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... they made it ...  and now they go, hopefully to return ...
April 29, 2008

"... So long. farewell, auf wierdersehen, adieu..."      so say the words to that memorable song from "A Sound of Music," and so must we. Our time here is ended, our work incomplete, left for still another time, memories made to never be forgotten, and our eyes and mind soar ahead of our anticipated flight to home and hearth. We have thoroughly enjoyed our time here in Nepal and look forward to a return at some later date. Nepal and its people catch hold and dig in deep, to never let go, forever in your heart. What is it about the place that does that? It certainly isn't the honking horns, the constantly barking dogs, the drone of the generators and the electrical outages, the never-ending barrage of street vendors, the unnerving sight of young children sniffing glue with their "supplier" standing over them and emptying their pockets, the pollution, both air and noise, the analyzing of the articles in the English newspaper, but rather the twinkling eyes, the smiling faces, the "Nameste" from those who don't want anything but to make you feel welcome, the curiosity about America, the pride conveyed in their own country, the curiosity as to why you would leave home and come to visit, the honest desire to really learn about you and your family, the beauty of both the culture and the architecture, the peace and solitude of the mountains, the simple joy that the people have in living, and the chance to truly do something worthwhile and appreciated.

And so we go, hopefully to return!

......Why Nepal?
Apr 19, 2008 
The question of the day has to be ... Who goes to Nepal, and why? The answers understandably are many, but in general I would have to say it is because of the mystery of the country as established and perpetrated by the traveling nomads such as ourselves; or perhaps it is the desire to see and experience the vast beauty and majesty of the Himalayan vistas; or even more, perhaps it is because of the trekking opportunities. Of course, for Danny and I it has to be a combination of all three as well as the desire to contribute a little through the newly acquired skills of TESOL(Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages). And then again, comes the question, how can one describe in simplistic terms, the peacefulness, beauty and majesty of this wonderful country, in a  way that transcends all manner of language?

Our attempts at trekking in the Annapurna Himalayan mountains left us both awed and mute. We had to decide just which one would be the one for us. Which one would we get enough satisfaction out of without trashing ourselves? The treks themselves, the physical end of them, were difficult as we are both somewhat out of shape secondary to our brush with illness in the recent past. So we finally decided on a short 2-day 1-overnight trek (hike, as I think of it) from Pokhara on the lake at a mere 820 meters above sea-level (2665 feet), to Sarangkot peak at 1592 meters (5174 feet). Sarangkot is a peak that offers unrestricted views of the towering snowcapped Annapurna peaks far off in the distance, yet with a feeling of closeness that you are tempted to "reach and grab hold" and your pictures have that sense of an artificial backdrop. The guides and guidebooks all extolled the awe-inspiring sunrise views, so we arranged to spend the night and watch the sun rise over the peaks.

Through one of the waiters at our hotel, Hotel Fewa (Mike's Breakfast - Mike being a former PCV (PC volunteer) in Nepal) (we recommend this hotel both for reasonable accommodations and great food) we met our guide - Rajesh. Rajesh is a 26y/o Nepali who, through necessity has supported his nuclear family since the age of 10. He is married with a 5 y/o son (who WILL get a formal education at all costs) and another on the way. His personality was perfect for us - he was quickly able to ascertain our needs and abilities and then adjust the trek to them. He had just the right amount of chatter which allowed for the flow of information mixed with basic conversation. His spoken English was great and we were able to understand each other perfectly. As all guides do, contacts are most important as are repeat "customers." In this fashion, we recommend him to anyone who asks (I believe that Danny has given out his email address).

So we climbed - thank goodness for hiking sticks! During the trek it felt like we would never reach the top yet we arrived at the top in mid-afternoon. Throughout the days the mountain tops would peak over the towering mountains that ringed our trail with unrestricted views through clear skies. Not a cloud to be seen.
  Yet later, the views overlooking Fewa Tal and Pokhara were somewhat hazy. From our perch in the cliff-top restaurant, we were treated to the soaring para-gliders, accompanying eagles, lazily meandering clouds, and slowly encroaching sunset. But what to do for the evening? No electricity - ah ha, headlights and a good book suffice until I became so sleepy (at 8pm yet) that I fell asleep.

The alarm sounded early but not as early as the cock that was somewhere close by. Although The sun had yet to breach the rising peaks, it was already as light as day. The sky was painted in colours only found in sunrise with the snow-encased peaks shrouded in shadow which gave them, once again, a new and different look. They actually looked cold and mysterious. On the tops one could tell that the winds were blowing hard. Even from this distance I could see the blowing snow - so how hard would it be on the peaks? Ever so slowly the shadows moved and streaks of light started to highlight the peaks until finally the sun breached the barrier.
  Unlike other sunrises in other places, the mountain peaks didn't erupt in colour, but rather slowly blossomed into highlighted peaks with the shadows moving across them with the coming light.    But on this day, unlike the day before, the clouds also came in, obstructing somwhat, but in a pleasant, picturesque way, the views. Still, How to describe the accompanying feeling as we sat, watched, and attempted photo taking, under the hushed panorama. Hah, and yet, a mere turn of the head downward, jolted us back to reality as the soldiers scurried about their morning routines. [yes even here there are concerns that require the placing of soldiers.]

Right after sunrise, and breakfast, we headed back down, on the trail that the locals take which is also the road that the taxis and buses take to the top. Rajesh took us on many a "shortcut" off the road and through the neighbourhoods of the people who had settled along the thoroughfare. Along the trail I also was treated to being able to watch the various weavers and their techniques. All were the same, but yet individualized. I had to rein myself in as I would have to buy another suitcase to bring home all the things that I would have liked to buy. (hmmmm I wonder just how much in $$ value, I can legitimately bring back in?) The trek downhill was oddly harder than the trek uphill and definitely more tiring. Throughout the trek I was reminded constantly of why I was glad for the sticks! My knees were definitely talking to me and asking for relief. At the bottom, even though tired and hurting, the sense of accomplishment stood strong - yes, another is definitely in the works!

So back to Hotel Fewa and the making of plans as to where to go next.

April 24
We sat around Pokhara for a few days trying to decide which trek would suit us best. Annapurna Circuit? The pass is too high and the duration too long. Fly to Jomoson and trek back to the start? I think the altitude of Jomoson might be a bit high for flying in and trekking immediately ... sure sounds intriguing though, and all that apple pie too. Annapurna base camp? Let's leave that for next time? Ghandruk Circuit it is! 4 days trekking, good views, easy accommodations, a guide is needed as well as a porter, not too bad altitude changes. Perfect for where we are at this time. So arrangements are made with Rajesh. His younger brother Subah, who is out of school at this time, is our porter.

