The Wilds of Tennessee

Tennessee is a wild land.  Anyone who has stepped off a manicured path in the “Volunteer State” during summer months knows this.  Tangled roots turn to tangled leaves netted together with bramble and vine.  Insects traverse this spread as well, present in soil, dangling from greenery and livid in the air.  Cats also permeate this brush, pushing through green blankets to nosily eat, chew, or play with that which has been found.  The Wild Stewart, though, can only be found meandering during the winter and early spring months, when most of the ‘other’ wilds are asleep.

The cats are hunting with me.  We have heard a sound, and are in hot pursuit, scrambling through the underbrush to find it.  I am flanked by Polar and Three-Dot, patriarchs of the feral feline colony.  Andy, the youngest of the bunch, is yawning on my heels, stopping occasionally to sniff at my random footprints.  Leo, our fearless and highly irritable queen stalks the male cats as much as the sound.  Unfortunately, after a few minutes of fun and loud stalking, whatever it was disappears and we turn to retrace our steps.  I duck and twist around the budding branches and step over leaf-less brambles, finally stepping out into the yard.

The cats remain in the brush, dimming to sets of glowing eyes, and eventually fading into the darkness of underbrush.  Or scaling into the higher branches of trees and screeching like baby howler monkeys…

Tree Cats

Later that night, as I removed clothes for a shower, I noticed a large blemish on my dairy-air.  Flexing into an awkwardly contorted twist, while pinching and shifting a large (and gorgeous) gluteus section to inspect the new blemish further, I observed a rider picked up during the evening’s excursion.  I waved a pair of tweezers at the wee tyke.

The wee tyke buried its head further into my gorgeous epidermis.

The next week, I found myself in the doctor’s office.  He said, “Wow!  What’s going on here?”

I replied, “Well… three days ago, after I shaved, I noticed a small set of lumps on my jaw.  I thought it was a line of pimples, but then it grew to a larger spot, and that night, other spots popped up on my face forming a rash.”

He nodded.  Encouraged, I continued.  “Then, the night before last, I started seeing some swelling on one of my cheekbones, which last night began pushing one of my eyes quite a bit, while the rash simultaneously took over that same area.  I went in to work, but I started having trouble concentrating, so left early.”

“This morning I only slept a few hours, and the rash spread to my chest, arms and into my scalp and down my neck.”  His eyebrows rose as I continued. “And now the swelling increased across my nose to my other cheekbone and eye.”

He nods a bit more, and then asks, “So… have you been bitten by a tick recently?”

I think back about a week when I clamped some tweezers around a tick’s body and popped it out of my ass.  “Yeah… about a week ago.”  He began writing out a prescription.

“What do you think it is?”

He paused his scribble long enough to respond, “ I don’t know… we’ll get a blood test, but results will take time.  We may not have time, so I’m getting you started with this right away.”  He handed me a prescription for doxycycline.  “ I believe, though, that it is either Lyme disease or Rocky Mountain spotted fever.”

“Is it contagious?”

“No.”

I began rapidly scratching everywhere I could politely reach.

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Which Congressmen will receive your vote this year?

Uncompromising extremists have always served an important purpose in our country. Their passion brings potential ‘wrongs’ to the awareness of society. They rally our citizens to discuss ad nauseam how our society’s actions impact their own and others’ lives. Their drive pushes our leaders through choppy waters by offering new alternatives to traditional means.

However, uncompromising extremists cannot successfully lead this country of very diverse beliefs and opinions.  When a majority of our political leaders fall into extremist categories, this big boat of a country simply gets pushed and pulled back and forth, remaining in stagnant waters. In order to move forward……or in any direction, a majority of our leaders must be willing to give and take or, at least, be willing to compromise somewhat from their favorite extreme positions. This type of conciliatory leadership results in very slow progress, but at least the country can move in acceptable directions.

Even the most logical and rational of us may lean toward extremes when we are stressed or fearful. During those times we need a team of leaders, who are able to calm us and guide us……not just the few of us who see eye to eye with those leaders…..but, the majority of us.

