Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Nepal in film

One year later, I find myself wishing that I was going back to Nepal this summer.  It might seem a little crazy, but after reminiscing about last summer, I find the prospect of being in New York this summer... boring.  At the very least I still have the memories and photographs to remind me of the great times we all had.

We described a lot here about Nepal and even posted a few pictures, but rarely did we show moving images about the journey.  With all the footage I shot last summer (sometimes it feels like I never put the camera down), I did a short film about our travels.


Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Intimate Yet Chaotic Nepal

Written August 16, 2010 by Keesler Welch

As I sit here in California, halfway across the world from Nepal, I reflect on my recent summer trip, which can only be described as “intimate yet chaotic.” When friends and family ask me about my two and a half month trip, how do I respond? (Not to mention that these friends and family range from those who confuse Nepal with Naples, Italy or those who only know of Nepal as being near Mount Everest.) All I can muster up is: “It was awesome! I will have to show you my pictures.” After all, every picture tells a story.

Intimate yet [very] chaotic Kathmandu

As far as my research project is concerned, the results of my fieldwork were often more complicated than I previously imagined. I first came to Nepal thinking that I would have time to tackle the entire issue of water management, including all of the stakeholders and politics that came with it. But in reality, I ended up focusing only on three aspects of water management (which was complicated enough!) Not to mention that the supply aspect of water is a whole other issue. Nevertheless, I hope to use my summer research as a stepping-stone for my Master’s thesis in hopes of one day continuing what I started in Nepal.

What did I learn the most this summer from living abroad and doing fieldwork? “Nothing is as it seems.” Kathmandu may seem chaotic, but it is also quite orderly and intimate at the same time. While it seems that water management and supply issues have obvious solutions, they are, in reality, complicated and influenced by backdoor politics and international donors.

As illustrated above, the theme of "nothing is as it seems," was first discovered with my friend Cecilia when she ordered chocolate covered fruit, only to discover a chocolate covered tomato! [Gross!]

In all seriousness, I have grown, both as a person, and academically. In order to make a difference in this world, I hope to be "out in the field" instead of behind a desk. I hope to find the words to describe Nepal articulately to my family and friends in a way that they too fall in love with this country as we all have.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

An excerpt from a day in June

My laundry is sun-kissed by the Saturday Kathmandu sun and it smells like a long-lost memory that’s gently nudged to remembrance. The cotton feels rough, that particular feeling of crisp cloth that’s dried in purely natural forces without fabric softener. Earlier in the day, sometime between showering and breakfast, I was crouching over a bucket full of suds and laundry on the rooftop of my Nepal home. The soapy water was refreshing in the already harsh heat of late June. As I kneaded, the water turned dark gray from all that my clothes had inhaled of Kathmandu. I’m overly conscious about water here and I just rinse once. A dark monsoon cloud dropped its load as I finished at the clothesline, but no one rushed out on the other rooftops to take their laundry in so I decided not to bother either. Sure enough, the rain passed as swiftly as it came. It seems that Nepal will not only be embedded in my skin, but in my clothes as well.

For those of you who are not physically near me, the air around me in general smells like ghee. And the fingers and fingernails on my right hand are all stained yellow with turmeric from the daily helpings of curried vegetables. I’m pretty sure it seeps from my pores too. I perspire Nepal. Or I’d like to think so. Maybe that’s me romanticizing the fact that I’m sticky with sweat that runs like a broken faucet even on the coolest rainy days, hair poofy and confused from the metallic smelling water, and sunglasses sliding down my non-existent Asian nose bridge as I strut up the rocky streets. On days I accidentily step in the deadly puddle mixtures of unknown substances and substances of unknown people, I laugh and thank my mother for the positive humor she has passed on to me that seems to keep my love for this place undamaged.

“What you think…about Nepal?”

My host mom, among so many other Nepalis, has asked me this question and it’s almost surprising to myself that the word “dirty” or any of its kind never registers in my head as an accurate description.

I say this even when I have learned quickly to identify different kinds of poop that lay in my path everyday. When it smells like a barn, all earthy and reminiscent of that odor when you approach Central Park from the south side, there’s a hefty pile of greenish cow pies that’s usually been run over a few times by various vehicles. When I smell a less pungent, grainy stink, I’m approaching chickens cooped up in cages ready to be sold and chopped up by the end of the day. When the stench is strong and really attracting flies, it’s usually dogs. Or humans. Especially in the allies between houses. The omnivores provide the best droppings for those winged things.

Not dirty still, as I cross over the Bagmati on the tempo, giving off the odor that will shoot right through your mask that you bought from the vendor that ripped you off with the sweetest smile. This river that once quenched Kathmandu and its surroundings is now a graveyard of trash, animals and sewage.