Before any start can be accomplished, we must acquire all the necessary permits. One simply can not head out helter skelter on a trek here. As Annapurna Himalayans are in a Nature Conservation area, permits are required and in case of accidents and having to rescue trekkers, trekking insurance must be acquired as well. So in the capable hands of Rajesh, we make the rounds. Passport photos are needed for everything and we have already used up some of the ones we brought so more have to be made. The tourist offices are humming, but in a low-keyed sort of way. There doesn't seem to be any sort of queuing present and it is the guide who is the most pushing and or outspoken that gets his permits done before others. It is quite interesting to watch all of this from a back seat approach. Rajesh certainly earns his money but we have to fill in al the paperwork! Success!

 The next morning our departure is scheduled for 7am by taxi no less. We will take a taxi to one of the starting points of the circuit to save days trek. Of course, what do we save but the flat trek through the valley around Fewa Tal (lake). The sky is crystal clear and brilliant sky blue in colour with an occasional wispy cloud floating. We climb out of the car at a small roadside cafe/store. This is our point? Yup, look up, my dear! And I mean straight up. Our trek begins at the base of a mountain, with no visible sign of a trail. Looking upward, faint glimpses are seen of colour flashing through the trees, hanging precariously to the mountainside. Oh my gosh, are those stairs that I see? We are going to climb this mountain by way of stone stairs and winding trails along the face of the mountain to the top. Already I see the writing on the wall, and we are just starting. Phedi at the base of this mountain, stands at 1130 meters (3672.5 feet), up from Pokhara at 820 meters. Our destination for the day is Pothana at 1890 meters (6142.5 ft), that means all uphill as far as I can calculate. Our poles are wonderful! Rajesh is great. My legs are good. My knees are asking me what I am doing and I feel great. Winded, yes, but reaching the first stopping point, lunch at Dhampsa at 1650 meters (5362.5 feet) a feeling of exhilaration is the over-riding emotion. Once we crested the first mountain where we encountered another Tibetan shopping "mall," The views were just what we expected. Taking another glance at the map, the topigraphical terrain doesn't look all that bad - hmmmm just how many meters does one line represent anyways? Then you read the fine print on the map, and I mean really fine print along the marked trail. "Paved stone trail, steep climb" ... oh boy .....

With pretty much the same type of trailing, we continue to pass and be passed by tourists and locals going both ways as we bounce along. It is quite warm trekking so lots of water stops. From Dhampsa to Pathana I was told that there would be back-strap weavers out and about. I was looking forward to viewing some of this and perhaps even buying a loom. What we forgot to take into account was that it was a feast day. And when it is one for one group oddly enough there is usually a corresponding one for the other group so everyone is gone to the feast celebration. We met one celebration going along the trail, taking a baby water buffalo to the temple for sacrifice. Rather than barge on through the group, we took yet another water break.

As we made our way upward and inward, the clouds slowly gathered around the mountaintops, as they do every day. And across the mountain tops in front of us we could see black and ominous clouds gathering and moving at a snails pace toward us. Pick up the speed, I think it is coming our way! We made it to our "tourist hotel" for the night and got settled in, just behind a big group of Swiss trekkers (all older than us and faster too!) As we sat down for our "Welcome" drink, (Danny does this for me whenever we trek) the winds came up and howled. Then the rain came down in buckets and torrents, and then the hail started. And incoming came a group of porters carrying everything from backpacks and duffel bags to tables and chairs. What in the world ...? A camping trekking group! In the back of the hotel is a big field where campers set up, along with a cook house for them. It was interesting to watch the porters scurry for cover, dropping their loads as soon as they could and under some sort of cover, then standing around remorsefully but with relief, watching the clouds and the rain/hail. They weren't going to set anything up in the rain, except the stove to boil the water for tea.
note the hail on the grass
 We patiently waited to see who in their right mind would camp to the degree that this group appears to be. Wow, imagine our surprise when a bunch, and do I mean a bunch, of noisy but walking strongly,adolescent boys, chaperones and guides traipsed in about an hour later. Turns out they had gone all the way to Annapurna Base Camp and tomorrow was the last leg of their trip. Needless to say, the camp during the evening, until well past time for bed was as noisy as only boys of that age can be.

The next morning turned out to be as bright and clear as one could ever wish for - and the views that our eyes feasted on as we started out were unbelievable.

Definitely a "reach out and touch" kind of view!

What would be the day today? More of the same? Something different? Why are we on the trail so very early? My mind rattled as we started out with the knowledge that our destination< Landruk lies at an altitude of 1565 meters (5086 feet) which means, oh boy, downhill. But wait, the map says that we go through Deureli and that is at 2100 meters (6825 feet). Ahhhh, that means first we have more climbing along the "paved stone trail with steep climb" according to the map. The scenery is a little different today. The forest has wide open spaces as you go through them and the trail is wider - very beautiful and peaceful. Still the climb is there. We finally top the crest, and start downhill. The downhill is far more dangerous as it goes straight down, again on stone steps that are manmade. As the local people are very strong in their climbing and trekking, switchbacks are sharp and steep, not gradual like those in the US. Here the knees really talk and I rely on the poles a lot, both for relief and for stability. The steps are not uniform in height and often are slanted in odd directions. More importantly they are sometimes made for with the small Nepali foot in mind and not the hunkers that we have. So you would  be twisting your leg at odd angles for stability.

As we wound our way down, we traipse through small springs running across the trail. We experienced a swinging bridge and gazed amazingly at the animals scampering up and down, including pack horses. And I managed to pick up a leach. Now the guidebooks said that they don't come out until the monsoons so I didn't get any prophylaxis (oil). Bleed you do when they are brushed off once attached. I wonder if they have any disease associated with them?

We raced the daily storm clouds in to Landruk (they arrive around the same time every afternoon) only this time we lost. The torrential downpour finds all 4 of us huddled under a shelter used to keep the firewood dry, and us only 15 minuted from our hotel - we can almost see it, but not through the rain!

Landruk ... I go to bed knowing that tomorrow is to be the hardest day of all. We are going to Ghandruk. It is on the next mountain over, higher than where we are tonight. But the real kicker is that from here we go down to the river at the bottom, cross the river, and then climb the other side. And this is not a gentle slope. As I scope out the visible tails/roads across the otherside, I just know that it will be an ibuprofen sort of day!

I start off the day knowing that I am going to be the slow one. The downhill is like we had yesterday and the closer we get to the bottom, the better view I have of the steps going UP the other side. There appears to be no flat areas of any kind, with the visible buildings perched on the side, overhanging a precipitous drop. Yet the whole mountainside is terraced and cultivated, as are all areas where people live. It is an amazing lush green with some golden areas where winter wheat is cultivated. With all of this, what do I focus on? Why the climb before us of course. The downward trek is almost a vertical downward stone steps path. It twists and turns and continuously drops. Again, my knees are talking furiously to me.