So, this election year as we all vote for our Senators, and Representatives during this stressful period, rather than vote for the leaders who sound exactly like we do when discussing politics or religion with our buddies, please consider voting for those leaders who have a history of striking a balance, who are able to listen respectfully to those with radically different ideas, who exhibit a talent for reconciling opposing perspectives in a conciliatory manner. Hold on to your idealistic hopes of what our country should be or may become and keep pushing toward those goals. However, realize that we are a country committed to providing an environment in which all of us can live the way we choose even though we all may choose to live radically different from each other. In order to accomplish this commitment, we cannot vote in our favorite extremists and hope they can beat down ‘the opposition’.  It simply doesn’t work that way in our country. Extremists can’t accomplish the extremes they promise. The best they can do is hold fast and keep change (good or bad) from occurring.

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Why the Carringtons are no longer in Nepal…

Shortly after returning to Peace Corps Nepal in June (after 6 weeks of evacuation), we began having health issues. Following several doctor consultations, Peace Corps decided to medically evacuate us stateside, where we could receive medical treatment from American doctors. We were both diagnosed with PTSD related to the earthquakes in Nepal.

Since returning to the states for therapy, additional physical medical problems have shown up. One of us had a Lymphoma cancer scare that eventually was determined to ‘not’ be cancer, but an “atypical infection” contracted during our time in Nepal.  The other returned from Nepal with a dangerously high cholesterol level, thanks to a year of the basic Nepali diet of carbs and oil.

Currently, we are healing here in beautiful Nashville.  Unfortunately, our health symptoms did not resolve by the end of Peace Corps’ medical evacuation limit (45 days). Therefore, Peace Corps medically separated both of us giving us a year to improve enough to be medically cleared and return to our service.

In the past two months, the Peace Corps Volunteers remaining in Nepal have experienced ‘stand fasts’ (an inability to leave their site) due to political demonstrations related to disagreements over the new constitution (over 40 people have been killed during the demonstrations), and are currently encountering a lack of and a cost increase for food, gas, and cooking fuel due to an unofficial Indian trade embargo and border protests.  Since India borders Nepal on three sides and the two roads north to China were destroyed during the earthquakes, India is the only way for Nepal to get imports by road. After the April 25th earthquake, the hits keep coming to Nepal and Peace Corps’ Nepal program.  Therefore, even if we were given a clean bill of health, we aren’t confident we could return to serve our beloved second home.   Our current plan is to restart our Seattle lives soon, with the hope to one day, in the not so far future, work abroad again (after Vee finishes graduate school).

So… we were in The Peace Corps!  Whoa, what an experience. It is an amazing organization.  It leads to an amazingly gratifying and amazingly frustrating experience, with all the in-between adjectives peppered throughout.  We put a lot into it, and found out that, as the cliché says, you do indeed, ‘get out of it what you put into it’.  During our year in Nepal, Peace Corps gave us everything that we were wanting from service:

  • We wanted to gain an understanding of what it is like to live as a minority
  • We wanted to experience living in a different culture
  • We wanted to learn another language
  • We wanted to broaden our view of international relations
  • We wanted to reach a practical comprehension of development and sustainability
  • We wanted to travel

Before you run out to sign up for Peace Corps, please understand this was not a year of vacation. These experiences were not easily earned.  It was a very difficult year filled with painful eye opening moments and realizations about our beliefs, our view of other cultures, our country, and ourselves.  But, as with most challenging periods in life, we were irreversibly impacted.

We hope to be able to share more of our experiences with others in the future, and appreciate the support we’ve been given by the overlapping circle of family, friends, and the staff at Peace Corps. Our hearts go out to our Nepali families and current volunteers as they struggle with the situation over there. No matter what future adventures we find, know that all of you travel with us in our hearts.