Even when the smell of urine suffocates me on the streets of Thamel, I cannot dismiss this place as the filthy reality it often is.

Maybe it’s because I know that someone had cleaned the big pile of poop that laid in that tiny ally everyone uses for a shortcut. (There was no trace of that smelly thing the next morning. It was completely removed.) Maybe it’s because I hear all the Nepalis speaking so fondly of their country and its beauty, minus the politics. Maybe it’s because spices and incense and oddly comforting odor of sweet sweat, in the most audible and asserting whisper, all tell me of life that color every inch of this palette called Kathmandu. There are no white spaces. Even the dead, the inanimate, the silent; they all speak.

I may run out of excuses for Kathmandu. It could possibly happen in the last week of my stay here that seems so far off but I know will be rapidly approaching. But the frustration and criticism, no matter how severe, will undeniably come from the attachment and fondness this city has already planted in me. And the smell will always be a patch in the back of my nose, the chaos of wet mud and dry exhaust with a hint of pee.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Intangible Cultural Heritage

I figure that while I am in Nepal I should really make an effort to do and try as much as I can, so when my host mother suggested that I accompany her when she went to her aerobic dance class I couldn’t think of a good enough reason to say no. I accepted her invitation not knowing exactly what sort of commitment I was making. Our initial conversation happened over my morning cup of Nescafe and when I returned home that evening I was presented with a pair of purple Nepali dance slippers. While I know that they weren’t a huge investment of money, I did get the feeling that I was somehow already involved in something more than I had anticipated. Once you get gear it usually means more than a one time affair, and I can’t help but think that this point was not lost on her either. As it turns out the class meets 6 days a week, and unless I have other pressing things to do at 6:30am I now know where I will be spending almost every morning during my time in Nepal - in an overheated “dance studio” in Kathmandu with a dance teacher so small I could fit her in the palm of my hand, my 58 year old host mother in trousers and kurti, and a twenty-something guy who is, according to my host mother, the team leader. Based on his overwhelming enthusiasm for The Dance I can see why he was appointed to this role. The past two mornings we have walked into the room to find him thoroughly engaged with his reflection in the tall mirrors as he practices rolling his entire body while maintaining eye contact with himself. And his high kicks are something to behold; what they lack in control they make up for in gumption. Very reminiscent of the way Shelley Long and her scouts do the Freddie in the 1989 classic film Troop Beverly Hills.

We leave the house no later than 6:45am, making our way down the hill, past people crouched down in their front yards brushing their teeth and the woman hanging clothes out to dry as chickens and babies circle her feet. Past the banana trees and gardens protected by broken glass, all the way down till we hit Ring Road where we cross over the River Stink and the slums and oddly healthy looking patches of corn that line its banks. Past where the cows and people sleep on the side of the bridge. Under the monkey traipsing on the power line. Past the guy refurbishing shoes and the lady with her sewing machine waiting patiently for a customer, dodging the pubescent boys who lean out of the open doors of the micro buses calling out the names of various destinations around the city. By the time we enter the unadorned little doorway sandwiched between storefronts and have climbed the stairs to the floor where X-Pose runs its talent training operations my senses are exhausted and my teeth are gritty and coated with dust.

Because I have joined the class late in the term I don’t receive much help, and have instead been instructed to just follow the lead of the teacher, which I do with a remarkable lack of grace and poise. Because both the Hindu and Nepali dances that I am learning are very gestural, frequently requiring me to flick my wrists and flap my arms while doing 180 degree turns on one foot, I have to be very careful that none of my limbs accidentally make contact with anyone else's head or stomach. The first half of the class is time for warm-ups, and we do the regular preparatory exercises of jogging in place, kicking in various directions, and hopping back and forth, but there are other moves that are a bit less traditional than what one does in western dance classes. Part of me wishes that I could share this experience with someone with whom I could later process, but I also know that if I had a companion I would most likely not be able to control the fits of laughter that I constantly have to swallow when the three of us are trying to perfect moving our heads from side to side with attitude while our shoulders and bodies remain stationary. If nothing else I will be an expert at walking like an Egyptian by the time I leave Nepal.

I read in the news today that Nepal has ratified the UN Convention on Intangible Cultural Heritage and I feel that by learning the craft of modern Nepali dance I am doing my part in spreading some very intangible cultural heritage. I only wish I could do it with a little more flair.