All the way at the bottom of the "hill" we can see the swinging bridge that will take us across and to the trail. The river itself is a glacial river, the first that we have seen. The colour is definitely the milky glacier colour and I am sure it would be icy cold if you were brave enough to go down to the waters edge and put your hand in it. It is a narrow one person bridge yet is built very strong and we can all walk on it easily, if single files. As do all these type of bridges here, it bounces mercifully as we cross.

And so starts the trip upwards. It goes for ever, step after step after uneven step. We pass others coming down, we pass others going up, and they pass us. If you bend your next and look high up the mountainside, you can see little ant-sized people on the trail. The most amazing of all however, is how the locals run up and down these trails while we trudge. They are nimble and surefooted to say the least, and always in groups and chatting. And then you have the porters! Now these guys are to be admired to no end. These little guys carry up to 50 Kilos of stuff on their backs, with the use of only the head strap ( tumpline ). And they aren't always a compact load ... we saw one fellow carrying live chickens in cages while another had a load of eggs. But the best one of all was the father with hisr basket filled with cargo and his daughter perched on top, bouncing along and holding on for dear life, all the while laughing and chattering. One porter we met had carried 50 K down from Ghandruk and up and over to Landruk and on about an hour and half trek for us in 2 1/2 hrs. He must have been flying.I start off the day knowing that I am going to be the slow one. The downhill is like we had yesterday and the closer we get to the bottom, the better view I have of the steps going UP the other side. There appears to be no flat areas of any kind, with the visible buildings perched on the side, overhanging a precipitous drop. Yet the whole mountainside is terraced and cultivated, as are all areas where people live. It is an amazing lush green with some golden areas where winter wheat is cultivated. With all of this, what do I focus on? Why the climb before us of course. The downward trek is almost a vertical downward stone steps path. It twists and turns and continuously drops. Again, my knees are talking furiously to me.

All the way at the bottom of the "hill" we can see the swinging bridge that will take us across and to the trail. The river itself is a glacial river, the first that we have seen. The colour is definitely the milky glacier colour and I am sure it would be icy cold if you were brave enough to go down to the waters edge and put your hand in it. It is a narrow one person bridge yet is built very strong and we can all walk on it easily, if single files. As do all these type of bridges here, it bounces mercifully as we cross.

And so starts the trip upwards. It goes for ever, step after step after uneven step. We pass others coming down, we pass others going up, and they pass us. If you bend your next and look high up the mountainside, you can see little ant-sized people on the trail. The most amazing of all however, is how the locals run up and down these trails while we trudge. They are nimble and surefooted to say the least, and always in groups and chatting. And then you have the porters! Now these guys are to be admired to no end. These little guys carry up to 50 Kilos of stuff on their backs, with the use of only the head strap ( tumpline ). And they aren't always a compact load ... we saw one fellow carrying live chickens in cages while another had a load of eggs. But the best one of all was the father with hisr basket filled with cargo and his daughter perched on top, bouncing along and holding on for dear life, all the while laughing and chattering. One porter we met had carried 50 K down from Ghandruk and up and over to Landruk and on about an hour and half trek for us in 2 1/2 hrs. He must have been flying.




They certainly earn their money.

We had the opportunity to continue trekking and come back into Pokhara by the early evening but we chose to cut it short and bed down in a little meeting place on the river - Syaule Bazar. It made for a refreshing stop and relaxing time. The downward trek is always hard on the knees and it is so much easier when they ar given a chance to recoup before more (which is what there will be on the last day.) Syaule Bazar is on the level of the actual river which means that tomorrow we will follow the river on its downward path towards Kathmandu Valley.

The final day of our trek, following the river, is so much easier. The valley is narrow with our path an actual 4-W track. At the moment it is closed to vehicles due to being washed out during the last monsoon season. The government is supposedly working on the bridge but we saw no evidence of this.  We continued to walk eventually coming close to the end. Here we found a wonderful looking hotel complx, called Sanctuary Lodge. it was inviting so we invited ourselves in to have a look around. What a wonderful, luxuriously appointed hotel. (for the area anyways). It is an American owned, Gurka run lodge. To work there one has to be a retired Gurka soldier and it showed. The bearing of those that we met could only have one of a soldier. The Gurka soldier is known for his ferocity and tenacity. They may be little but don't let that fool you!   http://www.cafepress.com/specialforces/1515544 (this gives a quick overview of them. The lodge would be a gret place to spend a couple of days after a long trek, in a place where all you want to do is rest and be restored.

A "gotch ya ..." awaited us at the very end of the trek. More upward stairs as we limbed out of the valley with the river, to the place where our taxi was waiting for us. We meandered through a relatively poor-looking part of the town towards the end of the trail which brought us quickly back to the reality at hand. The landscape and various villages that we had traipsed through for the last 4 1/2 days had given us the feeling of tranquility and something of a rural-imposed prosperity for the people. The fields were productive and managed while everyone along the trekking path had some sort of small stand or afe with which income was generated. But now we are once more constantly harangued for sales by the vendors that we pass along the way. The people seem to be dressed in a manner that would indicate more poverty than those in the rural areas. Whether by design or by necessity, who knows. Also, here in the town, the people didn't seem to smile as much as those that we met along the path. Hmmmm, another area to ponder.

We made it back to Pokhara, all in one piece, and with the feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction. We had been given a taste of the vistas that await us further  and indeed, our guide tried his best to convince us that we were now ready to do the Annapurna Base Camp. "Come on, let;s do it!" Alas, time and desire were not there and we leave it for another time. I must admit, it is inviting and definitely intriguing.  And so we now have our memories, can pat ourselves on our backs for a "job well done" and head out for other adventures and experiences.



Apr 6, 2008
Animals … I knew intellectually that cows are held in a sacred place here in Tibet but I wasn’t ready for the wandering down the middle of the road stopping traffic as they go. Nor was I ready for them to seek out people food rather than the greenery left out for them when people trim plants, trees and such. But the most unready that I was, was for the dogs. I ask myself constantly, “do the Nepalese people look on dogs as they do the cow?” To date I haven’t been able to find an answer. Regardless, they don’t do anything about the dog and the dogs reflect this in their lazy manner: sleeping anywhere without fear of repercussion, wandering anywhere with impunity, and barking anytime of the day or night, also with impunity. You never see people throwing things at them, nor do you ever see anyone kicking them or otherwise causing bodily harm in response to their incessant noise. I am ever so glad to now be in Pokhara where I hear very little dog barking, but I do see them everywhere. You can’t imagine just how nerve-wracking incessant dog barking and car honking is. You don’t even realize it until you are out of it and you stop and listen – NO noise and you are actually very relaxed!