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The Gorka Earthquake: Day 1

 

Nepal is a beautiful land, made mostly of mountains caused by the tectonic continental drift of the Indo-Australian plate crushing up against the Eurasian plate. This pretty violent confluence started well before we were born, and, is apparently continuing today. While the Nepali people are slowly becoming educated about this phenomenon, and science is gaining ground, they still have very little idea of what causes … or what should be done in case of… an earthquake. This fact was very evident on Day 1, as we heard quite a few mutterings about angry gods from the townspeople, but only one person talked to us about plate tectonics.

Regardless of the lack of earthquake knowledge in Nepal, no one in our village in Lamjung, Nepal was killed, or severely injured due to the 7.8 quake. We want to thank the trainers, volunteers, and teachers around the world who have reached out to their communities and pushed the priority of awareness and instruction about emergency preparedness. What you do does save lives. And we want to thank the researchers who study these behemoth events looking for ways to predict them. You do make a difference.

VSO Earthquake Awareness Presentation, Lamjung, Earthquake Awareness Day, January 16, 2015

VSO Earthquake Awareness Presentation, Lamjung, Earthquake Awareness Day, January 16, 2015

In particular, our Volunteer Services Overseas (VSO) friends have been on our minds since the earthquake. We attended a training they presented at a local primary school this year on Nepal’s Annual Earthquake Safety Day.  VSO teaching Earthquake Preparedness, January 16th, 2015.  We will always remember them standing in the yard of the school in front of lines of students, teaching the kids about, “Stop. Drop. And Cover!” in their beautiful British, Scottish, and Nepali voices. Little did any of us know that in just over a month, these children would be faced with their very first, very large earthquake.

***

Saturday, April 25th, 2015 – Earthquake, Day 1

Electricity was out. This was not unusual; we get a few hours of blackouts most days. This time, however, we had been without for over two days, so we figured something else was going on and hoped it would be rectified before we lost all of the battery life in our phones… but…

We were both propped up against the head board of our bed, reading, when an odd shaking jolted our awareness at 11:56 am . It came on softly, like feeling and hearing an approaching train … from a great distance, but quickly grew more powerful. We realized what was happening roughly at the same time.

Earthquake.

We stared at each other, waiting for the shuddering to die down as it always does, or had done in our previous limited earthquake experience. But, it only took a few seconds to realize that this one was not dying down, but continuing to ramp up. Fast. We both sprang out of bed to weave and dance across the twisting room to brace ourselves in the bedroom doorway on the second story of our concrete home. The tremors sped up, and grew into an alarming, “Shik-A-Shik-A” metronome that seemed set to the warping of the door frame. We held onto the door frame and each other.

The quake still didn’t stop, and kept getting stronger. The shaking seemed to go on forever. We had time to think about and even talk about our next step, yelling at each other over the rumbling, rocking and crashing noise. “Should we try to run outside?” “What do we do if the floor falls away beneath our feet?” We had difficulty holding onto the door frame. The house seemed to have taken on the personality of the prized bucking bronco of a rodeo, attempting to toss our bodies from where we had wedged them.

We watched helplessly as Vee’s remaining half-cup of coffee spewed and splashed over more than a 4 ft radius. Items fell around us and the sound of large crashes outside reached us. Screaming filled the air and we heard people running in the streets. We continued to talk over options, while the house repeatedly bent and straightened over and over again all around us.

When the shaking finally lessened to the point we could move from the doorway, we shouted orders at each other as we grabbed our backpacks, phones, charger, and ran while our host family screamed our names outside. By the time we got to the stairs, the major shaking had abated, calming down to a vibrating rattle. We slid down the two flights of stairs, firmly holding the railing, and then bolted down the hallway for the outside.

It was blindingly bright outside. Most natural disasters are accompanied by dark or smoky skies, but it was sunny outside, and the only noticeable shaking now was caused by the adrenalin coursing through bodies. People were still screaming, and there were clouds of smoke or dust pouring from the neighbors’ courtyards, nearby alleyways and spaces where buildings stood just moments ago.  Our host brother and sister were being shoved by passing panicked humans. But, they stood firmly in the middle of the street shouting for us; waiting for us to come out of the building. “We must go! We must go!”

Stew replied, “Go! Go!” while eyeballing the glass windows directly above.

