Puja's Adventures

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

dear diary

Today 4 things happen to me.

1. I have raw onion for lunch and directly after do a 2 hour yoga class. Can you believe all those no onion garlic chilly hippies are right, you can feel it in your skin and it makes meditating harder!

2. I watch a crow on the beach hungrily devour a big bit of plastic.

3. Some rich Indian tourists are so intrigue they take a photo with me to pretend with their family/colleagues/work mates that they made friends with a white girl on holidays.

4. I hear a story about someone who drowned in a pool. He swallowed so much water that he sank to the bottom and opened his eyes just staring at the top, consciously aware that he could not breathe oxygen and rise to the surface. Then he was so calm, he didn't panic he just started breathing in water like a fish and saw a white tunnel of death before someone realised what was going on and rescued him.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

another day another sunset

our little family

Saying goodbye to kt and carl was tough. I am so greatful for the time we spent together having constant companionship, someone to 'antfarm' with, talk to, laugh with, point out weird Indian things, discuss politics and world debates, veg and relax, drink and eat with, someone to hold each others hair when we vomit. I cried on the night before with anxiety about being alone again, not knowing where to go, what to do. I've been by myself for so long now that i just didn't want to let go of 2 people i love so much. But I would rather the holiday happened and have to say goodbye then if it didn't happen at all.
I didnt want to cry but stupid Katie put on the waterworks so she set me off as well, just like at the airport when i first saw her, she started so it made me start. When they finally left at around 6pm I luckily had a coconut beach waiting for me 10 metres away to watch the sunset and rest against the smooth rocks that had been solar heated all day. I had a bottle of vodka on standby, but as I watched the sun dip down i realised i didn't need it to numb any emotion. I was in a blissful state of contentment and peace. Everything is perfect. When the sun finally succumbed to the horizon some Indian guy walked up to me and all i said was
"it's finished"
and he said
"no it's not, it's just somewhere else now, and it will return again another day"
...bloody hell, are you a mind reader?
So everything is ok, i am not upset, I'm in a tropical paradise and life is very beautiful.

chinese fishing nets in india

coco loco

"Get your coconut water,
yeah it's good for your daughter,
coco got a lot of iron,
make you strong like a lion,

So that's where tea comes from, I thought the stalk bought it in a sling from its beak

soo fast soo busy

ive done heaps of things in India, I forgot what it feels like to be on the go. We visited beautiful beautiful places including Mysore with an amazing palace, Kochin which has traditional chinese fishing nets on the shore, Kumily a place of Inidan tea and spice plantations, Periya, a wildlife national park with all sorts of animals and jungle, Allepy with spectacular backwater canals and Varkala a clifftop coastal town with chilled out palm fringed sunsets over the Arabian Sea.

Where r the dinosoars? and where is the litter!!?

returning to godawari

When I came to Nepal in 2003 I volunteered with Jen through an NGo who placed me in a village called Godawari which we fell head over feet in love with. I can't believe the whole time I was in Nepal I didn't return to my beautiful paradise, I was so busy! I would have kicked myself if I didn't go so KT and I caught the bus out and just rocked up to my host family who didn't speak English and my fluent Nepali language skills of "I feel full"; "tasty"; "where is the toilet"; "which way to the bus stop" didn't really equip me with adequete explanaition. The amma didn't recognise me and is like who are these werid white girls sitting in my house?

Anyway we went to Dolphin English School which has dramtically changed since Jen and I were teaching in these dingy dark overcrowded rooms. It is a private school charging 500RP a month, ($10) which is a lot for Nepal. A combination of that and other donations, they are now in a new building and they proudly own 4 computers! (though in true nepal fashion the students dont have access to them, I'm told a program will start next semester). The teachers are nice, there are cardboard projects on the walls, some space to play and run, a clean squat toilet, everyone in neat clean uniform and most importantly there have been many volunteers so the kids are comfortable around westerners, outgoing and good at English.

The village is slightly more developed, there is more electricity and the children aren't in rags hanging off their skiny arms and legs. I was feeling really surprised at all the change and just schocked at how much the area had developed. I thought maybe most of Kathmandu valley is like this now and there are no super poor people...? We took a slow walk and talked about lots of things before coming across a bunch of kids on the dirt road. Public school students. AHHH! Now we reveal the differences! One girl who was 12 looked like she was 8 (stunted growth from low nutrition perhaps) and compared to the other children we were talking to, her English was like a nursery child's level. The school ground was tiny, the building was old, her family is poor.