Ah, the wonders of Pokhara! We arrived by plane in the middle of a rainstorm but oddly enough without thunder and lightening. Maybe they had it earlier, before we arrived. Whatever the case was, the smells of fresh air were so welcomed when we stepped off the plane.

Our plane trip and the foray at the airport were quite uneventful. Not many local people out and about but lots and lots of international election watchers. The government decreed national holiday days from Saturday until the elections and also the day after, This effectively stops a lot of activity as people have to remain in their respective home villages/towns to vote. Put these days together with what are already holidays on Sunday and Monday next, they have a very long holiday period. And no one is traveling. We were the minority on the small plane – the same one we took on our mountain flight. The rest of the fliers were all election watchers. We briefly thought about offering our services to the American Embassy but instead, we are touring. On the Election Day we will stay hidden in our hotel.
We are now in Pokhara – a beautiful relaxed touristy town on Phewa Tal (Fewa Lake). Our hotel, built by a former Nepali Peace Corps volunteer is the only one on the lake proper. We sit on the upper veranda outside of our room and look out over the lake. It has a lazy sort of feel to it and reminds one of what we might have experienced in the mountain resorts in the 50’s and 60’s. A lot of the local businesses are easily identifiable as to when they were started by their names – very hippy-ish! It has the feel of an old hippy enclave but you no longer see the outward appearances of this alternative culture. The main tourists are divided into two main groups – the trekkers and the sightsee’ers with the majority of them being from Europe and not N America. Yet oddly enough, our next door neighbours are a couple with 2 delightful little children – he from Ft Worth and she from Iowa – she teaching school in an international school in India and he being a househusband.

This morning we awoke to the awesome sight of the Annapurnas behind us, rising majestically up from behind the surrounding mountains. (the lake is enclosed by mountains on all sides). The snow capped peaks looked so crisp and you felt like you could just reach out and touch them. It didn’t take long for the mountain weather to take over and enclose the peaks in clouds. Still we watched in fascination as they slowly became covered in – and as the paragliders flew back and forth in front of them.

Tomorrow we take our first mini-trek. We are taking an overnight trek to Sarangkot. It is typically a day hike but in order to see sunrise over the Annapurna’s we are going up one day, staying the night, and then returning the next day. Along the way our guide promises to show us a typical Newari home, an out of the way temple and the local weavers, which I am interested in seeing.

As we wandered about town, trying to get a feel for what it is all about, we came across a very typical Indian-type snake charmer, flute and cobra withstanding! Danny was taken by it but got no pictures and I, well I stayed far enough away where I couldn’t see it. What next awaits us as we wander?

April 1: Hey they even have April Fool's Day or the equivalent anyways, here in Nepal. Couldn't find out what they did to each other but I made sure that I told the guys down at the desk that in AMerica, you can only play jokes until noon (it was 11:55 at the time of this dialogue). No joking around for us though. We had our very first view of the Himalayas and Mt Everest. We took a flight on Buddha Air and followed the Himalayas to Mt. Everest and then turned and came back. As we were flying above the cloud cover we had a wonderful view of the mountain tops all covered in snow and ice. We could see the occasional swirls of huge gusting now as the winds blew down between the peaks when close up. The plane had one seat down each side of the plane so everyone had a window seat. The windows did frost over making the taking of pictures somewhat of a clusterf*****. Still, I managed to get some and I think if I tweak them a little they will be able to give a ittle bit of impression as to what we saw. The Himalayas are awesomely (an overused but effective adjective) overwhelming in their majesty. I can't even begin to imagine what it would be like to be on them physically. I know that the Rockies are also very majestic and beautiful but I think that the mystery and romance of that is associated with the Himalayas adds to this feeling. From above, the peaks are very jagged and sharp but then they are relatively new in the geological scheme of things whereas the Rockies are much older. When seen in the morning sun (we were overhead at 7am) the shadows , the snow colours and vastness of the range, there is simply no way to capture what I saw. As we disembarked from the plane there was little conversation between any of the participants as they tried vainly to take in all that had been seen.

Mt Everest
mteverestcockpit mteverestinside
 
Continuing on with the day, we could smell the incoming rain. The sky off to the west was dark and heavy and we just knew that we were going to get caught in. We decided to spend the afternoon at the "Monkey Temple" or Swayambhunath , the great Buddhist temple. I asked Danny if he knew how to get there and he surprisingly said, "Of course!" Now as you know, Danny has no sense of direction and this statement took me by surprise. Then he laughingly told me, "You get you r pack, you walk out, turn left, and get in the taxi saying, Take me to the Monkey Temple! We will walk back because you will know the route then."This is one of the most popular and recognizable symbols of Nepal and is called the Monkey Temple because of the large troop of monkeys that guard the temple and in their own way, amuse the tourists. By all accounts it is very old - anywhere from 400+AD to the known  Buddhist centre of the 13th Century. We climbed each and every step all the way to the top, all the while looking forward to the vistas that we just knew would be waiting for us. The prayer flags led us to the stupa, as always and when we finally overlooked Kathmandu Valley from the top, it was shrouded in the heavy pollution and clouds of the incoming rain. Still it offered a somewhat ethereal view of the city. As it is so popular, there were many people in all the areas: both tourists, locals, monks, and of course, the ever-present resident monkeys. Swayambhunath is a Buddhist stupa, one of the main ones, yet the site of the temple also has many Hindu displays. It truly shows an integration of sorts, of the two religions

The stupas are areas where the poor come and beg for alms and here it is an acceptable practice. But how does one tell the difference between those truly in need and those who are operating a con? This is a sad fact of life here and it is a morally hard one to deal with. Some play on your sympathies in the hopes that you will give. Others are outright obnoxious (I had one young boy constantly touching my feet asking for "money." Unfortunately we then also saw these same boys "sniffing glue" and their "backer" taking from them, what little money they had collected. And so it goes. In Thamel there are signs up everywhere asking the tourist to NOT perpetuate the begging by giving to them. They have a real problem with an influx of kids and adults coming in to beg because of the easy tourist pickings and they are trying to stop it.

As we were walking back we decided to go up one side of the hill and down the other. The road wound around the hill as it descended and we were afforded a view of other things to be seen. So in true Danny and Shirley fashion we took off across a field and through a park. Following the road we passed many beautifuly decorated "what we took to be" monasteries. This turned out to also be an enclave of resident Tibetan refugees and the prayer flags flapped in the wind in abundance. Some of the monasteries looked closed, others looked lively. Then turning a corner we suddenly came upon "The Golden Buddha's." Very tall and overpowering to say the least. Wow what a treat for our wandering.