We joined the crowd moving away from the bazaar, and eventually pulled out of the throng at the far side of the garden, perching on a small stone ledge to regroup. Stew told our host brother that we needed to stay away from tall buildings, glass, and steep slopes. Then he told him again about twenty more times while our host brother stared blankly into space, occasionally saying, “Yes, yes…”. Then we sat and stared at each other while more people came running from town.

Another tremor ran through the ground, causing everyone to run and scream harder as more dust plumed from our neighbor’s courtyard. We stood up moving to more open spaces, and Vee got tangled in wire that was jutting from the base of the ledge. When she fell, she sprained her wrist , and received a bad scrape on her knee that also later developed some pretty intense bruising, but considering the mass of bodies pushing past her, her wounds were mild . By the time Vee untangled and stood up, the quake was dying off. We, along with the people who had stopped to help us, staggered over near a neighbor’s single story snack shop at the edge of town, where several familiar faces had gathered. Everyone was talking very quickly in Nepali, we couldn’t begin to understand anything but,”…. bukampa… “ … earthquake and “DarAeko”….afraid.

We found a small space to sit on the internet-rich sunny side of the road, while we waited for the adrenalin to drain from our bodies. As we stared across the road at a circle of panicky Nepali quivering in the internet-poor shady side of the road, we lamented that we didn’t have sunscreen in our go bag, but refused to move to the shade until we figured out the best way to connect with our family, PC staff, and friends to let them know we were ok. Both of us had our phones in hand staring at them and trying different methods of connectivity. Stew’s phone quickly died, having finally run out of juice from the electric-less night. Some local calls appeared to be getting through, but not to anyone east of us, including the Peace Corps office and anyone in Kathmandu. Texts seemed to be going through, so we sent notifications to Peace Corps Duty Officer and our Lamjung district warden that we were safe. When we realized we were able to post on Facebook, we typed in a missive, letting social media know that we were in the earthquake, but we were safe.

When people realized that we had access to internet on our phone, they started to gather near us and ask, “How big?” We were getting reports from 5.0 to 9.0 magnitude. Having never been in an earthquake that size before, we had no idea which report was closer to the truth. General consensus was 7.5 online, but was quickly updated to 7.9 and later degraded to 7.8. A growing crowd of people gathered in front of us shouting questions:

“Why do you think God is angry?” “Why are the Gods mad?” “What caused the earthquake?” “Will there be any more earthquakes?” “Will there be bigger earthquakes?” “When can we go back inside?” “Are there earthquakes in America?” “Did America feel this earthquake, too?”

We answered the best we could. “Earthquakes usually happen with a big one, followed by a bunch of smaller ones, slowly tapering off, but not always, so we don’t know.” “No one can predict earthquakes, so we don’t know when or if another one will come.” “We don’t know when it will be safe to go back inside.” “Plate Techtonics caused the earthquake… PLATE… TECHT… oh, egad… Two big places rammed each other. This was how the mountains were made, through a bunch of earthquakes.”

“Seriously, we do not know when it will be safe to go inside. No…..we can’t even guess if it will be one hour, two hours or three hours. Yes…..we do hear your Bhaisi (water buffalo) mooing…..no, we don’t know if you should go milk her.”

“WE DON’T KNOW IF THERE WILL BE ANOTHER OR HOW BIG IT WILL BE . NO ONE DOES.”

We sat a bit longer, watching the rebar sticking from the tops of buildings occasionally start jiggling. Sometimes people would scream and run toward us from the storefront of the building across the street (the aforementioned shady side of the street), but as time went on, heat increased, and rumbling decreased, more and more folks wandered to the shade of the building, trying to get out of the sun.

The local police passed through at one point, checking on everyone and looking for the Peace Corps Volunteers. We noticed them working their way toward us, stopping to speak to groups of people along the way. We couldn’t tell what the conversations were about, but in each group, someone would eventually point our way and the entire group would turn to stare at us. When the police reached us, they asked to see Vee’s phone. They just wanted to see what we’d found on the internet about the earthquake. No one in the area seemed to have internet access on their phones……except us, so we were the popular kids for the day.

