also were worried about his infected foot sores, so they admitted him overnight for a different round of antibiotics and to evaluate the source cause of his infection. He reported, though, that he was in good spirits and thankful to have made the decision to leave early.

We boarded a Toyota HiAce van along with Dinesh and headed south to Purnaa Industries shortly after 9am. It was about a 30 min ride to the south.

We arrived and parked across the street on a road being widened that was all dirt and we’ll below sidewalk level.  Cirbn greeted us at the door and took us to the top floor from where we had a good view of a valley and homes to the east.

He explained that Purnaa was a Nepalese registered foreign owned company that employed at risk and recovering Nepalis to work in their factory.  Thy provided training as well as free lunch–an important wellness and morale issue they had found.

They made everything from cloth handbags and scarves to T-shirts, hoodies, dresses, children’s wear, cloth toys, and other items. They took orders of 500 or more and worked with many European and American importers as well as selling some items in country. They employed about 75 people and kept them all on full-time.

We toured the whole faculty and discussed items like quality control, Nepali regulation and accounting practices, worker attitudes and turnover, as well as the challenges they’d faced with the 2015 earthquake, Indian border closing, and cross-cultural issues. Corban’s dad, Larry (long-time USAFA Prof and employee) is a co-owner as are some other Americans. Corban and his family had lives in Kathmandu and run the operation since starting it in another location seven years ago.

We were impressed with the overall operation and Corban’s commitment to his workers. We had a chance to buy a few items in the factory store as well before leaving two hours later.

When we returned to the van, our driver was not at the van. Dinesh called him, but since our visit had gone overtime, he’d gone to lunch. We waited for about 20 minutes and then stopped at a Baskin-Robbins for an ice cream treat. Dinesh’s son (about four years old) had come along and he really enjoyed his cone.

We returned to Thamel and the driver dropped us at the start of the pedestrian zone allowing us to walk to a trusted retailer who sold pashmima scarves and similar items. Several people bought items while I went shopping for hoodies for my grandsons and maybe a shirt for myself. Mike was going to buy a knock-off North Face duffel to use on the trek.

It took me more than an hour to find the right hoodies in the right sizes as most of the shops did not sell children’s sizes.  In the end, though, I bargained for three and got a shirt for myself that I liked.  

When I returned to the hotel, Dinesh was there so I ran up to my room and got my last “Air Force Athletics” T-shirt to give him as a parting gift. We said one last goodbye and pledged to stay in touch via social media and to look at another trip to Nepal in a year or two.  He’d really done a remarkable job leading our efforts and I was glad to call him a friend.

At 3:30, Hoot, Grace, and Mike met me in the lobby for our pre-trek meeting with out guide, Tapan, from his company named Everest Express.  Tapan arrives early and went over the itinerary with us, covering most of the details of the trip. Hoot came armed with several good questions and we thought we had most of the issues worked out, including things like money needed along the way, availability of drinking water, our rental gear, and the logistics of our travel from and to both Kathmandu and Pokhara.  All of our questions answered satisfactorily, Tapan said “Goodbye and Namasté” and left. We would see him the next morning at 5:30 for a 5:45 departure to the airport and our domestic flight departure for Pokhara at 7:10am.

We’d made dinner reservations for that evening back at Yala Café and my old Air Force friend, Fred Kennedy, and a friend of his we’re planning to join us. Fred had just arrived in town to begin an 18-day Everest Base Camp Trek with two friends.

Fred and I met up and we walked around Thamel until returning to the Eco Hotel to meet the others.  Debra couldn’t join us because she was meeting with her Intrepid Group. Along the way, Grace and Mike decided to go out on their own for dinner, too.  We also encountered parades if people with drums and candles clogging the Thamel streets participating int he Hindu festival of lights, Tihar (more commonly called Diwali in India and other parts of the Hindu world. There were large “puppets” or characters, large demon characters, singing and instrumental music. One could hardly walk along the edges of the street.

We enjoyed our dinner at Yala and they were very happy to see a few of us back that had visited two weeks before. The meal was very good, as usual, and we enjoyed a beer or two as well.

We left around 8:30pm, but after walking about 200 meters away, I realized that I’d left my camera on a shelf by the table. I ran back only to find the manager typing a message to me via Instagram alerting me to my camera’s location. He had my contact info after a conversation we’d had at the previous visit.  Now, that’s great service!

We all broke up as we neared the hotel and Fred and his friend, Chirag, broke off for their hotel. I went up to my room, checked email and prepped for the next early morning.

DWC Team Leader, Marty France

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