Friday, July 30, 2010

For the girl whose face swells up when she eats peaches

(A collaborative work by Martin, Aya, and Katie)

Part Un

There once was a girl who hated leeches
“they’ve no purpose in life,” she preaches
She faces off with a buff
Thinking she’s tough
But in the end she jumps up and down and screeches

Part Deux

There once was girl who loathed bugs
She thought they were a bunch of thugs
She got cornered by a fly
She thought she would die
But was saved by a woman with jugs... of water

Part Trois

There once was a girl who hated nature
She thought it was ripe with danger
In ninety degree heat
She was covered in DEET
Thank god she’s studying the legislature

Part Quatre

There once was a girl from BA
Who met with the leader of the PLA
She saw flowers on his blinds
And thought is was fine
But questioned if he was gay

Part Cinq

There once was a student of rights
Who got involved in a couple of fights
But she picked one with a leech
With a much longer reach
And now she sleeps with the lights… on


Thursday, July 29, 2010

I will miss your rains, Kathmandu.

Forever yours,

Photo: author Aya; title: happy.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Gundu Village Visit

Written July 19, 2010 by Keesler Welch

A couple weeks ago I visited the Village Development Committee (VDC) of Gundu which is in Bhaktapur district. (See map below)

The organization that I am based out of just completed a two-year long water and sanitation improvement plan for Wards no. 6 and 7 within Gundu village. Although Gundu VDC is in close proximity to Bhaktapur city, safe water and sanitation there was in very poor condition so ENPHO, with support from WaterAid Nepal, took immediate action in devising an improvement program. And in order to ensure that the water and sanitation issues (which were relevant to the community) were to be addressed in a comprehensive manner, ENPHO conducted a study with extensive participation from local communities. Therefore, the “Gundu Environmental Sanitation Improvement Programme” became a community-based initiative that utilized the households and centered on a community approach to improve sanitation and public health.

Before the implementation of ENPHO’s improvement plan, a survey that was conducted in the village showed that 24% of households were completely deprived of toilet facilities. But among those with toilets, most of them (79%) did not practice safe and hygienic sanitation. Furthermore, the quality of water in Gundu is very poor since there is lack of a proper treatment system and some households (38%) did not practice any type of filtration before consuming. Other households (35%) only used cloth filtration. This led to some diarrhea and fever problems (but fortunately no deaths!)

Since the improvement plan was only a two-year long project, the “Gundu Environmental Sanitation Improvement Programme” has come to an end but I wanted to see for myself how the community has carried on with what ENPHO started. So after lots of driving and asking for directions through unpaved roads uphill, we finally found Ward no. 6 and 7 of Gundu. While there I met with a water user committee member of Ward no. 7 who has been on the committee for awhile. First I asked him about the make-up of the water committee in Ward 7. He stated that there are 11 members on the committee but only 3 are women. The ages of the committee members range from 35 years old to 67, with him being one of the oldest. When I asked him how the community has been carrying on from where ENPHO left off, he said the biggest problem is that there still needs to be more awareness on why not to defecate in some areas. He went on to say that particularly during the monsoon season, when farmers are out in the field and far away from toilets, open defecation is quite common. However, the water user committee is struggling with ideas on how to enforce these new sanitation practices. He stated that the community members can be fined as a penalty but he doesn’t believe that this enforcement is strong enough to change people’s habits without some type of awareness campaign. Only when the water user committee members come walking around do households practice safe and hygenic practices, he added. However, "ENPHO did a good job of going door-to-door to educate the community members, which is unlike the other [NGO] groups who have come to implement projects in the past."

Below are some pictures of ENPHO's work that were taken during my site visit.

EcoSan toilet. It consists of two chambers which are used for defecation and an outlet for urine. This way urine and feces will be separated. When the first chamber is filled up with feces, it is closed for 6 months. In the meantime the second chamber is filled up. This converts feces into manure which can then be used as fertilizer.

Toilet with solar compost to be used as fertilizer.

ENPHO logo on ECOSan toilet.

Rainwater harvesting to increase water supply.

In sum, ENPHO's “Gundu Environmental Sanitation Improvement Programme” has led to better water quality, improved water pressure at tap stands, construction of toilets for every household, promotion of EcoSan toilets, a health and hygiene training program at school, storm water management and drainage system, solid waste management, and general awareness to the inhabitants on water and sanitation related issues so that the local government can take over once ENPHO has completed the project.

Before leaving, I asked our water user committee friend what's the next big challenge for Gundu. He stated that since drinking water supply is not a problem anymore, the next big issue is securing enough water for irrigating the fields. Currently the community relies solely on the monsoon rains although they are waiting to hear back on a project proposal which would help them build a canal so that water is better collected at their source point.

Signage for “Gundu Environmental Sanitation Improvement Programme.”