After a few hours, people started calming down. Both of us had gotten a lot of sun and were dehydrated – water bottles were forgotten up in the room –, and also, now both of our phones were completely dead. We decided to chance a trip to the room to gather some of the items we had removed from our ‘go bags’ in the past, including our back up batteries and solar charger.

Venturing into the room was pretty scary. Coffee was everywhere. Books scattered, pictures fallen from the walls and furniture moved. We grabbed our solar charger, hats, filled the water bottles and got the hell out. Bahini (host sister) stood out front the entire time, yelling at the top of her lungs for us to get out of the house, which was understandable……but annoying….to us and probably to everyone within hearing distance.

Note: When you create a go bag (emergency bag), we recommend it be completely separate from your other equipment and goods. Don’t fill it with things you need or use during your regular life. You don’t have the brain power or time to fill your go bag in the moment of an emergency … you just don’t.

We went back over to the neighbor’s store front and set Stew’s phone with the solar charger out. He immediately got a new drunk friend who kept asking in English if he liked earthquakes. We tried out different answers, but he didn’t seem satisfied with any of them. “Yes/Ho/No/Hoina/Maybe/Hola”

“Do… you like … earthquakes?” our new friend breathed into Stew’s face. Eventually, Bahini and someone who may have been new friend’s father dragged him off, as Stew tried to use the newly charged phone again.

Folks responded to the event in different ways. Most people just found some place out of the sun to sit down and fan themselves. Some folks got drunk. Some people sat in silent shock for hours. Some folks gossiped. Some folks just watched us and asked random questions.

“Will there be another quake?” “How big will the next quake be?”

“We don’t know. No one knows.”

“Someone told me, we will be getting a 9.5 quake tomorrow at 4pm.”

“That person was lying. No one in the world can predict when the next earthquake will happen.”

As the hours passed, we felt ‘safer’ and braver. We began to think it was over. When the ‘tipping point’ moved us from anxiety to boredom, we hesitantly moved back inside. And then back outside, for a while, when we noticed neighbors needed help to move their stuff from what was left of their house. They were missing part of one of the ceilings, and had lost at least two walls in the hours since the quakes started.   We made sure to stand clear of the building… it was obviously not finished coming down, but they wanted their stuff and the skies were warning of an impending storm, so we transported the items they piled up in their courtyard, to safer locations.

Our house had a few superficial cracks, but nothing serious. Our host brother proudly said, “Built to stand through a 9-point-oh earthquake!” It was indeed impressive. Later on we would discover that most damage occurred in the older houses, and that the newer concrete buildings were much more stable… for the most part.

Every now and again another quake would happen. A water buffalo, tied up behind one of the houses would start braying every time one went through. There was a lot of braying.

We ate some ramen (dry) and peanut butter for lunch and another batch of the same later for dinner.

When it got dark, Bahini appeared at our door, pointing at our yoga mats and telling us we could not stay overnight in the building. So, we went to sleep on the basketball court of the local highschool along with the majority of the town. By the time everyone had arrived, the entire ball court and part of the school yard was covered completely with a variety of mats. Some folks started small fires around the court, to provide dinner for their friends and family. We settled on our mats, doused ourselves with mosquito repellent, propped our heads on our back packs and watched the stars and the crowd. About every 15 minutes someone new would come to the court and start yelling, singing, or checking to see who was there by flashing their light on each face. It was not a good time. One lady appeared, started screaming, and dragged straw mats out from under about 10 people near us. The mats might have been hers, we weren’t sure. We simply held fast to our blue yoga mats. There were four teenagers and one smaller kid who were trying to sleep in close quarters, but kept getting pushed from one area to another by several elderly women, who apparently wanted whatever area the teens’ were currently resting. There were many drunks who staggered through. One man lying on a mat near Vee noticed that she was watching him as he repeatedly squirted toothpaste from a tube on his finger and rubbed his teeth. Each time he removed the tube from beneath its resting place under his pillow, he reached out to offer the tube to Vee, who kept shaking her head. Many packs of men came through. Some of them started some loud game off in the dark of the playground. The mood of the crowd was restless and anticipatory, as if we were all waiting for a play in the park or a drive-in movie that would never begin. Little sleep was had.