 We did walk back to Thamel and it did rain, but only lightly. It took about an hour walking through the streets that wound around the hill and down over the bridge. We were already back by the time the downpour started. ... and tomorrow is another day ....

Mar 31, 2008
After 4 weeks of intensive information, homework, lesson planning and student teaching, we made it! This afternoon we were awarded our certificates making us bona fide teachers of English as a second language. What a relief to get through it all in one piece. I admit the pace was hectic and tiring but the teaching itself was so rewarding. Both Danny and I have enjoyed it immensely and now look forward to putting everything that we have learned to good use. We have some ideas on just how to do that but first .... a little touring of Nepal and surrounding areas.

For those of you who were interested in just how the teaching works, Danny has already sent out to those of you who wrote and asked, a synopsis of the course. Anyone that would like a copy, please don't hesitate to ask. If you have asked over this last week, it is coming this weekend as we catch up with our emails. There are ample volunteer opportunities all over the world, and even our own back yard, for qualified teachers of English as a second language. And what better way to be productive and help a developing nation than to empower the children and women to be able to earn a living and enhance their lives. The government school that we actually taught in has asked if any of us would like to come and volunteer once the school years starts up again. An opportunity that wouldn't be able to even offer housing and you would have to supply your own supplies as they simply don't ave them. [We shall keep this in the back of our mind.] Then too, you can also work in the educational area in developing nations with salary depending on the country and the school. When I return to the States I hope to look into substitute teaching in this same area - not because I want to do it NOT! but because if I am asked, I will be able to answer appropriately.

We hope that you all had a wonderful Easter. We had to go to school on Easter Sunday. As we were driving to school (we have a taxi that takes us daily) we passed quite a big demonstration in progress. But once we saw the signs in English, we realized that it really was an Easter walk for the Christians here. I think that it was infiltrated by some politic people as well as we saw some definitely political signs. The parading demonstrators were all chanting and singing. Quite a sight as the participants went from the babes in arms to the very elderly, all carrying signs of some sort or other.

Tonight the CEO of the sponsoring organization took us out to dinner. Had some wonderful conversation and discovered TMI about the healthcare system here. He owns a hospital/medical college here. Boy talk about a crash course in hospital administration. It certainly is different here. Am going to get him to take me to visit his hospital sometime over the next few weeks. Also, Aparna, one our classmates has a clinic in the Himalayas that I plan on visiting with her once we are back from Pokhara. Things are already starting to click!

Our first concern at the moment is getting back onto an even keel. It is amazing just how tiring a course like this can be. We haven't done much in the way of touring and we have been here now for 4 weeks. The lure of the mountains is calling and we are planning our tours as we speak. We will spend the next week in Kathmandu seeing the sights around here more intensively. Oh, we have done some walking and we did go to the festivals. But now we will be able to do the major sights and also perhaps the surrounding suburbs as day trips. And don't forget some shopping! Tonight, however, we are being taken out to dinner by the CEO of the company here in Kathmandu. I imagine it will be a photo op as well as we are the first group to do this course in Nepal. The next one is tentatively scheduled for June (depending of course, on the election outcome).

As the second week takes us into election week we are waiting a few days to get a handle on the situation before we plan anything definitely. If it looks somewhat erratic, we will leave the country on tour for a few days over the election day. If it looks decent, we will simply transfer to Pokhara and spend a week touring and a little trekking. Pokhara is the major entrance to the Annapurna trekking area. One of the short day treks that we would like to do (no, I guess I should say, I would like to do) is to Ghand????? to see the weavers and rug weavers as well as to get a feel for the trekking environment.

During one of our one-day weekend city jaunts we went to Durbar Square. This is as I have stated earlier, a World Heritage Site. There are guides everywhere offering their services. This would be a good thing I believe, as the number of buildings is overwhelming and by hiring one, we would learn so much more history than on our own. But I digress ... While wandering we came across a place jutting out from the square called Freak St. I kid you not, that is its name. The name alone made us curious so we whipped out the trusty old guidebook (never travel without at least one) and read up on it. It was the old haunting grounds of the wandering 60's hippies who had discovered Nepal. This was the place where they hung, had access to easy dope, alcohol, cheap accomodations, and guides and porters for trekking. To the people here these wierd looking foreigners looked like freaks and so the name came to be. Nowadays it is but a shadow of itself as the masses have moved to the Thamel area, where we are currently staying. We walked the whole of it seeking the feel and perhaps the sights of days gone by, but alas, nada.

Mar 24, 2008
Can you believe it? We have now been in Nepal for 4 1/2 weeks and we still haven't seen the Himalayas proper. Why, yesterday we even took a trip out to a place called Nagarkot. Nagarkot is a totally tourist village about 30 Km from Kathmandu up in the "foothills" of the Himalayas. . Oh don't get me wrong, there is a quasi-"one night stand" village that developed not because of the army Ranger base there, but because the tourists and town folks soon found it and started to build homes in the general vicinity. The village is made up of lodges for overnight stays and restaurants and the usual souvenir shops. At the top of the mountain Nepal has erected a viewing stand which is right beside the survey datum and right in the middle of the army base. The tower not withstanding, from here you can see almost a 360 degree view, mainly of the Himalaya mountains in general and Mt. Everest specifically ... That is if it is clear, which it was not! While at the top, we had some interesting dialogue with students of a boarding school near Pokhara who were there on a field trip, as they vied for the right to have a digital picture taken and then getting to see it on the camera. (Kids are all alike everywhere you go!) All around in the mountain-hills are hiking trails which remain very popular among all who come. In fact, while we were driving to the top, we passed many people who were walking up. (height 2175m/7069ft) We had a thoroughly lovely day accompanied by Aparna and Kors, as well as the taxi driver.


Mar 21, 2008
Oh, the senselessness of it - the selfishness of the feelings of loss - we won't get to go into Tibet to see the wonders of the this mountaintop holy monastery nor ride the train from Lhasa to China. This was one of the planned events on this trip to Nepal and now it won't be - China has closed the country sown to all foreign visitors even though they can still go to China itself. hmmmmm I wonder if we could go in the other way with an immediate plane ticket out of the city? NO! But when all is said and done, it is the senseless suffering and waste of humanity that is the saddest part of all of this. We have dicsovered that there are many Tibetan refugees here in Nepal and even more in India where the Dalai Lama is residing. And with the anniversary of the overthrow of the sovereignty of the country, there are many many peaceful demonstrations that can turn ugly in a very short time. We also read in the newspaper yesterday that China has sent in undercover security people that are now operating in the open here in Nepal. How we found out? They tried to take away a journalists film from filming on the Nepal side. The results weren't publicized but I can just imagine the journalists response, especially if it was a western one. The ones from here are under tight reign at the moment due to the insurgencies and the upcoming elections. We have met a young woman who has a military contact here in the city who informs her when there is something brewing in order to keep herself safe. She has indicated that she will pass anything on about the elections. Just heard today that a joint commission between india and Nepal have plans to close the border between the two countries 24 hrs before the elections. I am thinking that this might be a good time to make a tour in India.