So if I had my own child flesh and blood I would want them to go to a private school, so they get the best possible education but encouraging this in the bigger picture will just increase the growing gap between rich and poor, public and private. But there is an immediate picture and you just can not imagine how badly run all the public Nepali schools are, they are really hopeless. Do you give child sponsorship so individuals get a better chance or do you try and boost the whole system, so everyone gets a fair go, but how on earth can you change a Nepali public school?? I don't know the answer.

PHOTO: Can you believe these little girls used to be babies! I couldn't believe how much they had grown and how beautiful they are now. Anusa and Elisa.
OLD school building where all the village kids used to go, now abandoned.


I celebrated my 23rd birthday with KT being sick! yay! but she bought a 'puja' cake so it made the day official i guess. Seeing I was the only one who had a slice, I went to meet an australian girl and on the way as what happenes everyday, I was leached onto by a streetboy tugging my sari, saying bhok lagi bhok lagi (I feel hungry, hungry). From his point of view he would be tired and despondent as not many people give them food (including do gooders who believe that feeding them on the streets only encourages dependecy and they all know where shelters are). I completely ignored him and we walked together for a few minutes before I suddenly stopped, squatted in the gutter and opened the cake box to reveal 11 perfect slices of thick gooey chocolate mud cake. The look on his face was the best birthday present I have ever got, he was so shocked and excited, why is this weird girl walking at night carrying a box full of cake? So we sat together eating cake and I was so happy to be another year older.
Later that night my wallet got stolen including all my cards which became a big hassle. Thank Buddha Kt was there to lend me money otherwise i wouldnt know what to do! A few days later after i cancelled all the cards i got it back moneyless but cardless which made me happy.

Kathmandu Mardi GRas!WOOHOO!!!

Coming back from Budhanilkantha into Kathmandu on a morning of tight tight schedule didi and I had a billion things to do and planning was the only way to manage all things. what we didnt account for was a bloody Buddhist procession of motorbikes, monks, pajeros and rungichungi jeeps starting at the bus stop and snaking its way at snail pace all the way to the Monkey temple. So no buses or cars until the procession is over. It would be like some clueless pom trying to make their way from paddington to bondi through oxford st on Mardi gras night! So didi and I power walked to try and beat the head of the parade, it was such a vain attempt, at one point we made it to the front of the pomp only to be defeated again and slump our way back to the end. story of my nepali life, trying to get ahead of yourself in such a ridiculous scenario is just funny ;)


Basically I am from India... only joking....strange thing someone say to me in kathmandu airport.
Basically India and Nepal are same same but different.
Different in too too many ways and similar in comforting ways for my adjustment between the cultures.
Colonialism is massive. The British have left its mark all over the country and there is no denying both their positive and negative impact. India is 10 times ahead of Nepal simply based on roads. The country is accessable. There are roads that compared to Australian standards are pathetic but compared to Nepali standards are kick ass. This means Indian rural people are not isolated. They have access to the outside world not only in terms of modernism and technology but basic buisness trading, goods transfers from rural to urban, which makes agriculture not only a means of supporting an immediate family, but a cash crop possibility with opportunities for export and taking part in national and international economy.
As I have observed, Nepal relies on local trading and selling. Nepali's are 90% rural and hence the overwhelming majority fall within an agricultural based society. Usually a huge struggle where ends are hard to meet and life is bloody tough. India relies only 10% on agricultural livelihoods and if you don't inherent land from your father there are still ways you can earn a living!!!! Can you believe?!
It is so odd to see roads and communication. What an immediate and accessable difference. India is what I imagine Nepal to be in 10 years time if the Maoists and the Government maintain relative peace and strive for the advancement of their nation.

squishy in-a ricky

Since arriving in this country I have travelled on more forms of transport in this brief time then all combined transport methods in my life before,,,
Planes, trains and automobiles, rickshaws (sometimes driven by carl), motorbikes, ambassador British taxis, X army jeeps, houseboats(sometimes driven by Katie), canoes, water taxis, and last but not least the old fashioned foot.
At least I know now that if i am swallowing the stereotype and new identity of 'traveller', what that actually entails...!