It rained a bit. Then it rained a bit more. The earth grumbled. It was a long, long night.

Community sleeping area... when not being used as a basketball court.

Community sleeping area… when not being used as a basketball court.

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Dear 201 Sati haru,

It’s been less than three months since we were last all together, a matter of a few weeks. But, the beginnings of transformation are evident. Body movements are more relaxed.  The physiques are leaner. New scars haphazardly dot and stitch the skin, from tattoos and piercings to unintentional wounds. Seasoned eyes give preview to the breathtaking, horrifying and culturally eye opening experiences our souls have stored in knowledge banks for later processing.

We’ve shared the excitement of Peace Corps staging, the exhaustion of traveling half way around the globe in a few hours, the hellish stress of Pre-service training, and the understanding of isolation at permanent site, all in a fast-spinning five month timeframe. Welcome to In-service training, my friends. We’ve missed you. It has been such a long journey. And the thirty of us have so much further to go before…

we rest.

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Snipets of Carrington diary….

Monday, October 6th
—Nepalis ask Americans, who live in their community, “What is your Nepali name?” Just as it is often difficult for us to wrap our lips around a Nepali name, they stumble as they attempt to form the sounds that make up our names. Stew and I have simplified our American names to one syllable, but still, it takes a few attempts as Nepalis sound out our names and request that we repeat (“phery bolnus!”), in the hopes of pronouncing the syllable as Americans do. So, it is customary for an American living in Nepal to be given a Nepali name. When Stew and I noticed that more and more of the Peace Corps workers were showing up at Hub Day (the one day per week when we are all in the same classes) with Nepali names, we asked how this naming process occurred. We were told that some of them were given names by host families, some by Nepali friends, some chose a name themselves and some asked Nepalis for a name. Our host family rarely uses given names (they call each other by kinship); our only Nepali friends are Peace Corps volunteers and staff; we had no inclination to select a Nepali name on our own; and it just felt weird to ask someone to give us a name. So, we kinda gave up on the Nepali name idea and when asked for our Nepali name, answered, “Mero Nepali naam hoina”.(I don’t have a Nepali name) But, last week, it happened. We were given Nepali names by one of the language instructors. Stew’s is “Jesz”, which is the name of a friend of the instructor, who always makes her happy….Stew has similar personality traits and reminds her of her friend. Mine is “Kiran”(In Nepali, it sounds like: Key-run…with a little roll to the ‘R’), which means ‘ray of light’. I’m glad it took time for the correct names to appear. It was worth the wait. They hold more meaning for us and were given to us by an amazing woman, who we will remember forever.
Sunday, October 12th
—Respiratory disease is one of the biggest killers in Nepal. Second hand smoke comes in more forms than smoke from cigarettes. In Nepal, the majority of second hand smoke comes from kitchen wood stoves. Most kitchen stoves don’t have chimneys, so as folks cook here, smoke often fills the kitchen and cancers people to death.
Today in technical class, we took part in making of our first ‘Improved Cook Stove’. Our host family received the Stove built for our Peace Corps’ training. Our family broke down their current kitchen stove this morning, and then our cluster (local village training group of five) began work on the new stove at around 11am. The bricks for the skeleton of the stove were made a couple of weeks back professionally, so we made a few for practice (but couldn’t use them because they must dry 5-7 days, before being used on the actual stove. Then we made the mortar, which is made from five parts mud, two parts rice husks, and one part Gobar ….. what’s Gobar, you ask?…. well…..yeah….what is covering my hands up to the elbow and smooshing between my toes? That, my friends, is Water Buffalo shit. That’s right, we have been doused in buffalo shit water. BUT, in two weeks, after the stove dries, our host family will have an improved cook stove and a smokeless kitchen. That’s worth some water buffalo shit between the toes, right?
Stew, caked with buffalo dung, also managed to use a VERY large knife (about 15 times heavier than you’re thinking. Think half a lawn mower blade long, and thrice as thick) to slice his finger. Vee provided excellent first aid. Stew was very happy with the care he received. Now he’s attempting to prevent infection and blood loss by pointing at the sky and keeping his hand well above his heart.