All in all, we are having a great time here. There is so much to see with so little time in which to do it. We are quite busy with our school work but that will be finished here shortly. Then we can start to see things in ernest. This next week will be spent in teaching practices. I can only hope that they will be as rewarding as these ones this week have been. Next Friday we are finished and will receive our certificates. Then we are bonified TESOL teachers with the world opening up to us for teaching. What we do with it, is up to us, but leaves us wide open for travel here in Asia at least. I can also see much that could be done in the schools in the Southern states with the immigrant population that starts to school and needs to learn English in order to make the most of their education.

I got my first outfit today. It is quite nice but could use a little more fitting. This was simply the person who was doing it, I think. She was the daughter of our colleague and didn't seem real with it as far as tailoring is concerned. I will find out how the tailor that is making my skirt is and perhaps take it in to him. It is simply a matter of a couple of well placed darts for fitting. The shoulders and such fit very well. All is trial and error of course, but will be well worth it if I can find someone to make them fit. I will definitely be heading to the fabric souk for some stash before I leave. Also have a handmade pair of shoes on order. Should get them tomorrow and if they are good, I will order a coupe more pair to bring back with me.

This afternoon we actually had a thunder storm. I understand there are always thunder storms this week right before Holi (holiday on Friday). Maybe it will actually clear the pollution and w will get to see the mountain tomorrow!

Later: Friday - Today we are hiding out! Holi is a festival that is fun -loving and full of frolicking. We awoke to the joyous sounds of children in the streets, already well into the festival. The main thing that now occurs, other than the religious aspect, is that people throw baggies (balloons) filled with water, dirty and otherwise, at each other and anyone else in the vicinity. They can also be filled with coloured water which is made by adding coloured powders of dubious origins and chemistry all the way to watered down paint. (So beware of wearing nice clothes!) They also give blessings with red powder which is swept on you, on your forehead,  on your face and anywhere else available, as the frivolity increases. Our last day of teaching at the government school gave us a taste of what it would be like. It was a special treat for me as I took it as a compliment that the students liked us enough to include us in their fun. Well, fun...? Being drenched with dirty water and your face covered in red powder ... nevertheless, a compliment.
if you look closely, you can see the painted faces
 L>R Danny, Kors (instructor), Shirley, Aparna, Sangeeta

We have a family from England staying here in the Guest House and rather than take the kids (3) out into the streets, they organized their own celebration, including the guests and workers of the house. It was rousing and great fun!

And so life goes on ... Sunday starts our final week of teaching and then Friday finds us receiving our certificates. Who would have thought that it would go so fast? ...

March 17, 2008 -- Another day of teaching practice. This time we went to a government school in district Bhaktapur. What a contrast to what we were in last week. It is unbelievable just what conditions these kids go to school and learn in. And of course, the discipline was a little different here as well. What impressed me the most was the children seem to be very happy and are so eager to learn. They constantly wanted to be the ones to answer and the ones to go up to the Blackboard and write. When they were doing a listening activity they wanted to answer the rhetorical questions and say the dialogue yet when it was their turn to initiate dialogue, their shyness came into play. And wow, the adolescence is the same here as it is in the N America: The giggling and coyness is rampant to the point where Kors had to stop having girl-boy interactions and go to girl-girl and boy-boy in order to get anywhere. As only Gr 5-8 were invited we had older kids milling around outside and one Gr 3 who actually learned all the dialogue listening quietly at the door. He would probably go far given half a chance. I believe we will have even more students tomorrow when word gets out about the fun they had in the class.
Tomorrow we go back and do our own teaching with individual subject matter. It will be fun as we will also have discipline issues to deal with and issues of trying to keep the lesson on track. Although the class had 44 students today, tomorrow we will only have about 25. This will be far more manageable I am sure. it was unbelievable ... no one would believe us if we tried. We had 44 students crammed into a schoolroom that had 4 bench desks on each side of the room and we took up one of them. So 7 benches for 44 students - plus added chairs in the front. The students ranged from Gr 5 to Gr 8 and from small to large in size. No writing required! Now remember, these students came in on their long holidays just to do this.

     
   As we sat in the classroom with the students, I never once dwelled on the circumstances of the school, but rather marveled at the exuberance and eagerness exhibited by the students.
As we were finishing up at the school, the rains came in. When we came out of the classroom, we could smell the rain. The air was so clean and fresh after being in Kathmandu that we all simpy stood and breathed it in. The smells and sounds of the farm environment were all around us but no one minded one iota. The scene that we looked at from the school was definitely rural and pastoral. The greens were very deep lush greens in the fields and there were many cottage industry farms growing vegetables and wheat of all things. They stack their haystacks like a little house and each field is divided off with rows of small rocks. The houses are a mixture of old and new with farm animals (mainly goats and chickens) milling everywhere, although tied up. The village is apparently very picturesque and hopefully tomorrow we will get to go around (sans rain) and see it. We were encouraged to take pictures today and we did, but would like more tomorrow


Mar 14, 2008 Kathmandu, Nepal

Oh, the irony of it all! The first person we met in our hotel other than the hotel manager, was Dutch. And then we discovered that our instructor for our class is also Dutch. What are the odds? Guess our Dutch language will come in handy after all. Oddly enough however, the Dutch is different from that of Suriname. And to top it all off, we are having 2nd language instruction teaching examples in Dutch.

Everything that we have seen and experienced so far is so very hard to put down in words. The people, the crowds, the traffic congestions and jams, the music, the languages, all combine to provide one with an overwhelming sense of wonder. Culture shock? Perhaps! But I feel like Mary Tyler Moore at the opening of her TV show, a smile on her face, standing in the middle of the New York street, going round and round and round, with stimuli coming in from all directions.