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

differences thus far...

india...where are all the mountains?
women...sari central, so rungichungi (multi coloured)
food...i'm sorry nepal, but india is so much more tasty then dahl bhat
cities...somehow more clamer...?
bandhs...india informs you of a city strike before hand whereas Kathmandu just seems to shut down suddenly. Also the media coverage makes the message more powerful.
So far I arrived in Bangalore for one day, there was a strike the next, and now we're in Mysore. I had a bit of a culture shock freak out when we went to a nice bar, I just wasnt ready to see sophistication and class. I am thinking of Nepal a lot, and make comparisons in my head about the 2 countries, whether that is healthy or not. Most people arrive in india and freak out about cow poo and dirt and I arrived freaked out about relative organisation and cleanliness. Very different. But I am enjoying myself, finding it really interesting and I will let you know as the trip unfolds what happens next!

Sunday, February 11, 2007

triangle of lambs

Sorry, these next few posts are still nepal...!!!!
I’m vague with the details, but last year my sister and Carl paid extra attention to 2 sisters and 2 brothers from Aastha House whose mother can’t provide for them, she is a beggar in Kathmandu with no foot and whose father I don’t know the story, either dead or an asshole. I love all Nepalese kids but when meeting these guys, I understood why they also fell in love with them too. Anyway they have a 10 times better future then the majority of children in this country, with a sponsor providing them plenty of food, shelter, education and love. The day before I left to go to Rasuwa I am really busy organinsing tickets and visas and errands, running around Kathmandu like a chicken without it’s head (which in this country is not a proverb, it’s a likely occurance), when I hear a tiny voice say “Puja aunty, Puja aunty”. I casually glance (because somehow everyone seems to know my name here, I rarely pay attention to street people yelling at me now), and I am so flabbergasted to see little Apsana and Roxana from Aastha House holding these mass produced bags that everyone sells on the street here as an alternative to anadorned begging.

“What are you doing here?”
“No more Aastha House anymore, we are finished we left day before yesterday.”

Here is a little 8 year old wearing the same jumper that I see her in before in Aastha House and I think of their house Didi, Anita, motherly washing their clothes for them. Her hair is whispy and coming undone, braided in 2 plaits. I also imagine Anita caringly combing her hair a few days before and how nice and fresh it would have looked and now her and her sister are on the streets. The mother must have influenced them to leave and work on the streets as their older sister has just given birth and they need more support for the family. It is very difficult to convince someone who lives a life of daily survival to invest in the future. Beg all day buy one bag of rice for night time, eat, sleep beg again, rice again, sleep again, beg… How can someone with this mentality see value in giving her children an education now so they can get a better job later. This is over ten years of ‘wasted time’ that could be utelised through immediate child labour and income… My heart broke right there on the street corner seeing such potential so easily crumble. Ke garne? Considering I had already delayed my village visit by 2 days, I had to leave Kathmandu for the next week so I couldn’t do anything.
When I eventually arrived back to Kathmandu I went that night to Aastha House and was super super happy to hear and see that through coercion, the girls had arrived the previous day. Their older brother is still with their mother and once again my atheist identity is temporarily unavailable as I make a request to any God/s out there in cyberland reading this or using your/their supernatural abilities to already know the situation, and to do something about it.

Thankyou. Please.

On Saturday I took all the Aastha House children on an excursion to the theatre to see a play about a rural teacher who falls in love with someone from another caste. I understood 4% of the performance but I’m told it raised some really significant themes, I will never know but hopefully it implanted some ideas in their growing brains about issues within Nepalese society. I remember back in High school seeing theatre for the first time and just thinking wow! What an interesting new world. Also it was a fundraising event for another orphanage which I also really like, PANepal; the one who rescues children who are living with their parents in jail and gives them a new life. They are trying to raise enough money to build their own home out of the city so they don’t waste rent money, and the children have a bit of space to run around and breath non-Kathmandu air. I think everyone had a good time, they laughed, learnt, the money was going towards a worthwhile and genuine cause and I seized a rare moment of satisfaction, feeling like I am finally getting smarter at this, killing 2 birds with one mani stone.

“I’m telling you, lab rats are lab rats he says,
that’s where the truth is at….
And everything seems
to have gone terribly wrong that can.
But one breath at a time
is an acceptable plan she tells herself
So tell me did you…did you do
did you do all you could?”
Tamburitza Lingua Ani Difranco

when songs get stuck in your head....