We appreciated the day, but boy it’s been a long one.
In addition to a great learning day, this morning we looked over after class to find the Himalayas out in full view for the first time. It’s pretty crazy to look over and see a looming range filling half the sky, and know how far off it is. This place is insane to look at. Beauty everywhere… Except Stew’s finger… that’s just gross.
Tuesday, October 14th
Happy Birthday, Baby Girl!! (it is Monday, October 13th in the U.S.)
PC gangWe are all sitting in the dining room of the motel, where Peace Corps volunteers meet once a week for ‘whole group’ training. Nothing was planned this afternoon. Many of us came here in the hopes of internet access; some came to dig cold weather clothes from their deep storage bags (It is getting cooler and our winter clothes are stored here in a motel room); a few came by because they got soaked while doing an outdoor assignment in the nearby Bazaar(marketplace) and the motel was closer than home. We’ve got a big thunder boomer going on outside, so….no internet……no electricity…..but, great company sharing snack-size American candies (care packages from home), eating yummy hot cup-a-soup, and drinking Dude Chia(spiced tea with milk). Lots of wet people laughing together…..sitting at long tables….studying….sharing stories. Good times. Hope the storm lets up before long, though. Most of us have to make quite a hike up muddy paths to get home (Bistaari!! Chiplo!!”Walk slowly! It’s slippery!))….and an early curfew. Picture a bunch of Americans slip-sliding through ankle deep mud, as they rush up hills looking left and right for Leopards, to a chorus of Nepalis standing outside their homes yelling “Bistaari! Chiplo!!”
Wednesday, October 15th
We made our first foray out of our village today. We split up, health sector volunteers took a bus to the District Health Center, while the agriculture sector volunteers visited the district agricultural center. Vee’s group discussed the structure of the health system with a Nepali who spoke English. Stew’s group talked with some of the chief agricultural officers through one of PC’s interpreters.
It is very strange to speak English, which is often understood, but not spoken here. Still, it is even stranger to have Nepali spoken, and then translated by an English speaking Nepali. Layers upon layers of communication issues……Kinda like playing a game of ‘telephone’. I’ve always respected translators, but the PC experience has increased the depth of my compassion for their difficult job. People are hard enough to understand as-is, but add a different language to that… ugh.
The trip to and from the district center had extreme curves, steep side drop-offs and tons of breath-taking near misses from busses and trucks passing each other on narrow roads with motorcycles in between zipping in and out of each lane. If you got bored of that, you might watch the Himalayan line up stretching forever across the North. Or the abandoned festival swings (Ping) hanging from long bamboo poles, or the people waiting for busses, or the planted terraces contouring the mountains, or the prayer flags slowly dethreading to heaven…
Such a strange, lovely place.
Thursday, October 16th
Hubday! Today is site announcement. This means that all 30 of us find out where, in Nepal, we will be sent…..after we make it through basic training and are sworn in next month….(around November 17th). Very exciting! Some are going to the Midwestern districts….some are going to the Far West, which is like…..a 3-4 day rough bus ride to reach from here (even though we are currently in the Western part of Nepal and Nepal is the about the size of Tennessee). We are all so very excited!
Later…same day
We now have our assignments. We can’t put the exact locations on-line (for security reasons), but we are very very happy and our new home is not too far from Pokhara (one of Nepals largest cities). A beautiful place….we hear. Vee will be working at a health post and Stew will be working at an agriculture center. We may have an opportunity to work with schools, farmers and mothers’ groups…..we’ll see. But, for now, we have a location for our next two years. Whoa.
We got our first care package today……filled with goodies. The weird thing is that the items I think I was most excited about were the packing material (crumbled paper towels….whoot!!) and a ziplock bag stuffed with those small condiment packs you find in fast food restaurants. Oh mi Gawd……ketchup….mustard….bbq sauces…..vinegar……American things I miss most. I think I would be happy with a care package full of only condiment packs snuggled in paper towels. This Nepali me is odd.