We have been in classes now for ½ of our time, 2 weeks. The amount of information that we have been given is phenomenal. We have already done practice teaching and the system works. Sure wish that we had had it for earlier forays into foreign language or “2nd Language (L2)” as it is often called. The kids take to the structure and the method like ducks to water and they really enjoy it. Most classes here are very formal: would you have a class in America stand up and say “Good morning, Sir” and then wait to be told to sit down? Would you have a class in America stand up and answer every time they were spoken to? Or how about stand up to receive a hand out? And especially, scramble to be the one to answer, or scramble to be the one to write on the board, or even scramble with enthusiasm in an exercise? AND THEN, stand and say “Thank you, Sir. Good-bye Sir!” at the end of class. Of course, we were guests and no doubt they were given a good talking to before hand but still…we see this everywhere we go. This last week we were teaching in a Boarding school and what a school. The kids in America have no idea what it would be like to go to school and sit 4 to a desk, have no glass in the windows and can hear everything going on in the surrounding classes, have the bathroom smell emanate up and throughout the whole school, have no electricity in the room, no audio-visual equipment to use, and the chalkboards almost devoid of the black to write on. The chalk is divied out piece-by-piece and only upon request. Oh, the list of things to bring if one was to come back to actually spend time teaching. And to think, we have already been warned that the school next week, a government school in a village out in the foothills of the Himlayas, is worse and very, very poor. I have permission to take the camera and will try and get some pictures. Now here is the kicker … these students are voluntarily coming in on their long vacation to be the students for our student teaching. Where in the western world would this ever happen?

Last Thursday was a major Hindu holiday – Maha Shivaratri or the celebration of Chiva’s birthday. This is one of the most important festivals of sub-continental Hindu. (ie India, Nepal and other Hindu nations) Apparently every Hindu tries to make a pilgrim at least once in their lifetime to this festival. It was held at the Pashupatinath Temple. We were fortunate that our newly found Nepal/American friend took us under her wing and took us to the festival. Seen the news reports about Mecca and Haj? Well tone it down a little and think of Hindu sadhus, some naked and covered with ashes, others painted with ashes and scantily dressed and then the multi-coloured general populace and thronged together as a streaming ribbon towards the temples as one, and you have the general idea. The sounds are actually quite calm with the occasional devotional interruption from the sadhus plying their “blessings” trade (the painting of the forehead in a particular manner and the placing of a “good luck” flower in the hair), the musical sounds of the sitar and various ??? instruments and drums, and the weakly voiced merchants plying their wares. Marijuana is rampant everywhere as Shiva is known for his smoking of it, and I am sure we were all somewhat high by the time we threaded our way through the masses. No one was outwardly rude or intentionally hurtful but all were pushy. As we had been forewarned, none of us had anything that would invite theft from our person or of our belongings. Pahupatinath Temple is located on the holy Magmati River and it is here that they also hold the cremations of the dead. And to die and be cremated on Shiva’s birthday gives the deceased instant delivery to their “heaven.” At the time that we were at the river’s edge, there were 3 cremations occurring. Re-reading this makes me once again realize just how hard it is to convey the sights and sounds experienced and for this I am sad.

This day of discover – no classes as it was a national holiday and yet all the stores and such continued to do business – also took us to the Bodhnath stupa. The stupa is a Buddhist monument that has evolved over time to represent Buddhist philosophy. The Bodhnath one is second largest in Nepal, with “The Monkey” one the greatest (that is another story). It was so amazing that when we walked into the surrounding courtyard, even though it was lined with shops and restaurants, I was immediately assailed with a feeling of calm and serenity. Muted sounds were punctuated by the shrill laughter and screams of young children and the chanting of mantras by family and holy groups. Here again were smells; this time the smells of incense and not marijuana. Our friend even took us into a backstreet shop selling awesome statues of all sizes and shapes of Buddha. As I walk round these areas it is hard to remember to take photos because I am so busy taking in and assimilating everything. These religions are so unknown to me that I resolve to learn something about them so as to have a rudimentary understanding.

Every street has a tailor and I am going to try my luck at having some clothes made – not typical American ones, but more traditional (for the area) and more comfortable outfits for here. Today we went to Aparna’s daughter’s shop and I found an outfit that I feel I will be able to wear here as well back home, only pairing it with leggings or blue jeans in the US. We shall see how it works before I go all out. I definitely need better “female” clothes for teaching and volunteering. The casual ones that I brought simply won’t cut it.

As we eat most of our meals out – no, we eat all our meals out as we don’t have a kitchen in our guest house – we are finding all sorts of fabulous restaurants. Our favourite however, has to be (to date) the New Orleans café. It is a little more expensive (typical meal costs $5US + drinks) but the waiters are excellent and they serve mulled wine. But most of all they will occasionally have (providing there is electricity) free internet service. It is slow as anything we have seen in a long time but what the heck! They also offer live music on Sunday evenings and piped the rest of the week. But tonight we are going to try Pilgrim’s Book Store where there is apparently a great little coffee shop amongst all the books and trinkets. So, off we go. Tomorrow we are going to a Women’s Organization fair at the Convention Centre that is reputed to have cultural and ethnic foods, crafts, and events. Hopefully, a few items that would be great to bring home.


March 1, 2008

Never thought that I would see the day that I am actually in Nepal. What a high being here gives.
We arrived late afternoon on Friday after a lengthy, exhausting, and yet enjoyable set of plane rides and an experience beyond anything ever had in all our travels before. I don’t think that Danny had ever ridden on a plane such as what we experienced on Qatar Airlines. And he was definitely taken with our overnight stay in Qatar, giving rise to yet another small side trip later on. ☺ We left Salt Lake City in mildly cold weather on Wednesday morning and arrived in Washington, DC in decidedly cold weather with a definite wind chill factor. Our flight had few people on it and we both had a row of 3 seats to ourselves. With 8 hours to kill in DC before the next leg of our journey, we took a shuttle bus for $.50 and went to the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum, just a short ride from the airport. Here we spent an informative 1½ hours. We then spent the rest of the evening sitting in the airport like many others. Dulles Airport in the evening, at least in the section that we were in was not as busy as one would imagine an international airport to be.