Arriving in the village there is a small window period common between visitor and children. Let us say both parties were a jaffa, the orange inside would be curiousity and an eagerness to play but the chocolate coating is a demure, shy hesitation. The initial rapport building stage is languageless, originating around touching the clothes that I’m wearing, the rings on my fingers, bells on my ankles, beads on my neck and earings in my ear. God bless my 19 year old stupidity at piercing my tongue, this is the quickest and most captivating icebreaker for both young and old. Sitting with fingers intertwined with one young girl I study my hand, searching for the next object of entertainment. My skin is dry, the lines of destiny in my palms are caked with dirt, my nails are partially chipped with pink polish and I have a seemingly inexhaustible supply of grime under my cuticles. Looking at her hands I see the same image and suddenly an old tune enters my head with a slight vocabulary variation. “I think I’m turning Nep-a-lese I think I’m turning Nep-a-lese, I really think so, la la la la la la”

Saturday, February 10, 2007


Sitting in the airport now. That's it. I can't believe I am going. It hasn't hit me yet. I will definately be back. Maybe in 3 weeks after India if I'm too soppy and sentimental about Nepal. Or maybe in 12 months. Don't know.
I feel strange. I am lucky I have a hangover today because if my brain was not in this foggy state I would have a panic attack about going!

Last night we took out Kishan, Kumar and Ramesh for pizza who described the experience as like eating roti and achar, but not as tasty or fulfilling as dal bhat! It is strange to say goodbye to Kishan, I still have many feelings about the last 4 years and what my time in Nepal has meant. Kishan is a brilliant person, he is so motivated to do the right thing and is unique in Nepal with his pure intentions in a country full of distorted corruptions. I will always think of him as my brother, and if I am able, I will do anything to help him study in Australia. But the truth of the matter is we are as different as chalk and yak cheese, and I just don't understand what he says. I know I have dissapointed him because I didn't walk in and be a superwoman and bring ECWZ into the limelight. I have found the entire ordeal overwhelming and I do not recomend any 21 year olds to co start an NGO unless you are mad. I also had no idea how highly he regarded me and that by encouraging him the way I have, it meant that I was thought of as some special, super caring Ghandiess figure, instead of little old Laura who likes to help but is still human with human flaws and weaknesses. This is what caused me stress.
Although I studied some international development at uni and have been sponging up information left, right and centre I am still simply to young and inexperienced to be effective in the development field without supervision. If I was working in an established and organised charity with set tasks and ways to achieve goals I think I could manage, but ECWZ is so young, without clear structure and just getting my head around it all, I just dont know what to do. I am not sure what Kishan thought I was able to do, but he definately had expectations of me that I did not even come close to fulfiling, which fills me with guilt. But when I think about it, I spent my time here helping a variety of people and organisations and just talking to people, learning as much as I can. I need this time before I can do anything major which is something I am not sure Nepalese people understand.

I am 100% happy with what I have achieved if I think about it from a

'my-life-in-Sydney-point-of-view'. I feel proud and happy with everything I have done.

I am just 60% happy with what I have achieved if i think about it from a

'my-life-in-Kathmandu-point-of-view'. I feel sad to leave so much unfinished work and wish I could have done more.

If I wanted to, I could have focused all my time and energy into the NGO but I would have made mistakes and I just dont want to stuff up people's lives. I have read and studied too many horror stories about unorganised development. It is heartbreaking and I love his village, everysingle person there is special to me, but the things I would like to see to improve their lives are too vast for me to fathom, let alone implement and I would like to do it right. When I have more experience I will return to help but at this stage I am thinking I need a few years of study and field experience until I do projects with ECWZ.

So Dipu and Deepak took me to the airport and of course I cried. 2 boys that both made my time here so special in unique ways. These relationships contributed to a sense of belonging and helped me make this weird crazy city feel like home. I love both of them differently and dearly and I know they both love me, I can't believe how special they are and that they will no longer be in my daily life.
this is the sacrifice you have to make I guess. If you put your heart on your sleeve you gain too much and really live as a full human full of emotions, but in exchange you have to deal with saying goodbye.

Nobody likes goodbyes. They just leave a bitter lump.

Thank Ganesh I get a hello at the other end, it will be nice to meet up with Carl again.

mero didi

My sister arrived in Nepal last week and suddenly my feet touched the ground. Everything in my head that I couldn't express to Nepalese people i blurted out to her, 24 hour blabbing and my scatterness slightly dissipiated. I am Australian and I forgot that. I spent too much time with Nepalese people and started thinking, acting and living the same which is what has been so confusing. Having Katie around has been the biggest blessing, I am so so lucky she visited me. Things happen in this country that are too hard to explain and having her here confirms their actuality. It was also interesting to watch her love-hate emotions about Nepal, at one stage she would have jumped on a flight home, and a few hours later she's telling everyone how she will be back again and so sad she is only here for a short time. I definately wouldn't have been able to go without her. Just her presence has allowed me to wean myself off the guilt factor of Nepal and be able to leave.