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The Baagh Ate My Letter to You…

Baagh: The Nepali word for Leopards. (which have been seen in our village recently. Sightings have resulted in an earlier curfew for the “Americans”. It is now 5:30 pm.) Apologies for ignoring all of you for so long. We’ve hit the one month mark of living in Nepal. Our internet access has been pretty spotty. But, even if we had non-stop internet access, we have very little free time. We have Nepali language classes, technical training and cultural classes each school day. In Nepal, the work/school week is six days per week, with Saturday being the day of rest (bida). What free time we have is spent studying (vocabulary, verb conjugation, and Nepal script writing), integrating into the Nepali community (seeking out situations to interact with others using our Nepal language skills), and doing chores like washing clothes (lugar dhune….which is done by hand in buckets of water). We expect to have better internet access and more time to blog after the end of our pre-service training. (about six more weeks) The intense-ness of the Peace Corps training cannot be denied. A huge amount of information is poured into our brains each day, with little time to process or practice, then the next day…..additional new information is shoved into our already full brains. But it isn’t all mentally taxing. There are physical requirements also. Our morning classes take place near our homes, but the afternoon classes are normally a 20 to 50 minute walk/hike away from our little village…..around bends and up hills. Late afternoon, we are charged with interacting with people in the village and finally after curfew, we rest, while practicing our Nepali with our host family. The schedule can be brutal. However, every once in a while, we look up from our daily rush and are stunned to a halt by awe-inspiring views. Amazing architecture will catch our eye or sometimes beautiful terraced farmland and of course…..a peek of the Himalayas on a clear day. We are finding it hard to write about our experiences here. We will type something, then reread it and delete it. There are occurrences that happen to us often that words can’t seem to express. It is similar to what people experience, when they attempt to replicate a gorgeous view with a camera…..only to realize the beauty and emotion invoked by the view cannot be translated to a photograph. And yet, we want to document and share our experiences, so we will write and photograph our life here. Hopefully, some will see past our clumsy writing to the beauty of Nepal and her people. However, a disclaimer must be provided. The description of our experiences here should not be taken as what others would experience in this land. The people of Nepal are diverse. What we experience daily in our pre-service training here in this part of Nepal will most likely be different from what we experience over the next two years at our permanent site in a different part of Nepal. Even in this small area where the Peace Corps group 201 live close together, each volunteer speaks of different host family behaviors. So, if you speak of what you read here, please don’t generalize the description or behavior as, “Well I’ve heard that in Nepal….the people are….(fill in the blank)”. What can we say about the land, the people, our experiences as foreigners in this lovely country? Nepalis are a people, rich in culture, steeped in tradition, who we find utterly fascinating. Apparently they find us fascinating also. They stare at us constantly, while we try to stare back, but can’t. Our Nepali is still so elementary that the majority of our interactions begin and quickly end with only the greeting, “Namaste”, which everyone we pass on the road seems thrilled with.   As we walk down the road, the adults we ‘Namaste’ often stop us and ask where we have been or where we are going. As we walk down the road, the children yell at us from far away and come running up to follow us asking, “What is your name?”, “Where do you come from?”, or just “Hello…hello….hello!”. Now that most of the children know our names, they yell, “Hello Stewart! Hello Vee!” During our walk home from class each day, we will look back every few minutes to see a growing crowd of children marching behind us. Many of the school kids want to practice their English with us. Many, who know we have cell phone cameras, want to have their picture taken, so they can take a peek at the photo and giggle with their friends. We, may, hopefully, have better internet access from now on. Our host family is working on getting dependable internet here in the house. That would be utterly amazing. (course we would still be limited by the number of hours per day we have electricity, which is kinda undependable….but I’m excited anyway) Without internet…..not only have we been out of touch with family and friends…….we have had little to no information about world events…..which has been a very, very strange experience.

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