Qatar airlines boarded the flight over an hour earlier than is usual. To our delight the hour was well spent. The flight was again nearly empty giving us both a row of 3 seats to ourselves. The seats were comfortable and the space between rows in economy was more than we had ever had. Could this simply be the norm for the new Boeing 777? You should have seen business and first class. The row spacing looked like it accommodated the seats making down into a bed. (we did ask about upgrading but not at what they wanted: >$1200.) In our Economy class each seat had its own tv console embedded in the seat in front of you at eye level. This console was touch screen controlled with all sorts of movies, tv shows, satellite link to news, and music to name but a few. Oh yes, the controls also boasted a telephone linkup. Who knows what the cost of a call would be! As we settled in to a comfortable seat with our blanket and pillow, along came the hostess handing our little gift packages. These packages held slipper/socks for in-flight use, earplugs, eye covers, earphones, a toothbrush, and an “around-the-neck” bag. What a bonus! The next thing on the agenda before departure was passing out of hard candy to suck on while the cabin pressurized, but only after you used the towelettes to wash your hands. Finally this luxury cruise took off. Glancing through the on-board duty free shopping magazine, you were again given a hint as to the targeted middle-eastern clientele. The whole of the magazine was devoted to designer name jewels (the real thing), Godiva chocolates, high fashion make-up and perfumes, and booze (and lots of this). Definitely not your usual SkyMall shoppng experience! As I had forgotten any form lipgloss or -stick, I thought about getting some but changed my mind fast when they offered a packet of 5 sample lip-glosses for $49. Once aloft and the seatbelt sign turned off we were given hot towels to wash with and then handed a menu! We got to choose our meals for the forthcoming dinner and breakfast. Settling in to the luxuriousness of our flight, watching a movie, eating great food, and sleeping off and on, the flight passed quickly and we arrived 10 hours later in Qatar.
doha Qatar airlines
Qatar airlines does not have jet ramps connecting to the terminals and as such one deplanes and gets onto a bus that then takes you to the terminal. So with the first step off of the plane you are confronted with the sights, sounds and smells of an Arabic country: the blast of the dry hot air even though it was 7pm and dark, the distinct desert smell of sand and dry winds, the shatter of Arabic, but not the dress code as seen in Saudi Arabia. Yes there were the usual white thobes and head dress on some of the men along with the usual military uniforms and arrogant stance, and some women in the elegant headcoverings and abayas of the Arabic world, but more strikingly, I saw women in modern western clothes and head uncovered and men in shorts and thongs – things unheard of in Saudi Arabia. Qatar it seems, has taken hold of the modern day trappings, and according to the taxi driver, women can even drive here.

Doha, a city that blossomed out of the desert is far more modern and architecturally different than any western city. Here the architects and the customer are not afraid of the different, and in fact seem to embrace it, perhaps seeing it as an opportunity at individualizing themselves and their identity. For whatever reason, what little we saw of Qatar in the dark, was fascinating. I did however miss seeing the tents and family outings that one would see in Saudi on any vacant lot. A tent would be set up, rugs laid out, a portable generator and air conditioner for the tent, a fire built, and a family picnic/outing with lots of children running around. The men would be in groups squatting or standing and talking and the women, in their abayas, milling around embroiled in food preparation, looking after the children and/or generally socializing. As I understand it, Doha is also a beach town with great resorts.

As we departed from our hotel stay where all we saw was the room, and in the early morning dawn, both of us independently thought that this would be a great place to stay over on our trip home. And I added to this the idea that we might even add a quick overnight trip to Dubai to see that fabulous architectural treat of a hotel that is advertised everywhere. This is an area where one can get a taste of the microcosm of the Arab world and experience the sights of the external culture as a visitor.

Back onto the plane again. This time we were not so fortunate and the plane was full. And the excitement exuded by the Nepalese getting on the plane was palpable. From the looks of things, they had been working in Qatar or some other Arab state and were on there way home either to stay or for a visit having been gone for some time. This was especially evident as the plane started to land. The straining to see out of the windows and a feeling of calm, restorative excitement was the pervading feeling now exhibited. But once landed this turned to a pulsing forward thrust as they pushed and strained to deplane. Unfortunately all the others were taking their time at getting out of their seats, retrieving their overhead baggage while waiting for the doors to open. And once open, they thronged and pushed towards the exit, going in front as fast as they could get there and literally spilling out of the plane and down to the tarmac. I imaginatively thought that they would literally hit the ground on all fours and kiss it. Instead they made a beeline for the terminal while all of us “foreigners” stood back taking pictures and generally taking it all in. The same unrestrained excitement prevailed as the many boxes and large cases mixed in with the backpacks and more sedate suitcases came down the rotunda. It looked like the baggage sizes and weights didn’t apply in Doha as it did in the US. The suitcases were huge and very obviously way overweight.
Kathmandu Airport
Customs and immigration were fast and as efficient as 2 people could be. Pay the money, hand over the photos, and receive your visa for 60 days. What could be easier. We have arrived! I think that the sky is blue and the sun is shining somewhere … I couldn’t see it though as there was a yellow haze suspended over everything. Smog or simply dust? Who knows! I am sure that I will find out as we begin our journey here in Nepal.



Photo Galleries:

January 10, 2008

... are you sitting down? Or are you simply saying, "here they go again!"? Well, let me begin by saying that Danny is once again in high spirits and full of vim and vigor! This allows us to start making plans anew. As you are all aware, we have been attempting to obtain re-assignment within the Peace Corps family, this time not in a country that has a heat/humidity combination like Suriname. Last Friday we heard from the Washington, DC office with a positive response and a list of all the things that we need to accomplish in order to get this re-assignment. The list is not as formidible as that which confronted us as we began this quest in 2006. Rather, it is simply an update of the current files and medical tests,  obtaining references from in-country people, and the ever-lovin' written essays on why and what and how come. So now we are in the process of getting the essays written. As for the medical, they won't give us the list of things required until we are farther along in the process, but as it is time for me to have some routine maintenance done, I will try and anticipate what they will want and go ahead and get it done beforehand. We were given the information that we should have concrete knowledge on whether or not we are reassigned, and where, by summer.

...And along with this process, we have also decided to further our volunteer experience by learning how to teach English as a second language. This requires us to take a course for certification and how better to do this than by combining it with a journey somewhere into the unknown. On Feb 27th we are packing our bags and heading out again into the wild blue yonder and winging halfway around the world to Kathmandu, Nepal. Here we will take the course for 4 weeks and then volunteer in a monastery, an orphanage, or a school, or a combination of them. I also hope to be able to work with the Himalayan Healthcare project bringing self-sustaining health care to villages in the lower Himalayan mountains. Not all is of the do-good order however. We do plan on doing some trekking as well. I would also like to get into some of the villages that have back-strap weaving done. Seems that most of the weaving in this area is done on this loom. A few of the internet sources have indicated that there are a few floor looms, but they are few and far between. We plan on returning to the US on May 15th to pursue our PC reassignment.

Danny is doing great. His recovery is almost complete. He is taking yoga classes and walking on the beach 2-3 miles every day. By the time we leave for Nepal he should be in top form as well as in shape. I have started to go to the gym in order to get my walking legs back, although I am sure they will return very quickly once we are walking everywhere again instead of driving. We have the house here on the beach until Feb 8th at which time we will start a slow trip to see family and friends. We will be heading for Longview, Tulsa, Yuma, Edmonton, and ending in Salt Lake City from which we fly for 2 days to get to Kathmandu. What a trip that will be! It will be good to see everyone again and we are looking forward to the visits.

Throughout this process we will, of course, keep everyone achored to their seats with updates as they happen. We will be staying in a guest-house in Kathmandu that is reputed to have in-house internet. Wow! One can only hope.

And so another journey filled with promise and excitement begins, or at least it will in a short few weeks! ... til then

Shirley & Danny